Thursday, December 31, 2009


So, I am closing out the old year, which was a bit of a bitch, with a few words on friendship. My definition of a successful life is now simple: do you have "go to the well" friends? That term was one I learned from my mom and it means sometimes things get a little rugged, like Native Americans are shooting at you and yet you still have to leave the fort and get water. Never mind it was their land to begin with, when you have to leave the fort, you need "go to the well" friends. Now, I don't know if they are back at the fort shooting or if they are running like hell beside you but either way...

This year, I had to leave the fort. I had friends who did it all, no matter how small or how outrageous the request. Here is my list which I know will in no way be all inclusive:

Go to the Well Friends

1. Drive over in a snowstorm to bring a friend cranberry vodka that took three weeks to make. Throw in some lobsters to boot.

2. Bring food, pick up kids from school, take kids to karate and daisies, take games to school, and make your friend believe that it is no big deal to do this the week before Christmas. Put together a schedule for people who are delivering food to your friend. Give them some tips that make your friend's life much easier.

3. Fly across the country to manage it all (thanks Mom and Mary)

4. Look through some old photos, scan them into the computer, and put together a slide show that will remind your friend of her history and yours.

5. Bring your friend clothes when she has to stay, against her will, in the hospital overnight.

6. Accompany your friend and her daughter to the American Girl Doll store during vacation week in case she faints from over-consumerism...then let her shop at Anthropologie while you keep two 7 year olds from juggling glittery things. Don't point out the irony of her thinking that the doll clothes were expensive, while picking up three items at her store.

7. Make your friend feel that it is no big deal to throw up in her bathroom...yikes!
8. Drive 45 minutes before Christmas to hand deliver a heart ornament with a band-aid.

9. Check on your friend while you are traveling in Thailand and/or India.

10. Bring your friend beautiful flowers, candy canes, gift certificates to restaurants, craft stores, books, and magazines.

11. Get your friend an Iphone and then offer to provide technical support with no attitude (thanks honey)

12. Sit with your friend's husband during the surgery and then send a fabulous book entitled "Ether Day."

13. Email, send cards, and call your friend just when she needs it most

14. Hang out on your own during Christmas so your friend isn't without support (thanks dad)

So, as promised, this is the last sentimental post for awhile. I am humbled by it all and have faith that I will return the good karma. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I am frugal with some things. My dad taught me to use duct tape to fix a ten cent paper folder and it can last a lifetime. I used to patch my jeans until I was patching the patches. Sadly, I grew out of that work of art. I made my niece an octopus doll out of a kitchen mop, "Molly Moptopus". Sadly, it did not become a family heirloom. My best furniture finds have been discarded on the street or purchased at yard sales, including our wobbly dining room table and most of our dressers.

I am not frugal with some things. I have a maid, a babysitter, and would hire a butler if I could find one. I love expensive clogs, which are so much hippier than expensive heels and will save me the cost of foot surgery down the road. I will never be without an Iphone or a GPS, ever again in my life. I don't cook much and could eat Indian, Mexican, and Thai every single night. The kids keep us balanced in this respect as they demand mac and cheese and chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.

In the middle zone are the pleasures we don't allow ourselves very often. Here are mine:

1. French manicures--my fingers feel very saucy as I am typing this entry.
2. 15 dollar magazine--could be archival quality, could be a limited edition, could be about Japanese snails but on occasion, get one of these.
3. The Good Stuff--be it a bottle of wine, the best paints, or Moroccan hair oil, sometimes you need to go top shelf.
4. Something you know your grandchild is going to get if you can just keep your child from ruining it. Ours is a wooden kitchen set in the attic that Emma may or may not have felt needed artistic embellishment. This is where my future daughter-in-law will sink or swim. If she says "that adds character", I will forever hold my peace about how she is raising the grand kids, if she refuses to take it as it is smeared with red paint and mouse nibbled, well....she gets the full benefit of my expertise as a family therapist.

I am a fan of the middle ground pleasures. They aren't my due, but I'm lucky when I recognize them and override the voice that tries to talk me out of them.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

What a gift!

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My dear friend Heather sent me this and I was so touched, I had to share with my blogging buddies. I think one of the benefits of going through a health crisis is that when you come out the other end, you feel you have earned the right to be openly sentimental, somewhat philosophical, and grateful as hell for everything. So, in that spirit, I will be posting a few sentimental tidbits in the next few days. Once the New Year rolls around, I will be focusing on harnessing my new super powers which I am hoping come with no longer having a hole in my heart. Watch out!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


How do you define what family means? I admit, I'm always pondering this notion after an extended visit with one or more of my clan. This particular visit had some interesting twists, as I am recovering from heart surgery, it is a balmy 17 degrees for my Texas mom, and my children are struggling to make sense of what has happened to all of us.

My mom is semi-retiring from her law practice and is closing on the sale of her building next week. To say this was an inopportune time for her to fly across the country is an understatement. She left Texas last Sunday morning at 6:20am and arrived at our door at 9:30pm. Currently, she is driving in a cab from Bradley airport in Conneticut to Logan airport in Boston because the airlines overbooked her flight. She is scheduled to leave Boston at 10:30pm tonight. She will not make it because we are expecting a big storm. She will most likely spend a good portion of tomorrow trying to get out of the Northeast.

So here is the first part of my definition of family: Family shows matter how inconvienent and how messy. Family shows up.

When we make it to each other, go easy with one another. Sometimes we have aged since last we spent time together, sometimes we are in pain, scared, and vulnerable. The old struggles have become a default position and we need to hit "delete" and begin anew. I'm not sure why that is harder to do with family than with anyone else.

I have noticed over many years that the perfect storm occurs when parents have one idea about their children, and grandparents have quite another. When I was a girl, I thought my grandmother was going to give my stepdad a blackeye when he ate one of my hardboiled easter eggs. She was a churchgoing woman but you did not mess with her grandkids. Having kids is Karma with a big K. You get to be in charge of these tiny filled with promise and challenges. Odds are, you are going to do it differently than your parents think you should. Odds are, you can be a bit sensitive about how you are parenting. When you all disagree, remember that it all stems from love....even when you are shouting and hurling insults at one another. (that might be the Texas part of this story:)

So, a family is bound by love. Family is an arena where we can employ the old-fashioned trait of duty. Where do we get to do that, anymore? My mother made a promise to my grandmother that she would not allow her to languish in a nursing home. She had to fight hard to keep that promise but keep it she did. My father made the same promise to his father and he kept his word. I watched them all struggle.

Love, struggle, duty, and compassion. No wonder things are so intense. Still, we aren't going to quit on one another and that, in the end, is what family is all about.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So Grateful

I know I have been writing a lot about gratitude but bear with me.....this was the view from my room at Mass General. I spent some time Wednesday morning looking out the window and realizing that for better or worse, my heart now has a tiny piece of metal attached to it and I made it through the surgery. My 12 year old doctor (well, he was the sous chef doctor, the one sent out to speak with patients) told me that the floor staff viewed me as "colorful". I view myself as colorful, so that worked out. I am extremely grateful that I can pee on my own. For twelve hours on Tuesday, that was not the case. Sitting in your own pee is a humbling experience. I have enjoyed every bathroom experience since then. I am grateful for my 91 year old roommate, Millie, who showed me that you are never too old to handle fear with grace and humor. She and her daughter toasted my small victories through a cloth curtain, since neither of us could move. I am grateful for my mom managing the home front, and my husband being rock solid as I contemplated running at the last minute. All my friends....I can't even capture their generosity so I will say thank you for the flowers, the cards, the emails, the food, the stool softeners, the magazines, the books, and the validation in every phone call that I was not losing my mind. So, today I am home resting and feeling strong. I will never forget that I hit the lottery by having insurance, by living this close to one of the best hospitals in the world, and most of all by the good karma I have been a recipient of.....although I am excited about my next life, I have a few things on my to do list for this one so I am grateful to be given the chance


Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So it is hitting all of us that I am having heart surgery next week. I have decided to stop calling it a procedure because I am going to be under anesthesia and because I am staying in the hospital overnight. Last night I spoke with my daughter, after I received an email from her teacher telling me that she was having a tough time in school, and realized that she is worried sick that I am going to die. I gave her a peace journal that I had serendipitously ordered from this company (check them out, your support translates into good stuff) and told her to draw in it when she felt overwhelmed. I gave one to my son but he is channeling his anxiety into making a paper crossbow.
Today we had a glorious snow day and spent the day together putting up Christmas decorations and just being with one another. There is much that I could have focused on and tried to get done. After my surgery, I can't lift anything over 20 lbs for 6 weeks and so I could have spent the day moving heavy objects:)
Instead, I made these for gifts for my children's aftercare staff. My son loves root beer and I saved the 4 pack that houses the old-fashioned bottles. Trader Joe's has delicious treats this time of year, and so I picked up chocolate-covered shortbread, and a variety of chocolates. I covered the boxes with Christmas paper, and of course purple and yellow pom-poms. I put the chocolate in small plastic confectioner's bags and now...well, I'm feeling mighty proud of myself.
Here is the thing when you are counting down: savor every moment of ordinary bliss that comes your way. No need for grand schemes or plans or elaborate to do lists. Making something for the people who love and care for children will do just fine.
A special thanks to all my wonderful, compassionate friends and family who are counting down with me. I have never felt alone in this for one second. That is the definition of being blessed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magic of the Season

Each year, my family enters the Tsunami party season. I love a good celebration and I never met a ritual I didn't like but even my social worker self gets overwhelmed this time of year. Myself, my sister, her daughter, my daughter, my son, and my mother-in-law all have birthdays within the next four weeks. I also carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder vis-a-vis my own day after Christmas birthday...not against my family, just against the universe. I do not, for the record, appreciate my birthday gifts being wrapped in Christmas paper. I have come to appreciate the dual Christmas/birthday present, which has resulted in this year's Iphone. Yipee.
Anyway, I approach the season with grave determination, a trifle less humor than is necessary to make it through unscathed, and the desire to give each child their own day. I also am learning to listen to what they would like to do, instead of imposing my own sense of festivities on them. Emma wanted to go to Magic World and her heart's desire was to have a bird perch on her finger. This was never my heart's desire for myself or for her so I spent two weeks trying to talk her out of it. She is my own little daughter in terms of tenacity and at age 6, can hold her own. I don't know what this will mean for both of us when she is sixteen, but she may be spending some summers in Texas...or maybe, I will learn that listening to your children is the greatest gift you can give them. I have never seen a group of kids having more fun. The adults were pretty festive, as well.
So, I will add my voice to the choir that is singing about taking a step back this season, and cutting out the stuff that doesn't matter, meeting your friends and family where they are, and forgiving your ungrateful sister/daughter/wife when they complain that the beautiful gift you got them is wrapped in the wrong paper. I'm working on appreciating the magic of the season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My kingdom for a cup of coffee

I used to be able to run with the big dogs at night. My college roommate and I would routinely stay out until 4 or 5am listening to great live music in Austin, Texas. Then, we would head over to Katz Deli for a great breakfast. In my revisionist memory, we proceeded through the next day with no sleep, none the worse for wear.

During the skiing years, we had to get up at 3am, pack the car, and drive to Colorado for a day of skiing. Then, we turned around and came home, about a 5 hour drive. No worse for the lack of sleep. Ditto with alpine starts for climbing trips. It seems on the week-ends, sleep was the first thing to go for a higher cause.

Then, the babies came and still no sleep. I can't quite put my finger on when I got so attached to sleeping and my husband still manages on a few hours a night (although he is sound asleep as I type this, despite his promises to keep me up in creative ways tonight). My last all-nighter was last Christmas season when I had to help the elves with making Hobbes. God Bless Bill Watterson and his non-commercial ways but when your kid wants Hobbes, well, good luck to you.

So, here I sit during the middle of the night because I have to stay up for a "sleep-deprived" EEG. I found out yesterday from the lovely confirmation call that this also means no caffeine, which was a big part of my plan to do this successfully. If it wasn't pitch black and 20 degrees, I would go for a run. If my husband wasn't asleep, I would talk to him about the shock of having my heart surgery scheduled in two weeks. If I could find the pattern my friend Michelle created, I would sew....on and on it goes with a bunch of "ifs".

In the end, I'm hanging out with my grandmother's voice in my head: KK, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride like kings. Her way, always was to face whatever was happening with a steely pragmatism, and then go make something. I'm going to wrap her quilt around me and go do just that.

Monday, November 30, 2009


In New England, at the Reitsma Thanksgiving celebration, one honors what our forefathers/mothers had to do by chopping wood! I like it.....

....but, I'm not that great at it! The key component to not ending up at the ER is to keep your feet apart in case your axe misses entirely and comes winging back at you. We learned the following:
1. The more wood you chop, the more turkey you get to eat.
2. Having your little cousin shout at you "prove your manliness" does not help with your accuracy.
3. Safety goggles are a good thing.
4. You can remain stylish while chopping:)
Hope you all had a great day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Off the Grid

On this Thanksgiving Eve, as we wait for the arrival of family, make side dishes, and pick up pies from a local farm stand, I am excited about joining my husband's family for a great get together tomorrow. I am even more excited because my generous sister-in-law is hosting all 27 of us at her house.

Still, my memories wander back to the best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had. I had just finished graduate school and a trip across the country. I was working at a residential school for at-risk youth and worked a late shift on Wednesday evening. No money, no time off, and all my family in Texas.

Early, early Thursday morning, a friend and I packed a turkey sandwich, a thermos of hot chocolate, and drove up to the White Mountains. We found a trail off the Kancamagus river, covered in snow, and slowly hiked along the river. We broke for lunch and were soon joined by several happy little chickadees. It was their song that I happy they were to have two hikers appear out of nowhere and share some crumbs.

The things I long for and remember are always found outdoors. We need so much less than we think we do.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all and I hope you get a chance to go off the grid for at least one major holiday. You will remember it always.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon....A Mature Perspective

New Moon opened this week-end and my buddy and I decided we would brave the throngs of teenage girls and give it a go. Guess what? Looking around the theatre, we did not see a bunch of teenage girls, we saw a bunch of women who looked a lot like us.

Still, there were a couple of things that happened that gave away my age:

1. While at the snack bar, I felt compelled to discuss the recent NPR report on movie popcorn. I asked the 16 year old guy working the popcorn machine if he knew how much fat was in movie popcorn? No, shockingly, he did not. Was his popcorn, in fact, popped in coconut oil? Yes, in fact it was. Well, his popcorn was the equivalent of 7 Big Macs. What did he think of that? Yes, he thought he could eat 7 Big Macs, but not in one sitting.

2. While sitting through what seemed to be an hour of previews, I had to eat an energy bar to make it to the actual movie. The movie that looked the best in all the previews is an upcoming movie starring Meryl Streep about a woman whose husband divorces her and marries a much younger woman. He rues the day, and begins an affair with his original wife.

3. During the movie, I had to ask my buddy, several times, about key components of the plot, even though I read the book two months ago. All of it had left my mind, including the reason why Jacob has to continually run around with his shirt off in the movie. You see, werewolves burn much hotter than humans, so shirts are an encumbrance. I hope I'm not giving away anything by saying this is not a bad thing, in the movie.

4. Our medium sized diet cokes were comparable to the amount of water you would drink on a day hike in Yosemite. The cost of said diet cokes would also get you a camping site for the night.

