Monthly Archives: August 2010

Eighteen Years Ago Today. . .

I brought home a baby girl, long and skinny with huge brown eyes and a shock of dark hair.

Today she’s legally an adult (don’t tell her, but I think 18 is still a kid in a lot of ways . . .)

My sweet Adrienne. Brilliant, beautiful warrior woman. She faced all of her worst fears last weekend between being life flighted to Las Vegas, having a fairly major surgery, being stuck with more needles than she could count, and being poked and prodded in ways that she wasn’t quite prepared for.

It feels almost like she went through some sort of rite of passage. Facing the things that scare her most (doctors, hospitals, needles, illness) just as our society tells her that she’s not a kid anymore.

Her friends threw her the most extravagant, beautiful birthday party ever. Somehow they managed to get out local pool to stay open a few hours past closing. There was a barbecue, leis, a scavenger hunt, night swimming, and a magician. Really, it was amazing. It made me really happy that we decided not to move until the end of this school year. Because it isn’t every day that you find friends who love you like this.

Here’s the pics. How amazing that they even included little brothers and sisters?

Adrienne in front of the killer banner her girlfriends made for her.

Getting ready for the magic show.

Phil the Magician at work.

The gorgeous luau cake Adrienne’s girlfriend baked and decorated.

Dusk scavenger hunt.

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Perfect Day

Barbara Sher, in her book Wishcraft, has an exercise that asks readers to envision their perfect day.

What would be in yours?

Where would you live? How would you live? Who would you share that day with? Even if you’re perfect day isn’t at home, where is home? How do you pay for it? How do you spend your time? What is your passion?

In my perfect day, I live somewhere cool, green, and beautiful. Somewhere in the mountains, but near water. Where I can see the sky. Our house is small, but has room for everyone to have a little space. It’s filled with beautiful things that I love to use and to see. All of the junk is weeded out. We have two or three acres of land, some chickens and ducks, maybe a goose or two, and goats. A big, lovely garden that grows lush and fruitful. And speaking of fruit, an orchard.

We live somewhere near a large enough city that I can write in town, in an office. Maybe a collective of some sort, where other writers and artists and creative people also have work space. (Reno has one of these that excites me.) I’m fit enough to ride a bike to my writing space. In fact, I’m entirely comfortable in my own skin. I feel good. I sleep well. I eat locally, ethically, and with enthusiasm with friends and family.

Kevin does work that fulfills him. Adrienne and Nicholas are on the verge of starting their lives. Ruby is happy and eager to learn. (I can’t control what other people do, of course. But I firmly believe that if I find balance in my life, it will affect the people I love the most in a positive way.)

I’m successfully published, and writing books that I love to read and that my readers anticipate. I travel sometimes, to see the things and the places and the people that inspire me. But I love coming home. On this one, perfect day I’m home, but I’m planning my next trip while the previous one is still thrilling me on the inside. Maybe I’ve been to Paris or Mexico City or Shanghai. Maybe I’m going to New York City or London or Peru next.

Travel wouldn’t be part of Kevin’s perfect day. But maybe I can coax him into adventure with me. Or maybe I travel alone, so that I can soak up my experience without distraction. Maybe I bring one of my kids with me. Or a friend.

My creative energy peaks in the early afternoon, so I leave my work space then. Maybe I have lunch in town, with a friend. Or go home and have lunch with Kevin. Something simple and delicious. And then spend the afternoon working in my garden or with the animals.

What are the important elements of my perfect day?

1) living in beauty, with mountains and water nearby

2) balance

3) a wonderful work space

4) a rural setting with a city nearby

5) self-sufficiency at home, especially with regard to food

6) travel

7) writing

8) peace, comfort, time to do the things I want to do

Tell me about your perfect day. What are it’s parts? How can you start molding your life around your priorities? Me? I can keep writing, keep working toward that day when writing supports me, my family, our goals. I can grow some food now. I can research the place in the mountains, near water, where I see myself living.

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First, There Are No Rules

I spent all day yesterday thinking about making my own set of Food Rules a la Michael Pollan.

And then I realized that I seriously hate the word ‘rule.’ Especially when attached to food, because it triggers my tendency toward disordered eating. It wakes up my rebellious spirit. Not that I mind that spirit waking up, but in this instance it usually has disastrous results.

So the first . . . idea? thought? inspiration? . . . of my Nutrition Manifesto is simple.

No rules.

What does that mean exactly? It means, to me, that no food is off limits.

Not even gluten. Wait, wait. I know. Gluten makes me sick. It makes me bloated and it hurts, it fogs my brain and swells my feet.

But guess what. If I want a sandwich, I can have one. Clearly, this is a true statement. Because when I want a sandwich, I have one. Only, I don’t only have a sandwich. Because, since I’ve already broken the rule, I figure what’s a piece of good bread with dinner and maybe pancakes in the morning. Cookies for a mid-day snack? And the next thing you know I’ve been eating gluten for a week. And I feel like crap.

