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Zoethe

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Best laid plans and all that [Jul. 29th, 2015|12:38 pm]
Zoethe
The plan was:

1. Go to bed early
2. Get up early
3. Work on the garden before the heat became unendurable

As you may recall, just over a week ago I posted a lamentation about the jungle that was my back yard. Well, the city sent us a letter about "weeds over 8 inches tall." And I laughed: "Haha, you fools! Some of these weeds are over 8 FEET tall!"

Then I realized I was overachieving in the wrong direction.

Anyway, the letter arrived on Saturday, and while it does give us a couple weeks in which to correct the error of our ways, I figured I'd better get started on it. So Monday I got up early and put in an hour of garden time. These giant dandelions were abuzz with honeybees, and I briefly considered trying to declare our yard a honeybee sanctuary, but decided that probably wasn't going to get me anywhere. It was pretty toasty by the end of that hour, and I figured I should definitely stick to the early hours for such things. Yesterday I had court early, so gardening was out. So I made the aforementioned plan.

The result was:

1. Go to bed early
2. Toss and turn until around 2am, get up late
3. Work on the garden despite it already being 85 degrees out there.

This time I was able to locate the bee hood, which is good because I was working close to the hive and the bees were getting pretty unhappy with me by the end. It also kept the sun from beating down on my face and head. But at the end of the hour, when I hauled 9 leaf bags of detritus to the curb tomorrow's trash pickup, I was pretty darned shaky. Which is when I realized that there should have been a couple more numbers on my list:

4. Take some water with you
5. Eat something before you start

I staggered back inside, hot and trembling, and flung myself into a cold shower. Then I laid on the bed for about 45 minutes with the ceiling fan on. I had to ask Ferrett a question, so I texted him. Because getting up to walk to the living room would take too much effort. I've had some water and milk now, but have to get up the energy to actually eat something.

But I have to say that the absolute worst bed of weeds is almost tamed. It just has this odd fringe in the front. Why? Because that's directly in front of the hive, and they were DECIDEDLY not happy with my presence by the time I got that close. It makes sense; I was yanking things around, changing the shade patterns and temperatures of the hive. When I saw them lifting off by the dozens to hover in front of me, it was time to quit for the day.

I'm hoping to make it out there early tomorrow, yank up the last of those weeds, and get it all out for the trash pickup. There will still be lots of work to do, but at least that will be a good start.

(And the bees appear to be thriving on neglect. We lost the newer hive, but the older one is quite healthy. We haven't been in there at all this year, and I don't know whether we will. If we don't, we are still contributing pollinators to the area. And we won't steal their honey.)

There will be pictures. But not until I have an "after" that's not appalling.
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The reward for doing a good job is being ignored [Jul. 28th, 2015|12:57 pm]
Zoethe
I hurt Ferrett's feelings yesterday, because I didn't understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place.

I didn't understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place because he'd been making a concerted effort to keep his vulnerability to himself, not to burden me with his misbehaving brain weasels. As a result, something that should have been a minor toe-trodding turned out to be really hurtful. Because from his worldview he was already doing as much as he could, and from mine there was no perceived effort.

The details of what and why are unimportant. What it made me think about is how darned much time people spend struggling with their own hidden demons, and how oblivious we all are when the brain weasels of others are chewing on the last nerves.

It's tough to be a grownup all the time. There's no one to give us a cookie, or even a pat on the back, on the days when simply getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain, when our inner child is throwing a tantrum over taking out the trash but we do it anyway without complaint. When the dishes in the sink make us want to scream and stamp our feet, but instead we just clean it up.

And then comes the moment that pushes us past our ability to cope, and we get hurt, or yell. And the other person, dealing with their own brain weasels, is likely to be all, "What the hell?!"

It ambushes, and yet life would be so much worse if we didn't control those demons and weasels. It's exhausting to deal with people who don't control them, and off-putting. But we are very bad at seeing beyond our own efforts.

If we're lucky, the other person will get past the initial shock without too much defensiveness, and we can get over the hurt without it turning into a fight. If we're *really* lucky, the other person will recognize the weasels gone wild and provide us with pats on the back and cookies (figurative or real).

For my part, I am reminded once again that when the person in the grocery store is surly, or a driver blasts a horn and gives me the finger, these people might not just be jerks. They might, in fact, be having a very bad brain weasel day, and just being on their feet and functioning is kind of heroic. I'm reminded to be patient, and give them space. Maybe some gentleness will make their demons easier to live with. Maybe they will be able to pass that on to others.
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Smile or die [Jul. 27th, 2015|12:03 pm]
Zoethe
The question of whether or not Sandra Bland hung herself in her jail cell--while important--is distracting us from the more important issue. Sandra Bland should never have been dragged from that car, and blaming her for her arrest is appalling.

15 years ago I got pulled over by a cop. It was winter, the roads were solid ice, and when the light changed on Northern Lights Boulevard, I tried to stop. Despite antilock breaks, I slid into the middle of the intersection of "C" street. The light completed changing and 5 lanes of traffic started moving toward me. It was rush hour, it was dark, and I had no way to back up. All I could do was clear the intersection.

Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a police car turn onto Northern Lights and flip on his lights. Sure enough, he was after me. I pulled over, shaking with fury. He asked if I knew why he'd stopped me. I said no, because I'd been unable to stop. He said I'd never even braked. I said that he couldn't have seen that because of where he was sitting when I slid into the intersection. He gave me a ticket anyway. I was crying and angry and not at all cooperative.

He didn't demand that I get out of the car. He apologized for messing up my morning.

That's how such an encounter should go. A police officer should expect that pulling people over is not going to make them happy. An officer should expect that people might, in fact, swear at them, and that the officer's job in the situation is to calm things down.

So when I see people saying that what happened to Sandra Bland is because she was uncooperative, I am horrified. Who are these people who think that police officers should be mindlessly obeyed, and if they do not receive not just cooperation but eager cooperation then those officers are justified in dragging people from their cars and arresting them for resisting an officer.

This is only a few steps from a "let me see your papers" kind of police state. Our fourth amendment rights are threatened and many people are supporting the police as they trample these rights. We are supposed to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Refusing to put out a cigarette is not an act that should triggered reasonable seizure. Where does it end? Disagreeing with an officer? Rolling one's eyes? Not smiling?
Do we truly want to live in a world where red lights flashing behind us leave us in fear of our lives?
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Adulting [Jul. 25th, 2015|12:49 pm]
Zoethe
I was contemplating what it means to be an adult today, triggered by reading my "On This Day" in Facebook. Two years ago today we were in Kauai, and one of my posts read, "Hello, Kauai! I'd forgotten the joy of coconut syrup!"
Of course, I immediately remembered that forgotten joy, and wondered if it was something I could acquire in the states.

Kauai's coconut syrup is a unique product, cloyingly sweet, and it is the one item that overcomes my dislike of sweet things for breakfast. I dislike maple syrup, and generally am not fond of pancakes. But give me a bottle of Kauai coconut syrup and I will DROWN those flapjacks in it.

So of course I was curious as to whether this product is something that one can get via the internet. And the answer is, only sorta. You can get Hawaii coconut syrup, which claims to be just like the syrup served in island restaurants. But it's a different label, and I am suspicious.

Alternatively, you can get a dried version of the real thing, to which you just add boiling water to reconstitute. This makes sense to me. Shipping from Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, so why ship the water if you can avoid it. It's not quite the same, but it's the same company, so I bet it's close.

And that's when I began contemplating adulthood. There is nothing of nutritional value in this syrup; it's almost certainly 99% sugar. And while it's a wonderful treat when I get to Hawaii, is it something I want to have in my home for mundane use?

If I was a kid, I could whine and beg and probably storm away in a rage at the unfairness of life when I was refused this silly thing. But I'm an adult. I have a credit card. I could click the button and make Kauai coconut syrup appear in my house.

Which means when I look around for someone to tell me yes or no, that someone has to be me. I'm adult enough that I can choose what I want. I'm grown up enough to make those choices be smart.

I closed the amazon page.
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And we forgot the taste of bread.... [Jul. 24th, 2015|11:34 am]
Zoethe
As some of you know, last fall Ferrett and I did an experiment wherein we ate Soylent--and only Soylent--for a week. The first few days were hell, but by the end of it I kind of wanted to go on just eating Soylent. So we started a subscription by which a month's worth of the stuff would be sent to us every four weeks.
This was one of those experiments in which we mostly learned how much we suck. Because of course for the couple weeks we had to wait for the Soylent to arrive, we went back to eating real food. So when it came we were no longer inured, and our taste buds screamed, "What the hell are you doing?!!"
We have only succeeded in soylent-only days a couple times, none of them consecutively.

Our next thought was, well we will eat soylent for breakfast and lunch, and regular food for dinner. Which might have worked if we didn't fall upon dinner like ravening wolves who hadn't eaten all day. And if in the midst of all this we were actually going to the grocery store and shopping.

Instead, we would get to 6pm, both be famished, and order something out. On some days, we might have the insight to have ground turkey in the house and make turkey burgers. But mostly it was last-minute audibles involving the collection of takeaway menus in one of the junk drawers.

A week ago I stopped at the grocery store for milk and peanut butter, and standing in the produce aisle I had something of a panic attack: I honestly couldn't think of things to do with the abundance of food before me. Couldn't think of recipes, couldn't look at a vegetable and get inspired to put something together. Dismayed, I fled to the fluorescent comfort of the dairy section, picked up the two things I'd come for, and checked out. But the experience left me unsettled. I've always been kind of a jazz cook: show me ingredients and I come up with possibilities. Where had that gone?

Wednesday afternoon--woodworking Wednesdays for Ferrett and our friend Eric--I was driving home from a client meeting and wondering where we'd get dinner. And a wave of disgusted nausea rolled over me. I texted Ferrett to tell him that I could not look another takeout dinner in the face. I was heartily, completely, sick of it. So I was going to the grocery store, and making white chicken chili for dinner. I knew that wasn't one of his favorites, but it was something for which I knew all the ingredients and could shop efficiently.

Or so I thought. I got about 3/4 of the way through cooking and realized the four ingredients I'd missed. Slightly daunted, but unwilling to change plans, I hopped in the car and ran back to the grocery store. Erin came over for dinner and she and I finished up the chili together.

Ferrett didn't like it. I don't think Eric cared that much for it. Then again, they got the pepperless, low spice version, because Ferrett can't stand peppers and Eric has no tolerance for any kind of heat. There's was more of a chicken soup than an actual chili. Erin and I, on the other hand, loved ours, and she took home over half of the leftovers.

I'm not quite sure how to go forward. We still have four cases of soylent, and I know for a fact that the week we actually did eat it I felt healthier. But I also know that we've made at least three commitments to soylent-only days and have broken every one. I'm bad at straddling these two worlds, and not sure how to proceed. I've got no wise words or insights on which to end this, just a shrug and a promise to follow up as things progress.
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A matter of taste [Jul. 23rd, 2015|10:04 am]
Zoethe
When I was a wee child, I loved black olives. I’m talking about the pitted ones, straight out the can and tasting of metal as much as anything else. I think it was mostly because I could stick them on the ends of my fingers and march them around like the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Yes, as a 4-year-old born in Oregon, I was already an Anglophile. Blame Captain Kangaroo.

