Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook

Yesterday morning, after watching the news,  I sat down and wrote a post. This is not that post. Yesterday's post was for me. It was angry, its focus was on guns. I needed to get my swirling thoughts down. I re-read it today and decided that it isn't something I want or need to publish. Instead, you get this. If you're looking for my thoughts on gun control, or mental illness, stop reading. If you want details of the crime, want to hear the name of the young man responsible, or want a critique of the media, quit now. This will be a tribute. A commentary on life, love, loss and what we can learn from it. If you're interested, keep reading.

Whenever I think about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I am brought to tears. All those innocent children, the heroes who sacrificed their lives for their students, the families who are sure to have a difficult Christmas. There are not words. Each shooting we hear about seems more awful than the last and to me, their frequency is increasing. Too much focus on all of that, plus the media, our justice and healthcare systems, and whom those children were and could have been, make my head spin and the tears flow. I've been trying to deconstruct the bigger picture. I'm trying to think about the way I live my life. I think about all the people I've loved (many of them children), the lives I've touched (and haven't yet) and the future. This, at least, seems easier.

Today I was at a holiday party; my BFF's extended family accepted me as 'one of the cousins' so many years ago. It's an annual tradition. My favorite part about it is the kids. Today, it was even more important. I stood back a moment and watched them. I watched them dance and laugh and interact with each other and with adults. I felt lucky even to know them. I feel grateful that despite the fact that I see many of them only once a year, they feel like family. I realize today that this connection, this once a year family day is something I took for granted.  It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.
Over the last 10+ years, I have had the pleasure of babysitting some really amazing children. I was also a camp counselor for about 6 years. There are some children I had in my group at camp over the years that I'll never forget. I am still telling stories about some of them. There was G, who was 10 years old and had parents going through a bitter divorce. He was a mean kid, and one day after he was nasty to a little girl I took him aside and talked to him. He broke down in tears, telling me about his parents. They were fighting over him and his little brother, trying to one-up each other with presents and vacations. He was living with his grandma because it was too dangerous to be home. He was scared and sad. No one had talked to him. I told him when he had hard days, to tell me and he could have a "cool down" activity. That if he was feeling scared, he just had to tell me and I would listen. He did not act up the rest of the summer. * There was A, the little blondie who whas just barely 4 and was my favorite. We bonded instantly. People always said "he could be yours!" H, with ADHD.  Kids I think about often, wondering where they are, what happened to them, what are they like now? The past few years I've been babysitting and met amazing families. Kids like R, who made me laugh out loud all the time, G&T who felt more like a niece and nephew. A new brother/sister duo A&S who are smart and fun. I don't have my own children yet, but I have the great pleasure of knowing some really great ones. I had an impact on their lives, and they, more profoundly I think, impacted mine. It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.
My last post On Friendship was aptly timed. It was a reflection on a kind of unconditional, long-lasting  friendship. I've had life-long friends, nights of binge eating and gut-busting laughter, adventures  and experiences. I have even been lucky enough to inherit some friends from Ethan, many of whom have quickly become very near and dear. Even at work, I have made friends that have lasted through job changes and made office life easier. Last year I had a New Year's resolution to hand-write and send one letter a month to a friend. I think I stopped around April. My plan is to do it again this year, and make it through December. Sometimes I have found myself in a situation where I feel like a friendship is one sided. It made me mad sometimes, to think that I was giving 100% and yet I still felt like the back-burner friend. As I get older, I realize that it doesn't matter so much. It's always better to give than receive. I don't allow myself to be taken advantage of, but I focus more on being there and less on what I'm getting (or not). I've weeded out most of the toxic people in my life and have a network that is positive and loving and supportive. Ethan and I had dinner with some of them last night. It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.

I have my dad close by. My brother is well cared for. I have an amazing husband who has shown me a love like I've never known. His family is big and warm and welcoming. There are many adorable children. In the next few years, (despite my worry about bringing a child into a world that seems so toxic sometimes) we'll finally gift our parents with grandchildren, and carry on the legacy of big, loud Thanksgivings, a Santa-only Christmas tree, and spangled eggs (yes, spangled. Only my husband will get that one). I have a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep, an amazing career and food on the table. On any given night, watching the news always reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate. 

