Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Another reason why I MUST vote for Obama

I have been absolutely baffled for some time why any woman, especially one who is educated and smart and knows exactly who she is, one who has full control of her own power, would possibly vote for a Republican.

A pair of wanna-be Senators in two states I've actually been residents of have embarrassed not only the Republican party leaders -- at least briefly -- by their comments about women, but have also shown themselves to be ignorant and very misogynistic.

This general disdain for women and their ability (or right?) to make health choices FOR THEMSELVES is rooted firmly in the language in the official Republican Party platform, 

The official platform does NOT provide exceptions to abortion for anything, including rape, incest, or life of the mother. Read it.

Furthermore, the platform says it wants to teach abstinence in school. ONLY abstinence. "Therefore, we support doubling abstinence education funding. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for contraception and abortion. "

Uh huh. You try that with teenagers who are bombarded today with sex, sex, sex in today's music and fashions and role models. You try that when the kids have relatives and friends who have affairs and one-night-stands right in their own homes as a matter of course.

It's a nice theory. But it doesn't work. It didn't work when I was a teenager back in the 1960s either.  Ask the teachers and social workers and counselors and specialists in our schools who work daily with at-risk teens. (I'm not even sure if sex education is part of today's curriculum!)

The Republicans also want to defund Planned Parenthood, even though the organization which provides valuable medical testing and contraceptive services to underserved and poor women does not use any federal funds to provide abortion. 

...Yeah. Let's go back to the good ol' coat hanger abortion days, and limit access to birth control so that women will stay home and stay pregnant whether they want to or not...

And while they're on the 'put the little woman back in her place' kick, the Repubs put the Violence Against Women Act into limbo this year, an act which since 1994 has provided  " investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted "(Wikipedia) They don't want to extend any sort of protection to  gays, lesbians, American Indians, or illegal immigrants who are victims of domestic violence.

Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin nearly offed himself back in August with his comments about 'legitimate rape,' prompting Republicans leaders to distance themselves from him immediately. Akin refused to step down, though, and the Repub moneymen have slowly crept back into his camp. He continues to belittle his rival Claire McCaskill, recently likening her to a dog, and calling her 'unladylike.'

And now Indiana Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock is claiming that a pregnancy resulting from rape is 'a gift from God' and that it is 'meant to be.' And what the bloody hell would HE know about it?

Seriously. You must bring a child of rape to term and you must look at your rapist's face in that child every single day because God meant it to be? What about the child's right to be loved? Pro-birth is NOT pro-life.

How can a person actually diminish, -- negate -- so callously and calculatedly the horribly invasive, violent rape of any woman?

And do you really want someone who can say that in all sincerity to represent your vote, your city and county and state?

The Republicans have this last season in Congress, especially, repeatedly and publicly tried to erode women's rights to control their own healthcare choices and to refuse equal pay for equal work and to deny gays, lesbians, American Indians or illegal immigrants the right to seek recourse for domestic violence. They will continue to drive this agenda.

And I just do not understand how this country's women, no matter their political leanings, can throw their sisters under the GOP bus by supporting and voting for ANY Tea Party or Republican candidate, from the Presidential candidate on down.

If you do, please don't call me your sister. I will continue to defend your right to make your own healthcare and reproductive choices despite your vote because I believe so strongly in that right.

But I know you would not do the same for me because of your Republican/Tea Party vote. You will destroy any trust I had in you, any semblance of sisterhood, by your actions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One reason why I will vote for Obama

It will come as a surprise to no one that I have voted Democratic for years, although interestingly enough, it was only this year that I actually changed my voting registration to Democrat from Independent. Long ago I realized that with my convictions about women's rights and equality issues, social justice, and helping those in need, the Democratic party would almost inevitably be my choice. 

While I do not hold Evangelical Christian views, I was raised in the United Methodist Church, long known for its strong support of social justice issues. The things I was taught in church both as a young person and then later when I worked for the church  gave me a strong foundation of helping others and fighting for equality and individual rights, and also honoring beliefs different from my own. 

 As an adult I have been actively involved in many social issues, from answering suicide hotline phones to working for reproductive rights to supporting women's equality to advocating for mental health and most recently, to working with our county Democratic Central Committee. I have actively supported freedom of speech through jobs in education and libraries. For the last five years I have been deeply involved in programs  to end violence against women and girls. I also support arts programs in communities and schools through both participation and advocacy, and always have supported libraries.

I have always believed and was taught to believe by my parents and my church that we are all equal people. We all have the capacity (and indeed the command) to love each other, to help each other, and to accept each other where we are, although I'd admit that can be a real stretch of faith sometimes. 

Jesus didn't say that SOME of us are more equal than others, more deserving. He hung out with the thieves, the drunks, the outcasts. He treated women equally with men. He told us to do to others as we want them to do to us -- and did not add exceptions to that rule.

Today I saw a wonderful video from a variety of gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens who support President Obama, and why they are afraid of how their rights will change under a Republican administration. You can see it here. 

 I have many friends and loved ones who are gay or lesbian or heterosexual, who are women, who are men. I am indeed blessed to know so many people with such a diversity of opinion, education, talent, commitment, wit, and intelligence! 

One of them today posted on her Facebook page the following:
"We are three weeks out, the next President may very well have an unprecedented impact on the Supreme Court and henceforth my and my family's life.

To my friends who like Mitt Romney’s FB page, or are considering a vote for his election, consider the following:

When you read about his or his surrogates' comments about gays, please replace “gays” with my name (or your own)...

These are ON RECORD Statements:

G*** shouldn’t be allowed to marry.

G***'s marriage is invalid and shouldn't count.
G*** getting married is a threat to families.
G*** cannot be a good parent.
G*** doesn’t love, it’s only lust.
G*** is ‘fixable’ with electroshock therapy and psychological torture.
G*** is what is wrong with this country.
If G*** can marry, we should just let people marry animals.
Being G*** is a choice.

This is not just about politics, or job numbers, or healthcare...this is also about human rights, MY human rights.

I am not badgering, or cajoling, or begging, I am just asking you to take a step back and put yourself in my place.

How would you vote if you were me and more than just money was at stake?

How do you think I would vote if it were your
human rights on the ballot?"
It stuns me that people of faith can vote for the Republican ticket knowing that they believe that gay-lesbian-transgendered people are somehow not worthy of the rights that heterosexuals have. 

That's not what my faith taught me. And I ask you to put your own name in front of those statements and see how it makes you feel. Like a Christian? I sure hope not.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Life as we know it right now

That it has been more than a month since my last post is embarrassing for someone who fancies herself a writer.

Ideas and comments have popped into my mind over this month, usually escaping as soon as they're formed, and unwritten on a 'to-do' list, of course. I can tell you that among them have been thoughts on aging, aches and pains, insurance, health care, mental illness, people who do simply unimaginable things, losing weight, gaining weight, travel, the ocean, friendships, and oh so many more.

I've been to the mountains four times for day-long respites from heat, tended gardens and reaped bounties from one not my own, alas, boiled many batches of hummingbird nectar for thirsty little birds who scold if the feeder is empty, and refilled thrice weekly the seed feeder both for hungry birds and the many thin deer who lick the spilled seeds from the ground, looking at me through the sliding glass door with seed-covered noses, ears cocked towards me, and huge eyes. And very thin bodies, ribs plainly showing. They are hungry this year, more than usual -- I hope we have acorns next month.

We have received Medicare cards although they're not valid until November, talked about and researched supplemental plans, dental and vision plans, and remain astonished and doubtful at those who claim they can 'pay their own way' through medical care without help from the affordable health care act.

I have read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and a couple of books. I have cooked many meals, watched carb counts at all of those, started getting fresh brown eggs from a neighbor's chickens, hosted my bunco group, cleaned house a few times, attended two plays, and talked with more girlfriends than I ever thought I'd have at one time!

I've said thank you to the universe at least morning and night, and often during the day. I have hugged my husband frequently, petted, fed and played with our kitties (indoors and out), watered my asparagus ferns and ivy geraniums which are laden with blooms and make me smile every time I go outside. I've noted that the deer are eating things they don't eat: coreopsis, vinca, aloe vera, although they still haven't touched the dusty miller nor lavender. Yet. I fill water dishes front and back daily for kitties, deer and whatever other creature needs a drink.

I am ready for summer to be done. I prefer winter's woodstove and afghan weather. I am tired of hot sun and crave cool grey skies for a change. I want rain to wash away the dust and pollen.