Anyway, somewhere around 5 or 6, I suddenly hated olives. This might have been concurrent with my sudden hatred of cheese (and I do mean sudden—one day I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and the next day informed my mother that I hated cheese; I can still remember the look of total bafflement on her face). But the cheese hatred ended when I was about 12.
Olives, on the other hand, I despised for decades. Even olive oil was distasteful to me.
I remember when that started to change. It was my first visit to Ann Arbor to spend a week with Ferrett, some 16 years ago. He took me to Macaroni Grill, and they gave us bread with olive oil for dipping. They dressed it up with cracked pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and though I turned up my nose at the idea, Ferrett encouraged me to at least taste it.

I didn’t like it.

At least not on the first taste. It was bitter and sharp and musty. But after a few minutes my taste buds said, “Hmm, try that again.” And I still didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it in an intriguing way that brought me back for several more tastes.

In a very short time, I liked olive oil. But only mild olive oil, and certainly not olives. Then by a couple years later I liked stronger olive oils, but not olives.
It wasn’t that I try. I’d figured out that black olives from a can were a bastardized and dreadful creation that would never be any good. But by that time it was pretty easy to find decent quality olives around, and I would try them now and again. No-go. Even salads with olives chopped into them were nasty to me.

In 2008, for my 50th birthday, we went to New Orleans. Someone told Ferrett that we must make a trip to Central Grocery for their muffaletta sandwich. The sandwich is a kind of meat-and-cheese concoction with a thick layer of olive salad. I was willing to walk with him to Central Grocery so that he could have the experience, but I was only going to take a single bite of this olive-laced monstrosity.

After my fourth bite, Ferrett huffily (and justifiably) told me to get back in line and get my own. The funny thing is, I was still having a wincing reaction to the olives, but around that it was delicious.

Still, my attempts at approaching the unadorned olive were still abortive at best. I really wanted to like them, tried time and again, winced through eating them, and was generally failing.

Then in 2014 we went to Italy. And there I ate olives, olives in quantity, olives of beauty. I feasted upon olives.

Then I came home and ate them only rarely. But last week Erin came over with a container of olives from the olive bar at the grocery store, and she and I ate olives and drank wine and that was dinner.

And this afternoon, walking by the olive bar, I craved them again. And brought home olives. Which Erin and I nibbled at while cooking dinner. For which I sautéed the vegetables in a grassy, strong olive oil.

The odd thing is, part of my tongue still isn’t pleased by either the olives or the oil. I both like them and wince at them. But I’ve learned to appreciate that wince at the bitter, and enjoy the rest of it even more because of that odd complexity.

And the other day I ate on olive garnishing some baba ganoush. The moment it was in my mouth, I knew it was an olive from a can. Those? Are still disgusting.
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The hazards of competence [Jul. 22nd, 2015|12:04 am]
Zoethe
My office is clean.

I’d show you pictures of this miracle, but as I did not take a “before,” it’s rather pointless. Suffice to say, it wasn’t Hoarders, but it wasn’t good.

And during the cleaning of my office, I had at least two occasions to say, “Who in the name of mercy left me in charge for the last nine months?” Today I will be spending my afternoon at the BMV, getting our car’s expired tags renewed, a task I could have done online months ago had I been capable of paying attention.

But I thought I had things under control. All client work was handled, the rest of the house was relatively clean, I was making it to my appointments. I wasn’t curled in a ball under the kitchen table. Perhaps it would have been better if I was. Perhaps my loved ones would have realized that I was not doing well.

Then again, it’s been a tough year for them, too.

As is typical with me, I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know I needed help until I’d gotten past needing most of it. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not like climbing a mountain and looking back to think, “I did that all myself!” It’s more like walking in a really dangerous neighborhood, stumbling back into safety, and wondering “What the hell was I thinking?!”

I’m safe now, I think. I’m asking for help more, setting boundaries, not pretending that I have it all in hand. I’m digging out. But it’s scary how much I didn’t recognize how bad I was.
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It's a jungle out there [Jul. 20th, 2015|01:14 pm]
Zoethe
My back garden, that lovely place I created for myself back in 2003, has gone so far to weed that I won’t even take a picture of it. Suffice to say, the weeds are the height of corn all around the bee hive.

We had one hive survive, and they are intrepid jungle fliers, just to get out of that mess. The other hive has undoubtedly, in its abandoned state, been taken over by ants and wax moths.

The thing is, I *want* to like gardening. I want to want to be out there, puttering around. I want to grow tomatoes and peppers, and enjoy that beautiful space.

I just don’t want it enough to do anything about it. And I’m not quite sure what to do about that. We have people who mow for us, but the cost of their weeding and such is prohibitive. And I have guilt about having people do that work when it’s something I want to want to do.

Right now it’s hot and humid, and that’s my excuse for not going out there. Also, I have work to do. Also also, allergies. But really? I’m finding the guilt easier to live with than the actual work would be. Even though I know from experience that if I did it I would be happier, and proud of myself. I just can’t quite get myself to go.
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I'll never be this young again [Jul. 17th, 2015|01:50 pm]
Zoethe
Here is my beloved Betty, now adapted to accommodate my back:



The handlebars, which used to be slightly lower than the seat, are now quite high. Between an extended stem and the raised handlebars, I can sit up quite straight. I rode again yesterday, a little over 6 miles, and once again made myself keep it short.

It's tough, this starting slow. I was sore as heck afterward. I tell myself that it's the good kind of pain, but it's still pain.

Today, I feel good. I recovered well. I feel...cheerful about where I am.

I listened to Avici's Wake Me Up. One of the lyrics is "I wish that I could stay forever this young." And before, I've heard that with melancholy: I'm well past youth.

And then today I realized, I am still younger than I will be tomorrow, and certainly younger than I will be in 10 years. I am embracing that, making the best use of today so that my tomorrows will be the best they can be.
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Coming back to Grace [Jul. 16th, 2015|02:15 pm]
Zoethe
(Cross-posted from Living Graciously)

This blog has been, to put it mildly, ignored of late.

That kind of fits in with the rest of my life. It's been a year and a month since Rebecca died, and eight months since my mother died. It was a year of upheaval before that. And all of it has led to a kind of retreat into myself. Depression, yes, but more closer to hibernation.

I am ready to fight my way back out of that. I'm discovering new tools for doing so.

For a while I thought I might just give up on blogging altogether. Ironically, it is Facebook--that death of LiveJournal--that has brought me back to it. Just before the anniversary of Rebecca's death, I activated the "On This Day" feature on Facebook. And yes, there were some very painful memories. But there have also been good memories, and reminders of things that made me smile or laugh of think.

And comments from my mother. The first time I ran into one it took the legs out from under me. But after that I've been grateful that I am left with her voice, in words, on my page.

Grateful, gracious, they are words that come back to grace. Grace as in recognizing the blessings that I have, even when there are bad days, and sad days. Grace in remembering that I got through some hard things, and in being inspired by triumphs and by love.

I don't want those memories to stop in 2013 or 2014, both of which were very hard years. I want them to go forward, and find the quiet blessings in the years to come. And for that, I need to put the words on the page.
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Reproductive rights, and the real reason that the far right hates birth control [Jul. 6th, 2015|12:34 pm]
Zoethe
Colorado has engaged in a 5-year initiative to provide free birth control to teens. As a result of this initiative, the teen birth rate has dropped by 40%. The program is an unqualified success.

So what has Colorado's GOP-dominated legislature decided to do about it? Drop the program, of course.

The reasoning given is beyond ridiculous: if we give them birth control, we're encouraging them to have sex. Nevermind that the birth rate prior to giving them birth control proved that they were, in fact, already having sex. Such factoids don't interest these people.

Because they're omitting the rest of their thought: These young women are having sex, and they aren't being punished for it. How can they control the behavior of these women if they can make their own decisions about their bodies and not suffer?

And they want them to suffer. Oh, yes, there is great lip service paid to the sanctity of human life, and there are people in the anti-choice camp who truly care about what happens to those unwanted children. But I've asked more than a few anti-choicers about the welfare of the children they would see born, and they've basically said, "That's not my problem; that woman had a baby, she has to live with the consequences." The continual attack on food stamps and other programs to help the less fortunate shows the same attitude: we only care about the fetus, and once it's born and burdens a woman, our job is done. We made sure that she didn't get away with having sex not endorsed by our religion. Now she and her brat can rot in a cellar, for all we care.

Colorado lawmakers would rather scrap a program with proven results than risk that women make their own decisions about their sex lives. They want those women to be forced into single motherhood, if they dare to have sex outside the confines of marriage. To them, the notion that women might be making their own decisions, and enjoying their sex lives, is a greater evil than children growing up disadvantaged and in poverty.

I don't think I'll ever understand why sexually independent women are such a threat to these people. But it happens, over and over. The House just overturned a D.C. law banning discrimination for reproductive choices. So an employer in D.C. can fire a woman for using birth control. All in the name of "religious freedom."

This is not religious freedom. Religious freedom is not forcing a person to use birth control. It's not allowing employers to poke into the private lives of their employees and dictate their life decisions. And since all birth control except over-the-counter methods like condoms are used by women, the law will have minimal impact on men, who can just pay cash and leave no paper trail for their reproductive decisions.

There is a war on women's reproductive freedom. Make no mistake about it. It's an ongoing battle to control women's bodies. And we have to fight back.
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The end of an era [Jun. 20th, 2015|11:08 pm]
Zoethe
Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, the 50" rear-screen projector TV that was the heart of what has been affectionately referred to as the "Monster Penis System" will find its way to the curb, to be replaced by the shiny new 70" flat screen waiting quietly in its box to the right of me.

I'm excited about this. The picture quality on the MPS has undeniably faded in the 13 years since it came to dominate my living room. I remember the prolific swearing involved in getting the sound system to work with the TV. I remember that our first movie event was a marathon viewing of the Lord of the Rings movies. I remember how a 50" screen seemed like too much TV for the room.

I remember joking about how the damned thing was so big that it would eventually serve as a convenient side-by-side coffin for Ferrett and me.

But we have outlived the MPS. And, after years of resisting an upgrade (because flat screen HD all looked so weird and fake and why would we DO that???), I admit that I'm only resisting yanking all the wires tonight is that the new stand needs two people to put it together. I'm excited about a screen that once again overwhelms my senses, makes me worry that it's more visuals than I can handle.

But in the meantime? I just started The Fellowship of the Ring. It's a kind of requiem. Dozens of movie marathons, hundreds of hours of gaming, have happened on this TV. Dozens of Rock Band parties, filled with laughter and friendship, came from this TV. I look forward to its successor. But I will miss the damned silly thing.

Farewell, old friend. I will keep the most ridiculous vigil ever, watching Lord of the Rings tonight. But you deserve it.
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Gender neutrality, and the hand-wringing it, um, engenders [Jun. 11th, 2015|10:53 am]
Zoethe
Thanks to a letter from a little girl (and undoubtedly a lot of other complaints, but this is the one that gets the credit) who thought that she couldn't have the Darth Vader costume because it was labeled "for boys," Disney had stopped labeling its toys and costumes as "for boys" or "for girls" and is now labeling them "for kids." Many people are applauding this as a boon for gender neutrality.*

Some on the right, however, see it as runaway political correctness and think it's stupid that parents can't just explain to their kids that just because something is labeled for one gender doesn't mean that they can't have it, too.

