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In which I admit my hypocrisy [Oct. 1st, 2015|11:37 am]
When it comes to language, I am a proud Luddite. I cling to the proper use of grammar. I object to people using the word "problematic" to mean "a problem" when the actual definition is "questionable," and agree that I can hand you the remote, but you haven't asked if I will. I insist on spelling out words in texts, eschewing "cu l8tr" for complete sentences with proper punctuation. I champion the Oxford comma.

And yet.

And yet.

I now regularly use "ima" in place of "I'm going to." Oh, not in writing. But speaking? "Ima stop at the grocery store. Want anything?" I hear myself do it, at least part of the time, and reflect upon this slippage of my speech. I know it's not the only example of my speech getting slangy, it's just the one of which I am most aware.

There is nothing about this phrase that is superior to the other phrases that I reject. It just works on my tongue. I have to admit, then, that language is a living thing that does, in fact, move and change.

But I still believe that grammar and vocabulary are important. Precision of thought requires precision of language. Communication beyond the basics is deepened by mutual agreement about the meaning of words.

Ima keep fighting the good fight.
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Empty house [Sep. 28th, 2015|12:57 pm]
Erin and Matt and gone, along with their dog. It's really quiet, and I miss them.
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Full house [Sep. 17th, 2015|03:23 pm]
My younger daughter has just moved in with us for a while. Her big sister is moving to Colorado next week. Her furniture and belongings are all being hauled away in a truck this afternoon, so she, her boyfriend, and their dog will be staying with us for the next week. There will be five of us, and one bathroom.

I can't wait.

I feel so grateful that my daughters have both grown into women that I love to be around. They're thoughtful, intelligent, and wickedly funny. We can talk about everything. They are both passionate about the world they live in, and insightful.

The years of raising kids were not always easy, but having adult children who are such a delight is such a blessing. I'm thrilled that my snowboard-passionate daughter is getting to fulfill her life-long dream and move to the Rockies, but boy am I going to miss her.

For the next few days I will be cooking for five. I'll be making all the kids' favorite meals and we'll talk and laugh and probably argue over the stupidest damned things. Because we're still family, and family means we rub each other the wrong way now any then, particularly in close quarters. Both girls have tempers, and like all sisters know just how to get each other's skin. I have a bit of a temper, too, and they can trigger the "mom voice" in me. But we will have a great time together.
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Junk drawer [Sep. 15th, 2015|01:38 pm]
I get so irked at myself for not taking before and after pictures of things. Suffice to say that I stumbled into accidental dejunking today when I went to look for something in the junk drawer.

The problem with junk drawers is that every house needs one--that repository for batteries, lighters, takeout menus, scissors, tape, pens--but they quickly become the tossing place for everything that comes into hand but you don't have time to deal with. "I don't want to throw this out, but I don't have a place for it. Hey, the junk drawer!"

Also, I live in a household where certain people (not naming names) have a tendency to change the battery in something and toss the dead batteries back into junk drawer. Also to treat empty tape dispensers like they may grow new tape if they're left alone in a dark place for a while.

I, on the other hand, have a tendency to receive photos of friends and family and, not knowing what to do with them in that moment, toss them into the drawer. The thing is, I *do* know what to do with them; I have a special drawer just for photos. Only I forget that. All. The. Time.

I'm as guilty as anyone else in the household of not wasting the brain power to figure out where a thing actually goes. So the drawer had reached the point of needing to be jammed shut.

Not anymore. I put away, or threw away, at least 60% of what was in there. It's neat and organized, and I found that pair of scissors I've been irritated had disappeared. I feel very accomplished.

It will last about two weeks....
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Carrying water--and when to put it down [Sep. 14th, 2015|01:01 pm]
I just got a motion for a trustee to dismiss one of my client's cases for not providing tax returns. When I met with this client, they had not done their tax returns for multiple years. I told them they had to do them and get them to me ASAP. I have heard nothing from them on the subject.

So why do *I* feel guilty? The client is adult, and the consequences were explained. The client was reminded a couple weeks ago.

My calendar is filled with tick reminders to client after client as to when their payments are due--even though they receive the orders and I gave them the dates at the time that we met. I just spent two months straightening out three separate clients who stopped making their chapter 13 payments without ever letting me know.

