Thursday, December 3, 2009

If you don't get presents does this mean you aren't good?

The legend of Santa says that "He knows if you've been bad or good." We have songs about this. Parents in Christmas-celebrating households use this liberally as a threat throughout December. Every visit to Santa's mall helpers includes a question about whether or not you have been good this year. The net effect is to create a culture in which children believe they get presents from Santa only if they have been good.

So what is the effect on poor children in Christmas celebrating who have been good, but don't get presents? If I apply MY kid logic I'd believe that I wasn't good enough to deserve a present. What is the emotional impact of this?

The national unemployment rate is 10.2%. Nearly 60% of the 308 million Americans are of working age, which means as many as 31 million adults who previously were working for pay now are not working for pay. Which means there are a whole lot of children who may end up believing they weren't good enough to get presents from Santa this year.

The magnitude and implications of the recession hit me in a new way while I was shopping at a local discount retailer earlier today. I encountered at least half a dozen adults considering what Christmas decorations to buy, what toys they could afford for their children, what grocery items were too far out-of-date to be safe to eat. I overheard children wistfully talking about the toys they wanted, adult daughters and their mothers talking about how they could possibly get x and y for the little ones in their families, and husbands and wives trying to figure out how they could possibly give as much to their extended families as they had last year. Overhearing all of these conversations made my heart sad. These conversations reminded me that this year is different. That this year children - and adults - won't get as much as they hope for, as much as they believe they deserve as recognition of their efforts to be the best they can be.

My shopping experience also created an enormous feeling of guilty gratitude. I don't have to find a way to try to fulfill my child's wish list while managing unemployment or other forms of public assistance. I don't have to tell my child mommy's unemployment makes our house invisible on Santa's map, so he might not find us this year. I have the privilege of giving myself almost everything I want (and my wants are small, so this is easier for me than for some). I have the privilege of consciously making choices on what to buy and what not to buy to give to my sweetheart, my family, friends and colleagues, service professionals who make my life easier, and even strangers. I have the privilege of not having to worry about whether a lack of presents under my tree is evidence of my inherent unlovable or badness.

I wish I had the power to change our cultural messaging about the meaning of Christmas and the role of Santa. If I did I would encourage families to tell children that Christmas is a season of love, and we share love with each other in many different ways - by sharing a hug, reading stories together, and sometimes, when we are lucky, giving and receiving gifts.

However you celebrate the holidays, I hope you can find love in small gestures, kind touches, AND simple gift giving this year. Merry Christmas.

"Do you ever miss Santa"

My nine year-old niece asked me this earlier today when I was telling her that I was at the mall to buy my brother a gift for his Christmas stocking.

"Wait a minute!" she declared after half a beat. "Why are YOU filling Uncle TK's stocking. Doesn't Santa do that?"
"Santa only fills the stockings of kids. He has his hands pretty full taking care of children all over the world, so at a certain age he stops giving people presents."
"How old were you when Santa stopped bringing you presents?" she asked in a quiet voice.
"Twenty-one or twenty-two," I swiftly replied. (I hope Santa reads this so he knows how long he is on the hook with the present giving.)
"Do you ever miss Santa?" she asked, in an even quieter voice.

Of course I miss Santa! I'm also grateful that the spirit of gratitude, surprise, and fulfillment can be experienced through buying gifts for my family, populating my online registry with things I've found online, and quietly contemplating Christmas lights that bathe the front of my home, the homes of neighbors, town centers, and many businesses.

Where do you find the spirit of the season - whether you observe Christmas or Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Solstice, or New Year?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The more things change...

..the more they stay the same. And nowhere is this aphorism more apt than on Facebook.

An old acquaintance from high school and I recently reconnected through the ubiquitous social networking app. This friend looked fantastic in her profile picture. In the 21 years since we had last seen one another she had transformed from a pudgy, needy, and nerdy type to a fit, tanned, confident-looking woman. I was so curious to poke around her profile and learn more about her journey to her present place in this world.

The first time I get a status update from the long lost acquaintance in my Facebook Feed she sounds EXACTLY the same way she did in high school. Whiny, accusing and complaining.

I laughed out loud when I read the update. I was amazed that someone who had obviously done something over the last twenty years to radically transform her exterior appearance had made almost no evident change to her interior self.

How funny we people are.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Memories of Halloween

"Halloween was always a struggle for me," my mom said to me on the telephone earlier today. "364 days a year I taught you NOT to take candy from strangers, and then, on one night I was supposed to dress you up so you were unrecognizable and send you out to beg for candy from strangers. I never understood it."

To her credit, or perhaps in homage to my naivete, I had no idea my mom had such anti-Halloween feelings. I have very fond memories of the creative costumes she made; and our costumes were always homemade, never store-bought. One year she made me a bumble-bee costume, with the body made of poster board hung sandwich-board style on my body with and styrofoam wings. I remember the bubblegum machine costume she made for my brother - a clear garbage filled with small colored balloons and a little hat with a fake nickel coming out of it. As a kid I loved the creativity involved in thinking up a costume and finding a way to construct it. I remember being an angel, a zombie, and a fisherman.

I also loved trick-or-treating. We went out for what felt like hours, unsupervised. (I learned today the unsupervised part was because my mother refused to go candy begging with us.) We lived in a densely packed community filled with children, the bustle of kids and lights and doorbells was intoxicating. Mr. Schenk, one of the 6th grade teachers at my elementary school, lived about a mile from us, up through tony Twin Hills, and we'd strive to make it to his house before he ran out of the full-sized candy bars he and his wife allegedly gave away to the kids who legitimately lived in their neighborhood. I remember an old woman who lived in a pink and strangely foreboding house at the start of the fancy street that bordered the local park. She always gave away creamy Life Saver pops, but only after you did a trick like recite the alphabet backwards or sang Yankee Doodle. Every year we'd draw tiny strips of paper out of a glass bowl to discover the trick we needed to do to earn our treats. My siblings, and, as I got older, my friends, and I would wander the streets for hours, careful not to miss a house with the lights on as we weaved from one street to the next for blocks. There was never a clear line of demarcation that told us we needed to stop and go home. We walked and rang and laughed for as long as we possibly could. I remember being out so late that many neighbors would leave their candy buckets out on the front porch so they didn't have to answer the door anymore.

When there were no more houses with lights on, my five siblings and I would troop home and eagerly dump our plastic pumpkin-shaped collection buckets on the floor. And then we would sort the candy into piles for favorites, piles for things we'd be willing to trade, and always, one or two Snickers bars for mom. And then we'd start trading. I'd give away Good and Plenty, boxes of Dots with two or three of those faux jujubes in them, Tootsie Roll midgies, Butterfingers, and hard candy. Chocolate caramels, Twizzlers, Peanut Butter Cups, and Baby Ruth were among the candy bars I eagerly sought. When we were done sorting and trading and counting, the candy would go back into our buckets and I'd carefully dole out one or two or ten pieces a day for my lunch bag or snacks I'd try to sneak at school.

As an adult, I actually have no great fondness for Halloween. While I enjoy the sweetness of seeing young children excited by their costumes and the novelty of getting candy, I generally find this holiday to be disconcerting. I feel unnerved by, and disingenuous around adults in costumes. I've dressed up only once in the last 15 years, at a Halloween party hosted at the commune where I once lived. (I felt like an idiot in my rented green sequined mermaid outfit carrying a tinfoil covered pitchfork intended to look like a trident.) I don't understand why some people want to trick out their houses in order to seem spooky or dangerous or pagan. And the greediness that I embraced as a child is now a little gross to me. I was at the mall earlier today during the "trick or treat" hours, and the place was teeming with kids and their parents trying to angle for the best treats. "Let's hurry up and get to Godiva. They better be giving out something good," was a frequently heard exclamation as I dodged and weaved to avoid the crowds.