Some of these are the same people who, when told that just because Christmas is treated mostly as a secular holiday doesn't mean they can't explain to their kids that it's about Jesus, flip their shit and scream about the War on Christmas.

Look, I am of the opinion that political correctness can sometimes get out of hand, and that people are often way too sensitive about the weirdest crap. But considering what an uphill battle women still face in the marketplace, thinking that it's okay to tell girls that they just have to live with being marginalized from childhood is problematic.

In an era when we're supposed to be getting past these sorts of issues, the pinkening of girl's toys puts a lie to that claim. Toys are big business, and toy stores steer their pint-sized clientele to segregated aisles, marked by color. Not only do girls get dolls and appliances and makeup and fluffy stuffed animals, they don't even get a chance to compare trucks and lightsabers side by side with those toys and make a decision about which they want. Not unless they are willing to buck the stereotyping and march into those blue aisles.

This is not something immaterial. Study after study reveals ongoing teacher bias that discourages girls from pursuing math and science. Women still earn less than men and do the bulk of the unpaid labor. If life is a footrace, then girls start their race several yards further back on the field and have a lot more hurdles along their track than boys.

"For kids" may seem like a small thing, maybe even a silly thing. But it's one less hurdle, one less time that girls have to be told that they aren't actually included and must buck expectations in order to get what they want. Bucking the system is exhausting, and we all have only so much energy for it.

*And it's good for the boys who want that princess dress and can no longer be put off by parents pointing to the "for girls" label.)
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One year out [Jun. 8th, 2015|09:31 am]
Zoethe
One year out it still hurts, but the ache is more of a low, throbbing one with fewer of the sharp, breathtaking jabs.

One year out the sharp, breathtaking jabs still come.

One year out I can remember the last day vividly.

One year out the details of the days leading up to and following that last day are jumbled.

One year out I wonder how much of what I remember of the last day is actually what happened.

One year out I remember the scent of her, the sound of her voice, her impish smile.

One year out I still have times when I am staggered that it really did happen.

"Now We Are Six"

A. A. Milne
When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now
Forever and forever.

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Overcoming inertia [Jun. 5th, 2015|02:06 pm]
Zoethe
Over the last couple years I've kind of just...stopped. I stopped doing any gardening, then I stopped biking, then I stopped quilting, then I stopped cooking. I feel like I just ran down. I've sort of puddled into the corner of this couch, laptop and phone, and let bytes run my life.

Part of this has been the back problems, but the inactivity is exacerbating those problems rather than helping.

I'm working to overcome that now. Yesterday I went outside and pulled weeds, accomplishing about 3% of the work that needs to be done just to get our yard back up to barely acceptable standards. It made me feel really good, just being outside. When I came in, I told Ferrett that what I really needed to do was get up every morning and spend an hour in the garden. I'm hoping to build back up to an hour of several different things a day: an hour of exercise; an hour of quilting; an hour of writing. I will take it slowly, because the ALL THE THINGS trap is easy for me to trigger, and then I'll be back to square one.

So when I stayed up way too late last night, and when I forgot to set an alarm, and when other things came along to interfere with my plan, I came close to abandoning it "for today."

But "today" tends to turn into, "this week" and "this month." Instead, I made myself get out there and put in an hour of weed pulling.

I feel better about myself for doing it. It's a tiny step in the right direction, but it's a step.
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In a galaxy far away [Jun. 1st, 2015|10:09 am]
Zoethe
Most of you know, but for those who don't: in addition to Rebecca's death last June, I've been dealing with my mother's death at the beginning of November. It was a second blow that really took the legs out from under me.

My main way of coping has been to kind of disappear into the corner of the couch and read Star Wars novels. Many, many Star Wars novels. My interest has been limited to novels set during and after The Holy Trilogy.

Still, thanks to the existence of e-books at the local library, I have read 74 Star Wars novels since November. But now I'm coming to an end. I've read all the adult EU books now, and only have the young reader books left.

And a billion other books, non-Star Wars books, scattered all over the house to read. So what am I doing?

Seeking out the kid's books. Because I'm not quite ready to emerge from the corner of the couch and that galaxy. But I'm making small steps. I worked out yesterday for the first time in months. I spent time with friends this weekend. I'm even making a second LJ entry in a week.

It's a slow process, but I am getting there.

However, we have started watching the Clone Wars cartoons....
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Sleepy time [May. 29th, 2015|09:48 am]
Zoethe
I have reached a fascinating new relationship with sleep. I have two modes now:

1. Read or putz around on my phone until 2:30 or 3:00 a.m., then sleep until around 9:00 a.m.

2. Fall asleep around 11:00 p.m., then wake up at 3:00 a.m., still exhausted, and not be able to fall back to sleep.

Neither of these are what I'd call optimal rest patterns. I keep reading about how important sleep is, and how I should be getting more of it. Why doesn't my body understand this?

In other news, I'm recovering from a sprained ankle. At some point, I'd like to get back to working out, but any pace faster than a stroll hurts like a beast.
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Loss, impending as well as present [Oct. 17th, 2014|10:57 am]
Zoethe
Next Saturday I am flying to Bismark, North Dakota, to see my mom.

It will almost certainly be the last time I see my mom.

Mom has been battling health issues for a number of years now. She has been in complete renal failure for about a year, and now she has an infection and serious swelling in one leg. If they can't get that under control, she is looking at the possibility of amputation. In any event, she is almost certain that she will never be able to go home again, that she will be consigned to a nursing home.

And she's done. She's in continual pain. She can't really lie down anymore due to congestive heart failure, the dialysis is painful and eats up what quality of life she has left. She was widowed last year just after Thanksgiving, and she says she's ready to go and be with her sweetie again.

The thing that is tearing me up most about this is that Mom only moved to the Dakotas this summer to live with her cousin, also recently widowed. It was supposed to be a renaissance of sorts for her; after living in relative isolation in Montana, she was having such a great time with her new friends. Her cousin has a great social circle of robust old women with whom Mom was getting acquainted. They were welcoming, and she was getting out to play cards and have lunch several days a week. It was all going so well, and I really thought that she was going to get better and have a few happy years puttering around there. But as they say, humans plan and the gods laugh.

Still, a year ago when she was doing very badly, I was much more adjusted to the idea that she was likely to die. Now that she has a reason to live, I'm taking her impending death much harder.

My dad died almost two decades ago, suddenly and without warning. Now my mom is planning her demise. I'm the first of the kids going to see her, but she's trying to get all four of us out there for one last visit. Then, unless things improve radically and unexpectedly, she will refuse dialysis, accept only palliative care, and die rather quickly.

I have often said I wasn't sure which way was easier: the shock of an unexpected death, or the adjustment time for an anticipated one. After this year, I think I have enough data points to say that the unexpected death is much easier. Because the pre-grieving period when you know it's coming doesn't do anything to relieve the grief that follows. It just drags it out that much longer.

I used to think I had a pretty good handle on death and grief. I don't think that anymore. I am humbled by how hard I am taking everything that's happened this year.

I also used to look forward to the New Year like it was an actual turning of the tide. 2013 was a very tough year, so tough that we literally burned the calendar at the end of last year, hoping to banish that bad year. But 2014 has been awful. The years have slurred together, and I don't look forward to marking 2015 as a new beginning when things will change. Just more of the same uphill slog.

For now, the mountain I have to climb is looming directly before me. Time to tie up my boots and start climbing.
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Thank you [Oct. 13th, 2014|12:06 pm]
Zoethe
Thank you to everyone who responded to my last entry. I tried to go in and write individual comments to each of you, because you deserve them. But I have not the heart for it. Know that I have read and taken comfort from all of your comments several times. And please forgive me for my inability to overcome the terrible weight on my chest when I attempt to formulate responses.
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The state of the Z [Oct. 10th, 2014|10:59 am]
Zoethe
I have been all but silent on social media of late. Here, that's not news, as my journal has languished for some time now. But my Facebook updates have dropped to a small fraction of what they were, and my participation on SparkPeople has almost ceased.

Socially, I'm rolling up like a pill bug. I will tell you that I don't like it, but my actions belie my words.

Grief is a strange and difficult path to walk.

Before now, I believed myself to have a pretty good handle on the whole death thing. My views on the soul and the afterlife are very solid and established, so concern about the fate of the dearly departed has not been a concern since I was a child. I was sad when my dad died, and there was a lot of shock because it was so sudden and unexpected. But I was functional and pretty much back to normal within a month. When Ferrett's stepdad, Bruce, died it hit me quite hard. But by the time we got back from California I was able to go back to my daily routines pretty well. I had regular moments of being very sad, but they passed with a few tears. Very little about those deaths or the earlier deaths of much-loved grandparents consistently impacted my daily life.

Rebecca's death has been a completely different experience. We are four months away from that terrible day, and I still feel like gravity has been increased four-fold, like a weight is continually pushing down on my chest. I'll be driving in my car and tears will overflow from my eyes. Amy and I watched Tangled last night, and the scene of the king and queen working up their courage to face another hopeless lantern release reduced me to sobs--yes, I knew that their story would have a happy ending, but at that moment all they had was years of grief. Lilo and Stitch completely ruined Ferrett and me both for the next entire day after we'd watched it.

I'm kind of impatient and angry with myself that my grief is this deep. I don't feel like I have a right to it. Though Ferrett and I are the designated guardians for the Meyer children, should something happen to Kat and Eric, we are *not* the parents. We weren't there with the children every day like their parents were. We weren't there several days a week like the nannies were. We weren't even there weekly for the couple years before Rebecca got sick. Sometimes a whole month would go by that we didn't see her. I feel like I'm intruding on grief that I haven't earned. Like I'm a phony. Sometimes I worry that my grief is somehow damaging to Kat and Eric, that I'm hurting them in some way.

And yet this weight is on my chest, these tears fall. The stern talkings-to that I give myself have no effect.
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Rebecca, and CureSearch [Sep. 24th, 2014|09:37 am]
Zoethe
A year ago, Team Becca participated in the CureSearch Walk. We were a sea of purple, led by a lively and laughing 5-year-old who ran wild on the grass, chasing other children, teasing her uncles, getting tossed in the air and squealing in delight. We were a worried but hopeful group of family and friends, laughing and chatting and enjoying a sunny day. We had raised a record $11,000+ for CureSearch, and no one could have guessed that our giggling 5-year-old was a cancer patient.

The other families who were there probably thought, "Look at them; they're innocent children, playing at cancer. They have no idea what's coming."

And we didn't. Because, despite a completely successful tumor removal, aggressive proton radiation therapy, and chemo, 10 months later we buried Rebecca, who died on her sixth birthday. Her anaplastic astrocytoma reemerged in multiple sites in her brain, inoperable this time, and she did not respond to the experimental drug trial. On the first Sunday of June, her family held her birthday party a week early. She had her face painted and rode in the rocket car shouting, "faster, faster!"