My tribute to Sandy Hook is this: to live life to its fullest. To tell my husband I love him every day, more than once. To write letters to my friends, send birthday cards even if I don't get any in return, and start volunteering (I'm joining the Boys and Girls Club Alumni Association) to keep impacting the lives of children. I'm going to work hard at my job and excel at it. I will wake up in the morning and count my blessings. I will hug a teacher. I'm not going to talk about guns, or mention the names of this shooter and the countless others. I will remember the names Dawn, and Victoria and Charlotte and Daniel. I will show them that this world can be good. This is how I will honor them. I am incredibly fortunate. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Friendship

Recently, I was on a trip for work. I learned a bunch about financial aid, a little bit about Florida and a whole lot about...friendship. A work function seems like an unlikely inspiration for a post about friendship but that's how it happened. Only in my world, right?

During my trip to the conference, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend. Kat and I were more or less inseparable and part of a close bunch in Girl Scouts (I know) in elementary school but she moved to Florida in 6th grade. Naturally, with that much distance, it was hard to keep in touch, and so we fell off. Despite that, I always look back fondly at those years. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to reconnect and when I found out I'd be in Orlando for the conference, we made a plan to meet up for dinner. I'm not afraid to admit I was nervous; it had been over a decade since we spoke in person and she's a whole lot more hip than I am (cool purple hair, lots of tattoos, works at a hair salon). I feared she might find me 'square' (how square of me to think people use the term 'square' as a descriptor anymore). How do you converse as adults when the last time you spoke, you were kids freaking out over Hanson and Surge soda? What I learned was that I had no reason to be afraid. There was no awkwardness; the ease with which we conversed made it seemed like no time had passed. Kat told me she had been a bit nervous too; our lives had taken us in such different directions. We played catch-up over a delicious meal at a place with a really hip vibe and amazing sangria. It was something she said to me that has stuck, and has served as the inspiration for this post: she missed me. She said despite the length of time and distance between us, her most genuine memories included me, and her time in Maine. I know what she means. There's an authenticity in childhood friendships that is often very difficult to find in adult relationships. We parted ways after dinner and vowed to stay in touch. Despite our geographical distance, I'm certain we will.

The same thing happened with me and Amanda when she moved back earlier this year. We've very quickly rekindled our bond and have an ever growing list of things to do together as adults. She said some very moving things to me about me and our mothers and our parallel lives. She reminded me of the impact we can all have on each other as kids.

It's the authenticity that makes these friendships last, I think. There are no pretenses; as children in friendships we say exactly what we mean and how we feel. We fight, but then we make up. I can vividly remember arguing with a friend in 5th or 6th grade, vowing never to speak again and then 1 or 2 days later getting lost in a giggle and forgetting the whole thing. The friends that mean the most are the ones you sat next to while their parents fought in the next room; you didn't say anything but you stood firm and quiet in support of her. They are the ones you bring over to hang out despite the fact that you're embarrassed by your dad's messy house and you don't have a mother and you run to the store with food stamps. The friends you could see all day at school and then run home and call on the phone and talk for 3 hours (oh how tying up the land-line drove our parents crazy!); the friend who showed you how to wear make-up and stuff your bra and make you feel pretty. The ones that mean the most are the ones you share genuine, heartfelt, spontaneous moments with. When you hold a friend's newborn baby brother for the first time; when you console a friend in the bathroom because she just had a traumatic experience. Drinking Surge and staying up for 24 full hours, just to see if you could (we did). You've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly about each other (and your families) and it doesn't matter.

These are the things that make it possible to always pick up where you left off, despite weeks, months or years.  The foundational memories are like indelible ink; I swear I can remember what pajamas I was wearing at the "stay up for 24 hours" (non)sleep-over; Aimee, was it your mom that got mad at us for staying up, or mine? I remember Kat's little sister singing a song about putting on her yellow socks. Noodle tag. Nachos & Fabio. Making human pyramids at recess at Sherwood Heights. Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Hanson worship. "You broke my sippy straw!" (Jenny, I can never watch that scene in Starship Troopers without hearing you say that in my head). White eyeliner (omg, Amanda, do you remember!?), Bonney Park, Total Request Live. Renee, I still laugh when I tell the story of your mom walking into the glass doors..twice, on your sunporch (sorry Diane!). Great Falls school (do people remember the 5th grade sleepover?).  I could go on forever...

As an adult, I've made some great new friends. There is a trust and comfort and love with them too, but they never resemble your first friends. That's not to say that friends you make as an adult are less important or less loved. It's just not the same as the raw, no holds barred, don't even have to try, no information is too much information, totally-ridiculous-most-of-the-time friendships you had as a child. And what's so great about those is that they last. Social media helps keep us talking (in some cases every day at work; thanks G-Chat); our memories keep us connected. Even years can go by between visits or calls and you can fall back into easy conversation and giggle fits. Sure, the subject matter changes (from boy bands and make-up and crushes, to spouses and work and in-laws and bills) but the foundation never changes. What connects you never changes. You might have to work at it a bit more, when grown-up life gets in the way and/or physical distance splits you apart, but first friends are forever.  This one's for you, ladies.