5. After the movie, I felt unsettled so I googled a couple of feminist critiques of the Twilight series. They made a couple of great points about the author's relationship with religion leaking into the gender roles of her characters. Breaking Dawn, the final book in the series, takes a turn that is decidedly creepy and the images stay with you. Still, I enjoyed the movie and I enjoyed the books. Increasingly, I am aware that my well-worn labels, like feminist and liberal don't always fit anymore.
So, for me, the movie is not about a weak woman who gives up her identity for a love object. For me, the movie is about dangerous desire. Desire that triumphs humanity, family, and community. A passionate connection between equals seems like the way to go....I will look forward to seeing that depicted on screen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I wrote the word "Gratitude" on the board yesterday as a reminder to my students and to myself that if we hold that, and compassion, in our hearts, that is as good a place as any to start with managing all the rest of our tumultuous feelings.

This year has been a difficult one, in many ways. I heard the phrase "stroke survivor" applied to me for the first time and my neurologist enrolled me in a clinical trial for folks who had a stroke and recovered without long lasting effects. Last Friday she showed me the spot on my MRI that indicated the stroke. She pointed out that scar tissue had formed and so this event probably happened several years ago. As an athlete, this wasn't a label I thought I would be wearing at 45 but I am grateful. With the dx of stroke, the Mass General PFO closure committee, which meets every Wednesday, voted to approve the operation to close my PFO. This will decrease my chances of having another stroke in the future. I am grateful to have access to the best medical care in the world, and to have insurance that will (hopefully) cover this procedure.

As I have written about lately, I am grateful for my family and friends, all rock-solid at a time when I feel vulnerable and needy....two states with which I am neither familiar nor comfortable.

I am grateful for my church and my spiritual beliefs. The first noble truth in Buddhist belief is that life is suffering and the underlying given is that as unenlightened beings, we are out of balance. Most of us are unaware of this but at moments, you get to lean into the sharp points. These clarifying moments allow you to drop what is superficial and expand your soul, I think.

I am grateful for the role of creativity, poetry, and art in my life. I am just finishing a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, married to Charles Lindbergh and survivor of the kidnapping and murder of her first born son. She wrote this:

I keep realizing all the time that suffering isn't enough for true learning, for true understanding, for true vision...I used to think 'one learns by suffering'...One doesn't, though. One learns thorough suffering and beauty. One alone won't do it. You've got to have both..You must remain open--vulnerable."

Finally, I am so very grateful for the people who take the time and energy and read my blog. This online community has allowed me the space to write things I can't say, and therefore has allowed me to stay open. Love to you all!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There are moments

I am reading a great book entitled "3 Cups of Tea....." by Greg Mortenson. This is a story of a climber who stumbles upon a Pakistani village while stumbling off an unsuccessful K2 summit attempt. He decides to raise money to build schools and the tale is about how he goes about accomplishing that task.

Early in the book, one of the villagers greets him with the Balti saying "Chisele"...loosely translated, this means "what the hell." I find this to be such a sensible greeting.

Today, as I was rushing around school, trying to fit everything in, I went past the ISS (in school suspension) room. This is where kids are sent for the day when they have told a teacher to F-off, thrown something, or generally gone down the wrong path. There, sitting in ISS, were all the members of my anger management group. Quite a feat, really.

Chisele. Also a very sensible ending.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wow!.. put this up on their website this summer. Thanks a bunch! Worth looking at every so often!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notes from the Pew

Today's sermon was on kindness. How to be it, how to honor it, and to recognize how crucial it is for one's quote that Reverend Judith said (didn't catch the author): Kindness is treating people for who they are, not who you want them to be.

So, the seed was planted. What are my thoughts on kindness? Who do I treat the way I want them to be, rather than who they are? To my chagrin, quite a few folks. Here are just a couple:

1. My husband-I have made progress meeting him where he is and he certainly tries to do the same for me, perhaps the definition of a successful marriage, but I still wish he was more emotional. I have, to my credit, cut down on the times that I state he has the affect of a post. He has, to his credit, cut down on the times he attributes my mood swings to my monthly cycle or blood sugar fluctuations. All may be true, but not all that is true has to be said.

2. My children- when my son comes to me and says that he wants to learn to play the accordion or the bagpipes, I need to applaud his idiosyncratic taste in music, not envision him being beaten up by a cool saxophone player. He is who he is, not who I want to shape him to be to keep him safe. Blow on my you blow a bagpipe?

3. My friends-I sometimes think many of our friendships are based on mutual projections. The beauty of friends is that crisis, pain, and fear tend to trump any defenses we are wrapped up in. Lately, my friends have seen me in the hospital, in pain, scared to death, and ornery as hell. To my great joy, not a one of them has dropped off. I hope I have the opportunity to repay all their genuine kindness.

I will close with this poem, found in the order of service from The First Parish Church in Northboro Massachusetts on November 15th:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you know the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is you I have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend. Naomi Shihab Nye

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hospital on a Hill

I found this beautiful and haunting picture at this site I went looking for it because I remember touring the grounds of the old Northampton State Hospital, sometimes referred to as the Northampton Lunacy Hospital, when I was a graduate student studying on campus right next door. Dean Hartman (recently retired that year) had told many stories of how professors had taken first year students on tours through the "back wards" to give them a feel for the pain and suffering of the chronically mentally ill. With a bit of research, I realized that a variety of patients were hospitalized in the history of that storied institution: homosexuals, outspoken women, anyone who did not fit within the boundaries of their class, race, or gender. Of course, this also included folks who were struggling with mental illness.

The facility closed in 1993 and so had been vacant for two years when I took a tour. One could still feel the desperation and melancholy within the walls. To this day, I have these mental images of that day: the bucolic setting against the backdrop of the bars on the windows; rows and rows of gray doors; institutional sinks, the beautiful architectural style; and the energy that pounded throughout that place. Over a thousand graves are unmarked on that hill and thousands more stories untold.
I left school at the end of the summer to begin my first year internship in a big city hospital. I was assigned to the child/adolescent unit, a modern day psychiatric institution. I worked as a family therapist and my job was to guide parents through the bewildering terrain of having a child who was ill enough to be psychiatrically hospitalized. The average stay for a patient was under two weeks. So, some things have changed. Some have not. You can still see terror on a child's face when the door automatically shuts on a locked unit. At the time, you could still hear screams from restraints although I understand that is changing. I have recommended hospitalization many times during my career. It is absolutely necessary when one is spiralling out of control and can't stay safe. I'm not biased against a hospital stay, in fact I think it is often the ultimate act of courage and resilience.
Still, there is a price our most vulnerable and at times,most radical citizens have paid. I wanted to go back to Northampton and take a look around, take some pictures and mostly just honor the people who lived and died there. Sadly, I found out today, that the Northampton State Hospital was demolished several years ago, ostensibly to make room for a multi-use housing complex.
Today, the land stands vacant. I don't know if the souls that roamed there the day I visited have found peace.
Our prayers tonight should be for them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pick a Place

I have been thinking about the ideas of wilderness, solitude, and finding beauty in an urban environment. I am sure it is completely coincidental that I am thinking about these things having just spent the day with my two kids who are on holiday from school. The highlight of the day was scones with a buddy and going with friends to a nature trail close to the house. I have decided that this trail is my Walden Pond.

Now, my understanding of Thoreau is that he was a bit of an odd duck. Louisa May Alcott had a crush on him..they ran in the same Transcendentalist crowd...but he would have none of it. He was a lover of nature and getting back to the simple things in life. Still, all the time he was living at his rustic cabin on Walden Pond, he headed over to his mother's house for lunch. She lived within walking distance. This is a plan I can now get behind.