We do have a jack-o-lantern on our porch, carved with enthusiasm by me. And a plastic cauldron, courtesy of the neighborhood "Phantom", sits by the front door filled with white chocolate Kit-Kat bars (dyed orange), boxes of Nerds, and those hateful Midgies. It is 5:15 now. And I imagine in the next 30 minutes or so we'll start to see the dozen or so neighborhood children begin to trickle through the neighborhood, nervously prodded by their parents onto strangers' porches, to ask for candy. And BMG and I will "oooh" and "aaah" over the costumes and make a big show out of the generous handfuls of candy we toss into the brightly colored receptacles carried by the princesses, robots, and medieval knights who roam our suburban street. I do this because I remember how much fun this was when I was a kid and I want to do my part to offer this same delight to the little people who creating their Halloween memories tonight.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This body is not mine to own

I read an explanation of the Easter story of the crucifixtion that, for the first time ever, made sense to me. It is in the book Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. Given to me by BMG for Christmas last year, I have been trying to read this short novel for nearly 10 months. It is the kind of book I've read eagerly and then had to put down to reflect on what I was experiencing through the author's words. I have repeatedly lost my place and unintentionally re-read several chapters as a result.

I came upon a passage I had not yet read this morning, while reading at the dining room table as I munched a leftover salad. In it, the Buddha incarnate, is trying to explain the process and the rationale behind reincarnation. Or maybe he is responding to our protagonist's question about the existence of evil. Regardless, the Buddha character, Volya Rinpoche (which I've learned is pronounced "Rin-poh-chay"), explains that Jesus was nailed to a cross to remind us that our bodies do not belong to us, that they are temporary vessels that house our spirits.

This makes more sense to me than any Christian explanation of the Easter story I have ever heard. And as someone who has struggled with loving and taking care of her body, it is one of the move moving and profound "aha"s I've had in a long time. Who cares what my body looks like? What is important is the cultivation of my soul, the love I feel for the essence I bring into the universe. Now and forever after.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That crazy sawdust smell

I had an olfactory experience today that reminded me of one of my childhood fears. The fear of being "that kid" who threw up at school and caused a chain of event that resulted in that VERY distinct smell of puke mixed with sawdust permeating the classroom. I can remember classmates throwing up in class fewer than a handful of times, and I still remember the intense fear that I'd do it someday, and everyone would be mad at me for making the classroom smell terrible. And how about those poor teachers, who had to content with the smell and the riled up students? Or the custodiam who had to clean up our childhood sickness. Ugh all around.

What were your childhood fears? Did you ever throw up at school? What do you remember of it? Are you a teacher? Have you ever had a kid throw up in your class? What was that like?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Which way do you blow?

It is allergy time for me - either Fall or the new kittens are leading to torrents of messy sneezes here in the Tiny Bungalow. While in a snotty crisis in the kitchen this morning, I grabbed a paper towel to empty my nose. While blowing into the rough surface I wondered, "Am I wasting paper towel with these actions? Should I have dashed into the bathroom, nose covered, to do this, rather than grabbing the nearest disposable surface and having at it?"

So, I ran the numbers to see which is less expensive per sheet - paper towels or facial tissues. The results, I decided, would determine all future nose blowing actions for me for now until the end of time.

Here are the caveats. We're a tiny family in the Low Rent District of the beautiful seaside suburb. This means we buy the smallest packages and cheapest brand paper towels and facial tissues. I'm sure the numbers would be different if we were buying facial tissues with age defying exfoliants embedded in the paper fiber, or paper towels that could be used at least 100 times before needing to be tossed.

With that out of the way, this is what I found:
Paper towels cost $0.013 per sheet.
Facial tissues cost $0.012 per sheet.
This makes facial tissues the more economical choice for blowing your nose. UNLESS, as BMG points out, you have a big mess on your face, or maybe a nose bleed, and need more than one tissue. If this is the case, then head into the kitchen and grab a paper towel because they are more absorbent and it is likely you will still need only one to contain the body fluids.

I also ran the numbers on toilet tissue (again, the brand and size we use) and found that, if one were to use 15 squares of toilet paper for a single nose blow, the price would be IDENTICAL to the price of one facial tissue. So, in the interest of efficiency, I may stop buying Kleenex knock-offs and just place rolls of toilet paper in strategic locations around the house during allergy season.

PS: I give credit to this blog for the awesome photo which accompanies this post. Thank you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"The missing man was last seen wearing..."

"...white Nike sneakers, blue jeans, a green T-shirt, and a red North Face jacket."

It strikes me that this is the dumbest way to get the public psyched up to help find missing people, kidnapped children, and criminals. Putting on a new outfit is the EASIEST thing to change about oneself or one's captive. So why is it one of the first things our public safety officers and journalists report on when they need help finding someone?

Imagine this scenario: I see the man above (who has been missing from a nearby suburb for a week). I've scrutinized his photo in the paper and realize this guy, who is hitchhiking along a highway, looks identical to the missing man EXCEPT he is wearing Green Chuck Taylors, black jeans, a black t-shirt and a dingy Members' Only jacket. And I decide not to call the police tip line because the guy I see isn't wearing the identifying clothing reported in the paper. This could happen, right? People aren't that smart.

Maybe this is why we have scores of websites in this nation dedicated to finding fugitives, missing children and missing people?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reflections on turning 40

"Hyperopic (far sighted children) are able to pull things into focus which is how they manage without glasses..."

My ability to pull things into focus sans spectacles has come to an abrupt end in the last week or so. Seriously. As a far-sighted person I've often bragged about my ability to compensate sans spectacles for the 33 years I've been a four-eyed girl. My glasses are more often found perched atop my head acting as a hair styling aid than an eye sight aid.

Until this week. Now if my glasses are off for more than 10 minutes during my waking hours I find myself with an excruciating headache which nearly incapacitates my ability to find said glasses. So, with all of my 39 year-old wisdom, I've come to realize that the glasses cannot come off. Not without painful consequences.

This makes me feel old. Well, older anyway.

I'll be marking the end of my 40th year on this planet in eight months, in June 2010. With this important milestone circulating in my subconsciousness I've been finding myself reflecting on other milestones not reached, items on my personal "Bucket List," and stages I've burned through in my adulthood.

How did you mark your 40th birthday? I've thought about planning to jump out of a plane (too fleeting?), whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon (too expensive and time consuming), trekking to Mount Kilimanjaro (too expensive and time consuming but maybe worth it), or having a giant party (too narcissistic). Nothing feels quite right yet.

I've been pushing BMG on the topic of marriage lately. On Friday night, while driving home from a favorite Boston restaurant, I said to him "I don't want to die at age 85 having never been married. And if it isn't going to be you, then I need think about the point at which it will be too late for me to find someone I love enough to want to be married to." I also want to own a home, to feel like I've accomplished something significant in my life, and to be the kind of aunt my nieces and nephews regard as super cool and interesting. I want to be less hung up about my body, the loss of my father to divorce, being as impressive as Nelson Mandela or Forrest Church.

I'm not afraid of turning 40. If there IS a party I won't buy the stereotypical "Over the Hill" vulture and tombstone party favors. What it feels like is a time of reckoning, a time of transition as I get serious about and settled into this life, as I celebrate both my choices and the paths I have yet to take on this journey called living. I expect to embrace my 40th birthday, even if I don't feel fully ready.

I have eight months to keep my eye glasses on and pull my life into focus in time to celebrate turning 40. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reaching a milestone in my adulthood

My kittens are being spayed (Ducky) and neutered (Brisket) tomorrow. In my adult life I've had kittens three times. This is the firs time I've ever had the kittens long enough for them to reach the sterilization phase. Usually I get bored with the kittens after a couple of months and give them away to someone who is less likely to get bored with them.

Is this a measure of my arrival into adulthood, that I can love a kitten long enough to shepherd it through the bits chopping phase of its life? I like to think so.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Defense of Talking to Strangers

My mom broke her pinkie while she and I were visiting Martha's Vineyard this week. She slipped getting off a bus and, in her frantic effort to right herself, she torqued the pinkie on her left hand out of joint and broke it at the base.