I'm not a lawyer, I'm a babysitter.

I think I have to get more assertive when I meet with people. I have to tell them the deadlines, but then I have to tell them that they are personally responsible for meeting those deadlines, and if they want me to be their calendar they'd better fork over more money.
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Nerding [Sep. 10th, 2015|10:54 am]
In this day and age, when everyone has jumped on the superhero bandwagon, there are a lot of people sounding like hipsters: "I was into the Avengers before they became popular." For many of them, it's kind of a disappointment to find that the passion they'd learned to embrace as the thing that made them different is now shared by millions.

To me, this is great. My biggest fandom is Star Wars, and having all this new merch around is fun--even if I buy next to none of it. I'm not worried about over-exposure. I love what I love, and seeing Star Wars stuff everywhere makes me happy.

I learned many years ago that there is a difference between fandom and geekdom. When visiting a friend for the weekend, I was informed that, though I had not watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, that night was the finale, and she was watching it live. She'd watched the whole series, and she wasn't about to miss the end of it just because of out-of-town company. So we watched, and seeing that final episode was the impetus behind my going back and watching the entire series in reruns. Since it was on 5 days a week, I accomplished in just a few months what she'd taken seven years to complete.

The movie Star Trek: Generations came out a couple weeks before another visit. When I got to her house, she asked if I'd seen it. I told her yes, and then excitedly expounded about how, in the last iteration of the time loop, we hadn't actually seen Lursa and B'etor die, and so maybe those characters had survived and could come back.

She gave me a kind of side-eye look and said, "You've gotten way too into this...."

That's when I realized that there will always be levels of fandom, and that I would always be the kind of person who, when I fell in love with something, took it to extremes that other fans wouldn't even imagine existed.

And that's cool. My friend isn't less of a fan because her fandom doesn't drag her into a depth of passion that mine does me. I can love the Marvel movies and DC television shows even though I don't have an understanding of the history behind the characters that Ferrett, as a comic book geek, has. I've seen his glee, while watching The Flash, at the introduction of characters, and I know that he'd "getting it" on a far deeper level than I am. But that doesn't mean I'm not having fun.

Yes, you are probably much more of a geek about the things you love passionately than other people who like that thing. But it's a big tent. We can all fit in it.
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365 degrees [Sep. 3rd, 2015|01:11 pm]
I have been slaving in the junk mines, hauling enough crap out of the house that Ferrett has started having dreams about moving--his subconscious can't believe that there's this much activity going on without us actually changing residences.

So why is there still such a mess? My dining room is currently giving my agita. My sewing machine is on the table, along with all the detritus of making a quilt. There is packaging for a piece of furniture that just arrived. Erin left behind some things when she picked up Summit after we dogsat for a week. There is fur everywhere, waiting for me to get enough picked up that I can actually vacuum.

I turn around in a full circle, and all I see is the mess. Then I turn just a little further and I am reminded that this is a home. It's a living, evolving space, not a museum. Messes are going to flow in like the tide, and then flow out again. And my friend Lucy, who was over yesterday evening, helped me with perspective. I was complaining about it, and she said. "It's not really a mess. It's just a mess compared to what you want it to be."

I admit it. I find sparseness restful. Ferrett, on the other hand, finds it cold. When the house is as clean as I want it, he feels like he's living in a hotel.

So I make concessions. There are toys scattered on the living room floor, because dog. In one month, all the Rock Band instruments will come back up from the basement and clutter my living room with plastic. But it's plastic that bespeaks friends and fun, and so I will live with the drumset that's about the size of a VW Beetle. Because several times a month my house will be filled with laughter and music, and that's a good thing. A bit messy, but still good.
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Shedding [Sep. 1st, 2015|02:12 pm]
We have been living with two dogs for a little over a week now. My daughter's dog, Summit, is a white, shorthaired mutt. My dog, Shasta, is a black, shorthaired mutt.

Together, they apparently believe they fight crime. Judging from their barking, at least.

Shasta's short black fur hides pretty well on the furniture, but Summit's white is another matter. My carpet looks like it's grown elderly and needs a dye job. I haven't vacuumed because Summit goes home tonight. Tomorrow, there will be vacuuming.