Back in the day, my husband and I left each Friday and headed up for the mountains. We would camp out and then spend the week-end climbing. I didn't actively think about the wilderness, I was in it all the time. In the winter, I did as much back-country skiing as possible. If you haven't skied along the Kancamagus River in New Hampshire, put it on your bucket list.

Then came Luke and Emma. Suddenly, the comfort of home and diapers eclipsed the rough terrain of New Hampshire and Maine. We still climbed, but in an indoor climbing gym. As the kids got older, I took them on short hikes and skiing but at our local downhill spot.

I missed the solitude of the wilderness and the joy of being back country. So, today I had an epiphany. Pick a place and explore the wilderness that is in it. Look at it mindfully throughout the seasons. Explore it with friends. You can experience the emotion of climbing an exposed arete by putting four children on bikes and scooters, and releasing them downhill, all weaving wildly into one other but miraculously not hitting each other. You can view wildlife as you glimpse at what surely is an arctic fox. Hey, this isn't the Arctic and that fox is meowing.

Pick a place. Pick the people you share it with. Write about it. Ponder it. And if you smell lunch wafting over a birch tree, consider yourself blessed.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Notes from the Pew

I'm a Buddhist, my husband is an atheist (even though I have tried to talk him for years into being an agnostic) and we are raising our children as Unitarian Universalists. My mom is pagan, my dad southern Baptist and my granddaddy was a preacher. My story is not unique, we all come from a patchwork of religious belief systems. The woman who had the most impact on my spiritual beliefs is my grandmother who attended the Church of Christ, a fundamentalist Protestant religion. The Church of Christ believed that you couldn't have music in church, women could not hold leadership positions, and that you had to declare that Jesus Christ was your personal savior to get to heaven. My dad told this joke to me several years ago: Saint Peter was bringing a group of newly dead folks on a tour of heaven. As they passed one room, he started whispering. One lady asked why? He responded, "Oh, we are passing the Church of Christ people..they think they are the only ones up here."

A couple of years before my grandmother died, I brought her and my mother to church with me. It was the annual UU animal blessing service and the parisoners did not disappoint. They brought their dogs, rabbits, and even a goat to receive words of compassion from Margaret, the director of Religious Education who also raises Llamas. My grandmother sat with her purse clutched in her lap, looking like she was going to be mugged. Later, she couldn't get over the fact that the minister was a "lady preacher." My mother still talks about that sermon being one of the most wonderful she has seen. Although my grandmother gave me the discipline and the longing for church, my mother gave me her open heart so I could find the right one.

Take the best your parents and grandparents gave you and find a spiritual home. It may not be church, for my husband it is the local climbing gym, but the gift of exploring something that is outside yourself and doing it mindfully within is a noble use of time.

I wish UU's were more evangelical, because our blessed community kicks ass....there is singing, laughing, crying, fellowship in the sense of being there for each other when things go awry, and much, much love. I wish the same for each and every one of you.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Sister, Sister

Time to brag a little bit on my sister.........and give you some idea of what it is like when your baby sister is a 5'10'' easy going redhead:) I will say for the record, though, that she is the short one.

The pictures (thanks Colleen) denote her latest work of art. She is a cowgirl artist. Note the boots. This little number was submitted to a contest that was held at the school where she teaches....a contest for the best scarecrow. Kat took the contest to the next level and created (with the help of her artist friends) this sculpture made out of wire and words. Now is the time to mention that my sister likes to win...and win she did, a new laptop.

You don't get to pick your sisters but I hit the lottery. She is beautiful, talented, an amazing mom, and someday we are going to learn to harmonize and form a sister band. We will wear red cowgirl boots and all of our lyrics will celebrate folly, which leads to wisdom. We will tour across the Southwest in a vintage trailer, nicknamed "The Scamp."
Love you sister, sister.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bidden or Unbidden

I am a clinical supervisor for (usually) young social work interns who are just entering the field. They are so earnest, it is heartbreaking but hopeful. They come armed with the latest theories, an insistence that we all look at issues of class, race, and other "isms", and generally force me to articulate why I practice the way I practice. Although all those things are time consuming, my students keep me from becoming ossified and in the end, I am usually grateful. I try to teach them a couple of things, as well.

Halloween is a great example. Over the years, I have incorporated this holiday into my clinical groups. Groups are an interesting entity and one that I feel every intern should start trying to master. It ain't easy. This is the age, in both schools and clinical practice, where everything needs to be "solution-based" and every minute should be used in teaching the students strategies for managing affect or increasing their ability to handle stress. I don't disagree with that mandate but how we get there......that is the art of teaching and the art of therapy. One of the questions that I ask all my group members is this: What do you believe in that is bigger than you? My clients are hungry for a spiritual component to their lives...not religious but spiritual. Carl Jung is my guy for this part of the work. He talked about our "shadow selves", the pieces of our personalities that we discard early on and tap down into our unconscious. Part of our clinical work is to integrate our shadow parts with our dominant selves. Halloween is a Shadow holiday....who and why do we dress up the way we do? For my clients, it is also intimately connected with the devil and it brings up meaningful conversation about the spirit world...and how that world intersects with the world of the living. So, as I am explaining all of this to my interns, I note the puzzled look on their faces. Haven't we gone off track from our set curriculum? Yes, we have....and in doing so we are meeting the clients where they are and we are allowing them, in an age of mandates and cognitive behavioral strategies to look at something deeper and older. Give yourself permission to go off track and embrace art, play, and even dance a little with the collective makes for a group that is real.

My favorite quote is from Jung: Bidden or Unbidden, God is present. I would add (with the utmost of hubris and humility) that I think our Gods are all walking hand in hand. We are all of one piece. I hope we figure that part out soon. That is really what I am trying to teach my interns:)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, deux

So what to do when it is time to put together a little something for each child's class for Halloween? You have the following options:

1. Do nothing (doesn't feel great to pick this one, don't know why.....has something to do with the artistic legacy in my family where homemade means that you love and are loved)

2. Research for something unique, head to Jo-Ann's and spend 14 dollars on scallop punch...3 hours figuring out how to use Microsoft Art and put together a circular sentence, another 14 dollars on tiny halloween stamps, etc. As an aside, most of my friends will tell you all my sentences are circular.

3. Convey your idea to Michelle, listen with gratitude in your heart when she suggests you borrow all her supplies and oh by the way, she already has the circular font saved and does it make sense to just do the project together?

Why, yes it does. Happy Fall Y'all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends

Today's hike was picture perfect and one of us had the energy to capture a few images on her Iphone (thank you Lorette). This beautiful conservation land is just a few minutes from our houses and both of us were congratulating ourselves on having the good sense to live in a place where you can hike and enjoy the gift of a beautiful Autumn day in New England.

Did we get lost? Not with these trail markers..........also, Lorette may have served with the Army Rangers and has neglected to tell any of us...I got that feel as I know very few hikers who could have spotted that squiggly line, interpreted it correctly, and kept us on track. So, I raise my Gatorade to beautiful autumn days, pontoon bridges, a lair in the woods that included a rocking horse, and good friends.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Here is the rough terrain I find myself wandering through two days after my "neurological event." A couple of nights ago, while typing merrily away, I suffered some mild indigestion after eating a day old burrito. It certainly has happened before and will happen again with my culinary skills and deep distrust of the kitchen. This time, however, I thought I was having a heart attack, which led to a pretty solid panic attack. I have a few strategies that I have taught over the years and they can come in pretty handy. Can you become your own therapist? In a pinch, the answer is yes but I have a few problems with my new therapist:

1. Her insistence on "deep breathing" can be mildly annoying, especially when it leads to the cessation of the heart attack. Truthfully, I would rather have a heart attack than a panic attack.