We were in West Tisbury, en route to a connecting bus that would take us to Aquinnah and Gay Head, the most remote area of the island. We had no car. And my mom broke her finger. Sigh. Rather than getting back on the bus to a more populated part of the island (and an ER) we pushed forward and continued our journey. Our bus driver, alerted to the problem, flagged down a bike cop as we approached the stop at Gay Head and he met us with an ice pack for my mom's finger. We secured the pack to her hand using a white linen shirt I was wearing. We walked to the highest point at Gay Head, mom's hand looking rather claw-like, took a half-dozen pictures of Gay Head cliffs and Gay Head Light, and then parked ourselves at a picnic table to wait 45 minutes for the next bus out of there. (The picture at the top of the post is AFTER we had iced it for 30 minutes.)

The break was bad. Her pinkie was sticking out at a right angle from its base. Always a good bruiser, my mom takes blood thinners and the hematoma evolving in her palm was spectacular. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and we were three bus rides away from the ferry terminal and at least another 90 minutes from the mainland from there. And the ice pack was melting.

I left my mom at a picnic table and headed to a food vendor to get some more ice for her finger. Ahead of me was a woman in bike gear looking to buy a Gatorade. As we waited I asked about the biking conditions on the island and we chatted about road versus off-road biking. As the biker was being served she mentioned she also wanted a cup of ice. I chimed in that I wanted one too, for my mother's broken finger. The counter girl ruefully informed us she'd have to charge us $0.50 for the ice. I started to trot off to grab two quarters from my purse when the biker with whom I'd been chatting pressed a quarter into my hand. "For your mother," she said. When I returned to the counter with a second quarter to pay for my ice the biker was still there. As we continued to wait she said to me politely, "Is your mom going to be all right?" "She's being brave," I replied. "But the break looks pretty bad. We need to get off the island and get her to an emergency room."

Then the biker said something extraordinary. And this is why it is important to talk to strangers. She said, "My husband is an ER doctor. I'm sure he wouldn't mind looking at it." In wonderment, I fetched my mom and we met the ER doctor, fully outfitted in HIS bike gear. He affirmed the finger was broken, yanked it back into place and asked me to go ask a shop keeper for some tape, even cellophane tape, so he could affix the broken digit to its neighbor. My mother, go-getter she is, was already ahead of me, in the entrance of the nearest shack selling Wampanoag handicrafts. The artisan, upon hearing of the situation, pulled a first aid kit off a shelf, rifled through its contents and offered gauze for the cause. He also has a roll of masking tape, which was deemed a suitable substitute for the first aid tape missing from his kit. The ER doctor, using supplies in the first aid kit of the Native American crafts person, stabilized my mom's broker finger.

After my mom made it back to her home town she visited urgent care and learned her pinkie is indeed badly broken. And the ER doctor pulled it perfectly into place; no additional work was needed on it. She does need to have her hand guy take a look at it to follow up (she's had extensive hand surgery over the course of her young life), but for now she just needs to wait until it heals.

The Abolitionist

If I were Queen of the Universe I would abolish the following things:
1. Horizontal striped outfits for plus sized people,
2. Transition lenses for children, particularly adolescents and young teens,
3. White pants in all sizes
4. Black sneakers, particularly with white socks.
Some might say I am restricting human liberty. This may be the case. However, there are examples of US law that have held up in court that put the interests of the people over individual freedoms. Using this as my precedent, I would abolish the manufacture and sale of the above items in the interest of helping every human being look their best to avoid teasing and social branding on the basis of clothing choices.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I dream of high school

I'm living in a funky condo complex in Cambridge and I've suggested an impromptu high school reunion with all of my Facebook high school friends. My old friend Laurie Ward is still really close and she, along with BMG, are around discussing the party. At some point in time a light goes on in my head that people may actually show up for the party, that this isn't just Facebook and we won't just send virtual beers to one another, but will actually see one another. So I realize that my house needs to be cleaned up. A pile of hardware on the floor from some sort of home improvement project gets put into plastic bags, and I tidy up the outside deck. And then people start arriving. Tons more people than I know through high school - including some I don't recognize (it was 20 years ago after all). As people arrive I find myself marveling at each one, trying to guess who they are and learn what they've been doing. At some point I realize I've been a terrible hostess, not just because I haven't offered anyone a drink, but because I forgot to buy drinks and snacks. I know I have some red wine somewhere - because I always have red wine in the house. So I start to rummage around a cluttered counter to find a bottle of wine. As I'm frantically searching, but trying to remain composed, the person with whom I'm speaking says, "I don't drink anymore. Do you happen to have ginger ale?" Someone else chimes in (I think it was Dave Gates), "Yeah, I'd love a glass of ginger ale." I NEVER have ginger ale, in fact, I never have anything to drink in the house except red wine, seltzer, Gatorade and beer. But the Gatorade and beer are BMG's beverages and I don't want to use them. So then I start to stammer and wonder how I can sneak out of the house to buy soda for my guests who don't drink and adult beverages for the friends who do. When I look up and see a rack of soda and boxes and boxes of Drakes cakes that have miraculously appeared. The Drakes cakes have weird names like "Zips" and "Twitter" which is how I know BMG, the Twitter Consultant, has saved my hide.


Not a very dreamy party, but nevertheless the high school party of my dreams. I'm pretty sure the impetus was my older sister's picnic with Facebook friends from high school in Marcellus Park yesterday. What is all the panic about? Is there a part of me who thinks I'm so unprepared to actually live my life in the present? How could I understand having BMG save me? Is he better at being present in the here and now? Interpretations from Junior Freuds most welcome.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"I would rather die...

...than sleep on sheets that have been in a dryer!" This is s recent declaration made by my mother after I suggested that, while her torn rotator cuff remains unrepaired, she abstain from hanging her laundry on the backyard clothesline.

"Let me make sure I heard you right. You would rather die, or at least be in constant and burning pain, than sleep on sheets that have been in a dryer?"

"Yes Clownface. I would rather DIE than sleep on sheets that have been in the dryer."

BMG's response, upon hearing this utterance retold? "What is she going to do when you have to put her in a Home?" Good question. Does anyone know of any nursing homes that hang their clients' sheets out on the line?

Generation Google

There is some confusion about the generational name of children born in the 2000s. I've seen "Generation Y", "Echo Boomers", and the "Millenials". My favorite so far is "Generation Google". Let me tell you why.

My sister and her two kids, CMR and The Divine Miss M, were visiting just last week. As the five-year old "M" walked into the tiny bungalow I share with BMG she spied an olde tyme typewriter in our entry hall. You know what they look like:
What do you imagine The Divine Miss M said when her eyes lit upon this piece of nostalgic office equipment? That's right. She said, "What's that Aunt Clownface?"

She had never before seen a typewriter. NEVER BEFORE SEEN A TYPEWRITER! I typed my college applications on a typewriter only 20 years ago. Boy did I feel old.

But it got worse. A few moments later I grabbed my keys on the way out the door with the kids en route to a nearby playground. The Divine Miss M noticed my key chain.
"Why do you have a 'g' on your keychain?" she asked of her aunt (whose name actually begins with the letter 'g').

"Good question. Why do you think I have a 'g' on my keychain?"

"Hmmm." She thought. "Is it because you love to Google?"

Generation Google. I rest my case.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Undeniable cuteness

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Oh Brisket! You look so much cuter sleeping than anyone - or thing - else in this house. And you are using a seafood cookbook as a pillow. Perfect!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Take that MBTA!