Right now my life feels very good: there is little drama, the health issues are minimal and controlled, we have enough of everything, and I am so, SO grateful for that. We are planning a road trip that will take us to places we haven't been and will give us the cool and the grey and the ocean and the mountains that we love, and will end with family hugs and conversation and connection.

That all will change, I know. But for now, I am grateful to be where I am and how I am.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Casting a life-long shadow: child molesters

The trial and verdict in the Jerry Sandusky case prompted a flood of memories for me, not the good kind.

Back in 1995 in Birmingham, Ala., Don Corley, a man considered by many to be a pillar of the community -- Scout leader, active church member, friend -- was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to 30 years in prison. We were members of the same church and my then-husband had worked with him on different projects involving communication and videotaping and sound. Among other church-related activities, Don led the church's Boy Scout troop, known for the number of Eagle Scouts it produced, and actively mentored the boys, including several who were from single parent households.

When he was arrested and convicted, it was a huge, horrible shock -- and in our household even more so because our daughter had not only attended school with the victims but had been close friends with at least one.

These wonderful young people had had their lives changed forever by the sick perversion of a man who preyed on boys in what was considered to be a safe place, just as Sandusky did.

Corley's victims have created a website with information about Corley and possible parole, and are devoted to making sure the man serves his entire sentence. It has a great deal of information about child molesters as well. I applaud their bravery and acknowledgement of how this crime has impacted their lives, and their work to bring awareness of the issue of child molestation.

But before that, another man (who I knew fairly well)  molested someone very close to me, also gathering his victims in what was thought of as a safe place, and threatening them with the loss of their families and friends should they tell, much as Sandusky did with at least one of his victims. I was unaware of the closest molestation until just a few years ago, although I knew about others who had been hurt when the man  was prosecuted for molesting the five-year-old daughter of friends -- others, who we knew of, did not choose to be part of that case, unfortunately. He served a very light prison sentence, released early for 'good behavior.' I now know more details  of his behavior than I wish I knew.

Like the children molested by Corley and Sandusky, these young boys and girls bear lifelong scars. Even now the memory haunts and taunts at least one victim, causing severe mental distress and vocal and physical hallucinations, despite therapy and medication.

I find it difficult to even consider forgiving such acts. While I understand it is an illness, there is no acceptable excuse  to molest children, ever.

And while the families of the perpetrators may have been blindsided and horrified, there are also always signs, looking back, that they either chose not to see or that they took pains to overlook for any number of reasons -- financial or social, for instance. They bear a different kind of responsibility and grief and remorse.

But we all have a duty to be watchful of the children we know, to listen to what they say, to teach them how to respond and to be honest, to help them understand that there are indeed bad people in their worlds but that they should not be afraid to tell a parent or a counselor or a pastor or a friend if they are being hurt.

I pray for the victims of Sandusky and Corley and the unnamed man, but I cannot bring myself to pray for those sick, twisted men, to grant them the release of forgiveness from any source. Justice in these instances will never really happen, no matter how long their prison terms.

Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime. --Herbert Ward

If I Had My Child to Raise Over Again
by Diane Loomans

If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self esteem first, and the house later.
I'd fingerpaint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I'd model less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Saying one thing and doing another

I was raised in the United Methodist church by parents who very much lived their faith and values, and who taught my brother and me to do the same. Questioning and discussion was certainly permitted, even encouraged, and we had many lively conversations over the years about faith and action and beliefs.

As a college student, I took required religion courses at my church-related college, and studied not only the Bible, but many theologians. Again, discussion was encouraged by my professors.

Over the years I've attended and been active in various United Methodist churches and an active participant in many social justice issues and on various boards and committees, many of them ecumenical.  I know a fair amount about many other churches, denominations, and religions.

I'm no longer involved in a church. But I am a spiritual person. I have a strong moral code and beliefs that have evolved from my earliest experiences with the church. I try to live my faith and my values, and I believe in God, in a Higher Power.

But I am just absolutely baffled by those who call themselves conservative Christians but whose actions are anything but reflective of what Jesus taught us about God and about forgiveness and tolerance and love.

I don't understand how a person can pepper a Facebook page with proclamations of God's love and "Praise Jesus" and then on the same page, even the same day, post or re-post vicious condemnations of gays and lesbians, of Jews and blacks and Catholics and Mormons and Muslims. Attack our president for his support of marriage for gay people as well as heterosexuals. Declare that women are not capable of making their own reproductive choices for any reason, but some man knows better than they do and will make it for them!

I don't understand how on the one hand they can pray to Jesus to sell their house or get a new job or a new car or help them through a divorce or a custody battle or other of life's difficult times, and on the other proclaim that everyone who is on disability or who receives welfare benefits is a drug addict or lazy, fat, freeloader.

Or how they can love Jesus soooo much but not forgive someone who hurt them in the past or even to consider that perhaps that person has changed. Or to bear a grudge that is rooted in something that happened decades ago. Shun a person who they believe has wronged them, without explanation, without discussion or even attempts at reconciliation. But Jesus can heal all, Jesus will save us, Jesus forgives our sins? Huh?

Or somehow rationalize that it is all right to kill a doctor who performs abortions, safe and legal abortions, and to condemn those women who might seek one for any reason as 'babykillers.' How does that make sense? How does that demonstrate love and compassion?

This is not the Christianity I was raised with.

Instead, Christianity today seems to be increasingly populated with those claiming to be 'good' Christian people who advocate -- or at the least turn a blind eye to violence, discrimination, anti-Semitism, and prejudice. They are anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, anti-black, anti-poverty. They consider their brand of Christianity to be the ONLY way, and if you don't believe as they do, you are clearly going to hell, and might even deserve to be punished, if not outright murdered.

Jesus was a Jew. He hung out with former prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, the poor, the mentally ill, the crippled, the unpopular people. He taught tolerance and caring and compassion for everyone. He taught that loving others as much as we love ourselves is the right way to live. 

I'm not seeing it. Not by those who pray the loudest anyway. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Motherhood 101

Today is Mother's Day.

All the ads and commercials and newspaper stories pretty much picture every mother as exemplary: one who loves her children (and grandchildren) unconditionally, bakes homemade cookies regularly, knits, sews, or crafts cute things for said children, always volunteers for school and community organizations, is fashionable and slim with perfect hair and skin, and who always, always is even-tempered, would never dream of smacking their precious child's rearend,  and knows exactly what to do in pretty much any situation.

Well, guess what. I don't know any mothers like that, and if you do, you are indeed blessed, and you need read no further.

I sure am not that mother or step-mother or grandmother. My mother wasn't either, nor my grandmothers. My daughter isn't.

I made mistakes. I still make them, although because my children are grown, it's not multiple times every day any more. There was not a parenting manual given to me with either child -- the one I raised from age 14 days or the rebellious, angry teenager I got when she was 16 years (a bonus that came with her wonderful daddy who made it all worth it). (If you got one, let me borrow it, please. I want to know what comes next.)

Oprah Winfrey said "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

What makes you a mother is being there: putting your child's needs ahead of your own, even when there are a thousand things you'd rather do than clean up yet another round of barf; going to all the parent-teacher conferences and the sports games and the music/dance/drama performances; fixing a hot breakfast nearly every single morning because you know that it is important for your kid to get the best possible start to the day; listening to the stories of being teased or rejected or ignored or unfriended and giving hugs and 'there, there's even when you have no clue of how to make things better.

It means loving your child, warts and all, when they choose paths you fervently wish they wouldn't go down, and setting boundaries when their own dramas and poor choices lead them into areas you taught them never to go and into which you won't follow them, but you love them even when you hate their choices.

 And yes, even when you are tired of being the responsible adult and want to just get away from everyone and everything: you stay put and you suck it up and you get over those feelings, and you love, love, love your child even more. Parenthood is a choice. Always. 

There are bad parents out there: ones who hurt their children either deliberately or by neglect. There are mothers who should never have been parents: emotionally incapable of loving anyone, including themselves, or caught in the dark alleys of mental illness or substance abuse, or who have been so poorly parented themselves that they continue that cycle without understanding or seeking to learn that there is another way.

Yet children are resilient. They can overcome horrible childhoods to achieve great things and become loving, giving individuals. They survive the mistakes made by even conscientious, caring parents. Some don't, however: they are stuck in the cycle of blame and rejection and anger, and take it out on others, including their own children, with those resulting miserable emotions and actions spinning out in yet another generation.