Thank you for being a friend / traveled down the road and back again / your heart is true / you're a pal and a confidant

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For Esther

When you're a child, you perceive time differently. As a kid, I could only have imagined anything beyond the age of 11. Imagining life as an adult was difficult and 15 years was an unfathomable amount of time. It sort of still is. Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of my mother's death. There are times it feels like yesterday, and other times were it feels like it's been longer. I like to use her birthday (3.31) and the anniversary as a time of reflection. This year has been making me think about mothers.

Mom was diagnosed with cancer (Hodgkin's Disease) when I was 6 years old. My situation as a child was already unique because my parents were significantly older than my friends' parents. Mom had me when she was 42. That meant there were limitations, a generational gap larger than most and somewhat old-fashioned child-rearing. People often mistook my parents for my grandparents. We also didn't have money. I didn't really take notice as a young child, because I always had clothes and food and a place to sleep but my parents had no savings and we didn't have the latest and greatest. When mom got sick, I believe she knew she had to cram a lifetime of lessons into a few short years, just in case. She was a stay at home mom, which is so reflective of that old-fashioned way of life. Dad had to work, and my special needs brother could not always lend a hand in the way that was needed. While mom was still feeling well[enough] I learned all the essentials: cooking, cleaning, ironing. I could press my dad's shirts  at 8 years old. I would prepare full dinners for my family when mom was too tired and sick from chemo and dad was working. I'd get home from school do my homework, and then my home-work. I learned to respect my parents, how to handle my brother when he had one of his meltdowns and could run to the corner store at age 8 or 9 and grab milk, bread and whatever we needed with that little book of paper food stamps.  She helped with homework when she could; she was a former teacher, so I already had a strong foundation. I never went to preschool- she taught me to read at home so by kindergarten I was well ahead of my peers. These lessons were so valuable, but there are others she taught me and that I have learned since that have shaped me and stuck with me.

An early baking lesson. My apron is adorable.
I can clearly remember mom and dad telling Steve and I that she had cancer. It was a word that as children that young, we could not really comprehend. From what I remember, my parents did a great job explaining what was happening inside mom's body, what we might expect, and what it could mean. That early on, we never talked about it being a death sentence. I struggle to recall any mention of death until closer to the end, when she started getting worse. One of the lessons my mother taught me was about compassion. In kindergarten (back then we only went for half a day) and half-day Wednesdays in 1st and second grade and other times when I wasn't in school, mom would take me to appointments with her. Sometimes it was check-ups, but most often I'd accompany her to chemo sessions. I sometimes wonder if people thought she was crazy; that it was too much for a child so young. Today, I am grateful. She told me that the people in the room had cancer like her, though maybe a different type. She told me some might be bald because of the medicine or look really sick. She prepared me to deal with illness in a powerful way. I became a gopher of sorts; bringing Saltines and water and ice chips to the patients in the leather recliners. One time I covered a woman with an afghan because she was sleeping. Another woman asked me to change the channel on the TV to "All My Children." Thus, my introduction to soap operas at age 7. I can remember the smiles, both on mom's face and the other patients. I must have known other kids didn't do stuff like this, but maybe I didn't care. It was normal to me. Many years after mom died, when I was nearing the end of high school, I went back to the oncology ward to visit. Her doctor was still there, and some of the nurses. Dr. Erickson embraced me. We talked about mom and and her time there. She told me that I had made a huge difference in the life of those patients. When I couldn't be there, some of her patients would ask where I was, when "Esther and her little girl" would  next be in. She said I had delivered hope, a positive light in the midst of such sadness. I knew then what my mom had been teaching me was compassion for others.

Eleven is a tricky age. Old enough to know what's going on, but also so young. I was in 6th grade. That's the age where I started thinking boys were cute and where I had gathered so many of my best girlfriends. When she was in the hospital in those final weeks, I utilized all she had taught me. We had so much help from our church, but I found myself stepping into the "woman of the house" role. I was grateful for what she had taught me. What I would really miss later are the things she didn't get to teach me. We never went bra shopping, I never asked her about boys. She didn't get to tell me about sex (school and friends and my dad [bless his heart] did that) or about her first loves before my dad or about her childhood. I don't know anything about her political stances or whether her difficulty getting/stay pregnant after my brother was due to her age, or some sort of reproductive issue. Dad did his best to relay stories my mother had told him as a way to teach me about her and keep her spirit alive. But eleven years old was too young to ask about somethings, and so it never occurred to me, nor did it to her. I realize now that I did learn from her even after she was gone. I learned how to ask others. I also learned how to teach myself; to be independent and strong.