That’s what rules do to me. Every time.

So just like a diabetic can choose to continue to eat sugar and a heart patient can continue to eat french fries, I can chose to eat gluten.

And knowing I can gives me the freedom to remember that I don’t have to. It relieves the stress and anxiety that comes with constant dieting long enough for me to remember that I really don’t want to eat gluten. And I really dislike that over-full bloated feeling that comes from stuffing myself full of anything, because I can’t stop once I start. (Since I’m never breaking the rules and eating cake/enchiladas/french fries again, I don’t want to waste a single bite of this opportunity . . .)

It feels weird writing “no rules.” Because my food world has been dominated by rules for as long as I can remember. It feels like an invitation to indulgence and all kinds of scary, bad things.

But here’s the thing. I don’t feel in control when I’m trying to hold to a set of rules that flip my crazy switch. I feel like someone’s switched the crazy switch in my head.

So. Inspiration/idea/thought one: No rules.

I can eat what I want, when I want.

Freedom.

How do food rules make you feel?

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Nutrition Manifesto

Since January, I’ve really worked hard to get a handle on my serial dieting. Constantly trying to lose weight has not only not worked, it’s backfired. I started dieting when I weighed about 160 pounds, now I weigh about 300. So yeah. Big fat fail.

Not only is dieting a fail for me, it hits my crazy switch. As soon as I think about dieting, or losing weight, my sanity slips.

Here are a few things I know for sure:

1) Gluten is bad for me. If it’s bad for me, chances are good that it’s bad for at least one of my kids (maybe two or three of them.)

2) My eating is disordered. I binge.

3) My mother and both grandmothers died of cancer, and my father is a cancer survivor. I am only ten years younger than my mother was when she got sick. Nutrition can be a protection for those of us predisposed to cancer.

4) My father-in-law had a heart attack when he was about ten years older than Kevin. Kevin is exposed to second-hand smoke at work, and was throughout his life because his parents were smokers. Nutrition is also a protection for those of us predisposed to heart disease.

5) I have a three children I really, really adore. I want them to be healthy, not only now but in their futures. It starts now, with how I feed them.

I’m not going on a diet. I’m certainly not putting my family on one. (If it’s nearly impossible to be successful myself on a diet, can you imagine how hard it would be to put someone else on one?)

I read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules while I was sitting with Adrienne in the hospital. It’s a fairly common sense little book, and I thought about just following a rule a week and spending the next year or so getting those rules down pat.

But then I realized that some of the rules are very diet-like and are likely to turn on my crazy switch. I like some of the ideas, but a big part of his premise is to eat less. And that’s too diet-y for me. (Knowing yourself is important, don’t you think?)

No. I need my own food rules. Rules that work for me and my family. I have to figure this out for myself, because there is no one “plan” that works for everyone.

Also, I think it would be some sort of copyright infringement to post all of the rules here so that you know what I’m doing.

I’m going to do some research today and post the first ‘rule’ tomorrow. Going Wednesday to Wednesday works out for me, because I usually go grocery shopping on Tuesday.

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Fear and Perspective

At about 10 p.m. last Wednesday night, my 17-year-old daughter told me her stomach hurt. Like cramps, but really intense and centered on the lower right part of her belly. She couldn’t stand up straight.

By 11 p.m. she had a fever of about 101.

By 12 a.m. she was puking.

At 1 a.m. we were in the E.R.

The doctor was worried about her appendix, but said that the pain wasn’t exactly right. He tested her urine for an infection, and didn’t see signs of one. Eventually he sent us home and said if the pain is worse in six hours or not better in twelve to come back.

After a few hours of sleep, the pain changed. It was still severe, but not as bad as the night before. On Wednesday night she couldn’t sit still because there was no comfortable position. On Thursday morning it only hurt that bad when she stood up. And the pain centered on the right side was gone. Her period was two weeks late, so we thought maybe it was just awful backed-up-period cramps. Worst cramps ever.

By the next morning, things hadn’t changed at all, so by noon on Friday we were back in the E.R. It took until 4 p.m. to see a doctor. She still had a fever and was still throwing up anything she tried to take in.

The doctor ordered a CT scan and saw an orange-sized mass in her pelvic area that might or might not have been attached to her ovary and might or might not have twisted.

We live in a teensy town. There was no available Ultra-sound technician or OBGYN. So, after a lot of considering, and no improvement, the doctor said she needed to go to a bigger children’s hospital. In Las Vegas, 250 miles away. Adrienne and her dad flew on a medical plane and Kevin and Ruby and I drove.

The next morning, after lots of tests and pokes and needles and tears, the OBGYN said Adrienne needed to have the cyst surgically removed. Even the ultrasound didn’t make it clear whether or not the cyst was affecting her left ovary, since it was so big that it blocked the ovary all together.