The following Saturday, surrounded by loved ones, Rebecca died. If love had been enough to keep her alive, Rebecca would be thriving now. As it was, we all watched this spunky, spitfire of a child, who was never really ill, and agonized in frustration that we were powerless in the face of this cancer.

It was like watching her stand on a train track with the train rushing toward her, with nothing we could do to stop or even slow it.

For Rebecca, we can but mourn now. The grief remains overwhelming. But in her memory, we can do our best to save other families from suffering such a terrible loss.

Raising money for CureSearch this year has been agonizing. Every time I write about it, I am pretty much wrecked for the rest of the day. But it's worth it, because thanks to you amazing people Team Becca has raised over $8,700 so far. We only have 3 more days to go before the walk, and I think it would be a fitting tribute to raise $10,000 in her memory.

Thank you, all you amazing people who have contributed so far. To see my donations page jump to almost $3,500 is humbling. Your generosity overwhelms me.
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Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin' [Sep. 18th, 2014|12:13 pm]
Zoethe
When Ferrett and I were first married, I had a digital alarm clock with a bold, green display. One night I awoke around 2am and discovered that the display had turned to red. I wondered what had happened to the LCD, and in the morning I pointed it out to Ferrett.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "That clock has always been red."

Well, he was clearly wrong, so I called my daughters in to get them to verify that the clock had changed. They looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. No, they said. You've had that clock for years and it has always been red.

But this was no mere momentary forgetfulness. For at least two weeks, every time I entered the bedroom or rolled over in the night, I was actively, viscerally startled by the sight of that red display. If I rolled over, half asleep, and saw it, I was jarred to full wakefulness by how disturbing it was.

This is when I began to ponder whether the multiverse truly exists and whether our consciousness could "slip" from one layer of reality to another. Multiverse theory says that every possible outcome of a situation actually does happen, creating new universes that encompass all outcomes. So there are multiverses where I am president, and others where I didn't survive childhood. And if that is the case, then there must be multiverses where my consciousness can slip from one layer of possibility to the next.

I thought of this today as I was counting the steps in the old Arcade building downtown. During the four years that I worked downtown, I would eat lunch in that building at least once a week. And I remember distinctly the pattern of the broad staircase into the lower level: 7 steps, landing, 7 steps, landing, 7 steps, landing, 8 steps. I remember thinking that it was odd that they hadn't managed to build the steps so that they were all the same, wondering if it was intentional in some way. I am a compulsive step-counter, so I noted it almost every time.

Last week, I cut through the building on my way back from court. I was checking my email as I climbed the stairs, so it was only when I'd gotten to the top that I noted that the pattern didn't seem right. Convinced that I'd miscounted, I continued to my car. But it was niggling at me.

So today I went into the building again, paid attention, and counted. 7 steps, landing, 7 steps, landing, 7 steps, landing, 7 steps. The odd step is no longer there.

This fact leaves me with three possibilities: 1. They'd rebuilt the staircase, which they clearly haven't done; 2. I am misremembering, despite the strength of my memories; 3. I've slipped a little to the left in the multiverse.

I acknowledge that number 2 is definitely the most likely, though I am absolutely certain that my memories are accurate--then again, I would be. But it's number 3 that has me melancholy today.

Because if number 3 is right, then there are layers and layers of multiverses where Rebecca is still alive. Where Rebecca never had cancer at all. Where an alternate Rebecca is driving an alternate me crazy over some silly stubbornness and the alternate me has no reason to count her blessings. And while that should be heartwarming, to consider the possibility of alive and safe Rebeccas, instead it is making me jealous and resentful. I want that to be *my* reality. I want to live in that safe world. But it's too many layers away for me to reach.
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CureSearch [Sep. 3rd, 2014|11:17 am]
Zoethe
I would like to say that I have mixed feelings about raising money for CureSearch this year. But my feelings are not mixed. I am angry. Irrationally, ridiculously angry. Because, despite all the fore-brain logic in the world that knows that the fundraising we did last year was not directly for Rebecca, there's a part of me that is still screaming, "But we did all the right things! We raised money! We all prayed! We all pitched in to help the family through treatment! We were good and kind and loving! We cared more than anyone else has ever cared!"

And it didn't matter. Rebecca died.

If caring and praying were enough, Rebecca would still be alive. If caring and praying were enough, almost everyone would survive cancer. But they aren't enough. Better treatments are what's needed. Better treatments require research. Research requires money.

Part of me wants to just walk away from this, because every time I have to write about it just brings all the pain back to the surface: the sharp, immediate pain instead of the continual throbbing ache that is forever in my heart. It leaves me torn up for the rest of the day, in tears.

But I remind myself that there are other families out there at risk of feeling what we are feeling. That they *do* pray as hard as we prayed, care as much as we care. And I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

Wishing isn't enough. We learned that. We are left with only one practical option: raise money for research. Please give what you can, and join us on the walk if you are able. We will be wearing purple again, in memory of our special girl.
http://www.curesearchwalk.org/neohio/gini_judd
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On Ferguson and fear [Aug. 21st, 2014|11:52 am]
Zoethe
I remember the first mass hysteria about child endangerment: the news was filled with stories about razor blades and needles being pushed into apples and candy at Halloween. Parents were urged to check all of their children's candy before allowing them to eat it, and to discard anything that hadn't come packaged from the store.

That was the end of caramel apples, popcorn balls, cookies, and brownies as Halloween treats. But it was all based on absolutely no reality whatsoever. No case of anyone accused of trying to poison Halloween candy has ever turned out to be true. And yet the notion persists to this day that hand-made treats are dangerous.

I also remember a childhood where we rode our bikes a long way to friends' homes, and no one thought anything about it. Where we slept out in the back yard in the summer and no parent felt it was necessary to stand guard over us. (Well, okay, my Gramma always fretted that we'd be kidnapped by "the Indians" or if it was harvest season "the Mexicans," but no one took her seriously on this or pretty much any topic.) Then came Code Adam and the fear that random strangers were just trawling the streets looking for small children to kidnap. And now there are kids who aren't allowed to walk two doors down in their neighborhood without an adult watching from the porch to make sure they arrive safely. Parents who allow their kids to ride their bike around the block alone are considered reckless or foolish or even neglectful by some.

And yet the incident of actual stranger abductions is only about 115 a year, and 60% of those children are recovered alive. So your child is statistically at much more risk riding in the family car than walking a few blocks to a friend's house. Yet we are so afraid of that uncontrollable factor that we instill fear into our kids. There are entire websites devoted to instilling paranoia in parents about all the danger their children are in if they don't keep them in sight every minute. We are so risk-averse that we smother our kids, all based on a fear hysteria that has nothing to do with real life.

Which brings us to Ferguson, cop killing, and cops who kill.

I don't think Darrin Wilson woke up on the morning of August 9, got in the shower, and thought, "Think I'm gonna go shoot myself a black kid today." But I do think he--and many, many cops like him--went onto the street with a mind filled with fear. The fear that cops get killed in the streets <i>all the time</i>. The fear that every confrontation, particularly with a black male, puts a cop in real danger of being shot, possibly with his own gun, and left to die in the streets.

And once again, this is fear hysteria. Last year only 33 police officers died of gunshot wounds, the lowest total since 1887. Yes, 157 years ago. In the 2000s police gunshot deaths have annually have steadily declined from about 50.

So far this year, police have killed over 400 people. And yet crime is at an all-time low.

Now, I'm not saying that the death of any officer is justified. It's always tragic when someone is killed in the line of duty. What I'm saying is that the perceived risk that is being instilled in the training of police officers in our very risk-averse and very bad-at-statistics world is leading to cops getting out of their cars already jangling with fear. And fear can burst into panic with very slight provocation. Being handed military-grade equipment to patrol the streets only increases the perception that this equipment must be necessary, so the fear must be real.

I don't think Darrin Wilson was out looking for a black kid to kill with impunity. I think Darrin Wilson got out of his car expecting an altercation, and whatever happened between him and Michael Brown, he actually did believe that he was in danger. I also think he made terrible decisions out of panic, and that those terrible decisions should not go without some kind of consequences.

More importantly, though, I think that police officers need to be trained to better understand that they are at relatively little risk from the general populous, and to stop treating the citizens they are sworn to protect like enemy combatants. The risk-averse panic mode is endemic in our country, and it needs to stop.
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A few thoughts from Italy [Aug. 15th, 2014|10:32 am]
Zoethe

1. Italians love their dogs. We saw dogs everywhere. Including in restaurants and shops. In Venice, many of them weren't even on leashes, just walking with their owners (no cars, no worry of being hit). And they were almost all well-behaved; only a couple of barking incidents. Most of the dogs were mutts, clear crossbreeds often involving dachshunds someplace. Seeing people in the grocery store with their dog in the cart or on a leash was pretty awesome.

2. Italians don't work out. The entire time we were there I saw three joggers, all of them tourists, and one gym, which was empty. Yet the people were all pretty fit. I believe there are two reasons behind this. First of all, there was almost no fast food (though McDonalds were dishearteningly ubiquitous), so most of the food these people eat is fresh and unprocessed. Secondly, they walk everywhere. Even in the areas of Rome where there were four lane, main thoroughfares there was relatively little traffic. But lots of people on their feet on the street.

3. All the amazing sites in Rome are actually pretty easy to get to on foot, once you get a lay of the land. We stayed in an apartment off the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), and it took us a couple of days to realize, but everything was pretty much within a mile or two. The map of Rome that we were provided was all but useless to us because it was so small as to be almost illegible and kind of resembled a plate of spaghetti. But on the evening after we visited Eataly (a sort of death march for which I take the blame because I didn't just follow my first instinct and say, "We go this way!"), when we took a cab to a restaurant that had come highly recommended, and then tried to find a Metro station that was noted on Google maps (inaccurately, curse you Google) (but at least we were wise enough to leave Ferrett's mom, Patricia, with Amy seated comfortably in a nice piazza), we learned from a waiter (whose restaurant was in the very spot that the Metro wasn't) that the closest Metro stop was Piazza di Spagna. (He was quite baffled when we let out a cheer instead of expressing dismay). And then the cab ride took us right up to this large castle, which he told me was San Angelo, and past some impressive palace looking thing, then half a mile later he was dropping us off and I raced to the map to see what this thing was that was so close by and, oh look, The Vatican. At that point I had an idea of scale and realized that the Pantheon was easily within walking distance. And, after having spent a confused hour trying to locate it the first day we were looking for it, we ended up at Trevi Fountain by accident at least twice.

4. While Venice is decidedly smaller than Rome, though, it is much tougher to navigate on foot. The water bus is awesome, because it takes you all around the island and also to the other islands. But once you are on foot, you are in a maze. A lovely, fascinating, picturesque maze in which you stumble upon delights regularly. But still a maze. We quickly developed a sense of how to get to shopping areas and restaurants and churches from our apartment--and more importantly, back. But attempting to walk across the island, even though it really isn't very far, was pretty much a no-go. We were on the outer shore, very convenient to the water buses, but a long way from San Marco square. So on our last day we rode over to San Marco square and began making our way through the streets, thinking to work our way to the Grand Canal, and then bushwhack with the aid of the map back toward our apartment. After a couple enjoyable hours of shopping, though, it was getting hot and Pat was getting tired, so we decided to ask about where we were.