In the meantime, however, I am adding to the mess. What I'm shedding, though, isn't fur. It's threads. I'm working on a quilt for Ferrett, and hauled my sewing machine and equipment upstairs. Because I am insane, I chose a pattern that has over 3500 pieces, many of them not much larger than a quarter. This has led to a lot of thread bits, many the same length as the dog hair, scattered on the floor, the carpet, tumbleweeding companionably with fur in corners.

So, yeah, pretty much the whole family is shedding. Oh, did I mention that Ferrett is balding as well...?
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Melanie Wilkes is my copilot [Aug. 31st, 2015|12:06 pm]
My friend Bart spent yesterday evening on Facebook, live-tweeting his experience of watching Gone With the Wind. He made the argument that it is, for the most part, incredibly feminist and progressive. He concentrated on Scarlett, of course. But to me? The real badass is Melanie.

People miss this, because Melanie is kind and quiet, and because our main POV character is Scarlett. Scarlett doesn't get Melanie until the very last. But when she does, she realizes that Melanie was her true champion all along.

So let's break it down. The first time we see Melanie, she's all mousy in dove gray, and Scarlett attempts to make her jealous and convince her that Ashley is a lying scoundrel. Melanie hears what Scarlett says, and her reply is the sweetest, "Well bless your heart, aren't you the cutest thing?" dismissal of Scarlett's venom. She pulls Scarlett's fangs, and our little belle doesn't even realize it.

Melanie is never physically strong, but she's the one who keeps going at the hospital. She's the one who's got the guts to assist the doctors while Scarlett runs away.

And when they get to Tara and Scarlett shoots the potential rapist in the face? Melanie's the one who's all, "You go, girl, let's loot the body." She keeps her head, keeps the rest of the family away with a quick lie, and keeps Scarlett focused on dealing with the body.

Melanie is the one who, in the midst of a very judgmental society, accepts the generosity of a prostitute when all the other "good" women sneer at her. She's the one who is not just willing but proud to acknowledge her gratitude and debt to Belle Watling.

It's not that Melanie is weak-willed. No, when India Wilkes catches Scarlett in the arms of Ashley and scurries off to tell Melanie, Melanie is all, "Bitch, get out my face, out my house, you dead to me." And that's the end of India. Ashley's sister has to wait until Melanie is on her deathbed for dispensation. Melanie rules with iron.

And that iron is surrounded in a velvet so soft that most people don't realize the iron is under there. At the Atlanta ball scene, Melanie--who can't be more than 20--is considered such an important pillar of society that her endorsement of unconventional behaviors makes them acceptable. While people may regard her acknowledgement of Belle Watling as naive, no one looks down on her for it. Melanie calmly lies to the face of soldiers, cool enough that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, and they believe her because she has always been genteel. She saves Scarlett's reputation--and Bonnie's future in society (had she lived) by her acceptance of Scarlett into her home.

Melanie's kindness and gentleness gave her the latitude to be ruthless as hell and get away with stuff that no other woman could. And everyone around her loves her--even Scarlett.

Yeah, Scarlett's got all the flame, blazing on the surface. But Melanie? Melanie's the hot coals at the base of the fire, where the real work gets done.
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Unnerving moments [Aug. 28th, 2015|09:53 pm]
This weekend Ferrett and I were scheduled to go to a con in Lansing. Because Erin is out of town, instead of our built-in dogsitter we had both dogs to watch. But the daughter of a friend has watched the dogs for us before. So we had arranged for her to come again.

Then Tuesday I came down with pinkeye. When I was at the doctor's office, he asked if I had a fever, nausea, earache, any other symptoms. I said no, but he looked askance.

I should have known there was a reason behind all that. As the week went on I felt worse and worse. Last night I was up in the night, throwing up, feverish, miserable. This morning Ferrett and I regretfully agreed that I was not in any shape to go to a convention.

I contacted the mom of our dogsitter, apologizing that we would not need her.

A bit later, I heard back from her. Turns out that her husband, dogsitter's dad, had shown up at the school intending to prevent me from taking her with us. Their relationship is...contentious, to say the least. So we wouldn't have a dogsitter in any event, messing up the weekend if it hadn't been messed up by my illness.