I did the best I could where I was with what I had, and I knew enough to seek help when I needed answers. And I knew that loving and being there for my children was the best thing I could do, even at the cost of many tears and heartaches on both sides.

Sometimes it isn't enough, and you just have to live with that when it's all you can give and you've done all you can. And once your child is grown, you must let them go and find their own paths, even when it is difficult to watch and you are oh-so-sure that if they'd just follow your advice, they'd be fine. Uh huh. That's when you must shut up and wave lovingly as they travel along roads that scare you: it's not your journey any longer.

My greatest joys have involved my girls, but so have my greatest sorrows. I think that's true of any mother who understands that parenting is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, if you do it with all your heart and mind and spirit. And if you can't enter into motherhood accepting that you must do exactly that, that your child's life depends on your doing just that, you shouldn't be one.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Another family, a shorter trip, part 2

We attended another wedding in Chico a week after the LA one. Tony was a colleague of the groom and we were pleased to be included in such a major life event.

It too was held outdoors, albeit with a view of well-trimmed golf fairways and greens, on a beautiful day with a bit of wind. It too was smallish and simple, although there were more attendants. The dinner was delicious and healthy, even, and the reception also included a photo booth, but this one provided the ubiquitous strip of four pictures in duplicate: one to immediately include in the couple's guest book along with a personalized message, the other to take home. The wedding cake was cut and served; garters and bouquets tossed and trophied; family dances, and even a married couples dance where participants were slowly eliminated based on the number of years they'd been wed. We weren't off in the first couple of rounds, but we're nowhere near the couple who'd been married 41 years.

Family was at the core of this wedding too: lots of cousins and uncles and aunts and siblings toasted and talked and celebrated the very obviously happy couple, both of whom have maybe 10 years on the couple from the previous week's celebration.

It was a joy to watch them glow. Their happiness and utter delight in the occasion began even as they were processing to the ceremony site with the bride raising her bouquet high in a triumphant pump, to much laughter from the guests. (The flower girl had to go potty RIGHT before she was to come down the aisle, and unapologetically scurried off with one of the bridesmaids, and the matron of honor lost her balance and fell (unhurt, thank goodness) as the ceremony was about to begin. The couple had set kissing bells at each place setting, and took full advantage as guests continually rang the little tinklers, laughing through their oft-pursed lips throughout the entire reception.

At the heart, though, was family. I admit to puddling a bit as I watched the bride dance with her father and wished fervently, not for the first time, that my own daddy had been at my wedding to Tony, although my fragile mother was not there either, although we called her as soon as it was over and over-nighted a videotape of the event to her the following day.

Whatever the usual dynamics are in the families involved in both weddings, they both were fully engaged  and present for the respective couples during these huge rites of passage. Nothing but hope and love surrounded them. For the brief hours each ceremony took place, family and friends had one unified focus, and that was to love the brides and grooms and send them into their married future with joy and the love and support of all the family members and friends. That singular focus was almost palpable, really, during both events. If there were past issues, they were not evident. Nobody expressed doubt about the abilities of brides or grooms to love and cherish their new spouses. It was simply pure joy for them, for their finding their mate, and for their happiness.

In our day-to-day life, we would do better if we remembered the joy in familial bonds, even little joys.

"Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.'
A.M. HOMES, O Magazine, Apr. 2007

"In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit."
MARGE KENNEDY, The Single Parent Family

 To be continued...

Friday, April 27, 2012

A trip to family -- part 1

My mind is still all ajumble from spending a week in SoCal attending the wedding of  Tony's second cousin Ben, and all the emotions it stirred up.

Part of it was just getting away on our first post-retirement trip, part of it was the fun of the wedding and watching so many family interactions from so many sources. Part of it was being in the LA area -- so big and with so much traffic and houses built practically atop each other, and the myriad of shopping and food choices, and all the amazing eye candy that is the coastline. And then we drove home via Highway 1, up the luscious coast through Big Sur, where there are such amazing views that go on for miles and miles that you almost ache with the beauty.

Reentry has been slow here: I'm still finishing laundry although the suitcases are unpacked. I'm grateful to be back in my own bed and with our kittyboys, who we missed very much but who were well taken care of by the Anderson Veterinary Clinic where they stayed -- we finally figured out that they do not do well when we gone,despite twice-a-day visits from our friends who care for them. They need more attention, more cuddling, more socialization than that, and they act out when they don't get it.

I think there are several posts in the works about family: those of blood and those of bond, and I'm trying to sort through it all.

The wedding and rehearsal dinner were just exquisite in every respect. Elegant, delicious food and presentation in settings that showcased the magnificent coastline: the rehearsal dinner was at the home of the groom's parents, overlooking Long Beach harbor, which allowed us to see the twinkling lights of greater LA come on as the sun set. The wedding itself was on a sunny hilltop on the Palos Verdes peninsula, with ocean breezes accompanied by a string quartet, and rain chains cleverly filled with tiny bouquets dangling from the tree under whose limbs the ceremony was held. The subsequent dinner, also outdoors on a lovely patio, was a bit chilly despite the outdoor heaters, and the groom's father likened it to the north coast of Scotland -- LA weather can be mercurial in the springtime, and fog was in and out most of the day in  the various microclimates found there. We were glad it held off until dinner! A warmer tent filled with inviting couches and chairs and ottomans, and featuring a big dance floor was the focal point for the remainder of the evening. Guests were all dressed up and the mood was joyous -- so wonderful to have family gathered for a happy occasion instead of a funeral, as the groom's mother remarked.

We visited at length with our little clan of Maxeys and watched the interactions of the groom's father's much larger family - some 40 cousins and their families were there to celebrate. The bride's family and friends also were fewer, but they had also come some distance -- the couple had decided to marry in California rather than in the bride's home state. One very touching, somewhat sad note was a sweet slide show about the bride's deceased father, played while her mother and she danced to "I Hope You Dance."

The couple was clearly held closely in the collective hearts of all present, and you could feel the energy and love surround them, and all of us present. They've started their married life together in a magical way, one that I hope they can carry with them for years as they remember the vows they took, the good wishes that accompanied the ceremony, and the love they clearly share.

It made me happy to be a part of this family I've married into. We were so glad we were there, and we will make staying in better touch a priority.

More reflections to come....

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This amazing body

With some of our recent health issues, I've been thinking a lot lately about my body, and contemplating each part, especially this morning as I lay on the massage table.

Like most women, and many men, too, I suppose, I'm not a huge fan of what's there. It's long and lumpy and somewhat squishy. There is dimpled or wrinkly skin where it was once smooth. An assortment of scars and marks decorate limbs, torso, even face.

A couple of toes are bent and a little stiff; my thumb joints are thick and frozen. My gait can be a little stiff, depending on achy hip joints or lower back; my left elbow doesn't flex all the way out; my shoulders creak and my neck can grind.

But it works.

My legs take me where I need to go, and my balance is pretty good as long as I do regular yoga. My feet need extra cushioning in my shoes these days but they are straight and still nice looking. I can stand up straight and tall: my back is no more curved than it's ever been, and I consciously 'telescope' my spine and pull my shoulders back when I stand. I can bend over to pull weeds or plant seedlings or pick something up off the floor and get back up again without help.

My arms and shoulders let me carry shopping bags or groceries or pots or piles of fresh laundry or kitties or babies, and I can hoist a sling full of firewood into the house if I need to. My hands slice and chop and shred food for our meals, and I can still easily type with all 10 fingers, and knit or sew or thread a needle.. They may be a little lumpy in places, but they don't hurt.

My eyes see well, actually better now that I've had cataract surgery than I saw all of my adult life, and they let me read and watch movies and ocean waves and plays and see my honey's big brown eyes right before I turn out the light at night. My ears bring me music and the chirrups of the birds that flock to our feeders and the soft mew of our kitties and the footfalls of the deer outside our window at night. They may not pick up every word sometimes, but that's usually no great loss.

My mouth may have gold and silver and porcelain in abundance, but my teeth can chew anything I want to eat, and my throat easily swallows the big vitamin supplements that we take every morning. My voice still carries to the back of most rooms and my words are clear.

My hair is bright and thick and healthy, silvery gray though it may be. My mind works well enough for me to understand the books and magazines I read, the conversations I have, and even to memorize lines. It may work a bit overtime in remembering trivia from many years ago and replaying scenes from my past, but I can usually corral those wanderings and come back to what is here and now.  I see things from a perspective that generally cuts through to the heart of the situation or to the essence of a person, and I am not afraid to say what I see and think, although I am careful to choose my words.