I had help filling in some of those gaps. Over the years I have had so many great female adult role models; friends' mothers who stepped to the plate to be there for me. This is how I learned about menstruation, got my first training bra and heard about boys. If not for my friends and their parents, I'm not sure where my life would have gone. My best friend Aimee and her mother Susan (my favorite FARM) were pivotal for me in those early years have remained so to this day. They are no longer friends, but family. It's what happens after 16 years of friendship and support. And now I am lucky enough to have my mother in law Martha, who is one of the best moms I know and whom I love very much. I am certain she and my mother would have been friends. But I miss my own mother; and I always wonder how she would have taught me about these things. It makes me think about what it means to be a mother. Surely, in the short time she had, she taught me all she could; all she thought was appropriate. She instilled in me the ability to discover other lessons on my own, knowing she wouldn't  be there forever. I know I have missed so many pivotal mother/daughter moments, but isn't a mother's job to teach, and protect and love? I have no doubt she did all of these things. My dad did the best he could alone, and my mother gave me a strong enough foundation to pull us all up from the darkness. So yes, I've been without my mother longer than I have been with her, but she did her job, and her love and her lessons will be with me my whole life. They will shape the kind of mother I will be. Even if I am not sick (I pray to God my children won't go through what I have) I will teach my children valuable life lessons. I will expect my family to share an evening meal together every day. I will teach them compassion; maybe I will have them volunteer at a hospital, reading to sick children. Being a mother is the most amazing and difficult job in the world. I was lucky to have one for 11 years, and lucky still to have inherited Susan and  CeCe and Claire and Martha.  There are days I worry that I won't be a good mom; that the fact that I didn't have my own mom for so long will mean I over or under compensate and my children will be unhappy. People who know me well assure me this will not be the case. I hope they are right.

That poor kitty. I think his name was Tiger. 

My mother was an amazing woman. As the years go by, I see that more and more. I also am forgetting a bit; I cannot recall what her voice sounds like. People with children tell me that when I am scolding or praising my own children, I'll hear my mother's voice then. I hope that's true. But what I will always remember is that she loved me enough to teach me what was necessary, that she was strong and brave in her battle with cancer, and that with her age came wisdom. I think I love her now more than I did then, and since she is not here for me to share it, I have to show her by living my life to make her proud. Being a mother is a gift, one I cannot wait to receive. To all the moms I know out there; THANK YOU for doing the world's best and toughest job. To any parent, or anyone that acts as a parent, thank you too. I was a motherless daughter for much of my life, but only physically. I know she was with me. And so, in Esther's honor, hug your children, brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews a little tighter this week. Being a mother and a caregiver and a teacher was her life, and the best way I can honor her is to share the love.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


People tell me that I will [soon, someday, probably when I am 30] reach an age where I do not want to acknowledge and celebrate my birthday. Well, People, I don't think you quite understand who I really am. As a self-described ferocious optimist, I see every birthday (even the up-coming, milestone ones) as another year with the potential to be awesome. Another year for me to grow and learn and love my life. It's another year I get to live my life; why not celebrate it?! Granted, I had a wee moment of panic just before June 19th that upon my 26th birthday, I would be closer to 30 than to 20, but it was fleeting. I'm mostly stunned that I'm 26; that it came so fast. I can remember being in middle school and being totally envious of hip 20-somethings and feeling like I was n e v e r going to get there. And then, BAM. 26. If there's any anxiety about "getting older" for me is that it happens at an alarming rate, and I don't want to waste any of my years.

My 25th year was pretty righteous. No quarter-life crisis for this girl. In fact, it was one of the best years of my life. I got engaged the day before my 25th birthday, and married Ethan a few months before this 26th one. My dad moved to Portland in my 25th year; Ethan and I adopted Ophelia. I went to so many weddings and on many fun adventures and reconnected with old friends and made new ones. Ethan and I started shopping for life insurance. I'm in the best shape I've ever really been in. What do I say to 26? Bring it on!