Dear Secretary Aloisi,

I have long stopped trusting the MBTA, a quasi-governmental agency, to act in the public interests. Apparent exclusive reliance on fare increases and service cuts as the strategy for "saving" public transportation - rather than examining administrative efficiencies, salary decreases, and other cost-savings measures on serves to reinforce my belief that the MBTA is irrevocably corrupt. At this stage in the game, regardless of the decision made by the agency, I am not likely to EVER use public transportation again - on the principle of not wanting to spend my money on corruption. Futhermore, I am very willing to share my opinions with others in the interest of influencing them to boycott the T. If the MBTA were to dramatically increase transparency in its efforts to staunch the financial bleeding then I might be inclined to be more forgiving of an agency struggling to make it work. Thank you for your attention in this matter.


Have something to say to Secretary Aloisi of the MBTA? Write your own letter by clicking on http://www.masspirg .org/action/ transportation- agenda/public- process?id4= ES

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dad's Day = Sad Day

I'm feeling the loss of my father today, this Father's Day 2009. He isn't dead. Instead he is lost to that affliction unfortunately known to too many children - Deadbeat Dad Syndrome.

My dad and my mom separated when I was fairly young. Their divorce, as I recall, came some five or six years later. My siblings and I visited dad irregularly during the period between separation and divorce, and then, as I remember, for about five years after their divorce. Then nothing. My mom tried to sue him for the $15/week he owed for child support (that's $3/week per kid). I was told later that he moved around every six months to avoid lawsuits. He avoided his kids to avoid being sued for $15/week. Fast forward eight years, to 1993, when daddy decided he was ready to be in touch with each of his five birth children again and he wrote us all letters saying how sorry he was for everything he didn't do for us.

I didn't reply to my letter. At the age of 23 I didn't know what to say.

What I'd say now goes something like this,

"When I was a child I felt so special when I was with you. I was the most important little girl in the world when you held my hand. Nothing else mattered but me.

I don't remember how you and mom explained the divorce. I DO know that I felt like it was something I did that led you to leave. So the explanation could have been better. Or your efforts to help me hang on to that feeling of being special after the divorce could have been better.

What happened? I assumed that you stopped loving us -stopped loving me - because I didn't understand how does someone could let their fears become so overwhelming that they cannot express love to their children? That they cannot honor their inherent worth and dignity? How can someone be so self-absorbed as not to realize the impact of their actions on those special little people in their lives?"

My oldest sister, H, has heard from Daddy. She knows where he lives (Arizona? New Mexico?). He is married for the fourth time, to a Latvian woman he met on the Internet. He still works under the table to avoid having his wages garnished for back child support - even now more than 35 years after the separation. I look for him on the Web - googling his name, checking for him on Facebook. I'm curious about this person I once loved. And there is a little girl inside of me who still misses him terribly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cat hair in my coffee

We have new kittens. Two of them. Two adorable, solid, furry balls of energy.

We also have a dishwasher. One efficient, powerful and effective dishwasher.

The kittens love to hop into the dishwasher when it is open to scavenge for goodies. They lick dirty flatware, investigate detritus left on plates, and have been seen hopping into the lower basket to get a closer look at caked on baked on residue on 9x13 Pyrex. Not knowing the difference between a dishwasher filled with dirty dishes and one that has done its dishwasher duty, they investigate while we both load and unload the machine.

The effects of the kitten police work came home to roost this morning when I lifted my 20 ounce mug of fresh espresso to my lips for a gulp of wake up elixir and noticed a white cat hair affixed to the handle. A solid white cat hair resting firmly on my clean mug pulled from the cupboard. My clean rooster mug pulled from the cupboard and placed only on the kitchen counter, a place currently unknown to the kittens as it is much too high for them to leap onto. (Oh I hope it stays that way forever.)

(Deep sigh followed by a little chuckle.)

I've heard the coffee described as strong to "grow hair on your chest." I can now proudly say that I drink coffee strong enough to grow cat hair on my chest. I better call my waxer.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Birthday week: a chronology

Day One - Sunday, May 31: BBQ and chocolate cake. Surprise rainbow. (Hooray rainbows!)

Days Two and Three - Monday and Tuesday, June 1 and 2: Off the sugar free diet. Phish Food Light at Night.

Day Four - Wednesday, June 3: Work late the day BEFORE my birthday. Get home at 10:30 PM. Decide to go to work late on birthday. Stay up until midnight, hoping to get presents as promised at the stroke of midnight. Snoring - or is it human purring? - instead.

Day Five - Thursday, June 4 BIRTHDAY!: Up at the luxuriously late hour of 7:00 AM (often at the office by 6:45). Greeted by sweetness and presents (magazines and books and pjs and organic treats - which could have risked J's rep if ANYONE knew he went to the natural food store). Contact lens aggravation. Glasses instead and then out for big breakfast. Birthday cake at breakfast (our waitress was also celebrating her birthday). Off to work. Love from mom underground en route. Work? Unfocused, and a little aimless. M&Ms as snacks. Forgot lunch. Niceness from dillard57 and the great Alice Comack before All-America City, followed by celebratory fist pumping from Rick. Drive home. Love from Sister E. Greeted at home by with love from J, GORGEOUS flowers from D and BA, tens of Facebook greetings from close and far away friend, and fuzzy sweetness from Brisket and Ducky. Dinner with the "in-laws" - cheese, wine, scallops and CUPCAKES. Earrings, an apron and unconditional love. Home again home again, seriously hopped up on sugar.

Day Six - Friday, June 5: Still hopped up on sugar (oh my belly hurts) and determined to solider through with margaritas and delicious homemade cake at the C-A household later.

Day Seven - Saturday, June 6: Girly girl day with a haircut, pedicure, and dinner with J at The Capital Grill and the inaugural outing of my first ever "little black dress."

Birthday Week Round-Up - the morning of Day Six:
22 Facebook wall messages
8 presents
4 cards
4 cakes
1 pint of ice cream
1 bouquet of flowers

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nuclear Equity

As I listen to the latest public radio discussions about nuclear non-proliferation talks with North Korea I find myself with a sneaking suspicion about the motives of the nuclear powers.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the justice or equity of a nuclear power telling emerging nuclear power they can't have this authority because it is too dangerous. It plays to my heart and mind like a rich person telling a poor person they don't really want lots of money - because it is a lot of responsibility and it is scary and they (the poor person) aren't really equipped to deal with that. What makes the U.S. or any other nuclear power any better equipped to handle nuclear power than another nation? Our leaders aren't necessarily smarter (you can make that argument from either side of the aisle depending who is in The White House). Is it because our leaders are democratically elected and therefore more accountable? If we have nuclear holocaust the last thing I'll be worrying about is government accountability. Because I'm pretty sure I'll be dead or hanging on by the skin of my, well, skin. I know there is a nuclear non-proliferation treaty signed in 1970 (seriously) that was really driven (I think) by the zealotry of the Cold War. Not because nuclear power and weaponry is inherently bad. But because the U.S. and the then Soviet Union were out of control.

My instinct is that we don't want India or Iran or Pakistan or North Korea to have nuclear power because then they'd be as powerful as we are.

Before my liberal friends pop in righteously, I want to be clear that I'm not pro-nuke. Instead I'm anti-hypocrisy (or pro-integrity if you will). IF the U.S. were both advocating for developing nuclear powers to back off AND working towards our nation's own nuclear disarmament I wouldn't be writing this blog post. No moral dilemma and no sneaking suspicion about the power motive being the dominant motive behind our rhetoric on the world stage.

The well is dry

It strikes me that there is no such thing as a "typical" year in my chosen profession, education management. Last year circumstances of tragic proportions at the office kept everyone off track by more than six months. Finally back on our feet by September, I was hoping this year would be a "normal" year, when I could meet my goals, work on a handful of fun projects, and generally be a better colleague and community partner. And then a month later the bottom fell out of the market. The last six months - like the year before - has been a series of one enormous distraction after another as the senior team in my office (which includes me) struggles to keep the organizational ship moving forward in the face of enormous financial adversity. I have submitted more than $9 million in grant requests in the last three months alone in an effort to stem the tide of layoffs and operational derailment. All while maintaining my best calm, anxiety-free demeanor.