I know that our physical appearance can make a lasting first impression, especially upon those who are younger. But I am aware also that outward appearance does not necessarily reflect who we are and what we can do, and as I age, I have begun to look more deeply before I venture an opinion about someone.

I have an amazing body. I am so grateful for all that it does, for all it allows me to be and do. And now, more than ever before in my life, I  am consciously, intentionally working  to keep it healthy and strong for as long as I can, and to say 'thank you' every day for all that I do have. If yours works, if it does what you need it to do, you should, too.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 11

The last prompt for Scintilla, alas. After thinking long and hard about these choices, I'm writing about #1, sort of.

1. Talk about a time when you intervened. What prompted you? Did you regret it?

2. Tell a story that you haven't told yet. Give it a different ending than the one that really happened. Don't tell us where you start changing things. Just go.


Readers of this blog already know some of my intervention stories: one daughter's rescue from an abusive domestic situation, my cousin's suicidal note, another daughter's return to California.  I don't regret any of my actions in these instances, and the overarching prompt in these stories is love of family.

When I was in high school and college, I did a lot of listening: I was sort of the local "Ann Landers," and I certainly gave lots of advice to my friends, and did a lot of commiserating. My caring and that of my welcoming family back then helped one young woman to get through a terrible time in her life -- she had attempted suicide at least once, and was deeply depressed over the death of her mother. She was always a welcome guest in our house and at our family table, and many years later she told us how much that had meant to her and helped her.

But even then I knew that getting involved and helping others to solve their problems was a way for me not to have to deal with my own issues. It was much easier to be a loving friend and help figure out someone else's life than to look at my own self-esteem or other issues.

Years later I remember leaping in to help a new friend who had just joined a group of which I was a member. She called one day to ask for help -- she'd managed to cut herself rather badly and was there alone with her children. I rushed to her home and helped stop the bleeding, but she clearly was not capable of taking care of her children or herself. Her husband came home -- she had NOT called him -- and was more than a little (and very rightfully so) distressed that I was there. He assured me he could deal with the situation, and I left. I don't remember if I ever saw her again after that, but I started working more on my own issues.

There can be a fine line between being a loving, caring friend or relative and intervening in someone's life. I've crossed that boundary more than once, and probably would do so again, but never again without deliberate thought and choice. Sometimes just listening to and telling the troubled person that you care about them is enough to help them to turn a corner. Sometimes you can't do anything to help no matter what the situation. Sometimes your help will only delay a consequence. And sometimes you end up hurting yourself instead of being able to help  the person you tried to save.

While I certainly won't say that I'll never again intervene in someone's life, I have turned my attention and focus largely towards my own life, because this life is the only one that I know I can change.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 10

Can't believe there's just one more day for Scintilla! I may have to go back and pick upthe prompts I didn't choose.

Today's selection:
1. Talk about breaking someone else's heart, or having your own heart broken.

2. Pet peeves. We've all got 'em. What are yours? Write about a time when you experienced one so vividly that we all join your army of defiance.

Let's go with #2. 


 I'm a bit of a grammar Nazi. (Okay, I can get really wrapped around the axle about some aspects of grammar and punctuation. But that was my job for years: to final proof everything that came through the creative department and to sign off on it. I can't help seeing errors in menus, in books  --some are really bad -- in magazines and newspapers, on posters, in programs. Sometimes I point them out, gently, depending on who and what it is. Mostly I shake my head in despair and wonder if students are actually being taught proper grammar and punctuation today.)

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of the apostrophe, ESPECIALLY in the difference between ITS and IT'S. 

(Actually, there is a whole book written about punctuation. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which I loved reading even though the author is British and there are style differences between British English and American English. It is delightful, especially for writers and editors.)

But I digress.

So the difference between ITS and IT'S is this: IT'S is short for it is or it has. (NO exceptions. If you can't substitute IT IS or IT HAS in the sentence, don't use the apostrophe.)
ITS is the possessive form of it. 

If you're still confused, read more here. But come on, people. This is not rocket science.

I saw it misused last week in our local paper, right here on the front page.  Can you spot it? (Third sentence.)

I've seen in in magazines, reputable ones. I see it in newsletters with more frequency than I'd like. There's an area blogger who loves to put apostrophes in random words, like these examples: " ...for little Leprechaun's..."  " ...there are lots of variety's..."  

I know it shouldn't. But it makes me crazy. 

If you read this blog regularly, I know you'll find my own misspellings and grammatical liberties, although the latter is partly just my style of writing in this venue. (The misspellings I do try to correct when I see them, but you also realize that a writer cannot accurately proof his/her own work, don't you? EVERY writer needs an editor. All it takes me for to see my errors is to put it in print -- a newspaper or magazine or program or poster -- and then boyoboyoboy, do I see it. And so does everyone else. Yikes. I hate that.)

There are some grammar/punctuation/usage things I have to look up every damn time, like the difference between 'lay' and 'lie,' 'that' and 'which,' and essential/non-essential clauses. (I have three reference manuals: The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Gregg Reference Manual, and they don't agree on some points. I don't use them much anymore -- but when I was editing and proofing, the stickier issues were tabbed so I could find them quickly.)

But is it too much to ask for people to learn the difference between the contraction of IT IS (IT'S) and the possessive ITS? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 9

The menu du jour: We'll attempt to list 23 recipes, doing #2. (Or maybe we'll do 10 recipes. Or whatever...)

1. Talk about the ways in which your body is awesome.

2. Write a list of 23. (23 things to do, 23 people you owe apologies to, 23 books you've lied about reading, 23 things you can see from where you're sitting, 23 ten-word hooks for stories you want to tell....)

In no particular order, here are some recipes (and links to them) that I love making, including, if applicable, my adaptations. I'm all about lower fat, lower carb these days, and little sugar, although some of these do NOT fit any of those, but I've included them because they're so good.

1. Easy No-Rise Pizza Crust. This has been my go-to recipe for homemade pizza for some time, but last night I figured out how to make it diabetic-friendly! Cut the recipe in half, using whole wheat flour, and stir in two cups of grated zucchini, well-drained. Let it rise at least 10 minutes. Pat the crust onto a pizza stone, or a cookiie sheet, and bake it 5 minutes. Top with a homemade (sugar-free) sauce and all the healthy veggies you want -- I added some sliced turkey sausage, grated Parmesan cheese, and maybe 3/4 cup of grated mozzarella. Bake about 15 minutes or until brown. Nice, thin, good-for-you crust!

2. Hearty Vegetable Soup. My standard veggie soup recipe, and my, oh, my, it is GOOD and freezes well. Resist the urge to add additional spices, although I love adding a can of diced tomatoes with green chilis to zip it up. I also make a smaller quantity for just us. Like so many veggie soups, this gets better as it sits.

3.Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread Muffins. I halved this recipe too, and used sour non-fat milk (because I had no buttermilk) and omitted the raisins when I made them to serve with our St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage. Satisfying and healthy.

4. Crustless Cranberry Pie. Okay, so this isn't something that's necessarily all that carb-friendly, but it is good. I made it sometime in December and probably used half to two-thirds the sugar and at least half whole wheat flour. Especially with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipping cream, this makes a tangy, nice sweet treat.

5. Crockpot Lasagna. Especially when it is way too hot to light the oven but you're tired of salads, this recipe gives you some good lasagna taste without heating up the kitchen. I always use low or no-fat cheese options when I can, including the cottage cheese, and whole wheat lasagna noodles.

6. Bread Machine Focaccia with Sundried Tomatoes. Not low-carb, but great to take to a potluck or for an appetizer. I've got jars of dried tomatoes in my pantry from past gardens, so I use those, reconstituted, and substitute half whole wheat flour. Works really well with a bread dipper too.

7. Hot Sour Chicken and Noodles. I cut this out of Family Circle decades ago and it is our family's preferred home remedy for colds, especially with extra vinegar and hot sauce. We call it Spicy Chicken Soup. I often use leftover rotisserie chicken in it, and boil the carcass and skin for the broth. I omit the miso, mainly because it's not an ingredient that I can easily find in the grocery store. It always makes the sickie feel better.