Birthday flowers from my co-worker. And a birthday tiara, of course!
At the close of year 25 and the recent start of my 26th year, I've been thinking more about lessons I've learned. Certainly, I do not have the wisdom granted to those much older than me, but during my 25 years (particularly years 20-25) I have learned so many life lessons. Inspired by a recent post from the lovely Miss Mallory, I give you:

What I Wish I Could Have Told My Younger Self

Don't try so hard to be like "them." In 10 years, you'll be on top of the world, and they'll be barely treading water. It IS cool to be SMART.  You are not an athlete; you never will be. But you can, and will, be healthy, and defy your family history. Dad is an adult. He has to learn to take care of himself. Support him, but do not sacrifice your own life for difficulties he caused for himself. Friendships will come and go. The friends you have who are like family will s t i l l be there when you're 26, even if they live in other cities/states. You will want to be a teacher, but you will realize that that is not your path. You have to be okay with it; when you're 26, you'll actually love your math-heavy financial aid job. Having a boyfriend in high school will not define you. Also, it isn't going to work out the way you want it to, but you will learn so much from it about yourself and about life; your unsuccessful marriage will help you grow and fall in love with your self. Do not drink too much. Ever. Okay, you will drink too much and you will have some hangovers where you'll wish you were dead. So, always alternate water and booze. Your liver will thank you. You're 22. Newly single. Heartbroken and lost. Enjoy being single. The man of your dreams will show up when you least expect it. He's a handsome older man, and you'll know the instant you meet him that you are meant to be. He will change your life. You will have hip surgery. All those years of PT did not really help. The painkillers will make you really ill. Be ready. rehabilitating will be hard work, but you're strong. Being a girl without a mother is hard, but listen to the adult females in your life. They will help shape the woman you  become. Dad will drive you crazy, but you're going to grow into a woman that mom will be so, so proud of. You're going to screw up; make mistakes, think that you hate yourself. Don't dwell on it; once you heal, you'll rise out of the ashes, stronger than before. Music is going to change, but also be really the same. Do not, under any circumstances listen to someone named Justin Beiber. Just don't.  Hey 6 year old Maria: you will learn to love sushi, broccoli, most other vegetables and even some kinds of beer (light ones, mostly, and only when you're 21) and you'll have an adventurous palette! There are other delicious foods besides pizza and macaroni & cheese. You're a late-bloomer; someone once told you you'd be short and flat chested forever. Just wait til your 20s. Good things really do come to those who wait. You are beautiful. When you're 26 and totally in love, someone will take pictures of you like this:

Maria and Ethan. Courtesy Erin Kroll.
Your life is going to be awesome and hip. Don't let anyone or anything get you down. Celebrate your birthdays, triumphs, every day. Learn from mistakes, heartache, people smarter than you. Enjoy whatever life throws at you.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Hip Bucket List

While recently perusing the Twitterverse, I came across a woman who posted a picture of her 14 year old-daughter's "2012 Summer Bucket List." Most of the items were what you'd expect to see from a girl that age: go on a date, kiss a boy, spend one day a week at the beach, etc. This tweeted photo really got me thinking, and has since become the inspiration for what is about to follow.

The term "bucket list" is sort of strange, when you think about it. I don't recall when/where I first heard it, but I'm thinking about a young child hearing it and thinking about it in literal terms. A list of buckets? A list written on a bucket? But no, it's a list of things to do before you "kick the bucket," a euphemism from a rather large list of euphemisms for dying. Am I the only one who thinks this is kind of morbid? Not the concept really, but the term. Alas, it's ubiquitous. Enter "bucket list" into Google and there are 35.8 million results, the very first of which is a whole website dedicated to the concept. You can create and track you very own bucket list on that site! I'm also quite certain "there's [at least one] app for that." There's even a movie about it, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I watched it. I cried a lot. Great movie. And I suspect it stirred a lot of peoples' creative bucket list juices.

Possibly one of the saddest movie ever. IMDB

Some people create one bucket list, THE bucket list, which encompasses every possible thing imaginable they'd like to accomplish in their lifetime (seems like a bit of a daunting task to me). But, like the teenager above, some people make seasonal bucket lists, or chronological bucket lists (Bucket List to accomplish before turning 30, 40, etc) and I've even seen competitive bucket lists comprised of insane/ridiculous things and who can do the most, etc. People have taken the concept and really run with it. It makes me wonder; what makes an item/event bucket list worthy? Many lists include things like sky diving, bungee jumping, swimming with dolphins, etc. Does something have to be dangerous/exciting/adrenaline packed to make the list? Would someone with a list of things such as try something new, dance in public, be vegetarian for a week, go a movie alone, be considered "boring" or "square?" I suspect a bucket list is what best fits the individual and/or situation.