We were 5 minutes fro San Marco Square. We had very determinedly walked in a circle. Despite taking only right turns and trying to go straight. So we returned to the square and took the water bus back. I am thinking of the place as a Venice Fly Trap.

6. Venice makes the best meringues in the world. And they are the size of your head. I only indulged in one. But I wanted more.

7. On our last night in Venice, I decided to get adventuresome with the local cuisine. So I started my dinner with sweet and sour sardines and then had cuttlefish in black sauce. The sweet and sour sardines were delicious. Everyone at the table enjoyed them. The cuttlefish in black sauce was...well, I appreciated that I had tried something so very different. And that other people at the table were willing to share a few bites of their dinner so that I didn't go hungry. But it made me happy. Because if I don't occasionally have something that I don't like, I am not really challenging my palate.

8. A woman in the restaurant on that last night was carrying on a lively conversation in French with a little boy. Then her phone rang and she rattled along in Italian. Then she spoke to me in decent English. I was embarrassed by my lack of local literacy. Erin had a similar incident in Eataly when she was waiting behind a couple to whom the clerk was speaking in Spanish, in which she is moderately fluent, then turned to her and spoke in Italian. She sort of froze, unable to summon any language, so he tried again in English. We really are bumbling around the world trying to speak SLOWLY AND LOUDLY ENOUGH.

10. Still, people were indulgent with the tiny bit of Italian we attempted to speak. And for the most part incredibly friendly. A few times I felt like they were refraining from patting us on the head or pinching our cheeks and telling us how adorable our atrocious attempts were. But we got through, and had fun.

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Venn diagrams I'd rather avoid [Jul. 8th, 2014|12:51 pm]
Zoethe
I went water jogging yesterday. I'm water jogging because my back injury prohibits many other activities that will get my heartrate high, including running, biking, the elliptical machine, and, oh, pretty much everything except walking and water jogging. (Even lap swimming is something that I'm limited in doing, though I'm working my way back up on that one.)

Anyway, so there I was, in the deep end of the pool, my head out of the water, inching slowly forward while my arms and legs pumped wildly beneath the surface, and I started thinking about the many similarities between chronic pain and grief.

Chronic pain and grief both slow you down. It's been just over a month since Rebecca died. The sharp edge of disbelief has dulled a little. The pain is not quite as fiery. At times, I don't think about it for a few minutes. But everything is suffused with sadness. Even when I'm not actively thinking about it, my brain is still muddy, my movements still slower and more cautious. Getting anything accomplished feels Herculean.

Chronic pain and grief both come slamming in on you without warning. I can be walking down the road or climbing the stairs or just twisting the wrong way and, BAM! I'm in pain. Bad pain. Pain that stops you in your tracks. Which kind of pain, you ask? Either. Both. They both sneak up on you like that.

Chronic pain and grief may be temporarily diminished, but they never go completely away. It's always right below the surface, twinging occasionally to remind you. People saying things like "I'm glad you're getting over that" is frustrating because they don't want to have to explain yet again that there is no getting over it, just better times than others.

You *can* rally for a while and spend energy to push chronic pain or grief away, but it will return, often with a vengeance. This is one of the things that people least understand about both chronic pain sufferers and the grieving. People will see them engaged in activities, talking and laughing, doing something physical, and assume that this is the magic moment when they are "cured" of their pain or grief. They are not. They are "deficit spending" their energy, and will have to pay back that debt in the days to come. So don't get impatient if you see them out and looking well one day, and then hear that they disappeared back into themselves for a week. They are doing their best, and sometimes they have to protect themselves from getting too stressed out.

Chronic pain and grief sufferers don't know when it's going to be worst, and can't always be sure about what is going to trigger their pain. Walking 4 miles one day didn't feel bad at all. Walking 3 miles a few days later was like having my left leg on fire. I can't tell you what was different about those two days. The same with grief. Some days memories will feel warm and comforting, other days they will trigger anguish. They can't tell you what was different between Tuesday and Friday.

Chronic pain and grief sufferers often feel lonely and frustrated. They have to say "no" to so many things, and then know that they are going on without them. People eventually forget to invite them, even though they would still come when they were able. They feel stupid about complaining about this, because they can't guarantee that they will be up to accepting the next invitation.

Chronic pain and grief may both diminish with time, but that time is not a week or a month or even a year. And both will always be there, ready to resurface with fresh agony. My dad's been dead for 18 years, and every once in a while his death completely flattens me. Still.

So if you are spending time with someone suffering from chronic pain or grief, don't say to them, "I'm glad you've gotten over that" or "I'm glad you're better." Say, "I'm glad you were able to participate today" or "I'm happy to see you." Enjoy what they are able to give, and don't put expectations on them for the future.
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Comfort [Jun. 30th, 2014|10:44 am]
Zoethe
Many years ago, I was happily pregnant. Then-husband John and I were excited about Baby Number Two. I'd had an easy first trimester and was well into my second when tragedy struck. Stung by wasps, I had a mild anaphylactic reaction and miscarried. We were camping with friends eighty miles from the civilization when I came back from the outhouse, bleeding profusely. There was a rush to the hospital, but nothing to be done. John and I were both heartbroken.

My mother-in-law flew in to help with Erin. She took over cooking, kept my busy four-year-old entertained, and was generally great. Until the day she made what was supposed to be a comforting observation. "You know," she said, "sometimes when this happens it's because things went wrong. When I was working as a nurse, you'd see women come in miscarrying, but all that came out was a blob with teeth and some hair."

I know she was trying to comfort me with "maybe this is for the best." But all I could here was, "Your grief is invalid and you are foolish for having it. Stop being so self-centered."

I eventually got over the miscarriage, but I never completely got over the callousness of that remark.

I hear of, and read of, people attempting to console the grieving with remarks like:
--S/he is in God's hands now
--It's all part of God's plan
--S/he is an angel now
--Imagine how happy s/he is in heaven
--S/he now has the best parent a child could ever have (yes, I know someone who had to hear that)

You may THINK you are providing comfort by talking about the wonderfulness of an afterlife, but I guarantee you that, with few exceptions* the grieving parent or spouse or sibling or child is HEARING "You should stop all this silly grieving; it's selfish." Even if the deceased was old or suffered a long-term, debilitating illness, don't assume that the grieving are okay with having their pain treated as a self-indulgent triviality.

Only one person EVER has been able to say something like this and get away with it: Jesus. And Jesus only got away with it because the next thing that he did was raise Lazarus from the dead. If Jesus had just told Mary and Martha that Lazarus would rise in the afterlife and then gone on his merry way, they probably would have secretly thought he was kind of a jerk. So unless your next action is going to be raising the dead, then stop saying crap like this. You are actively wounding those already in grief when you say such things.

I hear the excuse of, "People don't mean to cause hurt; they just don't know what to say." So let's make this simple. Here is the guide of the things you should say:

--I'm so very sorry.
--I'm so very sorry. Can I come over on Tuesday and do your laundry?
--I'm so very sorry. Here is an easily-rewarmed dinner that can go in your freezer.
--I'm so very sorry. Let's make up your grocery list, then I can go to the store for you or I can take you if you want to come.
--I'm so very sorry. Can I take your kids on a playdate?
--I'm so very sorry. I'm here to spend time with you. We can talk, or we can just watch TV.
--I'm so very sorry. I'd like to tell you one of my wonderful memories of your loved one, if that's okay.

I hope by now you are detecting a pattern, and realize that this list is just a jumping-off point. Offer your condolences, and then offer something concrete by way of assistance. Accept rebuffs of offers as something that might seem too overwhelming for now. Check in again next week, next month, over the next few months. Don't just say, "Call me if you need anything." They never will, because they are too overwhelmed to know what they need

If the person who is grieving wants to talk to you about it, they will take the lead. If they don't, then stop after "I'm sorry."

*There are some people who find much comfort in faith. You should still only start with "I'm sorry" and let them take the lead on any talk of God or heaven.
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6 years, 11 hours, 30 minutes [Jun. 7th, 2014|11:30 pm]
Zoethe
At 6:45 this evening, surrounded by her family and loved ones, Rebecca died. Today was her sixth birthday.

I feel like I will never stop crying. Please don't try to console me with promises that my heart will find peace. I know these things intellectually, but at the moment they feel like poison. Cradling her small, warm corpse against my chest, I breathed in the scent of her hair, felt the smooth, fine muscles of her arms, and remembered the tiny baby she had been when I first held her just short of six years ago, when the Meyers brought her home. Back then I held her in the crook of my arm while joyous telephone calls rocketed around the country, announcing her arrival. Today I held her while her grieving parents dealt with the personal calls that needed to be made to distant relatives to break the terrible news.

Back then I spent an entire day waiting in excited anticipation for the arrival of a new baby. Today I spent the entire day listening to her breathing and wondering if it was going to stop. Back then, watching the Meyers show big sister Carolyn her new baby was a day of joy. Today, I was the one who went to pick Carolyn up at the birthday party she was attending and had to tell her to come home because her sister was dead.

The parallels stab at me: memories of overwhelming joy; experiences of unendurable sadness.

I can't help but wonder how we ever go on from this.
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The long goodbye [Jun. 7th, 2014|04:53 pm]
Zoethe
We wait, as Rebecca lies still. Her chest rises and falls, her strong heart still beats. This body is ready to run and play. This body is growing and thriving.

The tumors in her brain have stolen away consciousness. Soon they will steal away breath and heartbeat.

Rebecca turned 6 today. She may have a tomorrow, but it won't be one she sees or feels. She may have two tomorrows as we all sit vigil, watch her chest rise and fall.

She will not have any tomorrows where she smirks at silly jokes, runs after her brother, or even cuddles her mom and dad. All those tomorrows are gone.
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Death stalks these halls; we fight back [Jun. 5th, 2014|11:29 am]
Zoethe
We knew, from the look in the doctor's eyes as he came through the door.

But really, we knew before that. We knew from the way the anesthesiology doc who oversaw the MRI made sure that we were going to talk to the oncologist before we left the hospital. We knew from Rebecca's slow fading away from the world. We knew, in spite of the CT scan that had promised false hope. (I remember hearing the results of the scan and feeling depressed and a little angry with them. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. It wasn't me; it was knowing in my gut that we were being lied to, no matter how innocently.)

Mike from Child Life came in to take Rebecca down the hall to the playroom while the doctor gave us the news. The genetic treatment had been ineffective. The tumor had grown considerably, and two of the flare sites were now larger and clearly emerging tumors. There was no point in continuing treatment, and with the metastisization, no other treatment options.

It was time to take Rebecca home and make the best of the time she has left.

The doctor asked if Kat and Eric wanted to tell Rebecca, and if they wanted him to help. They said yes. Ferrett and I left the room to give them the space they needed as a family. We didn't need to witness so private a moment. We were adrift in the hall, and Mike from Child Life offered to let us use the playroom, now deserted for the evening, to have a space to ourselves.