But, stupidly and I know ridiculously, I feel like I've dodged a bullet. A literal bullet. Even yesterday, when dogsitter's mom mentioned that her dad objected to her coming her, but that it was okay, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that things might go very badly.

This morning, when I thought about going to get her, a chill went down my spine and I thought, "If I go there, he's going to shoot me."

Now there is not one reason in the world for me to actually think that. I don't know that he owns any guns, I've never heard of him owning guns, and while I don't like the guy, I've never seen him threaten anyone.

When I stop to think about it, logically, it's a very silly, melodramatic thought. But in this day and age, when shootings happen live on TV, it's probably not surprising that I had this reaction. Because there's a nonzero chance that an angry father, believing that he is being manipulated, could pull out a gun--a legally acquired gun--to make a point. And that, in a moment of heat, that gun couldn't end up being fired.

I have always been in favor of the right to bear arms. I lived in Alaska, and owned firearms. I had lots of friends who owned firearms. I like to go target shooting.

But I'm not sure it's worth the risk anymore. Not when we kill each other so regularly. Not when walking into a disagreement between a married couple makes me fear for my life.
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Crafting, and crafting [Aug. 27th, 2015|03:15 pm]
About five years ago Ferrett was really getting into woodworking. For Christmas that year, I bought him a set of power tools to set up a shop in our garage.

Those tools sat in boxes in the middle of the garage floor for two years.

In 2013, Ferrett and our daughter Erin took a long weekend and set up the tools. They built an arcade cabinet.

Then everything sat fallow for the next year or so.

Finally, last fall our friend Eric wanted to build some bookcases for his third-floor office. The guys worked on that project, decided they really enjoyed woodworking, and when spring came this year got pretty serious about projects. They now have Woodworking Wednesdays, once-a-week evenings when they craft. They've replaced some of the not-very-good beginners tools with better equipment, and are in the process of turning our garage into a working shop.

By this winter, I should be able to park inside again. I can't begin to tell you what a thrill that is.

But as they are out there, measuring twice (or more) and cutting once, I am in here, crafting as well. I'm making a quilt, Ferrett's otter quilt. I'm measuring and cutting, then putting the resulting bits back together. When the guys come in from the garage, they chuckle at the parallels of what we're doing. My sewing machine sat fallow for a while, but I'm crafting again.

What he makes is sturdy and supportive. What I make is soft and cuddly. I am at an advantage, because if my cuts are a little off I can ease or stretch, something that's pretty tough with wood. In the end, we have one more thing in common: other people see an awesome piece of work, and we see our mistakes. But even with goofs, both our projects bring warmth and a feeling of being loved to the person who receives them.
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The 365 project [Aug. 24th, 2015|03:24 pm]
Today, I removed five dead computers from our house. Some of these computers have been hanging around here, defunct, for more than a decade. Every year our local government have a technology disposal week. Every year I think, "Oh, I need to take advantage of that!"

Every year, I forget. But not this year! Five! Five dead computers gone.

That only leaves three, maybe four dead computers still hanging around. Hey, you do what you can.

Anyway, it's part of what's referred to as the 365 project: donate, recycle, or throw out one item from your house every day for a year. Getting the crap clutter out of the house. It's harder than you think. Oh, I got rid of probably 365 separate items in the last month, clearing out a bunch of junk from the basement, and the computers, old speakers, cables, keyboards, etc. It's easy to do the big stuff.

The tough part is doing it every single day. It doesn't matter if you got rid of 50 things on Tuesday, Wednesday you need to figure out something else that can go. That's when you start drilling down and really evaluating what can go.

We all have way too much junk in our lives. It weighs us down. I'm trying to lessen that weight, lighten the physical burden of life.

Until we moved to Ohio, it was pretty easy. I never lived in one place for more than three years. At least every 36 months, often considerably less time than that, I had to pack everything up, haul it to a new place, and find a new place to put it. When you have to schlep all the crap, you get a lot more ruthless about what you really need to take with you, what you need to find another place to store.

I've been in the same house for 14 years now. I have a basement, with big storage closets. It's easy to keep things "just in case" I need them.

I seldom do.

So now I'm dragging crap back out of the house. Some days it's, "Oh, crap, I don't have much time, what can go?" Other days I come across a treasure trove of crap to mine.