8. Apple Pie by Grandma Opie. NOT, so NOT, a low anything recipe. But it is an amazing apple pie. I spice the apples with cinnamon and nutmeg because I like a spicy pie, and I pile 'em high. The caramel sauce makes it wonderfully rich and different.

9. Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. So while we're on rich desserts, this one came from my friend Melissa, and I made it for a couple of Christmas gifts last year, in addition to keeping one for ourselves. Big yum. No healthifying this one, I'm afraid.

10. Whole Wheat Zucchini Herb Bread. Love my Zojirushi bread machine! And this is a great way to use up some of those surplus summer zucchinis in a healthy bread that tastes great. If I don't have the sesame seed, I omit it.

11. Ice Cream Sandwich Dessert. Oh, another not-healthy recipe, but fun and easy. The hardest part is unwrapping all those ice cream sandwiches. Sort of like a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait in a cake pan.

12. Layered Ice Cream "Cake". Better than Baskin Robbins, and you can customize the flavors! I made this for my friend Maureen's birthday -- she wanted an ice cream cake with lots of chocolate, so I used chocolate chip, triple chocolate, and fudge tracks ice creams, layered with hot fudge and caramel toppings. Sent big chunks home with the honoree and guests, too!(Clearly I refused to even look at the sugar, carbs, and fat content.)

13. Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup. We like the spicy hot Italian sausage in this, and red potatoes, and I usually use fat-free half and half instead of the heavy cream just because. But it's a delicious soup.

14. Garlic Bubble Bread. Fun and easy to take to a potluck! I used the frozen rolls (thawed) rather than bread dough, but I'll bet you could do this like the ever-popular overnight monkey bread recipe and leave it to rise for several hours. This is comfort food, not health food.

15. Mediterranean Kale and White Bean Soup. This is a non-creamy soup with tremendous flavor. I also used a can of diced tomatoes, and you could substitute swiss chard or spinach for the kale. We prefer the hot Italian sausage.This is a good low-fat and lower carb recipe, as long as the sausage is well-drained. I usually cut that amount in half -- still get the flavor, but not all the fat.

16. Pimiento Cheese Spread. Nobody can live in the South and not taste pimiento cheese. This is pretty close to what I make, although I do NOT use Miracle Whip, and certainly not that much mayo either. I've been known to use some Velveeta if I have it, or to use up odds and ends of cheese too, but it is best with the sharp cheddar. This is also yummy on party rye for an appetizer, or as a sandwich on regular rye. Not especially low calorie or carb, however.

17.  Grapefruit Pie. My mother first served us this pie when we visited my folks in the Rio Grande Valley over the Christmas holidays back in the mid-1990s. They wintered there and tremendously enjoyed the citrus orchards and fresh veggies that were available at the famer's markets. The grapefruit take some time to peel and pith, but the results are delicious. I've successfully used sugar-free jello and Splenda in this recipe. If you use a nut crust, you can limit the carbs.

18. Spinach-Apple Salad with Almonds. The sugary almonds really make this salad special. I've used either agave or stevia in the dressing to sweeten without the sugar. Love the Honeycrisp apples in this.

Okayyyyy. My Internet connection is not doing well at the moment -- too many gusty winds blowing our next storm in, so we're going to call it a post at 18.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Bonus Day 2

What is it that you're sure you'll never forget about being this age, or an age of your choice?

I've never been one to remember exact years or even exact ages, unlike my ex-husband who could tell me exact years and sometimes dates of certain events. Oh I remember some milestones -- date and year and place, if applicable -- and usually they are dates I'd prefer I did not remember.

This year I am 64, and I'm sure I will not forget it: it began uneventfully enough in November, but just after Christmas I was put on a heart monitor for a month and we discovered that I have atrial fibrillation, certainly not untreatable but nevertheless frightening.

And then my beloved husband retired from work near the end of February -- after being in corporate life since 1968. We'd been planning and talking about this day for literally years, and it had been delayed more than once in the last year because of situations at his workplace.

 He'd gotten his own smack-upside-the-head moment shortly after I'd gotten news about the afib: he has type 2 diabetes. (He's written about it in his own blog, Cat-E-Whompus. Triple whammy here: both of us with health issues, and retirement -- the latter certainly anticipated and welcomed, but an event which ranks right up there on the stress level with marriage, death, and childbirth.

Early in March, I was finally getting used to the afib meds, adjusting as blood testing deemed necessary, and beginning to feel more like I could resume a 'normal' life. He was getting used to his new meds and we'd adjusted our diet somewhat both to lose weight and for his diabetes. We planned a quick ocean getaway.

And then on March 5, I was gobsmacked with what we think was a kidney stone: a thoroughly unpleasant experience that reinforced the feeling of how quickly life can change. And Tony got the green crud infection that has taken so many people out for weeks, feeling sick and weak and coughing up crud.

Four months since we turned 64, and all of a sudden we both are feeling fragile and old, vulnerable, unsure of how much I dare do, how far we dare travel, and wondering what is next.

I want a do-over.

Slowly I'm coming back to the place where I feel good, that life is resuming its more predictable pace. Tony is nearly over the cough and is feeling much better. We've both lost weight, a good thing. My meds are working, and as I've talked a bit more about the afib, I'm discovering how many people have it and continue to work and play and just 'carry on.' And many others know first-hand about kidney stones. I am not the first person to face these challenges, and I'm learning from others how to do it.

So there are two choices here: I can slow my life and activities down in fear of illness and stay close to home and doctors, or I can do all I can with medication and sensible management and do the things we want to do in retirement. At 64, I'm choosing the latter. But this is a year I'll never forget. And I hope it gets better than it has started.

The Scintilla Project - Bonus Day

Talk about a time when you lost your temper.


I seldom actually lose my temper: I do a slow boil,  a ramp-up that I can usually defuse before it blows because it takes a lot to get me to the breaking point. Sometimes that process involves little pops of emotion that help ease the ramp-up time, but those aren't too volatile and are quickly over. When I truly lose it, I deterioriate into pulsing, red-faced rage, spouting and shouting words that may be laced with obscenities and making little sense, and eventually resulting in hot, angry tears. It leaves me weak, wrung out, and extremely dissatisfied with myself.

One time that stands out happened when Princess #1 was a teenager and dating a guy who was a year older and who was not raised with a lot of limits, far as I could tell, despite the fact that he was a Southern boy and children are usually very respectful towards adults.

He especially did not like that I wanted to know where my daughter was going, what time she'd be home, and other such details. While he was very intelligent, he was not a particularly good conversationalist either, and I thought he coerced R into doing and seeing things that she didn't really want to do -- like watching "Silence of the Lambs," for instance, a rather intense, frightening movie that I knew she would never have willingly watched.

One afternoon -- a Sunday, because I remember I was reading the newspaper -- he was at our house and they were about to go somewhere. I asked my usual questions and got  sullen, terse answers. I remember saying, "Well, be home at ..." whatever time I thought was reasonable and which neither of them, clearly, did..

On their way to the front door, they were talking in undertones, but I distinctly heard him mutter "Bitch."

I held the paper tightly in both hands, breathing hard, and thinking, "I will not react. I will not react. Let it go. I do not need to react."

And then my temper flared into brilliant redness and that little devil said, "The HELL I will..."

I threw the paper down and charged out the door, yelling at him. I don't remember what I said, but I think part of it was about respect, part was about about plain old courtesy, and part was about parenting. He came back to the front porch and we stood there, angry face to angry red face, my body tense and quivering with rage and indignation, and he informed me that he had been raised not to respect anyone who didn't deserve it, and that I didn't, that I was a bitch -- which of course fueled my rage even more.

R was extremely upset by this, watching her mother and her boyfriend yelling and furious, and began crying and begging us to stop fighting, and threatening to drive off in her car to get away from us. (I'm sure it didn't help that it was right in the front yard where anyone in the neighborhood could have seen or heard it...)

I tamped my fury down then, and went to my daughter to try to calm her down, to keep her safe. I remember that the whole fight was never resolved, but for her sake I wasn't going to pursue it further, and the boyfriend had at least shut up and was also trying to calm R down.They left, eventually, and I went back inside to try to deal with my bubbling anger and disgust at the situation, and to try to figure out how to deal with him in the future.

I never liked him, especially after that episode. And I probably lightened up a little on the questions and curfews (which perhaps were a little too stringent). But I was glad when she broke up with him, although it took at least another year, and I never trusted him.

The Scintilla Project - Day 8

Another day missed -- and posted late. Oh well. Number 1, here we go.