I am exhausted.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Worst nightmare

The Living Social app on Facebook recently invited me to identify the five things that terrify me the most. On my list were snakes, becoming homeless, having all of my limbs amputated, gaining weight, and being brain dead. What is on your list?

If I were a parent I could imagine one of the things that would be on my list is having my child taken away by social services. And this nightmare is happening to a friend of mine right now.

Put yourself in their shoes for just a moment, if you can bear it. Imagine every waking moment filled with a yawning emptiness created by the absence of your child. Would you feel sadness? Anger? As you stare into this abyss realize that you are also required to muster the energy to think aggressively and strategically about what to wear to court, how to stage your home for the case management visits, choreographing interactions with your sweetheart, deciding who to tell to garner support without losing too much face among family and friends - all in the interest of convincing social workers, lawyers, judges that you are a loving and capable parent - not a sad, depressed and overwhelmed parent. Or a furious and bitter parent. Could you do it? I don't know if I could do it.

My heart aches for this little family. I'm loathe to read updates that come by email for fear that the child will be permanently separated from its family. Even if the case is settled in their favor, their lives will never be the same.

I saw a snake in the front yard yesterday afternoon. A long garter snake. It startled me but didn't terrify me. I'm not a parent but merely having a friend who is living what I imagine is among a parent's worst nightmares is obsessively scaring me more than I could imagine. I hope I never have to live through my worst nightmare - being a bystander to someone else's greatest terror is bad enough.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My life with poison ivy

This morning I convinced myself that my repeated bouts with poison ivy is the result of childhood re-enactments of the heroics of the Justice League of America where I was ALWAYS assigned the role of the villainess, yup, you guessed it, Poison Ivy.

The first time I remember an allergic reaction to poison ivy was on a family camping trip to Lewey Lake in the Adirondacks. I don't have any idea how I got it or what it felt like. But I do remember taking repeated showers and using Lava soap to scrub my body. I have poison ivy again and it itches like crazy. And one of the sets of rashes has become infected. And in my effort to treat the infection, I've given myself ANOTHER allergic reaction, this time to a topical antibiotic. After a trip to the ER I'm now on three different types of medication to treat the infection and have a divot in my right arm where the infection is the worse.

Poison ivy is an allergic reaction to a plant oil called urshiol found in the omnipresent and chameleon-like poison ivy plant. Poison ivy plants can have anywhere from 3-9 leaves (not just three), change color, can be bushlike or ivy like or a ground cover. It grows in marshy areas, woody areas and on beaches. Those of us who are allergic aren't even safe from DEAD PLANTS because urushiol is found in the leaves, the stems, the stalk and the roots and is potent even if the plant is technically dead. Urushiol is also found in poison oak and poison sumac. I wish I were a botanist or had a photographic memory. Because, while I know that anything with the word "poison" in its name should be avoided, I can't seem to remember what poison ivy looks like.

Urushiol is slowly absorbed into the skin and the allergic reaction starts once the urushiol has really settled in - usually 12-48 hours after exposure. That's right as much as 48 hours later! My brother-in-law introduced me to called Tecnu, an anti-poison ivy wash that. If used within 8 hours of exposure Tecnu can significantly reduce the allergic reaction. From the smell of the stuff I imagine Tecnu uses petroleum mixed with soap to wash the oil off. I'm afraid to let my cats near me after I've washed with the stuff because it smells so much like gasoline. There is also a Tecnu Extreme that has microbeads in it that abrade the skin and feels wonderful if you are even the slightest bit itchy.

The key to Tecnu's effectiveness is knowing when you've been exposed so you can wash right away. Tecnu's window of effectiveness is within 8 hours of exposure. BUT, the allergic reaction usually begins in 12-24 hours. So, once those itchy red bumps and blisters appear, you are simply left to cope. Which is what usually happens to me. (If you want to know what the rash looks like, visit the online "Poison Ivy Skin Rash Hall of Fame".)

However, even if you can't stop the skin reaction, you can prevent yourself from getting re-exposed by washing EVERYTHING that might have come in contact with the oil at the time of exposure. During this last bought I washed every piece of clothing I had, threw away a pair of shoes and a washcloth, washed sheets, comforters and futon covers, and doused my gardening tools liberally with alcohol. Urushiol seems to NEVER go away. So, if I touched something that got the oil on it - or something that touched something that got the oil on it - it could set off a different and separate reaction.

I've read figures that say between 15% and 85% of the population is allergic to urushiol. If the higher figure is true then I really should buy stock in some of the companies that make poison ivy itch relief agents. In my experience:
  • 24 allergy tabs with antihistamines work pretty well. On my current bout with the urushiol allergy I'm finding that the 24-hour tabs take about 2 hours to kick in. Which leaves me in excruciating agony for 2 hours. Why excruciating? Because you aren't supposed to itch the blisters or the rash. Not because you can infect other people with the rash (poison ivy isn't contagious), but because breaking the rash can lead to an infection which can lead to blood poisoning.

  • Cortaid 10 as a topical anti-itch agent stinks. Cort-aid doesn't dry quickly enough and maybe staves off the itching for only an hour or two. The wetter the rash stays the worse it feels.

  • Calamine lotion or a product like Ivarrest is satisfying because the entire rash can be visibly covered. This makes me feel like I'm doing SOMETHING to soothe the discomfort. I'm not sure it really helps with the itch and in fact is pretty messy. Particularly if the allergic reaction is in an awkward place. My current allergy is on the underside of both arms AND on one complete side of my torso. It is hard to wait for calamine to dry before putting my arms down. As a result, most of my clothing is covered in lotion and needs to be washed all over again.

  • Covering with lotion is okay. Covering the rash or the blisters with band-aids is terrible. Remember, the goal is to dry out the rash and let it "breathe." If a blister breaks, loosely cover it with gauze fixed with surgical tape.

  • Drying out the rash with alcohol washes is recommended. I'm afraid of the ouchiness and have never done this.

  • Hot showers are heavenly, as are warm oatmeal baths (like with an Aveeno brand oatmeal product. Something about the wet heat provides itching relief. But, be careful of the scope of the heat and the length of the shower or soak. Why? Because sweating makes the itchiness worse. There is a fine line between a blissfully comforting hot shower or bath and a gale of sweat-induced body shaking itches.

  • When the rash is really bad or doesn't go away after 12 days or is in sensitive parts, one can go to the doctor to get steroid shots and pills and prescription creams to address the problem. By Monday, June 1st, I'll have been to the doctor three times for this horrible itchy episode. Sigh.

The takeaway is this. Poison ivy stinks. And I'm a dope for repeatedly getting into it. I'm now six hours into my latest round of treatment. Antihistamines (to stop the itching), prednisone (for itching and swelling), and Bactrim (to kill the agents causing the infections). My infected arm is covered in a 4x4 gauze pad fastened with paper tape. And my arm, right now, doesn't hurt. It is a beautiful day and I shouldn't go outside because of sun sensitivity due to the meds AND the problem with sweating and itching. I'm not supposed to drink alcohol either because of the possible drug reactions.

The good news is the medicine is working and I'm not yearning to peel my skin off to make the itching stop. My kittens are sitting beside me snoozing. And there is a bowl of fat-free, sugar-free pudding mixed with sugar-free cool whip waiting for me on the counter. I have the names of three tree companies I can call to inquire about poison ivy removal services so I can feel like I'm really taking action to protect myself. And I've just arrived at the startling murder part of the story in the latest mystery I've plucked from BMG's considerable collection of paperback mysteries. So, I'll stay inside, regretting getting into this mess in the first place, and relax.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Crazy cat products

I was getting a prescription filled at the grocery store pharmacy* today. While I was waiting I wandered up the pet products aisle to look at toys for my new kittens.