This has nothing to do with a bucket list but I think it's HILARIOUS

The "seasonal" bucket list throws me a little, like the list made by the 14 year old girl. Surely, she is not expecting to kick the bucket by the end of the summer, so then isn't her list really a list of goals to accomplish, or things desired? Are lists of goals actually different from a bucket list? Perhaps they are, depending on how seriously one takes the "kicking the bucket" part of the list-making. I have goals to accomplish at work, and in the next few years, and in general. I don't think, however, some of these would make it to my bucket list. If I'm going to make a true "things I want to do before I die" list (because really, why sugar coat it?) I'd want it to really be serious. Perhaps nixing the euphemism and calling it what it is would inspire me to do all of those things. Or maybe not. And that begs the question, doesn't such a list evolve, and furthermore, if it evolves, is it truly a bucket list? A bucket list I might have made as a pre-teen or teenager would certainly look different than a list I'd make today, and surely different than a list 5 or 10 years from now. Some things might stay the same, but things would be added and removed or completed as life goes on.

For myself, things I think would take a long time to accomplish, or are things I'd have to save a lot of money for, or stuff that's difficult or somewhat dangerous would end up on my list of things to do before I die. I don't feel like "have babies, buy a house, get a promotion, plant a garden" need to be on my bucket list because they are things I'm already planning for. The idea of actually making a true bucket list is somewhat daunting and it makes me wonder, would I be setting myself up for disappointment? What happens if I'm on my deathbed and I realize I haven't done all the things on the list? I don't want to live life with too many regrets, so if I made a bucket list and didn't do every single thing on it, would I spend the last hours of my life regretting what I didn't do? I'd like to think, and hope, that I'd spend my time reminiscing the things I did do with the people I love. Maybe, then, it's better to not to make a list. Why not live life to just live life to the fullest?

Tentative Bucket List Items*
(because you might be curious by now, and if I were to make one, here are some things that might be on it)

-Write and publish a book
-Bungee jump
-Sky Dive
-Take an extended trip to Europe
-Take my kids to Hungary
-Work on the campaign for the first woman to run for President
-Be a spectator at the Olympics
-Not get too caught up in my bucket list

*These items may not be very hip. Some are contingent upon society (the female president thing, for example) and some may not seem so out of reach for others, but are a dream for me.

In any case, I think the concept can work well for people. If calling your goals a "bucket list" will better motivate you to accomplish them, then go for it! And I'd love to hear what all of you think: goals vs bucket list, what would be on yours, do you think the whole concept is crazy? Sound off in the comments. -MKM

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why I Don't Run, and Other [food] Musings

A disclaimer: I have many friends who are runners, whom I love dearly and find ever so inspiring. Please, do not take this with anything but a grain of salt, and please, do not take offense!

Given that this blog started out as a chronicle of my bad joints and hip surgery, the reason I don't run seems obvious. It is, in fact, clear that while my shoes may have been made for walking, my bones/joints are not. For me, running is wildly painful, and, if done for prolonged time periods, detrimental to my already damaged joints. I know that if I had to run, I could; if, for example, I were being chased by zombies or bad guys or some sort of scary animal and had to get away, I could/would run for my life and probably manage to escape. I'm sure I'd be propelled by adrenaline in such a situation, but I merely seek to illustrate the point that I am able to run, but that I don't  and shouldn't. 

These toes are not made for running. But aren't they cute?

As I have clued you in by the title,  there are other reasons I don't run. I dare say, if I did not have such a poorly designed skeleton, and were able to run like many of my super-sprinting friends, I don't think I would. Because there are so many other ways to keep physically fit out there that I find enjoyable, I wouldn't need to run for exercise. And if I may ask, who the hell determined that running for miles and miles, to the potential (inevitable?) detriment to your joints and ligaments, was such a good idea that there are competitions surrounding it? The same could be said, I'm sure, for lots of other sports, but running is the one that alludes me the most. Some people say it's the time where they can clear their head; while running they are in tune with their body, with the surroundings through which they run. Forgive me, but if where you're running is on the street, is that peaceful? I know I'd be in a constant state of fear of a) being hit by a car, b) passing out and being hit by a car, or c) tripping, falling, and being hit by a car. I also have a rather poor sense of direction, so running for miles would also make me afraid of getting lost. Runner friends, feel free to comment and tell me your stories, yell at me for talking about something I admit I don't really know about, or chide me for snarkiness. Either way, what clears my head and relaxes me is not hitting the pavement.

While I choose not to run (and have a wildly good, documented excuse not to), I am a huge fan of walking. I feel I can achieve the same sense of peace, clear-headedness and achievement taking a nice long walk. Ethan and  I have taken to walking a mile at least two times a week (if it ever stops raining, we'll go more often) at Fort Williams Park or Evergreen Cemetery. It is always my favorite part of the day. Soaking up the ocean air, the breeze keeping beautiful kites in the sky, walking and talking (or not talking) with Ethan about whatever it is we talk about. And speaking of talking, I think that's an element you lose when running. I'm trying to imagine "going for a run" with Ethan or a friend and trying to have a conversation. I'd be too winded from running to be able to talk, and therefore, we'd just be running together in silence. Bo-ring. And doesn't the scenery go by in a blur? There's no time/way to look around and drink it all in when you're running, I'd imagine.
Ft. Williams Park. How could you just run past this?