The surgery happened just about an hour and a half later. It took less than an hour. The mass was a huge paraovarian cyst. (That’s a cyst that forms around left over cells, paraovarian cells, that decided Adrienne would be a girl instead of a boy at conception. It’s common to have them. Sometimes pea-sized cysts form around them and are usually unnoticed. An orange-sized one is unusual.)

The cyst was bleeding and had twisted on it’s stem. It had a place on it’s wall that was weakened from the pressure, and was on the verge of rupturing. That would have cause internal bleeding and lots and lots of pain. Her ovaries weren’t involved, except for being very close.

We’re home now. And she’s healing well. It’s amazing how the human body strives for health.

Since Friday I’ve slept in a car, sitting up in a chair, on a chair that opened into the most uncomfortable bed ever, and on an air bed.

And all that time, sitting, waiting, whispering to my baby that she’s a warrior woman whose body will heal, watching her do things that scare her the most with bravery and grace . . . all that time, one of my most persistent thoughts was that life has to change after something this intense.

We are not immune. We are not invincible. If we don’t take care of ourselves now, while we are healthy, we won’t be for long. And I don’t want to spend time in a hospital bed, or in a chair next to one, if I can prevent it by making our health a priority now. And the one way I can make major headway in that direction is with food.

I’ve done really well on giving up dieting. I think it’s a first step. I have no idea whether or not I’ve lost or gained weight. I know my clothes still fit. I know that I flew without incident two weeks ago. I know that it matters less and less to me, which is a big positive.

But we still have cupboards full of nutritionally negligible foods.

And I fed my children Ramen Noodles for dinner tonight, because by the time we got home it was too late to cook and our fridge is empty of fresh food anyway.

Not. Acceptable.

Things are changing. I’ll tell you how tomorrow.

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Learning Deep

I have spent a lot of time . . . more than  twenty years . . . trying to get a college degree. A lot of what has kept me from that goal is that, when I get close, I get scared. If I have a degree is education or social work, then I have to work as a teacher or a social worker, right?

And I don’t want to be a teacher or a social worker.

No. That’s not what I mean. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher or a social worker. I was a social worker, in fact, until June. And I’ve worked as a substitute teacher. Both are honorable and necessary professions. Work that means something is really important to me.

But for me, they were fall-back careers. Things to study so that if I’m not a successful writer, I will still be able to work.

A lot of that stems from a) my childhood experiences and b) my single mom experiences. I want to be able to support my children. (Who doesn’t?) But I’m almost 39-years-old. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer, a teacher, a social worker . . . all without degrees. I’ve proven to myself that I can get work that matters and that will pay the bills (frugally, but still, pay them.)

I don’t need a safety net.

I’m a little freaked about the money. It’s a lot of money. Not now, of course. Not out-of-pocket. But I’ll be $20,000 in student-loan debt when I graduate.

Could I put together my own program to teach myself how to write? Find mentors and colleagues, join clubs, read books . . . home school myself to a BFA for the price of a library card?

There aren’t many writing courses at my local community college, but I could definitely put together a degree in literature or just plain English. For free, with grants.

Do I need an idyllic Vermont farm campus and Poet Laureate advisers? Do I need a piece of paper that says BFA on it? What does $20,000 in debt really mean? How long will it take for me to pay it off? Will having this degree make it more likely that someday I’ll write a book that someone will pay me $20,000 for?

Is the experience worth it?

I don’t know. It’s such an experience. Progressive, intense, soul-opening.

I’ve written a novel since April. I’ve read and processed almost 50 resources, about half of those books. I’ve pushed myself more than I’ve ever done in an academic setting. I’ve been a student almost constantly since I was five.  That’s 33 years. And this semester, I dug deeper and learned harder than any other time.

Except one.

When I was three, I wanted to know how to read. My mother bought me a set of little yellow, paper books filled with pictures of a lion and a mouse and simple words like “I am Sam, Sam I am.” I spent hours that I could have been playing dolls with my sister reading and re-reading those little books. When I went through them all, I read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was only three, but I remember that feeling, like I’d done something monumental.

This semester was that intense.

Is it worth $20,000? I hope so.

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Oh, Yeah

I almost forgot. I got my nose pierced three weeks ago, just before my trip to Florida.

It was my third try, and the third time was the charm. The girl at Diversity in Las Vegas did a fantastic job. And I get the memory of sitting in my car in 110 heat for 20 minutes convincing myself that I am not too old to go into a trendy piercing/tattoo place to have my nose pierced. And then walking in, filling out the paper work, and having the girl behind the counter light up and say . . .

*drum roll*

. . . “You were born the same year as my mom!”

Yeah. I’m old enough to be the mom of a piercing/tattoo shop employee. And turns out, I’m okay with that.

I took this lovely self-portrait ten minutes ago. After a night in the ER with Adrienne and maybe three hours of sleep. A sudden low, right-side stomach ache, fever, vomiting . . . yeah. Scary. Turns out she either has food poisoning or the worst case of the cramps ever.

I’m showing you the extra-charge-worthy baggage under my eyes. See how much I love you?

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