During my ten minute slow stroll down the aisle I found some amazing and weird pet products. Things like:
Stink Finder - an ultraviolet light that illuminates pet stains that are invisible to the naked eye (but not to the nose);
Ensure for cats, called CatSure;
And, if your cat is lactose intolerant, there is lactose-free milk treats for cats;
Baby wipes, but for your cat. When I looked later at Petco online I learned there are TONS of different pet wipe products - for dental cleaning, ear cleaning, dander damping.
This doesn't include the products with imaginative names like "Dried Fish for Cats."

Have these products always been available? I grew up in a cat household and have occasionally had cats in my adult life. And I can't tell if these products are new signs of the coming apocalypse, or if they have always been around? What I DO know is that my kittens - who have not had their stools examined for signs of milk allergies (in fact they haven't had milk since being weaned from their mom-cat), don't have dried fish to snack on, and have no toys except for the tin foil balls and paper bags littering the house - are looking for a lap to sit in. And mine is taken up with a laptop, so I'm going to sign off here and play with a kitten.

*Jodi Thomas at the Pharmacy at the Super Stop & Shop in Hingham is the BEST pharmacist I have ever worked with in my life. I've been getting prescriptions filled there for only 6 months. She recognizes my voice on the phone knows my medicine needs, and is exceptionally friendly and informative.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


By the end of tomorrow, both my nephew, NWTP, and my niece, MAR, will have gone under the knife to have their tiny tonsils removed. NWTP was well enough the day after surgery to crave toast, and MAR is exuberant at the notion that she can "eat all the popsicles I want and then SOME MORE!" I have strong olfactory memories of Hawaiian Punch, so strong that the smell of it even now transports me back to Upstate Medical Center, the teaching hospital affiliated with the state medical school. On the phone tonight my mom said, "I hope she comes through this better than you did." "What happened to me?" I asked. And then my mom told me the story of the blood clot at the surgery site rupturing while I was in recovery, which resulted in my appearing to vomit blood uncontrollably. I was rushed back up to surgery to have the incision cauterized a second time. Suddenly my older sister's story of being so afraid that I was going to die that she walked tens of miles from our home to the hospital (in the snow, uphill both ways) to visit me because my parents wouldn't (couldn't?) bring her. I know the surgery was preceded by three hospitalizations for severe infections accompanied by 105 degree fevers and trips to the emergency room. I remember visiting our pediatrician, Dr. Cantor, so often that I became bored with the fish tank and the games and the same old tired books in the waiting room. My tonsils were what young doctors call "a finding" and I distinctly remember medical students being endlessly rotated into my exam room to peer into my throat.


It was good to hear stories of my childhood as told by my mom, however briefly. My memories of growing up are, like everyone else in the world, skewed towards a particular worldview. In this case, my world view is undoubtedly affected by my child's understanding of the break-up of my parents' marriage, which was happening at around this time. You know the rap - either the break-up was my fault or I was going to be left alone because both of my parents hated me. I felt comforted hearing my mom talk about rubbing my back as I rested in recovery, and hearing her recollections of being afraid when I was rushed back into surgery. I have a different understanding of my sister's story of walking to the hospital (seriously, like seven miles) in the snow to visit me because she was so afraid I was going to die. (Or maybe she thought mom and dad were fighting so much that they couldn't possibly be paying attention to me?) Regardless, I understand that place of sisterly caring just a little differently tonight. And I'm grateful.

Dream Aunt

The week before my oldest niece, CMR, started Kindergarten I took her out for "Special Aunt Clownface/CMR Day." I took her for her first mani/pedi (she had her nails painted blue with daisies painted on them), we went to lunch (Friendlys), then we went to a nearby state park and played chase (her idea), and wrapped up with a trip to the craft store where she picked a new craft kit that we did together.

She is now 8 and deep into the second grade and we haven't had another "Special Aunt Clownface/CMR Day" since. Until this week. When I pull her out of school on Friday. We set our agenda by phone today.

Step one: Have breakfast with Gammie (that's grandma to the rest of the world).
Step two: Go have our nails done (this went over VERY VERY big two years ago).
Step three: Go to Syracuse's Everson Museum of Art to see the Central New York Scholastic Art Fair Exhibit, which goes up on Friday.
Step four: Go out to lunch.
Step five: Make art together at Gammie's house or her cousin's house or her own house - if we feel so inspired.

I suggested the museum to CMR's mom by email, who then asked the wee one if she was interested (she apparently recently read a book about a little girl who goes to an art museum independent of this plan being hatched). When I told CMR I wanted to take her to the museum to see art made by teenagers from her town I could hear her eyes pop out of her head. She said to me "Do you mean someday I could have art hanging in a museum?" "Yes Little Bear, someday YOU could have art hanging in a museum. Let's go see what kind of art is good enough to hang in a museum!"

I feel like a great aunt because I get to help CMR have a unique experience that will open windows and doors to her imagination and stoke her aspirations.

I have six nieces and nephews. CMR is the first so she gets to have these types of experiences before anyone else in the passel of little people who are being raised by my sisters. I hope I can sustain this type of effort for each of them, so they can come to know how fantastic they are as individuals - and I can feel as if I've had a little role in helping them unfold themselves into this world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How I use facebook

"Thank you for asking me to be your friend on Facebook. I've found that I use Facebook mostly to catch up with old friends and to stay in more regular touch with current friends. I try to keep my personal and professional lives separate, and prefer not to use Facebook to connect with colleagues. I'm very happy to connect professionally through Linked In. Look for me there!"

This is a message I've found myself typing more frequently to the handful of people from work recently ask to "Friend" me on Facebook.

I use Facebook to affirm/strengthen friendships. Why? Because Facebook is both silly and efficient. I can get caught up with a whole slew of people without spending money in one fell swoop.

Some of the people with whom I'm FBFs (Facebook friend) are current or former colleagues. But, because of my current position, I'm careful about my boundaries in the office - not too friendly, not too aloof, not too allied with one person (or type of person) or another. And my colleagues who are also FBFs are people I've decided pose no political risk if I tell them I'm exhausted or really angry at my boss (not that THAT would ever happen), or would be concerned about sharing something that might be deemed too personal or inappropriate in the work environment. The upshot, I try to be careful about my personal relationships in the office.

So, I find these Facebook requests from colleagues who want to friend me to be a little mystifying. Are they writing because they think we ARE friends? Or, do they think because we're colleagues we must also be friends? Or, are they less guarded about their personal boundaries?

Whatever the reason, I feel a little funny when I send my now standard response, fearful I'll make the requestor feel rejected at best and angry at worst. But, I know it is the right thing to do. I need to come home and wax philosophic about "The Office," and voodoo, and war stories from Grade 12 without worrying about how my colleagues will judge my choice in television shows, religion, or high school hijinks. So, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get back to my search for former employees of the Erie Boulevard Hechinger Store and people who hate the State of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Gimp is slang for a person with a physical disability, refers to some sort of open source photo editing software. The word gimp is a combo term for gay wimp, and is used to describe a man who likes to wear rubber suits as part of sex play. And it is also a common term for plastic lacing used at summer camps around the world to make lanyards and other useless crafts.

Or at least is USED to be a common term for plastic lacing used at summer camps around the world.

Is there anyone out there who can explain to me how the derogatory slang for a person with a disability became associated with a summer camp activity? I'm not looking for conjecture, but rather an explanation. Seriously.

I was called on the virtual carpet by a colleague last week for sending an email to three people asking for information on where they buy "gimp" for student activities. This was after getting a request to buy "gimp" from a teacher, and asking three purchasing professionals in our business office if they had any idea where I could buy "gimp," AND searching the online catalogues of myriad retailers for "gimp" using multiple search terms including "boondoggle" and lanyard craft kits. All with no result. So, at the suggestion of a member of the purchasing team in my office suggested I contact colleagues in the summer camp division of our office where they buy the plastic lacing. And that's when my awareness was raised about the link between summer fun and making fun of other people.