Lately, where I've been finding my greatest sense of relaxation and adventure is in the kitchen. People have asked me what's different about married life for us. The answer is nothing really, except my name, but it does seem like we've been cooking more. We received a bunch of great kitchen gadgets for our engagement party and lately, we've decided it's time to put them to use.

Look how pretty!
For those of you who don't know, this is a Tangine pot.  It's a North African pot for slow-cooking meat, fish, and veggies. It is a beautiful addition to our other cookware, but we recently decided to pull out the little recipe book and make something with it. It was gifted to us by our dear French neighbor Jean-Phillipe who swears by its awesome powers. Thankfully, it's farmer's market season (yay Deering Oaks) so I am able to get all sorts of yummy, organic things to fill our pot with. I went with dad last weekend and got kale, spinach, parsley to plant, scallions and potatoes for $20! WIN. I've been making/am now sort of obsessed with kale chips, but more on that later. Much of what was included in the recipe book for this pot was olives, fresh ginger, and things that resembled curry which I am not crazy about. Still, Ethan and I have adventurous palates, so we're willing to try anything, and the olives were left whole, so I could pick them out if I chose to do so. Let me tell you, what we created in this pot cured me of my aforementioned food aversions.

The first thing we cooked was Beef Tangine with Olives  and it fantastic! The spice profile was new to me but also warm and inviting. The raw beef marinading in the ginger/garlic/cinnamon/paprika chile paste smelled good enough to eat as is.  It was fun prepping this dish because it reminded me of my crock-pot beef stew. The potatoes, beef, carrots and tomatoes rang familiar, while the spices and olives were a flavorful kick in the pants. I ate up all the olives without blinking. Ethan could not be reached for comment other than "MmmMmmmOmiGodThisIsAwesomeNomNom" because his mouth was constantly full. It felt like we were eating a restaurant quality meal at home that we cooked ourselves. I almost felt bad that we were eating it alone and depriving our friends of such deliciousness. The sense of adventure, satisfaction (both for my taste buds and with the success of the dish) and pride for a self-proclaimed foodie like me could not have been attained by, say, running.

Beef w/ olives. YUM

Love potato, from Farmer's Market

Last night, we made [Monkfish] With Chermoula and Vegetables. We used halibut because it was a fair substitute, easier to find and less expensive than monkfish. This one included red onion, zucchini, lemon zest & juice, and once again, olives. This one was just as delicious as the beef dish, though the jury is still out on which is better over all. From the Tangine booklet: "Chermoula is a spicy marinade used for a variety of North African recipes." The recipe included a de-seeded red chili, which made me nervous because I don't love things that are too spicy, but the it resulted in just the hint of heat so as to be flavorful and robust, but not over-bearing.

Now that I have teased your taste-buds, please consider this an open invitation to dinner! The only thing missing now from my kitchen is my always-desired Kitchen Aid mixer so I can bake yummy treats (right now, I mix by hand, because I'm old school). I almost have enough gift cards to make a dent in its price. Just wait for the posts then! I love entertaining, and am okay with the fact that what most often brings people together is food. I love food, and good company. Marathons and 5-ks may have lots of people, but I guarantee those people aren't as happy as they would be sitting around a table eating slow-cooked Moroccan food. Just sayin.' 

Since this blog has gone from a tangent on running to food-porn, I'm now going to take us out of this entry with something else totally unrelated: cat love. I must say, Ophelia coming back into my life was easily one of the best things that has happened, and she is an endless source of joy and entertainment for Ethan and I. To boot, she has also helped me to make some new Twitter friends (follow me @maria_k_MacD) who are fellow cat ladies/lovers. My most often used hash tag is #CatChat. 85% of the photos in my iPhone are pictures of Ophelia and the other 15% are a mix of Ethan, food, and pretty scenery. I'm sure this will remain the ratio until we have babies. Don't be surprised if there is a post following this one that's dedicated to cats (and probably more about food).

World's cutest kitty Ophelia Penelope MacDougal

Friday, April 20, 2012

So, When Do You Graduate?

Under 30 with a Serious Career

Simple disclaimer: This post is not meant to offend anyone in any way, nor is it meant to brag, it's just based on my thoughts and experiences. 