2. Her encouragement that I call family and let them know how I am doing, that I honestly write about how I am feeling and how I need to stop saying everything is great, when clearly, it sucks mightily. She seems like she might be a pushy chick.

3. She wants the fear to go...and so I ask myself....when I let go of the fear....the fear of losing my cognitive ability...the fear of not being able to take care of myself or my family.....I'm left with faith. Faith that the doctors are not taking this thing too slowly. Faith that my body will continue to tell me what I need to know, and that I will continue to listen. Most of all, faith that I will soon be healthy again. She is asking for a hell of a leap.

Checking in with HH the Dalai Lama

Friday, October 23, 2009

They hold you by your fear (thanks Tracie)

Shockingly, I am a very bad patient in the hospital. Last visit, I got up at 4:00am, put my soccer clothes back on, and asked the charge nurse to call me a cab. I believe I said: "Excuse me, I know you guys work really hard on all of this but it isn't working out for me...can you please call me a cab? She gave me earplugs instead.

This visit, which occured on Wednesday from 11:45 pm until Thursday at 5:36pm, did not go much better. I was in the ER for 12 hours and as an active participant, would like to give the following feedback:

1. You do not need to put an inflatable blood pressure cuff on a depleted patient which will inflate very 15 minutes and absolutely insure they get no sleep whatsoever. When said patient gets up in the middle of the night and rips off the cuff, go easy with your response.
2. Keep toilet paper in the bathroom that is servicing 60 people, one of whom clearly has malaria.
3. When your patient says "I have May Thurner Syndrome" do not say "I have to go look that up."
4. Thanks to the nurses for the warmed up blankets, the contraband coffee (against the resident's orders), and the extra johnny, strategically placed. You guys and gals make a very difficult environment almost tolerable.

For the MRI technicians, when you ask your patient if she is "singing along" during the MRI, and then tell her that she is "breathing wrong and messing up the images" she will come out of the tube in an ill humor. Please do not then blame her ill humor on the fact that "not everyone can make it through an MRI.'' With compassion and patience, we can all make it through being a patient but only if our guides have compassion and patience.

Thanks to the dudes who wheeled me back and forth from test to test. I loved hearing about your granddaughter, your son, and even your assault and battery charges on your ex-wife's boyfriend. It kept me preoccupied and reminded me that we all have our struggles.

Thanks to the attending neurologist, who left no stone unturned and no test not ordered. After experiencing neurological symptoms, it was very reassuring to know that no part of my body was harboring a clot.

Being a patient is so humbling and such a great dress rehearsal for the fragility of aging. The Buddhists lay it out pretty clearly in the first noble truth: Life is suffering. They are not wishing it on anybody, but we are all in samsara, suffering together, decaying together, and ultimately, moving beyond this lifetime. I feel trapped in a hospital, held by my fear. The trick is to not hate the hospital, but hate the fear. I'm working on it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Couldn't be a Prouder Gardner

Last spring, my son decided he wanted to grow carrots in our family garden. After weeding them, on occasion, and watering them, on occasion, today was the big harvest day. The biggest of the bunch was 4 inches but I dare say I have never tasted a sweeter carrot.
One quick carrot growing lesson: when you have about a 7 day growing season in New England, it might make sense to start the seeds out in a cold frame. I am truly amazed that our fore bearers did not starve to death in this neck of the woods.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

There is no frigate like a book

I got in a very interesting discussion last week-end with some wicked smart folks about the demise of the book as we know it. The conversation started because our local library may lose it's accreditation and with that, patrons will no longer be able to borrow books from a wonderful service called This service allows you to type in the title of a book, request it, and then it appears magically at your local library. One of my friends travels a lot and has the Kindle. He is a big fan of this electronic book and feels that our attachment to libraries is now about nostalgia and that with town and state budgets so tight, we are going to have to make different choices about how to use our resources.

Books have been my transitional objects my entire life. They are stuffed into every corner of my house and provide a clear picture of the evolution of my being. The smell of them, the feel of them, the heft of them....Here is the excavation:

1. Old Black Witch: This is a rollicking tale about a single mom and her son who have hit on hard times. They buy an old run-down house and decide to make it a pancake/tea house. All is well except an evil little witch lives in the attic. The tale clearly is about loving your crazy relatives, and how their craziness can save you in the end. Cut to 20 years down the road. I want to share this tale with my little ones and my sister has the family copy. She is in Texas and doesn't feel the need to give it up. I go online and find out that the book is now considered racist and is no longer published. Used copies are going for about 50 dollars. I buy it and add the updated caveat: the witch could have been dressed in any color, it was not the color black that made the witch evil, it was the lack of compassion in her upbringing, etc, etc.

2. Little Women: We all loved Jo, we all cried when Beth died, and later, we realized that the true love story was the sisters with each other. One of my latest CMARS books was on Bronson Alcott and he was such a transcendentalist that he transcended making a living for his family. That job fell to Louisa.

3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. I was a political science major in college and wanted to get my PhD in social welfare policy at the Heller Institute. I aspire to be a policy wonk. He was a traveling Frenchmen who wrote this classic in the mid 1800's. He wrote about equality and how fluid our society was compared to the rigid class distinctions in Europe. How do we manage it? Access to learning and to books. I believe passionately that books are connected to our liberties and anyone can check out a book at the library. Not everyone has access to the Internet, to computers, and to electronic books.

4. Dictionary of Women's Sacred Symbols. I paint Good Karma Boxes. I paint them for people getting married, having babies, retiring, and leaving my girls' groups. This dog-eared book has taught me that some simple symbols, like the cross, have many meanings and connections. One thousand years before Christianity, the cross represented the intersection between masculine and feminine. The Chinese used that symbol to represent the intersection of the sky and the earth. Books have taught me to dig deeper and listen to other perspectives.
Yes, books are about nostalgia. Which books would you list as representative of your eras? Still, they are so much more than the written word. They connect us to one another. My books will be my greatest gift to my children. I think Emily Dickinson should have the last word:
There is no frigate like a book
to take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the
poorest take
Without oppress of toll
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Wrong Side of 30

My husband is an avid soccer fan. So avid, he gets excited when he hears about a football match being televised at a local bar, and then immediately defeated when he realizes it is usually the wrong kind of football. Because of this passion of his, I have had the distinct pleasure of listening to great announcers with wonderful accents. More charming than the accents, though, are the announcers abilities to cut right to it. This previous Saturday, Sweden was playing in a world cup qualifying match. I was at dinner with friends, but my husband reported that one of the announcers said to his mate "You know, Sweden just has too many players the wrong side of 30." A new theme is born. We have now, in the space of 72 hours, thoroughly integrated this into our lexicon.

Let me be clear; we are on the side of 30 the announcer was talking about and for soccer...Yep, it's the wrong side. I learned that years ago when 20 year olds started running backwards so I could hear their trash talk on the pitch. We are on the wrong side of 30 for attending loud rock concerts. Last one I was at, I spent the night daydreaming about a latte and a folk band.

Still, I think we are on the right side of 30 f0r the following:
1. Knowing that our relationships are precious and the very least of what is precious is what we look like.
2. Being present in the moment, having experienced enough loss to know that there are no guarantees of anything for anybody.
3. Appreciating something handmade, even if it is a bit wobbly far more than the latest "it" item from Anthropologie.
4. Not sweating the extra 5 pounds, the gray hair, and even the old-lady whisker on the chin. Hell, I earned 'em all.
5. Spending more time in contemplative activities...slowing it down, and cutting out some of the bad books and bad TV....I do not count "Dancing with the Stars" as bad TV, nor do I count People magazine as a bad book which brings me to my last item....

On this side of 30, you get to define for yourself what fits and what you are passionate about....I'm the person who says who I am...and I hope that definition continues to be fluid.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mr. President.....