Had it every occurred to you that gimp, the plastic lacing, was politically incorrect? It has occurred to me now, and I feel embarrassed about the email I sent around the office last week. Oh, and I found and purchased the plastic lacing online, using the search term "gimp".

Monday, February 9, 2009

Liberal dilemma

Is there anyone out there who feels there is a dearth of cell phone storefront operations available in their neighborhood? If yes, I'd like to hear from you. Because I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine that there are people in this world who find themselves in a quandry over the lack of bobo cell phone shacks. Along my 18-miles commute I've seen two new cell phone stores open up in just the last month.

The liberal in me is desperate for the hopeful franchisees from Pakistan and Vietnam or whatever down and out locales either foreign and domestic from which they hail to make it in our capitalistic economy.

And the smart person in me thinks these people are stupid for sinking their savings into a business that no one wants, in an overcrowded marketplace where many people can use the Internet to get their needs met on their own time in their comfort of their own homes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Love letter from God to me

"Hi Gurch!"

How ya doing?! I'm real glad to see you are finally getting confirmed. I can remember as far back as your baptism. I rember (sic) that because you screamed and screamed because the water was cold. It was so funny.

I also remember your first day at kindergarten and first grade and second grade. You were so little and so unaware of all that went on around you. Now look at you, all grown up and being confirmed. I've kept (a) special eye on you, and I know you are going to go far with your life. That newspaper thing you go to? Everyone else is going to drop out, but you'll go on to be the editor, and someday you'll be editor of the New York Times.

Good luck with your life +
I love you, and
I'm always watching you.

Art and artifacts

If you were to conduct an archaeological dig into the far recesses of your personal files what would you find?

I'm sorting old files today, as I set up my new home office. I've found my Grade 4 report on the nation of Egypt, a series of "reports" I wrote in Grade 1 on fall clothes, fall activities, and fall animals, and what I imagine is a representative sample of the more than 2,000 illicit notes passed between me and my closest friends are among the files of personal artifacts I have saved over the course of my nearly 40 year life on this planet. My boarding pass from a high school trip to Mexico taken in 1987, a family photo album created for school which includes a section called "BMPS" (Before My Parents' Separation" and another section called "AMPS", napkins from the party at church that followed my confirmation, my grade report from Drivers' Ed (a score of 86 - not my best class ever), and a letter written to me on the eve of my 16th birthday from a woman who was sort of like a godmother to me.

I kept scrapbooks from middle through high school. And my mom gave every one of us kids a scrapbook for our high school graduation - complete with every drawing, birthday card, or "Let me tell you why I hate you mom" note we had ever written. I've gradually deconstructed these scrapbooks, and every time I go through the remaining pile of ragged edged papers, I winnow the stack down just a little further. Okay, Egyptology was really important to me as a kid, so I'll keep the Egypt report. And I live in Massachusetts now, so I NEED to save the report on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But maybe it is time to recycle the report on the "Tar Heel State." And all of those hazy and unfocused photos from Disney World, Mexico, and the general carousing of high school life? They don't hold meaning for me anymore. Or maybe the meaning is so firmly etched in my heart and mind that I don't need the objects to remember.

And then I wonder if, at the age of 85, if I'll remember that night in Michelle Carisse's bedroom at her grandmother's house, when all of us girls teased our hair to its biggest best before heading out for a night of underage activity. Do I need that photo to help me remember what I was like as a teenager in the event that I become an 85 year-old who wants recall the full story of her life?

And here is the curious thing. Do these artifacts actually help me remember the full story of my life? The other day an old high school friend was reflecting on the people in her life and she commented that I was always the friend in our crew who kept a level head. "Really?" I thought to myself, realizing that I have NO idea how other people know me. I only know how I know myself.

So, as I work on this round of culling the archaeological finds of my life, I'm doing it with an eye towards telling my story as I know it, and hoping to get glimpses of how other people know me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm out of touch

Twice in the last week, while scanning the local newspaper online, I learned of incidents of violence after the news was, well news. These include:
*The decapitation of a student in an A Bon Pain on the campus of Virginia Tech
*A hate crime/killing spree in the nearby(ish) community of Brockton, MA.

Why don't I know about these things? Am I so self-absorbed that I'm not paying attention to things happening in the world? Or have the newspapers become very bad at portraying news as news? Are people talking less about news and talking more about Top Chef?

Oh wait! I know why I'm completely ignorant of these and others important items of the day. President Obama was inaugurated this week. And we've been more interested in Michelle Obama's choice of daywear and evening wear than we have in racially motivated rape and weird campus killing. Back to murder, rape and torture this week. Hooray!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

1908 Cement Mixer?

Operating on the philosophy that one man's trash is another man's treasure, Freecycle is a series of email listservs sponsored by Yahoogroups which allow people in communities around the world to post electronic "ads" offering to give stuff away or seeking free, used stuff. Members of the local Freecycle communities either get an email with every new ad that is posted, or they can get a weekly(ish) digest with all of the ads posted for the week.

Still not clear on how it works? Let me give you a concrete example. Say I'm cleaning out my closet and find a bunch of old purses I don't use any more. Rather than dumping them in a landfill or putting them in an Africa box, I can post them on Freecyle to give to a neighbor who might be able to use them right away. Likewise, if there is something I need/want that I am happy to get in used form, I might post a request on the Freecycle community in the hope that someone has a spare one kicking around they are willing to give away for free. I have received exercise equipment, plant stands, lawn/leaf bags, iris rhizomes, and moving boxes through Freecycle either by responding to ads with "offers" or getting answers to my "wanted" ads. And I have given away innumerable pieces of "trash" to individuals looking for treasure including lamps, a DVD/VCR player, drop ceiling panels and half-empty cans of paint.

In my experience there is some weird stuff posted on Freecycle. This includes:
*Half full bottles of bubble bath (the former owner found she was allergic to it and couldn't use it anymore),
*Partially consumed bags of potato chips,
*Twist ties saved over a lifetime of eating bread, and
*Broken electronics (we can't figure out how to fix it, but maybe you can?)
In my experience packing materials, toys outgrown by one's children, books/movies, and clothing (see outgrown reference above) are among the most common items posted.

And today, while reading the Freecycle digest for my little suburban neighborhood, I found this:

Freecycle™ Hingham, MA
Messages In This Digest (1 Message)

OFFER: 1908 cement mixer

View All Topics | Create New Topic

OFFER: 1908 cement mixer
Posted by:
Fri Jan 23, 2009 7:44 am (PST)
This cement mixer dates back to the early 1900's - we think about 1908 (not entirely sure). It worked until at least the early 1970's. There's a lot of rust & the engine probably seized up a while back. You will need to pick this up in Marshfield & it's really heavy - so you will probably need some sort of machinery to lift it. It's in the back yard, so you will have to get through the snow to retrieve it. Wheels are not attached, as they are no longer any good (the wood rotted). This would be a good project for someone who likes to restore old mechanical things - or sell it for scrap. Photos available upon request.


WTF? Who has an old cement mixer in their backyard. That hasn't been functional since the 1970s? What is it doing there? Is it being used as a planter? A kids' toy? A conversation piece at cookouts? A rusty punch bowl? And who among my neighbors would want a 100 year old, broken cement mixer? Maybe there is someone who has a museum of old construction equipment that could use it. But what is the likelihood that person lives in the same town where an antique cement mixer just happens to live?

I'm always amazed at how the world works. Or better put, how the odd individuals in the world work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Elephant garlic is stupid, or things don't have to be bigger to be better

Garlic is not a staple on the shelves in the box box grocery store nearest to my home here in the suburbs. We can buy enormous jars of over processed, pre-crushed garlic in olive oil. Organic garlic is available for a hefty price in plastic containers with no fewer than four bulbs each. And then there is the elephant garlic. Giant bulbs in purple plastic cases for the hefty price of $1.99 per bulb. And that's it.