It's where I found myself with my hands over my mouth, my head pressed against the window, sobbing "No no no no no!" over and over again. And even as I cried, I wondered how many of the children who played with these toys are now buried in tiny graves. How many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends have cried out their despair in that room? How often had hope died here? How do they go on? How do we?

The bravery of the doctors and nurses and other staff that work in pediatric oncology is lightyears beyond my ken. When the doctor came out of the room, Ferrett and I were back in the hallway. Ferrett thanked him for what he was doing, and tears welled up in the doctor's eyes. As we left the ward, all the nurses and staff who knew Rebecca came to say goodbye, knowing that they would not be seeing her again. Their caring and compassion made me both grateful and awestruck. They see this so many times. Childhood cancer steals away so many bright futures. And yet they continue to open their hearts to these children, to care. It's a humbling thing to watch so much dedication where success is so small a commodity.

Back in the fall when we did the CureSearch walk, I was amazed by the involvement of the organizers, because their daughter had died. I thought, "if we lost Rebecca, I don't think I would have the heart to continue doing something like this." And yet, even though I know that she will not be there to run and chase and laugh next fall, I *will* be doing the CureSearch walk. Because no one should ever have to go through this. And I want to do everything I can so that those toys are played with by children who go on living.
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Take a look, it's in a book [May. 30th, 2014|10:50 am]
Zoethe
I'm sure almost all of you have heard about LeVar Burton's wildly successful Kickstarter to bring back Reading Rainbow. The goal was a million dollars, and by the end of day three they will probably be hitting three million.

But almost as soon as the Kickstarter was opened, The Washington Post ran an article discouraging people from donating. You might want to reconsider that donation to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter is completely wrong-headed and, I believe, points to one of the reasons why literacy is falling and continues to fall.

The article cites PBS' reason for canceling Reading Rainbow as "no longer the best way to teach kids reading skills." In the funding crunch of decreased taxpayer money for Public Broadcasting, there also came a tragic shift in the philosophy of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:

"The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration...which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.... Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books."

In other words, Reading Rainbow was one more casualty of No Child Left Behind.

Reading Rainbow never had the goal of teaching children to read. As quoted above, it was all about fostering a love of books, the love of narrative structure, the love of story.

It is staggering to me that such a love is now considered to be simply a "luxury." And it is appallingly short-sighted. It begs the question: "what is reading for?" And if the answer is simply, "to minimally function in the world," then it's no wonder that literacy is dropping like a stone from the sky.

Phonics and spelling never caused anyone to fall in love with stories. They never introduced anyone to new ideas or different cultures. They never expanded anyone's idea of the world. The notion that we can create a literate populous simply by teaching them phonics and "fundamentals" is absurd. Why should kids care, if there is nothing to touch their imaginations? I've spent the last half hour looking at reading materials for different grades, and they are dreadful. Grinding sheets of uninteresting story snippets followed by multiple choice "comprehension" questions. I was a kid who loved to read, and I hated--HATED--the once-a-year assessment tests that included these kinds of questions. No wonder kids who are in these programs don't see anything positive about reading. There is none of the magic or wonder of good story-telling in that kind of learning.

Are phonics and spelling important? Certainly. Learning to read depends on them. But they are not the whole of the toolbox for learning to understand story and love reading. It's like teaching someone to use a hammer, a saw, and a screwdriver, and then stepping back and thinking you've taught them to build a doghouse. They cobble together something vaguely doghouse-shaped, and you lament that the doghouse is inadequate, but assume that all that's needed is better hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills. And when that doesn't work, you spend all your resources on new methods for teaching and testing hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills, never questioning if your student is missing some other important steps in learning how to use their skills to successfully build a project.

Will Reading Rainbow's return--onto the web and mobile apps--teach children phonics and spelling? No. But it will enrich their lives with story and enthusiasm for reading and books. It will help kids learn that their basic skills are for something more than just filling out comprehension worksheets and passing tests. And for our populous to be actually literate, those things are not a luxury item.
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Splish Splash [May. 25th, 2014|05:40 pm]
Zoethe
I went to the pool for the second time today. Because it's the weekend, the main pool had no lap lanes, just one rope dividing the shallow end from the deep. The therapy pool had lap lanes, but there were at least two or three people in each one. So I decided to get in the main pool and just walk back and forth across the pool--short distances, but at least I was at a consistent depth. The first five minutes I was stuck inside my brain, trying to coach myself to a "this is recuperation; this is good" mentality.

And then an amazing thing happened. My body remembered how much I used to love to play in the pool. When I was in junior high, I would walk almost 2 miles every day that I could to go to the public pool. I didn't swim laps. I played tag and Marco Polo with friends; I dove off the low and high boards, climbed out and dove again dozens of times in a row; I just swam around for the fun of it.

When I was in high school and my first two years of college, we lived in an apartment complex that had a small pool. I was in that pool all summer. There were lots of teen girls who went to the pool and laid in the sun to tan, but not me. I swam and swam and swam. I would go by myself and toss a rock in, dive to the bottom to retrieve it, and toss it again. I would pretend to be a mermaid. When I was in college and working and not getting home until late in the evening after the pool was closed, I would climb over the fence and swim anyway.

Somewhere along the way, swimming turned into a goal-oriented activity--how many laps, how long. I got away from that some when we were in Hawaii and swimming in the ocean, but today I suddenly felt reconnected with the smell of chlorine meaning fun. I bobbed along, back and forth across the pool, eventually joined by another woman who couldn't get a lane and decided to try my workout instead. We laughed and chatted, and it was like those 15-minute friendships that you have when you're a kid on a playground: nothing lasting, but gratifying in the moment. There were a gazillion little kids playing in the water park, sliding on the slide, having fun. And I got to be one of them.

I feel so much more at peace with myself, because I found the fun again. On weekdays I will be relegated to the lanes, but I'm going to stop avoiding the weekends at the pool. I'm going to go and have myself some fun.
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The Verdict [May. 23rd, 2014|03:19 pm]
Zoethe
The neurosurgeon's evaluation was, for the most part, good news. While the disc at the base of my spine just before the coccyx area starts is pretty much nonexistent at this point, and those bones are pushed out of alignment, he believes that I can avoid surgery through building up my core muscles and exercise. He is letting me start to swim again – in fact, encouraging swimming as the best form of exercise – and start to bike again! Running, however, is right out for the time being.

I have to start everything very slowly. Like he said go to the pool, walk in the water for a while, swim one lap. Or bike a mile. But he said that I can work my way back up to longer distances, as long as I do a lot of concentration on building up my core, which I also have to do slowly and carefully and gently.

I'm hoping to make at least two of my triathlons this summer. I will probably have to skip the first one, but he said to consult with my physical therapist about my progress before that. So maybe I'll get really really lucky.

The best news about all this, no knife!

Yesterday I biked for the first time, and today I went to the pool. It's frustrating to be set back so far, but at least I'm moving forward again.
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That whole "nature" thing works out well! [May. 21st, 2014|11:20 pm]
Zoethe
Early this evening Ferrett and I had an errand to run that took us close to a lovely park with a nice hike by a stream. We had Shasta with us and so we stopped and had the perfect kind of hike: the air was warm but not muggy, the sun was shining, a light breeze. Nothing strenuous, just holding hands and enjoying the peace that comes with water falls.

We watched a beautiful sunset as we drove home, and once we were safely inside, there was a terrific thunderstorm with lots of rain. When it came time to take the dog out for her last widdle, I expected to be huddled under an umbrella. Instead, I was looking up at a starlit sky while all around us--literally 360 degrees--there were lightning flashes in the distance. So I called Ferrett out and we strolled around the block in the warm, slightly damp air, watching the light show that was just distance enough that we couldn't hear thunder. That's what I call a perfect evening.
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Racing against time [May. 19th, 2014|11:11 am]
Zoethe
It seems like all I'm ever on here for these days is asking for donations. Hence, the icon.
But we are less than two weeks out from the Race for the Place. If all goes well, I will be walking this event (because running anything is definitely out), and then going to Rebecca's sixth birthday party. We are all rooting for Rebecca to get to enjoy that party. This last weekend was not a good one--she was not her usual bouncy self. As both Eric and Kat said, it's hard to know whether what we are seeing is a red flag or a red herring. And it's really, really hard to live with that kind of continual tension and fear. The Gathering Place is an amazing resource for families and friends who are going through the anguish of cancer. And to keep going, they need our help. Even if you can only give $5, it's such a worthy cause for the sacrifice of a trip to Starbucks. For the many of you out there who can't even afford that, please share this so that friends of yours who might be able to give get the opportunity. And, as always, prayers and positive energy is welcome. Thank you all.
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So, about that journaling [May. 15th, 2014|04:00 pm]
Zoethe
Things fell apart at the end of March. I stepped wrong, and was in sudden and intense pain through my pelvic region and back. Now, I've done this before, with overuse, and always before a night of sleep set me right again.

Not this time. I called the doctor the next day and ended up at his office on April 2. He sent me to physical therapy. The therapist evaluated me and told me she thought I had a bulging disc in my midback. This meant no biking, no swimming, no running. Walking, and gentle exercises. But she was hopeful that we'd get me back on the road in no time.

A month later, I still couldn't sit in a straight-backed chair for more than 10 minutes before it started hurting. It was back to the doctor, and an MRI.

The results of the MRI. A small tear in one disc, several others with mild to moderate bulging, and in one place arthritic calcification to the point of starting to compress my spinal cord. "Moderate to severe."

So next Thursday I have an appointment with a neurosurgeon. All I want to do is get back to biking and swimming. I want to do my triathlons. I want to just get on with life.

Comparatively speaking, the pain is not horrible. It's throbbing, not sharp, and much of the time I am pretty okay. I just don't know if I'm going to hurt myself worse with any activity. If they tell me that I can live with this, I just need to do certain exercises, not do certain activities, and sit only on certain chairs, I can live with that.

But my imagination is running away with me. And it's hard not to worry. Particularly since I am not getting my workout endorphins.
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The Gathering Place [Apr. 28th, 2014|12:59 pm]
Zoethe
I ended up at The Gathering Place by accident, really. I had physical therapy scheduled, but had written down the wrong time and so was an hour early. The Gathering Place was right around the corner, so I thought I'd just stop in and see what they had to offer. When I walked through the door, the receptionist smiled and asked, "Can I help you?"

I opened my mouth, and then dissolved into tears. It was the first place where I was able to let go and cry. Before I could get myself together enough to go on, two counselors were at my side, inviting me into a comfortable room and sitting with me as I sobbed out Rebecca's situation. They didn't try to make it all better. They listened, and they encouraged me to keep talking, and keep getting support. They talked to me about the programs available at The Gathering Place, of which there are many.

All of this is provided for free. It's a program that deserves support. On June 1, I will be participating in The Race for the Place. If you can join us, fabulous. If you can donate a few dollars, thank you.

https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1104053&supId=406410602
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30 days in [Mar. 31st, 2014|12:24 pm]
Zoethe
So, I'm 30% through my hundred-days-at-the-gym commitment. What are the results so far?