I'm still trying to make sense of all of this. First, I watch this video and am stunned that you refused to meet with HH the Dalai lama...and then I hear that you received the Nobel Peace Prize. How do those two things walk hand in hand? I'm still rooting for you, but you have to be less political,...the person you were when we voted for you. 40, 000 additional troops in Afganistan is not peaceful nor peace-loving. May you find your way back to both.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Hell No, Dalai

Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Felted Pumpkin

It's funny the difference between an idea, the initial realization of that idea, and then the meanderings. When you start a blog, you realize very quickly that you have to "drill down" as my Texan dad would say and decide what is the general theme of one's wisdom. I love a lot of things. You would think this would make blogging natural and easy but in fact, I really have not found my audience (thank you my five followers, you are exempt from this, of course). One of the things I love the most is my work. Of course, when you are a clinician, you really can't talk specifically about who you are working with and you should be very careful when you write anything at all about what you are doing. It breaks a sacred trust. Note to Dr. Drew...putting addicts on television does not help them get better. It exposes them to a million people when they are most vulnerable. How about a reality TV show about therapists who have lost track of their ethics?

I love art and making things and I originally thought that is what I would blog about the most. To date, I have posted one project and even then I linked to someone else's instructions. It takes some time and love of detail to tell people how to make things. I am most blessed by all of you who take that time but I don't seem to be doing it. Take my little felt pumpkin up there...I can't remember where I found the instructions for that or I would give her/him full credit. My instructions are pretty simple:

1. Take a block of Styrofoam as your felting surface.

2. Go to a local craft fair and pick up beautiful wool roving from an Alpaca farmer. You need orange and green for the pumpkin.

3. Use a multi-needle felting needle. Take a piece of wool roving 6X2 inches and roll it up into a ball. Begin poking the living daylights out of it. Watch out for your fingers. As you begin to shape it, use the felting needles to make the shape of a pumpkin. When you have the shape you like, take a little strand of roving and felt it to the outside for the ridges of the pumpkin.

4. Take a small piece of green roving and roll it into a small stem. Felt it with the needles until it is dense. Then, felt it onto the pumpkin.

I know these instructions are for folks who have dry felted before. If you haven't, there are fabulous videos on Youtube....just type in Dry felting.

My point is, this isn't a crafting blog, even though I wanted it to be. This is more of a blog about my meanderings...spiritual, political, and most of all with my family. We follow each other around as we wander off the path and find such treasures.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Notes to those who need it.....

Note to the Knights of Columbus: Please, please, please during your fundraising efforts take off your yellow jackets that say "Help save retarded children" The times, they are a changing.

Note to my husband: When I perceive that you have dropped me like a hot potato at the climbing gym to give a 30 year old beauty a belay and I leave you stranded at the not catch a ride home from the 30 year old beauty....think it through.

Note to all who work at my local donut shop: when I ask you as you are handing me my coffee if there is sugar in it...even though I did not order sugar, please do not get huffy...refer to the last three times I have stopped by and indeed, did have sugar placed in my coffee.

Note to my colleagues in their twenties: When I am asked to meet with you during your lunch time because you are struggling with your affective education curriculum, and I bring handouts of 10 different group activities, do not flip your copy back in my face and say "Here, save a tree."
This will earn you a private chat with me where I will smile sweetly and take up an additional 20 minutes of your time while we try to get at the root causes of your anger.

Note to my daughter: Calling your Religious Education class "Church Juvie" will get all of your ICarly tv priviliges revoked, even if you tell me that you heard the word "Juvie" on a Disney show.

Note to self: If you are feeling overburdened, go to church and listen to a guest minister speak about her travels in Israel and Palestine. Listen to the stories of displacement, mistrust, and pain. Get a bit of perspective on your first world problems.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

We are making it

Last week, I was walking in tall cotton, as they say in Texas...which means things were going pretty well. The health stuff has settled down until the next round of appointments and I have stopped looking anything up on the Internet; my kids are loving school, and life seemed not only manageable but joyful. This week, not so much.

It started so auspiciously. Monday was a perfect New England day. The leaves are turning but it was still 70. I decided to run along a trail that meanders by a river. 3 miles up, 3 miles back. Now, here is the first life lesson that I will never learn: overextend yourself and you will pay. I was in the best mood after my run, the endorphins were flowing, I passed a 70 year old long distance runner, and I got bragging rights to anyone I talked to that day. Cut to the next morning as I crawled to the shower. Why are my knees creaking to one another like ducks in mating season? Why am I the only one up at 5:30am? Why did I not pack any one's lunch the night before? I love my job, I love the students but I struggle with my 7:30am start time. We are all surly that early in the morning except for those who aren't and they are the ones you should watch out for, truly.

After work, I travelled to a local college to give a guest lecture on "families and disabilities". The students looked so young but earnest. They were not at all prepared for the ending of my talk....make peace with your perceptions of disabilities, old age, and anything that separates you from each other. Ultimately, we will all become disabled and then we will die. (was this perspective connected to my health issues or my run? Will I be asked back? Hard to say). Then, on to pick up the kids, drop them at home, make Mac and Cheese (yet again), say hello to the babysitter, give her instructions on getting youngest dressed for soccer pictures later that night, give husband instructions on what not to say to the teacher at open house that he has to attend because we are triple-booked, and charge over to my teeth-cleaning appt that I made 6 months ago. Guess what? The dentist office is locked up tight. I left a less than polite message on their answering machine, and drove back home to pick up youngest for soccer pictures. Who schedules pictures for 6 years old at 7:45 at night? I did not recover from Tuesday until today, Saturday. How are we making it ? My friend Lorette has a wonderful suggestion over at her blog (organized is as organized does) and she writes beautifully...take a look. We are making it because we see, hear, and laugh with our dear friends who are in the struggle with us. We are making it because we stop demanding so much of ourselves. We are making it because we forgive our husbands for the mornings when we are gone and our children go to school looking more appropriate for clown college. We are making it because we feel such compassion for one another. Finally, we are making it because we refuse to let go of what makes us who we are, even if it means we can't walk the next day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

10 Years

Ten years is a milestone, in any arena. I'm proud that my husband and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Here are a few reasons why we made it:

1. Scott and I met climbing. He was disgusted that the owner of the Boston Rock Gym had hired me, a young woman with less than 6 months climbing experience to be an instructor at the gym. My memory is that he came up to me and said something along these lines: "I'm going to take you climbing so you don't kill somebody." We became friends and climbing partners. I couldn't have asked for a better one of either. One of my first lead climbs ( a climb up the rock face where the climber puts in their own protection....if you fall, the protection you put in holds your fall) had tricky gear placements. When I finished, I was very proud of the climb. Scott came up behind me and I asked him how it looked. He smiled and said "four out of five of those pieces would have failed...I'm glad you didn't fall." He would have noticed as I was climbing up 75 feet that I was putting in bad protection. He also would have known that to tell me that would have increased my chance of falling and so he said nothing. Whenever I get frustrated that he is so calm, cool, and collected, I think of that day. Sometimes, it is helpful to have the affect of a post.

2. Scott and I were friends for many years before we decided to chance getting romantically involved. Having a friendship first is the way to go.....having a friend who stubbornly refuses to listen to all his friends warn him about the dangers of getting involved with a woman with commitment issues, even better!

3. Scott is funny, but funny 10 minutes after he has left the room and you figured out the second and possibly third meanings of his remarks.

4. This is going to sound trite and worn but we really do compliment one another. I'm a social worker, he is an engineer; I'm loud, he rarely talks unless he knows you for several years; I write poetry, he pretends to like it; I'm gut, he is pure analysis. I'm Texas, he is New England.