Desperate for garlic and not really wanting to trek the length of the main thoroughfare running through town to get to the boutique grocery store, I bought a head of elephant garlic this week.

Every time I look at the bulb I cringe. Each clove of garlic is (a) too big to fit in any non-industrial sized garlic press, (b) too hefty to crush easily with the back of a spoon or a small pan, and (c) almost devoid of taste. And that's really the problem. Bigger vegetables and fruits tend to not be as flavorful, because the extra air and water that make them big in turn dilute the power of the taste and maybe the nutritional content.

In addition to not tasting very good, unnaturally large fruits and vegetables are well known to pose threats both spiritual and mortal. Roald Dahl's story James and the Giant Peach is banned by censors around the world for its graphic and allegedly terrifying story about the dangers lurking inside over sized fruit. Comedian Morgan Spurlock rose to fame in 2004 with his film Super Size Me which demonstrated how over sized potatoes (in french fry form) could ruin one's health in just 30 short days.

So, whose idea was it to make vegetables bigger? And why? Okay, maybe bigger carrots and bigger potatoes to feed hungry people in hungry places like Sudan and North Korea. But bigger garlic? We don't need bigger garlic. It is stupid.

In Smart Town, there will be a moratorium on elephant garlic, enormous eggplant, and rotund rutabagas. We won't need them because all of the people will have enough to eat and will enjoy only delicious food. However, there will be no moratorium on Roald Dahl books, or any stories about boys who explore all there is to see inside giant pitted fruits.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Extraordinary things are happening in America. And my life, today, feels boring and ordinary. Boredinary.

(So boredinary in fact that my clever self did not even coin this fantastic word. Some genius already posted it on Twice - with an "e" and without. Sigh. I really am boredinary.)


When I was in graduate school I wrote a brilliant research paper on the evolution of the health insurance crisis. And, apparently I laid the blame squarely on physicians, evil scourge that they are. And my professor, himself a physician, gave me a low B citing the paper as well reasoned but too polemic.

One of the things I learned in graduate school was the word polemic, which I think of as meaning simplistically controversial.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day I'm reading the "Gone With the Wind" chapter in the book Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Lowewen. The book allegedly debunks myths of American history by telling the "real story" behind such American institutions as the first Thanksgiving and the "discovery of America". This chapter is about the sugar coating, and even glamorization, of slavery in American history. As I'm reading the chapter and reflecting on the roots of racism I find myself distracted by Lowewen's polemic argument. Like this one: Very few textbooks clearly state that Thomas Jefferson was a profitable slave owner. Must be a conspiracy to keep blacks down.

Maybe so. Or maybe the rationale for what to include in a history book is far more nuanced than this. Maybe history textbooks written for kids were edited by smart people who understood that Jefferson's ethical and moral ambiguity about being a slave owner was too complicated for young children to understand - too complicated in fact for many grown adults to understand. Maybe the writers of history textbooks chose to focus on the evils of slavery rather than the hypocrisy of the time because they wanted to exclusively focus on the slavery = bad message.

Myriad psychosocial development theorists would posit that many young children - and again many adults - aren't evolved enough to really grasp a conversation about actions we take that benefit one but hurt others. How can this be done responsibly with school children, without compromising respect for our nation's leaders? How do you take a subtle analysis of human nature and transfer it to a component of a 60-minute lesson that can be absorbed by individuals at different stages in their own moral reasoning. Would you say, "Thomas Jefferson was a great man, but he was also a bad man?" You could say the same thing about MLK Jr. if the stories of his womanizing and power plays are to be believed. But to what end? What if the lesson is not to present our historic figures as full human beings, but instead to focus on the good things they did - to give children a sense that they can do good things too?

I don't believe my American history teachers lied to me, and I also believe that American history is far more complicated than a recitation of facts and a presentation of black versus white arguments. Now, I am off to honor Dr. King for the good work he did. Because he did good work, in spite of the flaws in his character.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


An elderly woman confessed her alcoholism to me while we waited in the checkout line at the grocery store this afternoon.

I ran to the grocery store this afternoon to pick up fixings for a salad. And to restock the wine rack. While I hate the big box grocery store lifestyle I'm living right now I LOVE that the grocery store sells beer, wine and all manner of liquor.

The market was a typical Saturday madhouse, with pre-storm frantic water-buying layered on top. As I wrapped up my own chaotic run through the store ("Romaine - check," "Six bottles of cabernet and pinot noir - check," "Ooooh! Pudding - check!") I rolled up to the nearly 250 feet of checkout lanes. Each lane was overstuffed with overflowing carts pushed by overly anxious people. I took fourth place in a lane behind an older woman with a sparse number of goods in her cart. A box of store brand instant stuffing mix, a quart of skim milk, a whole chicken, two apples. She smiled at me.

"I normally never come here on a Saturday," I said,making idle chatter.

"People are stocking up for the storm," she replied.

"And, the embarrassing thing is," I continued, "I'm only here because I wanted to stock on on wine before the storm."

She said, "Well I certainly understand that! There was once a time when I really enjoyed a glass of wine." She waved at her cart, free of potent potables. "Not anymore, I stopped when I started to think that maybe I was enjoying it too much." She hurried, "Never in the morning, I never had a drink of wine in the morning."

A little flummoxed by the revelation I said, "You must have an enormous amount of will power. That's a strength."

"Not will power, prayer," she replied, unpacking her cart onto the conveyor belt.

"Then you have God."

"Yes, I have God," she said as she pushed her cart forward.


I am nearly always amazed at the depth to which people reveal themselves in these types of random encounters. And I am always grateful for the reminder of the fundamental human desire for connection with other people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Curvy from my head to my toes

If you've met me know you know I'm a curvy woman, with a close to hour glass figure (or hour and a half figure as my sister once described). In fact, even my feet are curvy. At least, that's how my podiatrist described them during my third post-surgical check-up following a bunionectomy and metatarsal osteotomy two months ago.

I was just gearing up to hop off the exam table to grab a copy of US News and World Report when Dr. Basile burst into the room and said, "How are you?"

"Great. How are you?" was my reply. And in fact, I was great. I had worn high heels three days without any pain at the surgical site. I had tried cross-country skiing and was pleased to get my boots on and understanding when the motion was too painful. I've been walking regularly without any sign of a limp and the final bits of the dissolving stitches had finally left my foot.

"I'm glad to hear that, because I'm not happy with the way your foot has healed."

"What does that mean?" I said, immediately suspicious. I tensely shifted my foot which was resting on the pull out tray at the base of the exam table.

Dr. Basile grabbed my foot and explained that my big toe was still significantly curled towards the center of my foot. Before the surgery it was resting under the second toe. Now the gap between the two toes is maybe big enough to slide a dime between, lengthwise.

He went on to explain "I'm pretty anal about the toe being as straight as possible. And in fact, I have patients whose toes are much straighter than yours who have been angry with me when they realize their toe is not 100% straight. Let me show you what is happening on the x-rays."

I pulled on my sock and my brown suede Dansko clog and followed him into the hall. He showed me the before and after xrays, where I could clearly see the loss of bone on the left instep (the bunionectomy) and the location of the two screws at the base of my metatarsal series in the big toe. I could also see that the change in the arc of the curve on my big toe is slight, enough to keep it from bumping into the second toe, but not enough to change the fundamental shape of my foot.

Dr. Basile said, "I can fix it by cutting the top bone in the big toe, and inserting another set of screws. I didn't want to do this at first, because your recovery time would be longer, and it would reduce the flexibility of your toe." He looked at my querulously.

"It is curvy. I'm curvy." I said to Dr. Basile. "As long as being curvy doesn't hurt, I'm okay with leaving this alone." I started to walk away.

Dr. Basile smiled and chuckled. "You are going to be fine," he said as I waved good-bye and headed out the door.