We'll see what things look like by next August.
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(no subject) [Aug. 21st, 2015|05:25 pm]
Ferrett and I watch a show called Food Network Star. It's a contest that selects one cook to become the Next Food Network Star. The only really big star who has come out of the contest is Guy Fieri, but winners (and some runners-up) from other seasons are now perennial favorites on the network.

All contestants must have a viewpoint, the thing that is going to sell them as the next star: Aarti Sequeira and her Aarti Party entertainment show; Jeff Mauro as the Sandwich King. So a few times over the years of watching, Ferrett and I have wondered about what, if we were ever contestants, our shtick would be. I'd never been able to think of one, until I was cleaning up the kitchen today and noticed this:

It's clear: I would be the Cast Iron Queen.

Yes, I have felt the pull of All Clad and its shiny, gleaming silver. I ever have one All Clad skillet. And it's lovely for omelets. But most of the time, I reach for the sturdy black of my cast iron. I love the way it holds heat, I love how sturdy it is.

I love that it doesn't require a lot of scouring to look good. And compared to All Clad? You can outfit a kitchen with cast iron for the cost of one All Clad saute pan.

So that would be my thing, on Food Network Star. I'd advocate for heavy cookware--and probably get thrown off after just a couple weeks for lack of sophistication. But if they want down-home cooking, me and my cast iron are the ones to pick.
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The kitchen is reopening [Aug. 20th, 2015|03:58 pm]
There's bread rising on my counter.

For those who know me, this used to be a common, multiple-times-a-week occurrence. I baked bread as regularly as breathing.

That all stopped a couple years ago. I honestly can't remember when I last baked bread. A lot of things about my life kind of came to a halt in the last couple years. I shut down to minimum life support. I bathed, I read, I kept up on clients, and barely spoke to people.

But in the last month or so, I've felt like I'm slowly, slowly waking up. I'm working like someone who likes her job, I'm getting exercise, I'm keeping up the house the way I like it kept up.

And I'm starting to cook again. For a while there we were eating out a lot, bringing in a lot of takeout. Now, in the last couple days, I've actually felt like cooking for the first time in a long time. And yesterday I felt the need to revive my pour sourdough, to see whether Shelob had survived my neglect.

She had. So today I am baking a loaf of the bread that was the staple of my baking, the bread I can bake without pulling out a recipe, with a minimum of measuring. I am definitely rusty, but it's rising.

I can't say for certain that this will become the regular occurrence it was before. After so long of being so subfunctional I'm finding it hard to trust that this new energy of mine will last. I'm still not all the way back--my tolerance of crowds is low, and even the company of my dearest friends is something I can only take in small doses. Some days being responsible and working just feel like they're going to kill me, like I can't possibly do it another day. I worry that I'll fall back into that morass.

But not today. Today I'm baking bread.
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Games mortgage companies play [Aug. 17th, 2015|11:12 am]
Today, I received mail from one of the many mortgage companies I deal with. It was a request for permission to contact a client of mine directly regarding a loan modification. This is a pretty standard form, so I signed it and prepared to send it back.

That's when things got a little suspicious. The form instructed me to send it back in the self-addressed, postage-paid envelope accompanying the letter. But the envelope I received had exactly one sheet of paper in it: the form itself.

Well, I thought, human error and oversights can happen. I'll just mail it myself. I looked the form letter over. And then studied it closely. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Though it's pretty standard stationery, there is no address to be found anywhere on this letter. No address, no fax number, and no contact number for the person who sent the letter.

I had so much trouble believing this that, even as I'm writing this entry, I paused to study that letter one last time. No contact information whatsoever appears on this letter. I can't help but assume that this is intentional: a false attempt to appear cooperative while actually stonewalling the borrower.

I wish I could say that such incidences are isolated. But my experience over the years is that mortgage companies are seldom cooperative in the loan modification process.

Whenever a client of mine has prepared a loan modification packet, I instruct them to send it by certified mail, so that someone has to sign for it, and to keep a copy of everything they've sent. Because mortgage companies are notorious for misplacing loan modification packets or claiming they never arrived.