1. What are your simplest pleasures? Go beyond description and into showing the experience of each indulgence.

2. Who was your childhood best friend? Describe them--what brought you together, what made you love them. Are you still friends today?

* Sliding into a bed made with fresh clean sheets, especially the organic cotton ones which soften more every time you wash them. (I love my flannels, however, and they run a close second.) But the lovely scent and feel of the clean linens -- which lasts just one night -- always makes me feel indulgent and pampered and instantly relaxed. Hotel linens don't do it for me. It's the ones at home, on my own bed.

* The first sip of a cup of Earl Grey tea, hot and steaming, is immensely satisfying. I drink tea every day -- usually a breakfast tea or Wulong or mint -- but the Earl Grey with its fragrant bergamot makes me feel a bit as though I'm sitting in an English tearoom. Bring on the crumpets and clotted cream, please.

* Watching a favorite television program in our darkened living room on a wintery evening with the woodstove glowing warmly and the kitties sleeping on their tuffets in front of it: I'm wrapped in either the Joseph's coat afghan my mother crocheted so long ago or in a lighter weight one given to me by a friend, and sitting in my favorite leather chair with my slipper-clad feet on the matching ottoman. My honey sits next to me, feet up, in his well-worn leather recliner. The angel figures on the plant shelf high above the woodstove are backlit silhouettes in a field of starry minilights, and I feel very peaceful, very lucky, warm, and well-loved.

* Coming into the kitchen to fix breakfast and finding that my honey has emptied the dishwasher and washed up any remains of a night-before snack never fails to make me smile. He does it every day, every time the dishwasher is run, but it still makes me feel loved and appreciated.

As the song says, "These are a few of my favorite things..."

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 7

The prompts:
1. List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.

2. Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.

Number 2, you're up.
 Before she married my father, my mother taught school in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota communities, sometimes living with a host family, teaching all grades. She didn't have a bachelor's degree, she had the number of college credit hours it took back in the 1940s to get a teaching certificate, and during the summers, continued to work on her degree.

After my folks married, she taught just one year in the tiny district where my father was superintendent. And she got pregnant with me, partly, I think, to avoid another year of trying to be a teacher AND the superintendent's wife (my dad was in charge of consolidating several rural school districts: not a popular move in many of those little Minnesota towns).

Nearly three years later, my brother was born, and Mother stayed home with us until my brother was in first grade (about 1956, I think), when she accepted a teaching job teaching fourth grade at a district slightly outside of  the Springfield (Mo.) city limits. The city schools required a bachelor's degree; Pleasant View did not.

So she also went back to school in the summers, to what was then Southwest Missouri State Teacher's College.

After that first year, we moved to a house that was actually within walking distance -- a long walk, to be sure, but walkable -- of the college, although she still taught at the same school. I remember her studying diligently, sometimes sending us off to the summer programs at a nearby city park, or to the swimming pool at another park, also nearby,  so she could have some uninterrupted study time. She'd sit under the pear tree with pencil and paper, taking notes and reading thick textbooks, sipping iced tea.

This student was my mother, but she was a beloved teacher to many students as well, and I got to see that side of her on the rare occasions when we'd be allowed to come to open houses or school events, and to meet some of her students there.

She did not drive at that time. She rode to teach school with other teachers; she either walked or took the city bus (which stopped across the street from our house) anywhere she needed to go, and so did we, when she finally allowed us to go unaccompanied.

And when I was about to graduate from eighth grade in 1961, she graduated from college, cum laude. I remember sitting in the gymnasium bleachers, watching as black-gowned and capped student after student walked across the dais to receive a diploma and handshake from the college's regent.

And then it was my mother's turn. "Marjorie Mae Dahl Kershaw," the announcer intoned. "Bachelor of Science in Education." There she was, my mother, smiling as she accepted the sheepskin and shook hands. We clapped loudly, although we didn't dare cheer at such a solemn event, unlike the graduation ceremonies of today.

That year, she began teaching at a school in town, still some distance from our house, precious degree in hand. But she didn't stop there: she began taking classes at Drury College towards her masters degree. And two years later, as I was about to turn 16 and get a driver's license, SHE took a summer class in driver's education and got her license just months before I did, in a little 1950-something Nash Rambler automatic shift car that my dad had purchased for her because she so hated the stick shift car that he always drove. Bonus for me: I got to take my test in that car too.

I don't remember the year she got her masters; I don't remember if I was at the graduation ceremony. I do remember seeing her in her academic hood, and I am pretty sure that she graduated with honors again.

My mother continued to teach fourth, fifth, or sixth grades in the Springfield district until she retired in 1981 with my dad because they wanted to travel and do things together rather than wait another five years. She was 60 years old.

She received yearly letters and cards until she died from not only the student teachers she'd mentored over the years, but also from so many of the students she taught, even back as far as Pleasant View. At least three of them came to her memorial service in 2005.

Her influence and skill as a classroom teacher garnered her district-wide recognition and praise, and her principals loved her. I was proud of her, my mother, the teacher Mrs. Kershaw.

The Scintilla Project - Day 6

Prompts today -- er -- Tuesday. (I'm behind.) I'm going with #1, more or less.

1. Write the letter to the bully, to the cheater, to the aggressor that you always wanted to but couldn't quite. Now tell them why they can't affect you anymore.

2. Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else's.


To someone I used to know, a long, long time ago in another place, another time, another life:
You were my friend.
At least that's what you told me, many times. We spent time together, enjoyed wonderful meals and playing games and watching television and talking, talking. We shared very personal, deep stories and cried together, and you told me you felt like we had a special bond, that we were so alike in many ways. It felt very precious to me, our friendship, and I loved being your friend.

Oh, I knew I wasn't your BFF, and that's okay, because you weren't mine either, but we told each other about those women in our lives, those strong, funny, wonderful women who meant so much to us and with whom we'd shared so many experiences over the years. "You'd love her," we both said. We swapped recipes and told stories about our mothers and our feelings and we laughed, too, a lot.

When some of our friends had a falling out and everybody was all gossipy and snippy and taking sides, you said, "We're not in junior high anymore! Get over it."  And I did. I thought you did too.
And then it was over, boom. Like one of us died, or moved suddenly and left no forwarding address. Except that we'd meet occasionally at events or in a store, and sometimes (but not always) exchange empty pleasantries, you smiling with your mouth but never again with your eyes. That stopped too, those occasional meetings, partly because when I would see you in a store or on the street or at an event, I began to go the other way to avoid you. Perhaps you did the same.

I didn't know what happened. And I grieved a long time, wracking my brain to think of what I might have said or done that caused such an abrupt break, painfully going over conversations and events again and again.

 It is in my deepest people-pleasing nature to blame myself for such things, for someone deciding to 'break up' with me. I wanted to get over it, I really, really did, and I tried hard to let it go, to think kindly of you and hope that you were all right. But such hurt and rejection don't leave easily or swiftly.

Friendships often are seasonal -- linked to a particular time and place and life situation (like when your kids are little and you're sharing soccer bleachers or Girl Scout troop duties) -- and when the need/situation is no longer there, the connection drifts away, hopefully leaving some pleasant memories.

You chopped our friendship off at the very root of it; there was no withering, no easy drifting away. Time and perspective help heal pain and grief, allow unhealthy memories to fade, and to accept that people and situations change, our needs change. I still wonder what happened, but that's because I am a storyteller and I always want to know all the details, to know the 'rest of the story.'

I used to think the loss was mine, and my fault. But you: you threw away an exceedingly loyal, loving friend in choosing to reject our friendship. I finally understood that the biggest loss was yours.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 5

Ooo. Now if I wrote about #1, I wouldn't have actually gotten away with it, would I? (And I'd have to kill you.) So I guess we're on to #2.

1. Talk about a time when you got away with it.

2. Show a part of your nature that you feel you've lost. Can you get it back? Would it be worth it?


I used to have a lot of energy: as a younger woman I had a job, a house to take care of, a child in school and assorted activities (and I attended all of them) and a husband who worked a lot, a member of two choirs and active volunteer. Later I was involved in community activities, creating things, working, writing stories, attending events. I used to have a passion for getting involved in causes or organizations, from marching in picket lines to taking charge of the whole enchilada.

I'm not exactly sure when I lost that passion, that energy.