-I've gained 2 pounds
-I am not able to lift appreciably heavier weights
-Other than swimming, I am not appreciably faster
-Lifting yesterday, I twinged my old shoulder injury which made me temporarily lose control of the weight and pulled muscles on my left side in my arm and my chest wall that keep giving my twinges that make me scared it's my heart (yes, I am going to the doctor on Wednesday to get myself checked out, but taking Advil made it go away yesterday evening, so I'm not too worried)
-I have improved my abs so that I can do 3 sets of 10 leglifts on the captain's chair, whereas at the beginning I could only do 3 sets of 5

What is my analysis of these results? It would be easy to be discouraged, because the markers that we generally look for are not there. But I'm looking at it a different way. I was already walking quite a bit and lifting, though not with regularity and discipline. So my fitness in these areas was already pretty good. Therefore, it's not actually surprising to not see much change in so short a time, since my baseline in those areas was already high.

My swimming speed and my abs, however, were abysmal. I hadn't been swimming since last summer, and I hadn't been doing ab work. So it's not surprising that I saw quick improvement in those areas because my baseline was really low.

When we see a story about someone who made vast improvements in their fitness really quickly, they usually involve either someone who was not involved in fitness at all prior to their effort, or someone already in great shape who is now making fitness pretty much their full-time job (I'm thinking of actor training up for physical roles where they spend 6 weeks in intense training and such). If a person is starting from a position of "already working out and in reasonable shape," then the changes that upping that workout time will bring are going to be less dramatic.

Which is to say, yes it would be awesome to say that my cardio fitness went through the roof and I can now benchpress a Volkswagen. But also not a realistic expectation. My improvements are smaller, but they are there. And they will continue to grow.
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Rebecca [Mar. 30th, 2014|11:01 am]
Zoethe
Last fall, on a crisp and sunny October morning, a mob of Meyer relatives, friends, and friends-of-friends gathered at Wade Oval, all dressed in purple shirts, to participate in the CureSearch Walk for Children's Cancer. We were a merry group of about 40 people. We'd raised the most money of any group, and we had our precious Rebecca running about on the grass, playing chase with Uncle Ferrett, riding on Uncle Jim's shoulders, laughing.

I can only imagine now that the other participants, battle worn from their years of fighting, the pain of their losses, looked upon us and thought, "They're like innocent children. They are still playing at cancer."

Because, despite hearing the prognosis for anaplastic astrocytoma, despite living through the crisis of her original diagnosis and surgery, despite radiation and chemotherapy, despite knowing intellectually that this cancer kills almost all of its victims in a relatively short time, I don't think there were any of us who didn't still believe that Rebecca's story was going to have a happy ending. In our minds, this was going to be a long battle, but it was going to culminate in extra poignant, happy tears at her high school graduation. We were going to remember how close we came to losing her, and cherish how lucky we were to still have her with us. Cancer was going to make us extra grateful for the blessing of Becca in our lives.

Rebecca is not going to graduate from high school. She may not even make it to her sixth birthday. As Eric explains here, her cancer has returned, despite the fact that she was in chemotherapy: a large tumor in a different part of her brain than before, and multiple "flare sites" throughout her brain that indicate new tumor growth. The doctors have told them that surgery would be pointless, and would probably negatively impact the quality of life of what time they have left. They are still seeking to get into some studies, but those would only be to prolong her life a matter of weeks or months. If they qualify, and if the study drugs work.

We are still all praying for that miracle, that wonder drug that bursts onto the scene and saves her. We all still want that happy ending and those poignant tears at life's milestones. But that window of possibility is closing quickly. Far, far too quickly.

People ask me how I feel. I feel like someone has jerked the rug out from underneath me and I am falling backwards. I'm off balance, and in shock, and trying to find a way to brace myself for the impact of when I hit the ground. I know I'm going to break something when I finally crash down, I just don't know what yet. I can't even cry yet; tears well up, but I panic that if I let go my sobs will turn into screams and I wont. stop. screaming.

I just can't imagine a Rebecca-less world.
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100 days: 25% through [Mar. 26th, 2014|03:54 pm]
Zoethe
Things have been more than a little tough around here. With Rebecca's cancer, it just seemed rather frivolous to be writing about my silly little goals. But in a moment between I thought I'd report in.

First of all, 100 days is a long-ass time. What the hell was I thinking?

Then I remember that it isn't long at all, in many ways.

I've been to the gym every day It's the one thing I have managed to do consistently. Today is the first day that I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm gonna try.

The cooking has been dismal. I haven't been practicing Italian. I have been reading. Journaling, some. I did actually work on a quilt a little bit.

I'm not going to apologize for my mediocre performance. A lot of days I haven't even wanted to get out of bed.

But I am gonna hit that gym.
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(no subject) [Mar. 21st, 2014|10:48 am]
Zoethe
Rebecca's MRI was yesterday. I will quote the Meyers for the results:

The MRI showed a mass behind Rebecca’s left eye that wasn’t there on the previous MRI. The doctors at CCF are communicating with the doctors at CHOP, who will determine what they can do.

We may be headed to Philadelphia this weekend, if they tell us they can remove the tumor. If they can’t remove it, given the tumor’s growth rate, Rebecca will likely live anywhere from a few more weeks to months, but nothing is impossible and studies are always being opened.

That is literally as much as we know right now. We are staying in a holding pattern until we get a decision from CHOP, and must ask you to do the same. Please don’t call or text the house or our cell phones. Comments here are fine, but we really can’t handle a flood of calls right now.

If we haven’t contacted or don’t contact you directly, please don’t take it personally. There are a lot of things we have to deal with right now, Rebecca’s sorrow and fear primary among them. We haven’t told her that she might die soon, because we don’t know that ourselves, but we have told her the bad rocks are back and that she might have more surgery and radiation treatments.

To which she said: “I hate that dumb ol’ rock and I want it to be gone!” And then curled up in our arms and wept.


I've been sitting here for five minutes, trying to figure out something to say that doesn't sound self-centered or self-indulgent. Right now I feel like I've been hollowed out and then smashed flat.
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BBA #16: Kaiser rolls [Mar. 20th, 2014|10:35 am]
Zoethe
[Tags|]

My gaming group has learned to look forward to the days when it's my turn to cook, because it's usually when I will try the next BBA bread. The first question that Ian asked when he came through the door Tuesday night was, "what's tonight's bread?"

The answer was, Kaiser rolls. Also known as hard rolls or bulkies. You know, the hamburger bun-sized rolls with a little star-shaped pattern in the top.

Now, I debated about making these rolls, because what I was making for dinner was not something that naturally went on a bun. I was making chicken and corn chowder, otherwise known as "CSA soup." This is because I had a lot of produce from my CSA and also a chicken that needed stewing rather than roasting. So my first thought was that I would make a different bread to go with the soup. Alas, my OCD nature is such that skipping forward in the book and not doing the breads in order was something I just couldn't get behind. So my second thought was to make them small like dinner rolls. But that would mean shaping a LOT of them, so eventually I just gave up and put these two great tastes that didn't go all that great together in front of my diners.

None of them complained. Except to say that the bread would be really fabulous with the pulled pork I made a while back. So I will eventually do that.

Anyway, on to the bread. Once again I will spare you pictures of dough. It all looks like dough. This was another bread that started with a preferment, and then putting it all together on the morning of the second day. Once it was risen, the fun began. I made a double batch (because I know my friends), so had to divide it into 12 "even" parts. I realized that I just plain need to use the scale to do this, because I am crap at eyeballing these divisions.

Once divided down, the dough gets shaped into rolls. This is where I learned the awful truth about Kaiser rolls. You want to know how bakeries get that traditional star shape in the top of the roll? They just form them into little balls and then use a Kaiser roll cutter to cut the shape into them! Scandalous!

There would be none of that for me. For one thing, I don't have an Kaiser roll cutter (and don't have a large enough kitchen for single-purpose tools like that). For another, if I'm going to do a thing, I want to do it the original way.

The original way is to turn each piece of dough into a long rope:

032

And then to tie it into a knot:

035

You then take the ends of the knot and tuck one under and up and the other over and down:

036

This was one of those amazing moments when I looked at the pictures in the book and then looked at my own rolls, and realized that my rolls actually looked better than the ones in the book.

039

While they were rising, I got in my workout for the day, then got home just in time to put them in the oven. I changed the recipe a little at this point by adding an egg wash to get better color and gloss on the finished rolls:

042

Half of them are poppy seed, the other half sesame seed. The thing that is still amazing to me is that they actually look like Kaiser rolls!
043

And thanks to a great suggestion about tossing ice cubes into the oven to create steam, I got a great, thin and crunchy crust on them, as well as an airy crumb:

045

If it weren't for that pesky "having to work" nonsense, I don't think I would even buy a hamburger bun again. These were really delicious.
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"Not those people" [Mar. 17th, 2014|11:43 am]
Zoethe
On Thursday our goddaughter Rebecca will have yet another MRI to determine whether the toxic chemicals being poured into her system are successfully keeping her brain cancer at bay.

Rebecca is 5 years old.

She was diagnosed in August. Ferrett and I were there in Philadelphia with her and her family while she underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. We were there to see the x-rays and hear the discussion of the diagnosis and the treatment plan and the prognosis. We cared for and cuddled her siblings, and hugged her parents and did what we could to help care for them. We have been along for every MRI results meeting since they were able to return home permanently after proton radiation treatment. We have walked for cancer in Rebecca's honor, donated to and helped raise money for her sister having her head shaved for St. Baldrick's just yesterday.

I still can't quite believe that Rebecca has cancer. Because the Meyers aren't supposed to be a family that goes through this. They are wonderful and amazing and I consider it one of the greatest gifts that I am part of their lives. In my mind, this can't be happening because they are simply "not those people."

The thing is, "those people" is not a derogatory designation in my mind. My extended family? TOTALLY "those people." If one of my siblings or cousins was diagnosed with cancer, I would be saddened and shocked, but I would be able to accept it. It wouldn't feel so impossible. When Ferrett's stepdad contracted ALS, it was awful, and that he died so quickly from it was terrible and tragic. But while I felt like it was unfair and I was grief-stricken, I never went through this ongoing sense of, "but...this just can't be!"

I'm not quite sure why Rebecca's cancer feels so different from so many other illnesses and tragedies, but I do remember the one other person I felt this way about: my friend Annie, who died of inflammatory breast cancer when she was just 36, the mother of four small children. Annie and Grant were also a family was wonderful and amazing, and the notion that Annie, who worked so hard to feed her family fresh, organic food and lived such a green lifestyle, could have this genetic timebomb within her that mowed through all those good decisions? It just wasn't right! It's been at least 14 years since Annie died, and I still get moments when it pulls me up short.

Because the fact of the matter is, there is no magic that protects any of us. There is no magical good fortune that keeps illness and accident and tragedy at bay. We are, each of us, vulnerable.

I don't know how to end this. It's not a happy entry. I have no deep insight that leads to a positive outlook right now. Do I just fall back on platitudes: hug your loved ones; appreciate life's every moment? The truth is that this is a dark and scary place, and I'm not in a good headspace about it right now. I spent yesterday afternoon cheering on Carolyn and her friends as they got their heads shaved, getting snuggles from Rebecca, and visiting with friends as we all hang on together trying to feel like we are making a difference. And we are, overall. The money raised goes to research that will help kids in the future, just as the money raised a decade ago and more went to the research that has led to developments that are giving Rebecca a good chance of beating this.