In the worst incident, the borrowers had sent in 8 separate copies of the loan modification packet. Every time they finally got acknowledgment of receipt of the packet and began working with a mortgage company representative, that representative would get transferred, someone else would be in charge of their mortgage, and that person would not have a copy of the packet anymore.

By the time they came to me, they were fighting tears of frustration. A short-term layoff had gotten them behind on their mortgage, but because the mortgage company would not accept their payments they were now months behind, in danger of foreclosure, and the interest and penalties were piling up.

Unfortunately, there is very little regulation that forces mortgage companies to act in good faith. There have been some class action lawsuits leading to multi-million dollar settlements, and some borrowers are benefiting from those funds. But as far as actually changing the behavior of these companies on a day-to-day basis, the lawsuits have accomplished very little.

It's pretty appalling that we as a nation loaned money to these companies, sent none of the CEOs to jail, let them all pay themselves giant bonuses, and are still getting screwed over by them. But hey, corporations own the government now...
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The weird granularities of tableware [Aug. 14th, 2015|02:35 pm]
The food is cooked, the plates are filled. Everything smells delicious. Smiling, Ferrett hands me a fork. I smile back, but apologetically.

"Um, thank you. But can you get me a big one?"

It completely baffles him, but I hate eating dinner with a salad fork. For him, it's an instrument of delivery for food. For me, it's part of the food experience. The weight of the fork, the size of the bites, the balance in my hand, they all have a direct impact on how much I enjoy my food.

What I've never confessed to him (until now, obviously) is that since we've gotten a new set of flatware I often reject the dinner fork of one of the patterns for the dinner fork of the other pattern. This is not a matter of preferring one pattern over the other. No, I actually choose different ones on different days because that one is going to feel better eating this particular meal.

I know it's silly. I've actually been so embarrassed by this at times that I accept the proffered fork from Ferrett, and then sneak back into the kitchen to switch them out. But eating is more than just flavor. It's an experience for all the senses, and my sense of touch comes into play with the weight of that fork in my hand. Thin, flimsy silverware at a restaurant actually distresses me--but then again so does the stuff that's overly heavy. Each spoon doesn't need to weigh a quarter pound. I just don't want to feel like I can tie it in a knot, either.

Let's not even discuss bent fork tines [shudder].

Anyone else have odd aversions, ones that don't relate to the actual food? Or is it just me?
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Why I am stupidly happy with Play Boy [Aug. 13th, 2015|06:12 pm]
Playboy ran an article in early July of this year that was a pictography of "ways of the O" - but worrying about women finding their happy place was not the thing that made me excited (see what I did there?) about the article.

No, the exciting part for me is that half the pictures are with plus-sized models. Go take a look; it's pretty much work safe (unless you work in a church or a daycare, I suppose). The first five pictures are a very standard, very blonde model, but the last five contain models (two of them) who have a little more meat on their bones than what's considered the standard of beauty.
This is a delightful development. Considering that most women are at least the size of, if not larger, than the plus-sized models, it's nice--great, in fact--to see this kind of acknowledgement that we exist, and that men can find us attractive, and can and should want to take our pleasure into consideration. A more realistic view of the female form in all its glory can only be good for us all.

I can, however, anticipate that there is criticism. Those who worship a random idealization of body type undoubtedly think of such pictures as "giving women permission to be fat." That it encourages women to "let themselves go."

To them I say, good! The idealized female form in modern society--skinny and young--is achievable by maybe 1% of women. Even that 1% can only stay young for so many years. The constant pressure to be something that we can't be serves only the beauty business that relies on our self-loathing. Oh, and the $6 billion/year diet industry.

Thank you, Play Boy, for showing women who actually exist in daily life. We're an awful lot of fun to snuggle up with.

After all, we're built for comfort, not for speed.
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Columbia House: Another dinosaur falling to dust [Aug. 11th, 2015|10:55 am]
When I was a kid, every magazine had that little postcard-weight page with a hundred record albums listed, each with a tiny box in front of its title. "Get 12 albums for just a penny," it said at the top. I'd check off 12 albums on that Columbia House Records ad, daydreaming about how great it would be to own all this music. (My mother, wise woman that she was, absolutely forbid me from actually sending in the postcards.)