So, I'm so very grateful to my loving husband and to the universe. It is an amazing thing to have found your life partner, an adventurer and old-soul atheist. I hope this is the first of many lifetimes together.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spread Good

I am blessed in innumerable ways, which of course makes me want to list them: a loving husband, children, and extended family; the most caring, funny, and "wicked smart" friends; a quaint, quirkly old home; a job working in a community that honors my work; and a church where I go and laugh and cry every single time I walk in the door.

Growing up, I had a different experience at church. I loved my grandparents with all my heart and going to church was a way to please them. Still, the church services were stern and filled with references to scripture that illuminated all the different ways one was a sinner. I don't remember laughing, ever and if I shed tears, it was because I realized I was going straight to hell. There were powerful lessons of community but they came at a cost.

Here is what happened at my church today:

Reverend Judith singled me out and asked me how my health was doing and more importantly, how I was doing. "I'm fine, I'm fine...everything is going to be fine". She trained her steel blue eyes on me and said "You call me and let's set up a time to talk." Reverend Judith then called all the children to the front of the church and read them the parable of the 6 blind men and the elephant. After the children left, she preached a beautiful sermon entitled "What is Religion" and tied it in to the parable. The choir sang beautifully, and I was (once again) in tears. Guess what? That was all a prelude to this..................

Mr. and Ms. B stood up and addressed the congregation. Mr. B talked about how they had been impressed with a professional football player with the Detroit Lions. That football player had called together 40 of his friends at the end of the season and given each of them 55.00 dollars. The money was to be used to "spread good", no questions asked. He picked that amount because it was the number on his jersey. Mr. B then turned to Ms. B and with tears in his eyes told her that she was the light of his life, his moral compass, the reason his children were the fine individuals they were today.....and to honor their 55 years together, they were both going to stand in the back of the church and give each person an envelope with 55 dollars. Our simple instructions were to "spread good."

I am now contemplating the most serious decision I have ever faced with 55 dollars. I want to honor their trust, honor my beautiful, beautiful church, and say for the record that I think religion is about spreading good. I am so very lucky to have such people showing me how to do it. I will never forget today, in this life or the next.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mass General Marathon

Wednesday's marathon day at Mass General was not filled with good news so I'm going to gloss over the sticky bits: new vein problem (May-Thurner Syndrome) =new vein specialist; complicated neurological findings=new vascular an aside, when asked to complete a floor plan of my house and left out all doors, windows and connecting hallways, the neurologist was at a loss for words. I am a broad strokes kind of gal. The hematologist who I disparaged in a previous post and then deleted the post was my favorite. I think he is Russian but he reminds me of what studying under a Viennese psychoanalyst must have been like for analysands...scary but a significant pay-off in the end. There are lessons to be learned here, I'm sure of it. Mostly, you just have to keep at it. When the neurologist you have been referred to doesn't have an appointment until November, you have to call his office every week and see if there have been any cancellations. You absolutely have to be on your best behavior with the secretaries, they run the show. You have to push your human-ness so the docs can see past the research and begin to get some sense of who you are...very much part of treatment I think.

Significant moment: While a young man was drawing my blood, he was showing me what went amiss at the recent lethal injection in the Midwest...the one that took two hours. He was quite passionate that he would not have made the same mistake. I was torn between applauding his acumen and judging his eagerness to show off his skills at care taking by taking part in an execution. Such is the complexity of the human spirit.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Notes from the Pew

As a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist with a UU Buddhist minister, you would think that I would not have the super-ego voice in my head that tells me skipping church is a sin. You would not have gone to church with my grandmother during the formative years. It is her voice in my head I had a dialogue with this morning:

"Gran-Gran, soccer season has started and Saturdays are completely booked...not only that, but Brimfield is in town and Sunday is the only day I can go...I need to get special presents for people, like the ones you used to make...I need to go. I think I can even talk my non-church going husband to bring the kids, which is really the important part.

"KK, you know the right thing to do."

"He needs to be part of their spiritual upbringing, it is not going to kill him to take them without me."

"So you go to church for the sake of your children's spiritual needs?"

"No, but now that I'm back at work and school has started, it is all about balancing everyone's needs"

"KK, you know the right thing to do."

Although soft, I couldn't shake the sound of it, the steel tone of it, the memory of every Sunday, Sunday evening and Wednesdays (we sinned more in Texas so we had to go to church a lot), of youth ministry, of puppet ministry, of being washed in the blood of the lamb (I think I'm going to teach my UU colleagues that song).

I went with my family to church this morning (thank you love for coming with us), and Reverend Judith read this poem by Langston Hughes:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Thank you Reverend Judith, and thank you Gran-gran, for that soft voice in my head that asks me to remember.

Friday, September 11, 2009

RIP Small Fry

My children became so desperate for a pet, any kind of pet, that they started naming the ants in the driveway. They created habitats for them, named them, and brought them indoors. Then, somehow the ants left their tiny little habitats and wandered into my bathtub. It ended poorly which is foreshadowing that I did not pay attention to.

I have always been a cat person. Cats remind me of English royalty who have descended into your home to mingle with the common folk. They don’t need much and don’t care for it when you need something from them. This seems like a suitable arrangement. Also, when cats get out of control or you move across the country, you can leave them with your cat-loving mom. I had a dog as a child but sadly, he bit a neighbor’s ear and it ended poorly.

So we have been pondering what kind of pet to get our kids. Luke wanted a turtle but one hears the turtle poop horror stories and apparently they live to be 75. I had visions of me and the turtle in our dotage, both with poop issues.

That leaves the noble fish and by process of elimination, this is the pet we chose. One week-end we bought the aquarium, the aquarium stand, the gravel, the nets, the “Everything I need to know about tropical fish” book, the chemicals for the water, the filter, the heater, and of course the plastic plants that look like corral reefs (sorta). My husband the engineer took the lead role in setting up the aquarium and learning the various perimeters of ph balance, ammonia levels in the water, and the fluid dynamic joy of the filtering system. My particular skills were not called into service...yet.

Scott and the kids took a field trip to the local pet store and picked out hardy "test pilot" fish. Every fish was paired up, except for one. The Dusty Mollie. I worried about her from the beginning. As the other fish settled into the tank, she swam up and down the sides, nervously. I consulted my fish-loving friends, none of whom had ever heard of a gold Mollie. There was growing concern that she was, in fact, a goldfish whose urine would kill the other fish. I began to suspect that the road to becoming an Aquarist would be littered with tiny, little fish corpses.

This morning, Emma went to the tank to say good morning. There, quivering in the corner, was the smallest little fish any of us had every seen. The Dusty Mollie was not nervous, she was pregnant. Hovering around the tiny fish were all the predator fish, including the mother. Another small fry was trying to hide in the fake corral reef. It all seemed so tragic. I yelled for Scott to save them. Emma pointed out that they were being eaten and Luke, well, Luke still can't talk about it. Scott shrugged and said "Nature."

Snape (Betta fish) was the lead assassin but the Mollie was involved. It all ended poorly. Live breeders often continue to give birth for up to two weeks. We all have a chance at redemption.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Understanding History

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
President Obama's School Speech, Sept. 2009

When did we become a country afraid of our own founding principles? Democracy flourishes when citizens talk with each other; with their neighbors who have different political ideals, with their colleagues who attend a different synagogue, and with their children about the sacrifice it takes to be a public servant in this age of instant gratification. Somewhere down the line, it became OK to vilify a political opponent, to refer to him or her as a Communist/Socialist/Facist/Redneck/Etc. This occurs on both the left and right but President Obama has become a lightening rod for the fear we all carry about where our country is heading.

Last week, our school superintendent sent out a notice informing parents that our children would not be watching the President's speech to school children. Our children would have the opportunity to view the speech later in the week. My simple question was and is why? How do we teach our children to honor the office of the president of the United States when we imply that what he has to say is so subversive, it needs to be censored? We also missed an opportunity to join in community-building on a national level. My son could have talked to his cousin in Texas about what the president was saying to both of them.