But each of us, in the moment, is just clinging to each other against the cold, howling winds of chance. We stick together for comfort and support. And right now all I can think about is Thursday, when we will be there with Rebecca's parents to hear the verdict once again. I believe right now that it will be fine, that the MRI will be clear. But believing it and knowing it are two different things, and we won't know until then.
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"Well, I'm back." [Mar. 14th, 2014|04:31 pm]
Zoethe
Today, I walked through the door of the house and said, "Well, I'm back." The last line of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It made me a little teary. You see, I started on the Walk to Rivendell back at the beginning of 2006, and after 7 years and 2 and a half months, I have completed every step of that journey. I walked the miles with the Fellowship to Rauros, then followed Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom and through their rescue by the eagles. I then "flew back" to Rauros and followed Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas through the final battle. Then once again, flew back and followed Merry and Pippin until they got split after Helm's Deep, following first Merry and then Pippin. With the Fellowship reunited, I walked and rode the journey back to Hobbiton, and finally the journey to the Gray Havens and back. A total of 8,349 miles.

I've kept records throughout all those years. I've only counted the miles that were part of exercise, not just walking around for errands or work. The mileage tells the tale of where I've been emotionally and physically. In 2006 and 2007, I walked over 1,000 miles. But from 2008-2011 my mileage was minimal--shocking minimal. As little as 282 miles in 2008. Part of that was that in 2007 I was hit by a car on my bike. I wasn't badly injured, but I lost my nerve for riding. I went from riding over 500 miles to not riding a single mile in 2011.

But at the end of 2011 I took control of my life again. I joined Spark People in September and started working out. In 2012 I completed 2542 miles, and in 2013, 1684. Considering how crisis-filled 2013 was, I am not surprised that my mileage fell off considerably.

And now, I have reached the end of an adventure. The last of the Walk to Rivendell. I'm proud of that accomplishment.

So what's next? After a short celebration, tomorrow I will head out with Bilbo and the dwarves for the Lonely Mountain. Because there are always adventures to be had in Middle Earth.

Now please excuse me; I have to attend an Unexpected Party at the home of Mr. Bilbo Baggins!
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Self-deception for fun and profit [Mar. 13th, 2014|10:55 am]
Zoethe
Yesterday's weather was abysmal. All the schools around us were closed because snow was ... not so much falling as being hurled vertically across the landscape like tiny ice bullets. The wind velocity combined with this punishing precipitation inspired me not so much to go to the gym as to climb back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and refuse to come out until April.

Plus, it was a swimming day. Which meant getting WET in a non-home location. It just sounded terrible.

So I promised myself that I could just go to the rec center, climb in the hot tub, and marinate for half an hour. After all, I only committed to going TO the gym every day. Not to working out every day.

Of course I was lying to myself. I knew that when I got there, I would at least get into the pool first and paddle a couple leisurely laps.

That was also a lie. I went, and I swam a mile freestyle, then an additional 5 laps of backstroke just to finish out the hour. Then I finally went and sat in the hot tub for a little while.

It's useful, at times of low motivation, to break things down into baby steps and to tell ourselves that we only have to do the first step. Right now my kitchen is a mess, and I'm telling myself that when I finish this entry I only have to put the dishes in the sink into the dishwasher and start it. Nothing else.

Sometimes we really do just complete that one baby step. There may well be a day when I go to the gym and just get in the hot tub because I really need a day off. But most of the time, it's just a little lie, coaxing us on to the next part of what feels like an overwhelming task. Just one mile on the bike, just one time around the track, just one load of laundry, just one errand.

And with a little luck, we will finish the day feeling quite smug about all the things we lied ourselves into accomplishing.
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BBA #15: Italian Bread [Mar. 11th, 2014|11:35 am]
Zoethe
[Tags|]

I did this one a while back, and didn't write it up. Partially because it was very much like the French bread in the process: make a preferment the night before, knead it all together the next day, shape loaves.

The difference was in the recipe. Whereas the French bread called for only the basics of flour, water, yeast and salt, the Italian bread added milk and oil. I'm not really 100% certain how authentic the recipe is because of that, but I'm making them from the book, so I'm making them by the book.

Where things really got different was in the shaping process. The recipe makes two large loaves or eight hoagie/torpedo/sub rolls. It just so happened that on the day I was making this bread our gaming group was coming over, I was making pulled pork (an extremely bastardized pulled pork that included a bunch of root vegetables to up the nutrition and was pronounced delicious), and decided that, as there are four of us in the group, I would make one large loaf and 4 rolls.

I divided the dough evenly, and formed the large loaf, which I prepped sliding onto the baking stone with a peel.

033

Then it was on to dividing the remaining half into four even sized rolls. In retrospect, I should have formed a second loaf, and then cut it, because trying to divide an uneven half-circle was not my forte:

028

...yeah.

The thing about the gluten skin on well-developed dough is that you can mess it up pretty easily. I couldn't just be whacking some of it off of one roll and smooshing it into another roll. so I was stuck with a sort of "Three Bears" situation: Papa, Mama, Baby, and Goldilocks.

Still, they baked up pretty:

034

As did the main loaf:

038

As for the flavor, Ferrett pronounced it to be the first bread I've made that actually evoked sense memory of the bread he ate in Italian restaurants back home. And no one except my gaming group got to taste it because they had their pulled pork on their hoagie rolls and then went on to devour the entire loaf of bread. I'd call it another success.
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100 days of All The Things: 10% [Mar. 10th, 2014|03:39 pm]
Zoethe
Well, I promised not to talk about this project all the time, but I am planning to report in every 10%.

Gym: So far, I’m 10 for 10 on getting to the gym, which was the one about which I was most concerned. But it was also my highest priority. I am focusing a lot on swimming because it was my weakest leg in last summer’s triathlons. I am still slow, but I’m getting in the water. As we move into outdoor exercise weather and I start biking and running outside, I will still be going to the gym for strength training on those outdoor days.

Cooking: I’ve cooked, but not every day. I was out of town this weekend and missed Friday-Sunday.

Reading: I’ve read every day.

Practicing Italian: About 50% successful in getting this done.

Journaling: I missed Saturday because I was completely away from the computer, and yesterday because I was just plain tired. So I’m writing two entries today to make up for the missed day.

Crafting: Not. One. Darned. Day. There are only so many balls I can keep in the air. This ball has fallen to the ground and rolled under a table.

In all, I’m pretty happy. Not perfect, but I’m getting a lot more done. We’ll see how the next 10 days go!
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Canine PSAs [Mar. 10th, 2014|03:16 pm]
Zoethe
If I ruled the world, I would outlaw those awful extending leashes. There is nothing to be accomplished by having your dog 12' away from you when your dog then has to walk at your pace anyway. No, the only thing that you accomplish is having no control over your dog when a crisis happens. I've seen dogs almost hit by cars because they ran into the road. I hit a dog while biking because it lunged off the sidewalk after me. And on the multiuse trail in the park, I've had to come to a screeching halt on my bike when my call of, "on your right" led to the dog owner stepping off the trail to the right and the dog running off the trail to the left, effectively clotheslining the trail.

But yesterday was the limit. We were at Petco, waiting in line to check out. The woman in front of us had a very pretty bulldog on an extending leash. As we get to the line, the bulldog rushes back toward us. I let out a squeak, and she reeled the dog in. He sat beside her for a moment, but then came back toward us. Shasta was fine at first, but when Ferrett spoke to the bulldog, he jumped toward Ferrett. It was a friendly jump, but Shasta is very protective of her people, so she was alarmed and lunged forward to protect Ferrett, and the bulldog turned his attention on Shasta. I had her, and things should have been under control. But the owner, who was paying no attention, upon feeling the lunge? Released the fraking leash. The bulldog went after Shasta, who ran behind me to get away. The bulldog chased after her, and suddenly I was wrapped in the extending leash, unable to get to Shasta to help her. Fortunately, Ferrett was there and able to help me get untangled. Throughout all this, the owner was oblivious. Eventually she retrieved her dog and wandered away.

Also, Petco is dog friendly, but people, PLEASE watch your kids. As we walked through the front door, someone was walking a dog out that lunged forward to sniff Shasta. She is a little dog-shy, so was startled but okay. But then another dog passed, and at the same moment a little girl ran up, squeeing "cute doggie!" and stuck her hand right in Shasta's face. My heart was in my throat. Fortunately, Shasta didn't freak out and snap at her. Please, please, parents, teach your children to always ask before petting a dog. Even friendly dogs can be nervous dogs if they are startled, and I'm just glad that the little girl didn't learn that lesson from Shasta.
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Hypersensitive, or legitimately irked? [Mar. 7th, 2014|01:08 pm]
Zoethe
Lifted at the gym yesterday. I'm a little miffed. I was using the cross-cable machine, and had just switched to an exercise that only required one side when one of the personal trainers came in and started using the other side with his client without asking if they were interrupting me. I didn't say anything, but a little while later he went back to it when a man was using it. He stopped to check in with the man that they weren't interrupting his routine. Now, it might be that he was just concentrating the first time and realized his gaff afterward, which is why I didn't make a deal out of it. But if it happens again, you can bet that I will speak up!

The thing is, I know that dismissive treatment happens to women in gyms, particularly around the weight room. It's not that unusual to see some guy's eyebrow go up when I skip by the small, pastel-colored dumbbells and reach for the regular weights. And to be honest, not many women are putting in much time in the weight room there. Which is a pity, because lifting is so good for women.

I don't like feeling paranoid. But if this trainer treats me in the same way again, he and the management are all going to experience a "teachable moment."
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What I hate about all the fitness sites [Mar. 6th, 2014|11:51 am]
Zoethe
I have been an active member of Spark People for a couple years now. I like the point system, and that it's nicely all-inclusive for tracking fitness and food. I like the groups and support.

What I don't like about it, and other sites like it, is the emphasis on weightloss. On a regular basis I find myself encouraging people to not give up on their fitness goals. What almost always triggers their despair? The scale isn't moving.

Study after study has shown that permanent weightloss is achieved by only a small percentage of people who embark on a diet program. That, in fact, losing weight and then regaining it is not only bordering on inevitable, but that people often gain back as much as they lost and more. And that when they gain all that weight back, they don't regain the muscle mass they lost in their weightloss efforts, so they actually have a higher percentage of body fat than they did before.

The evidence is clear: dieting in the leading cause fatness. The more our society has been inundated with diet plans, the fatter we've gotten. And the unhealthier.

What does contribute to good health? Good eating habits, and physical activity. For some people, this will lead to weightloss. For others, it will not. And that's the part that these fitness sites don't emphasize. Calories in/calories out sounds great, but we aren't machines. Our metabolisms adjust, and we don't all process food with the same level of efficiency. Not everyone will react the same way.

So when people approach fitness with their only goal being to lose weight, they generally go through a short period of elation, and then fall into dejection when the scale stops moving. They think, "what's the point?"

The point is that you are healthier and fitter. Even if you aren't skinnier, you have improved, and can continue to improve, your fitness level. You will feel better, sleep better, and probably live longer. That is worth your effort.
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