Now, Columbia House is on their way out. And for good reason. Selling music in the digital age is a completely different animal than it was back when I was a kid.

My goddaughter Carolyn does not own albums. She owns a computer, and it has a connection to YouTube. When she wants to listen to songs, she looks them up and plays the music video. The music is just there for her. Why would she spend money on it?

It's proving to be a challenge for the music industry. Meaghan Trainor had to cancel shows because of her vocal chords hemorrhaging. Hemorrhaging! Good grief! And she's not the only one. More artists are ending up with vocal nodules and other voice problems, because they're out on the road touring a lot more. I'm seeing my favorite a capella group Home Free for a third time in a year next month because they are on their third tour in 18 months.

Because that's where the money is. Album sales just aren't driving the industry anymore.

But exhausting our favorite singers can't be the final answer of how the music industry survives. I'll be interested to see what innovation artists will come up with, now that the big labels and distributors are no longer the answer.
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Little blue slave driver [Aug. 7th, 2015|11:36 am]
I have a Jawbone now.

You're probably thinking, "surely she had one before; most people are born with them!"

Ah, but this Jawbone is a step tracker, an ugly blue bit of plastic wrapped around my wrist. I chose the Jawbone over other trackers because a cluster of my in-laws have the same device and now we can all be on a team together, even though we are half a country away from each other.

Which means that they can now see whether I'm getting my sleep, and whether I'm getting my steps in. It's kind of like a weird, cellphone based Santa Claus (he sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're walking the dog).

Honestly, I am enjoying sharing this increase in fitness with my family. We can send each other cheering notes, and there have definitely been evenings when I haven't really *wanted* to walk the dog, but I've done so in order to get the last of my 10,000 steps in for the day.

But, wow, on those days when work or other situations just make it impossible for me to get them in? So much guilt! Particularly when I see my sister-in-law logging 20,000 steps or more. 20,000? I haven't gotten anywhere close to that, ANY day! I'm impressed and intimidated.

And now I've been working and writing and on the couch for way too long. It's not whips or chains that drive me on, it's peer pressure! Off to movement for a while!
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Be awesome to each other [Aug. 6th, 2015|02:13 pm]
I'm feeling blue today, after a conversation with a couple who are breaking up. She did things, and he did things, and then they both did things out of anger and pain and defensiveness.

In the end, she sits stricken, tears rolling down her still face. And he has the calm of someone who has walled away his emotions.

I sit between a woman who doesn't want a divorce, and a man who can't stay any longer.

And I just want to smack them both.

Yes, there were things done, and things said, that are unforgettable. But when I see that much pain between people who obviously still care, I just wish I could knock some sense into them.

It takes a lot to put aside pain and anger when someone has hurt you badly. And some people are determined to just keep causing pain. Sometimes you've both changed too much to reach across the gap.

But sometimes it seems like two good people of good will who care about each other simply can't get past an event.

I've heard the phrase, "Never assign to malice what can be attributed to stupidity." And when Ferrett says or does something hurtful, I try hard to remain calm and point out the painful thing instead of shooting back.

Sometimes I fail. And then Ferrett is generally wise enough to tell me that I've hurt him.

Sometimes we both fail. But we try not to fail for long. We can damage each other, but we have faith in our good will and push through our own anger to reach out to each other.

As I sat with that couple, I wanted so much to help them reach through their anger and hurt. But you can't force that on people, and a year of painful encounter takes a lot to get through. All I can do is urge them to be as good to each other as they can.
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Dream anxiety [Aug. 4th, 2015|10:31 am]
Last night I dreamed all night about packing and moving from an apartment. It was a very anxious dream: I had to paint the apartment and pack, and I just couldn't get myself to get anything done. In parts of it there were children who had to be cajoled into packing, in parts it was a dorm room, but all of it was anxiety about deadlines of getting things packed and painted.

In other news, I have a whole series of clients doing irritating things that require me to write motions and go to court. I'm sure there is no relationship between these two occurrences.

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Desert days [Aug. 3rd, 2015|11:21 am]
Saturday evening, I walked my dog into the past.

It was a perfect evening here in Cleveland: 80 degrees, but the humidity was low. The sky was blue, and the slightest of breezes lifted the leaves; even flags were too heavy for its gentle touch.