But I think it coincides pretty much with when we rescued Princess #1 from a very bad situation that I don't think she would have survived. Like the proverbial onion, her story had layers upon layers, and a lot of them were rotten -- and I didn't discover most of it until our five-day road trip on our way west. Once she was here, more details came out, and over the following six months,  a truly sad and frightening scenario emerged from the wreckage that has continued to impact her life.

And mine.

You don't need to know details. Trust me on this.

Guiding her through the county health system and its programs has been an enormous, eye-opening education for me and for her. Healthcare advocacy is not for the faint of heart in any economic status, but when there is no money, no insurance, and the individual is not able to meet her own needs, it is a quest paved with much patience, repetition, frustration, and emotional pain. (Despite deep budget cuts, staff cuts and reorganizations, I have great respect for so many dedicated public health professionals who try so hard to make a difference in the lives of So. Many. People. They do what they can with what they've got.)

Watching the child you loved and raised from an infant sob out stories that would make the tabloids look like bedtime reading does a number on your heart, your soul, and your mind. Realizing that she is an adult who is responsible for her decisions and that you no longer can ground her as a temporary solution takes an emotional (and physical) toll, and changes nearly everything in your relationship.

And that's where I think I lost the part of me that led groups and marches and got involved in activities and sang and acted and sewed and cared so passionately. .

I WAS involved and I DID care passionately: up to my eyeballs, with my whole being.. But it was all directed at doing the best I could for my daughter, and in the beginning, at 'fixing' her. Which any reasonable person is going to tell you can't be done, because we cannot 'fix' anyone but ourselves. I finally got that this last year, after three years.

She is doing better, I'm happy to report. She is responsible for her destiny, not me.

And I am responsible for mine. I can't change anything except my own mind, my own activities, my own life. And that's keeping me plenty busy, and a lot happier, these days. Eventually I think some cause, program, performance, or organization will again spark the enthusiasm and passion I once had in abundance, and I try to keep my eyes and my mind open to possibilities. But not just yet.

The Scintilla Project - Day 4

For Day 4: We'll go with door number 2. (A trip to Redding and assorted other things kept me from writing Monday.)

1. Talk about your childhood bedroom. Did you share? Slam the door? Let someone in you shouldn't have? Where did you hide things?

2. What does your everyday look like? Describe the scene of your happiest moment of every day.

One of the joys of being retired (or on vacation) is not setting an alarm clock, at least most days. (If I have a 10 o'clock class or appointment, yeah, I set it for about 7:45 to allow myself time to get breakfast and shower, and not to be hurried about either.)

I am not a lark. I have NEVER been an early riser if I could choose. I do not sing cheerily in the mornings, engaging in light-hearted, amusing conversation, nor do I do tasks that require a great deal of mental focus and acuity, like, oh, math of any kind (not that I do much of that anyway).

As an employee, I used mornings to proofread documents or file papers. I did not write stories or work on ads. My creativity begins to wake up after 10, and is usually highest between 11 and 4, although I certainly can work late into the evening when necessary.

Nowadays, after breakfast is done and assuming I have a free morning, I head to the computer to read e-mail, browse blogs and Facebook, maybe putz online, checking out free Kindle downloads or what's on sale at my favorite shoe sites. Nothing that requires mental focus and acuity, y'see?

I'm responsible for grocery shopping and meal prep, so almost always in the back of my head, I'm figuring out what's on the menu for the day and how long it'll take to fix.

Usually Mondays are laundry days, fresh sheets and towels, and general tidying. Tuesdays and Thursdays are yoga classes, and I try to plans shopping trips, prescription runs and the like for those days since I'm in town anyway. Since I'm the representative payee for my daughter, I also try to fit in her shopping or bill-paying days then as well. That can eat up a big chunk of a day.

I am never without something that needs doing: closets or drawers or cabinets that need cleaning, R's bills to sort and pay and record, papers to be sorted and dealt with. (I am never done, either. And there's always the attic that MUST be dealt with before the weather gets hot: all those ancient papers and half-finished crafts and old suitcases.) Garden season is coming up, and I know I'll be spending time outside prepping the space, planting, weeding, watering. There are weeds to kill, fallen limbs and debris from the winds to pick up, meadow grass to trim back, a big burn pile. There's never a shortage of outside chores that need doing either, although I'm not always eager to get out there and do them. And yeah, I try to get on the treadmill and 'jiggler' at least several times a week, although my will is weak.

I read two newspapers most days, though, and because of the rising cost of newspapers and subsequent decrease in page count, that can take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. I love the feel of the newspaper in my hand, unlike my techie husband who prefers his news digitally, and as long as I can still subscribe to a print version, I'm likely to do so. We also get several magazines, and I'm likely to spend a little time reading through current issues. Although I love to read novels, I rarely do that during the day, saving that treat for bedtime. If I got involved in a novel, we'd be eating crackers and cheese for dinner and nothing else would happen.

Most evenings find us settled in front of the television, watching a pre-recorded episode of one of our favorite series, or perhaps a movie. I might knit while I'm watching; sometimes I skim through magazines that I've set aside.

Pretty boring, hm?

One thing I am *not* is super-involved in anything right now.  I've done that: off to meetings and gatherings and committees and rehearsals. I know something will eventually pique my interest enough to want to jump into it again and get passionate about a cause or an event or a program, but at this moment, I'm enjoying being a homebody, a bit of a slug.

Far and away my favorite moment of any given day is bedtime: both of us are snuggied down in the bed, either iPad or magazine in hand to read a bit, kitties starting to settle in their favorite places on our bed. Our little sound machine generates soothing ocean wave sounds; the bed is comfortable and warm, and the love of my life looks at me with his big brown eyes and tells me how much he loves me, adores me, cherishes me. And I smile back at him with my eyes, my mouth, my soul.

It just doesn't get better than that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Bonus 1

The bonus prompt for Saturday is to talk about a time you left home.

I left home and went home the same day in September 1997.

A few days before I left Birmingham, Ala., a moving company had picked up boxes of possessions, assorted pieces of furniture, and many books. They would arrive about two weeks later in Pacifica, Calif., to a tiny apartment by the ocean.

I was leaving my home of seven years, my husband of 27 years, and many friends to move to California -- by myself -- because it was something I *had* to do. It wasn't that I had ties to my new home, although I have relatives scattered throughout the west. It was me. I had come to a place where I needed some changes, and the life I'd been living was not the life I wanted to live anymore. I knew I did not want to ever look back at my life and wonder "What if..."

That Sunday morning when I left home, I'd kissed my husband's forehead as he headed off to church and his responsibilities there and saw tears in his eyes: we would divorce over the next several months, a mutual and amicable decision. I finished my coffee, put my computer, a little television and a small suitcase in my new Saturn sedan, and turned to look once more at what was no longer my home: the roses and vines I'd planted on the side of the steep driveway, the red front door, the sheer curtains in the windows. I was done here.

And then I headed north and west to Springfield, Missouri -- to my parents' home, the Tudor-styled two-story house that they'd lived in since I was 10. That night, after a warm welcome and good dinner, I went to sleep in my old bedroom; the bed, dressing table, even the lamps of my girlhood still the same, and feeling a bit out of place: for the first time in my life, I had no home of my own, not then. I'd left home and come home -- but I wasn't home.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 3

Today's prompts. I'm going with the first one.

1.Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

2. What's the story of the most difficult challenge you've faced in a relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?

Several songs popped into my head when I read this prompt. Like most people, some of the best and worst moments of my life have a song associated with them.

I remember listening to the Moody Blues "Nights in White Satin" constantly during one particularly difficult time in college, driving my roommate practically to the point of homicide -- it was either me or that record, and one of us was not coming out of the room intact. "My Heart will go On" from the movie Titanic was the song that played constantly the winter that Tony and I met.

But the one that always makes me a little wistful is "Catch the Wind" by Donovan. It was summer of 1965, and my boyfriend and I were about to leave for college -- separate schools, his some 800 or so miles away (in North Carolina) from mine in northern Missouri.

We had a wonderful relationship, really. He was my first boyfriend -- two years in high school, and two plus, more or less, in college. We had a great time together and I learned to be more extroverted because of him: he was everyone's friend and a great dancer, talented writer, voracious reader, and I knew that if I was going to be with him, I had to overcome my own shyness.