As the day went on, and the school I work for in a different city made the same decision, I felt a sense of hopelessness about how polarized our country has become. When did we become so fearful of our politicians? How could school district after school district make a decision that goes against what has saved this country time and time again? Open and honest dialogue...especially when you don't agree with what your leaders are saying.

Our family watched the speech that night and I was proud of our President. I have always honored the office and will teach my children the same. No matter what one's politics are, it is a supreme sacrifice to serve in this day and age. An age where the media wants to know what kind of underwear you wear, where you are accused of destroying the country by suggesting that health care is a right, not a privilege, and where our communities are so divided, we stop trusting one another. History has taught us that censorship is never the answer. I hope the students bring that up when they are allowed to watch 5 minutes of the president's speech on Friday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cousin Anna

I'm wearing a flannel shirt as I type this, seems a bit early for that but that is the beauty of New England...a two week summer. This is labor day week-end and my niece is returning from Texas for her last year of college. She came up for a quick visit and I had this conversation with my two this evening as we were all missing her after she left:
"Is Anna your Aunt?"
"No, she is my niece...she was also my first pumpkin."
"So she was your first kid?"(try and wrap your head around the metaphysical implications of that question)
"No, sweets, you guys are my only kids...but she was the first little one in the family...she was the family's first pumpkin."
"So everybody liked her and so then there could be more kids."
Yep...Anna led the way. I remember her locking me out of the car when she was two years old. I remember crying in the driveway at the crack of dawn, saying goodbye to that pumpkin and driving from Texas to New England. I remember the beautiful poem she wrote and read at my wedding at the ripe old age of 11. Now, I listen to her tales of studying abroad in Greece, of the magic she found in Switzerland, and the Cotton Candy mountain she showed us pictures of in Turkey. I am amazed at what an accomplished artist she is at 21 and most of all, I feel such hope. Her generation will listen to Obama's speech this Tuesday and judge it on content. She will tackle injustice and oppression through her art (she already has) and through her world travels. So, pumpkin, you come for a visit whenever you can. It does our hearts and souls good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Poetry Present

I'm trusting that my husband is going to continue to sporadically visit BA and so I can think out loud about ways to honor our 10th year anniversary. He is a romantic who masquerades as an engineer. He pays attention in ways that continue to astound me 10 years into the deal. Over the years, I have purchased numerous gifts that have failed completely. Here is a partial list:

1. Black Fedora with a red bird feather of some kind...very Frank Sinatra. He has not worn it once.
2. Puffy slippers purchased at one of those shops that suck you in because they have a lot of gadgets designed for all the men in your life. I can't remember the special feature that I thought an engineer might appreciate but he has not worn them once.
3. Tibetan dress shirt--I bought this because it is the only culture where Scott is an XL. He wears this on only the most special of occasions.
4. Numerous Gnomes--he does have a great appreciation for these magical creatures but you can't buy a gnome for every special occasion--it shows a lack of creativity and your children come to think of their father as a gnome.
5. Running tights--extra long---I'm not sure how that happened but he hasn't worn them once.

So, you can see how the pressure might be mounting, just a bit. My artist friends have advised me to stop thinking in terms of things and start thinking in terms of experiences. They might have a point.

So, my love, I am putting together a few poems you might appreciate. Here is the first one--


I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing.....Silence.........Waves....

--Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez
translated by Robert Bly

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day 2009

Being a mom that works outside of the house, one gives up a few things. To date, the hardest thing to let go of is seeing these two beautiful faces off to their perspective first days of school. I gently pulled my first grader out of bed at 6:30 so I could do her hair (did you get it done, you might be asking while looking at this photo?) before I left for work. She was feeling a bit anxious so you will notice the necklace around her neck. This is a peace medallion that I made about 20 years ago with a medicine bag attached to the back of it. Standard first grade fare for the child of a hippie:)

She was crying as I walked out the door. Not even close to being easy. Meanwhile, the third grader is feeling so good that I forget to write a note to his teacher reminding her that he is in aftercare today. More on that later. I plead with my husband to take back to school photos..for the blog, for their scrapbooks, for posterity. What I forget to tell him is that the key component in a back to school shot is not the fleece jacket but the Look-how-much-my-mom-loves-me-she-bought-me-this-fabulous-dress shot. He being kind of a Zen guy without all the posturing just shoots them in the moment. He emails me at work telling me all is well. I relax. Cut to the end of the day as I round the corner to the playground to pick up Emma:
"Emma, where is your dress?" Embarrased giggles from the aftercare staff, unprintable thoughts about what I will do to my husband if he, as it suspiciously looks like, forgot to put a dress on my baby...

"It's in my backpack"...."Why?"......"I put it there"....."Why?"...."Mom, we had gym and I couldn't move."
Husband saved. Cut to the next aftercare program to pick up my son:

"How was the day?"....."It was great except I tried to walk home". Remember the note I forgot to write because I was hyper-focusing on the first grader's anxiety? My fault, all my fault.
Thank you Mr. Wilson for walking him back to school. "Mom, I hope it's OK but I cried a little bit today when you weren't there"

Son, I hope it's OK because I cried a little tonight too. I love you guys so much but I can't keep your clothes on you once you get to school and I can't always anticipate when signals are going to get crossed and you will end up on the wrong path. I can promise to be ever so grateful when we end up back together at the end of the day.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Open Apology to Every Parent I have ever known....

Dear Parents (mine, those I have worked with and for, and those who are expecting):

Today I realized that I am not, nor will I ever be an organized parent. I'm some other stuff, but not that. I bought school supplies two months ago in a bid to start fresh this year. It went something like this:

Trip to Target with two supply lists for Grade One and Three--think it will be fun to take the kids and "get them involved and excited about school". Spend first 5 minutes in store arguing about the quality of the Hannah Montana lunchboxes with youngest....spend second 5 minutes arguing about how much paper can fit into a notebook with eldest. Decide my kids do not need to be involved in this process one bit. Leave Target with partial supplies.

Trip to Staples to augment supplies without kids--Eldest needs an orange folder (per teacher request). Staples has every color, including polka dots and striped but no orange. Leave Staples with partial supplies.

Trip to Building 19 to pick up supplies for the students I work with--Building 19 has 0range folders. I feel so accomplished and proud of this school supply miracle, I forget the supplies I need for work. Leave Building 19 with partial supplies.

Now, pressure is on....places are starting to run low on supplies. I take out my lists and realize that I have the wrong list for youngest...each school has a different list and I have made the egregious assumption that each school grade would have the same supplies. Not so. Now, I am short 12 skinny markers and I have 8 little glue sticks instead of 4 fat glue sticks. Additionally, I do not have marble composition books and I have an extra binder. How hard can this be?

Eldest tells me that he has read his assigned summer reading but did it so long ago he has forgotten "every little bit". We take a trip to the library to find a required reading book....shockingly, a week before school, they are nowhere to be found. Trip to Borders to buy book. Eldest declares he doesn't really like the required reading, now that he thinks about it. Could we go back to Borders for a different book? Eldest finishes original book. I proudly sign off on the summer reading list form.

Now, finally, with one day to supplies are packed, form signed. One final check of the teacher's letter home Please have your child bring signed forms to school the first day.

Forms? More than one? Quick call to friend who is organized (which is a great parenting tip, always have friends that are more capable than you...they keep you from looking negligent). Yes, as a point of order, there is more than one form and this one is a graphic organizer that your child fills out, complete with making text to life connections.

For ever judgment I made as a young childless person, I apologize. For every unrealistic classroom demand I made on parents of my early students, I apologize. Most of all, I applaud the sublime grins my parents now wear a good portion of the time. You earned it.