We came up a different street than we usually walk, one that is rich in trees and older homes. And half a century just evaporated. I was back at my great-grandparents’ house at the end of 8th Avenue in The Dalles. The long blocks of manicured, green lawns gave way, on the west side of my grandparents’ house, to the desert from which it they had been claimed. The street rose abruptly in front of their house, almost like a horse rearing from danger. And danger there was, indeed, for just across the street, behind Marge Kraft’s house, was The Bluff.

It might have had an actual name, but for us kids it was just The Bluff.

There were always skid marks on that part of the street, where it was steep enough to require the application of horsepower and a running start. Then it curved around Grandpa’s house to become 7th Place, a street that would have been an alley in any other part of town but for the fact that the houses on the north side of it had nothing beyond but The Bluff.

That little crescent on the west side of Grandpa Lemuel’s immaculately kept lawn was our own little chunk of wilderness, when we were little. Rough and broken granite pushed up in large and small chunks, and the prairie grass grew wild. In the spring there were blue bonnets and bachelor buttons and other wild flowers that we would gather and present to Gramma Lemuel for her many vases. In the summer there were prickles and burrs that scratched our legs and had to be wrestled from our clothes.

Those jagged rocks were stepping stones over hot lava. Over poison. Over rough seas. And they were milestones as well, demonstrating the triumph of our growth when we grew tall enough to make the leap between two stones that had been impossible a month before.

I can’t count the number of banged-up knees and elbows that were Bactined and BandAided through the years. Parents and aunts and grandparents scolded us for our tears, pointing out that they were all our own fault. But they never told us to stop playing on those rocks.

And when we were old enough to cross the street by ourselves, there was the magnificence of the pirate ship in the Krafts’ yard. Oh, to you it might only be a giant, ragged chunk of granite. But for us? The magnificent way that it started high at the south end, dipped low in the center, and then rose into a prow at the north?

Captain Hook never captained a better ship than this. The hours that we passed, half a dozen kids scrambling over that rock, can’t be counted.

Never mind that the north end of it dropped off about 12 feet to more craggy rocks and then the long, steep roll off The Bluff. A fall from it could have been fatal, but the couple times we tumbled off led to nothing more than bruises and sprains and admonitions to be careful.

We had no electronics. We came in at night filthy and exhausted. We climbed into bathtubs where we yowled at the hot water on our scratches and cuts.

They were the best times ever.
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The hazards of clear-cutting a jungle [Jul. 31st, 2015|12:52 pm]
I'm currently nursing a bee sting on the index finger of my left hand. The hand is swollen enough that I'm having considerable trouble typing.

I can't blame the bee. She was doing her job. A giant creature was ripping out all the vegetation in front of her home, and what would a bee think the purpose of such a thing to be? Why, attacking the hive, of course. Her job was protecting the hive, and this was the third time in four days that the giant creature had assaulted her home.

I think that's why she and her compatriots were so persistent in chasing me down. Before, when I've gone around the corner of the garage and out of sight of the hive, they have settled back down fairly quickly. This time, I was standing a ways down the driveway and they were still determined to drive me further away.

As a counter-measure, I put my hand in the air, pinkie and thumb out in the "no worries" pose, and flickered it back and forth. The shadow resembles a chimney swift, and bees generally flee from it.

Not this time. This time I felt the sharp bite of a sting. Apparently I pushed my hand up just where Miss Thang was flying, and she tagged me. I'd been calm to this point, since I was wearing a bee net and long pants and sleeves. But I had on garden gloves, vented in the back, rather than bee gloces. Cursing my stupidity came into the house, peeled off the glove, checked for a stinger, cleaned it up, and went back to work--in a completely different section of the garden. I could definitely feel it, but it wasn't that bad.

By the time we walked to the movie theater last night I was holding it up in the air to keep the swelling down. By this morning it was definitely swollen. Now, despite Benadryl, I can almost watch it swell more. And I feel a bit achy in my joints. I've always reacted dramatically to bug bites, but believe me, there will be no gardening today!
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Best laid plans and all that [Jul. 29th, 2015|12:38 pm]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
(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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.
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On Ferguson and fear [Aug. 21st, 2014|11:52 am]
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]

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]
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]
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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