And it was largely that relationship that clarified forever my beliefs about sexuality and love. One day during our senior year, he'd taken me out on the school lawn during lunch hour to confess that he was attracted to a boy in our choir and that they'd kissed. It wasn't that he didn't love me, but it was that also he loved the boy. And we talked about his feelings and my feelings and societal views and God's views (we were both very involved in our respective church youth groups -- me Methodist, him Presbyterian -- and often attended each other's church functions). As it evolved, we stayed together as boyfriend/girlfriend, and the boy was a part of the large group -- the Motley Horde, as we called ourselves -- that we socialized with.  I was okay with things as they were: to my knowledge, he and the boy were just friends after that confession.

The moment I remember best, though, at least in relation to the song, was sitting on the front steps of his house one hot late summer afternoon, and talking about our relationship and how being apart was likely to impact it.We talked about his bisexuality, as we understood it then, and about dating others, and about what we'd meant to each other. We quoted lyrics to each other (as only the young can do) from "Catch the Wind," teared up a little at them, held hands, and cuddled together for one of the last times before leaving. We knew college would change us; he was uncertain about his own sexuality and feelings, and warned me he couldn't promise me anything. Because I loved him, because I understood that he was speaking his conflicted truth, I accepted that. The song seemed to say everything about what we hoped for and wanted in a relationship, and yet how impossible it was to capture at that time in our lives.

Note: At one point in  college, he decided he wanted to marry me, and I agreed. That didn't happen, at least partly because eventually I figured out more clearly what I wanted from life and a mate. He has been in a loving, long-time relationship with a wonderful man, and they attended Tony's and my wedding. I will always love him for all that he meant to me then and all I learned from him.

"In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty
I want to be
In the warm hold of your lovin' mind.

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand
Along the sand,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

When sundown pales the sky
I want to hide a while
Behind your smile,
And everywhere I'd look, your eyes I'd find.

For me to love you now
Would be the sweetest thing,
'T would make me sing,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

Diddy di dee dee diddy diddy,
Diddy diddy diddy dee dee dee.

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears,
To help me to leave all my blues behind.

For standin' in your heart
Is where I want to be
And long to be,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind. ~ Donovan, "Catch the Wind" (you can listen here)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 2

Today's possibilities:
 1. When did you realize you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?

2. No one does it alone. Write a letter to your rescuer or mentor (be it a person, book, film, record, anything). Share the way they lit up your path.

Let's try the second prompt today.

Dear Mrs. Simmons,
You may not remember me, but you were my English teacher for several classes in high school, most notably the advanced literature classes. I was the one who wrote a book report on "Fanny Hill." (And I worked really hard to justify that book, which you recognized with an "A," thankyouverymuch).

You also introduced me to all the works of J.D. Salinger, among many others, and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. And taught me the foundations of literary analysis and criticism. And how to write a well-organized, well-researched paper, as well as many creative essay topics, and how to defend my opinions (which were certainly strong ones, weren't they!)

You encouraged discussion in our classroom, and we responded. Looking back, those classes included some of the brightest and best students in my class, and while I sometimes fumed at the lively and diverse and opinionated discourse, I was never bored.

You not only challenged me to read and to analyze what I was reading, your techniques and methods became the foundation for my own classroom (I taught high school English and speech classes for just three years, but in my work in marketing/public relations/communications, I had the opportunity to mentor many assistants and interns over the years.)

You were not my favorite teacher, at least while I was in school. I don't think I was your favorite student either. But when I think back on the teachers/mentors throughout my life, you had a huge impact on who I have become and the process of how I got there.

I didn't major in English because of you; I majored in English because, when I realized halfway through my freshman year that I was NOT going to be a Methodist minister after all and that indeed I had some serious philosophical and theological questions about the whole thing (and I'm sure you are not surprised), I chose the subject I'd always most loved and excelled in. I am and have always been a reader and a writer. But you saw that from the first day, didn't you. You encouraged and pushed and challenged me, all the while maintaining your very practical persona: a middle-aged, somewhat frumpy teacher who'd been in the classroom for years.

Thank you for all those years of grading essays, of leading classes through Shakespeare and Moby Dick and Canterbury Tales and so many others, and still keeping it fresh and current, of listening to such highly opinionated and self-important juniors and seniors for yet another year, and for keeping us on track. Thank you for teaching me how to teach: I learned more from you than from all the college education classes and student teaching hours. Thank you for helping me find my voice and encouraging all of us to speak our minds, and to be respectful of each other as we did it. I don't think classrooms like yours exist anymore, and that is an enormous loss for today's students.

With deepest respect and gratitude,

Note: While this was not the letter I wrote, I did write a letter of similar thanks to Mrs. Simmons some 10 years after I graduated high school. She wrote a lovely letter back and told me that she'd never received a thank-you from one of her students before mine, and we exchanged several more letters. Since then, I have tried to express thanks and appreciation more often to those who have helped or influenced me deeply.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 1

Several weeks ago some of the folks who were involved in Reverb11 contacted those of us who participated to tell us of a new writing exercise, The Scintilla Project. 

Since I know I respond well to writing prompts, I signed up. If you're interested, so can you. And if you want to read more, there are lists of participants and links to their blogs on their website for these next two weeks. Tony is also participating; you can read his work here.

Today is the first day, and we were given two possible prompts: 1. Who are you? 2. Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your life as a result?

Since I'm still figuring out who I am, and that can vary from hour to hour, I'll pass on the first prompt. However,  I definitely experienced a huge 'first' last week. Let me tell you about that today.

Monday started well, with errands and a salad lunch out with my honey. But by dinnertime, I was gasping and rocking back and forth with incredible pain, clad in a hospital gown on an exam table in our local hospital's busy emergency room.

I had been packing for a little Oregon coast getaway we'd planned for weeks, our first 'retirement' trip to one of our favorite places, Bandon. We'd planned to get supper at our favorite local spot.

The pain hit me about 4:45 pm at hip level, right side and to the  back, and suddenly -- fine one moment, gasping at the next. And then it grabbed hold of my right side from just below my breast to groin, hinging like a powerful vise grip around to the front. Within 20 minutes we were heading to the ER, me with a bit of ginger in my hand to try to keep me from throwing up on the way.

The ER had whole families sitting inside and outside, not quite a party atmosphere, but there was fast food and sodas in evidence, which didn't help my growing nausea. It felt like an hour, but I think I was called into the intake room within 20 minutes or so.

Apparently I had a kidney stone.

Time just stopped for me then: all I knew was pain and horrible nausea although they tried to squelch it with anti-nausea drugs and two doses of morphine, and nurses and techs taking vitals, blood, wheeling me to the CT scan, and my poor husband patting me, crooning "I'm so sorry, honey. I'm so sorry."

I know I rocked back and forth most of the time, sitting up more because I couldn't lay down. I know I tried desperately to breathe into the pain, which came in waves from bad to horrible, but never easing more than a split second, even with the drugs, and just ended up gasping with the impact. I know I answered questions but I'm not sure how much sense they made.

I know I understated the pain. You rate pain on a scale of one to ten. I said 'eight.' In truth, it was an eleven, looking back now. I couldn't stay still. My mouth was so dry (probably from the nausea drugs) that I could barely form words, but they didn't want to give me even ice chips until much later.

I remember hearing the people in the next bay, us separated by a thin curtain, discussing food in some detail. I remember wanting to yell at them to shut the F**K up about the food, but I couldn't stop gagging and gasping long enough.

The CT scan showed that my right kidney had a soft blood clot in it, obscuring any possible stone. The docs consulted with an on-call urologist in Redding; a decision was made to admit me for pain and nausea control, but that I didn't need to go to the larger hospital unless there was evidence of poor renal function. (When they finally got some fluids in me, that part worked fine, albeit bloody -- yeah, I know: TMI!)

Once they finally shot me up with dilaudid in another effort to corral the pain and I was waiting to be admitted, I finally unwound a little and was able to lean back against the pillows, at least enough to realize that it was very late and my husband had not had a bite to eat since lunch -- not a good thing for a diabetic. I talked him into leaving for home and food, but not until he had a room number for me, bless him.

When I finally got to my room (11:30 pm) and the nurse was helping me get settled, I finally tossed up the last shreds of whatever was in my stomach, sucked on some ice chips, and was finally able to sleep, at least until the next round of pain and nausea meds.

I heard the same thing from many of the nurses and doctors: kidney stone pain is worse than childbirth pain. At least at the end of childbirth you have a baby. As it turned out, I didn't even get a stone -- just some unanalyzable bits that 'might' have been a stone.

It was my first. I pray it will be my only.