The title question is one I've heard often at work, but most recently last weekend at UNE's version of accepted students' day, and it is what has motivated this post. Three separate families assumed that I must be a graduate student (one actually thought I was an undergraduate work study student). I was able to laugh it off and say "thank you, but I am actually an Assistant Director and I am not a student here." Someday I am sure it will be flattering to be mistaken for a student, but right now it's actually somewhat annoying and frustrating. More on that later.

This isn't how I normally dress at work. Halloween 2011

For those of you who don't know, I started my career in financial aid as a work study student at UMF (so, if people ask that, they kind of aren't wrong??) and have pretty much been doing just that ever since. At the work study job fair, they were the funniest bunch, and I thought it would be something cool to learn about for my own benefit, so I applied. Not only did I quickly obtain a wealth of useful knowledge that I think every student should have about financial aid, I also learned a lot of skills that are pertinent to any job. I knew by the time I graduated, I'd be well set up with some practical real-world working skills. It was the kind of work study job where there was little time for homework; I was helping out the staff with projects, filing, and later as my skills grew, answering phones and helping students. Upon graduation, grad school at the time seemed scary and I wanted some time to work, so when a financial aid position at USM opened up, I applied. I got the job. I spent only two months a jobless college graduate. I am counting my blessings these days.

Still, if you had asked me then if I thought I'd end up with financial aid as my career, I would have said no way. Let's get real a minute; there's lots of math involved, and I was leaving UMF with an English degree. But, grad school was not an option at the time (I was so burnt out) that I had to jump on a job and it turns out that was financial aid. Thank God for a system that does the math for me, and a working calculator! I like to think I am good at this job, but there are challenges for sure. Aside from federal regulations that seem to change more frequently than we can keep up with, and the occasionally angry student, the biggest challenge is my age. Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this post. What it's like to be under 30 and on a career path.

Counting my work study years, I've been working in financial aid for 7 years in some capacity. I'll turn 26 in June, and I am trying to figure out at what age I'll be taken seriously. Getting mistaken for a student is frustrating for this reason; it makes me feel like they do not think I know what I am doing, or that I am not reliable. I'm actually really thankful that my students I work with at UNE are almost 100% online, because they only interact with me on the phone and via e-mail; they can't see me and therefore are less likely to tell how "young" I am. It's just just the students and parents though, I feel like colleagues also fail to take me seriously, and this is perhaps the most frustrating. Sometimes in conversation, there's this condescending air about them; they feel like they need to talk down to be me because of my age.

I feel like this is still how everyone sees me (high school graduation 2004)

Now, I'm not saying I know it all already, and I know that 7 years in this business is small potatoes compared to a lot of people. But it's very hard to get respect sometimes, and that's frustrating. I'm very lucky to be where I am, and to know that I can grow and move up. I just know that I have to work a little harder at it than some people. I need to give respect to get it, and I need to be mature and educated in my field. I'm working on those things.

Here are some of the things I do as a young working woman that seem to work in my favor for both getting and keeping my career:

-Dress for success! While the dress code may be business casual, I try to go more professional in most cases. It ages me up a bit and looks polished and serious. I always try to look approachable without being over dressed or stuffy. All I know is, I certainly don't wear my casual weekend clothes or something I'd wear out on the weekend. 

-Write like you mean it!  What I mean by this is, write and speak professionally. Internet short hand has no place in the work world (or anywhere for that matter, really). If you're writing an e-mail to a prospective employer, you should be articulate and professional. Know the difference between you're, your, and there, their and they're. These basic mistakes make anyone look bad, but most especially young people.

-Ask for help when you need it!  Like I said above; I don't pretend to know everything. I know when  need to ask for clarification or help completing something. Asking for help looks better than guessing and then making a mistake. 

-Educate yourself! I try to keep up with what's going on in my field, to be reading regulations and asking the right questions. I follow work/industry-related Twitter and Facebook pages, read articles, etc. If you can contribute to meetings, discussions, etc. you'll look and be in the know!

-Be responsible! My days of weeknights out are pretty much over (trust me, I am okay with that). I try to remember to keep myself healthy, be well rested, and focused. Showing up to work on a Friday, groggy with Thusday's debauchery may be okay for showing up to class, but I would never dream of doing so at work. These days, I'm too tired to go out period, let alone during the week. I'm not saying don't enjoy happy hour, just remember what happens at 8am the next day!

I know that someday, probably when I'm 30 and over, I'll be so flattered when people look at my youthfulness and assume I am a student. But for now, it's mildly frustrating. I want to work hard, continue to grow in my career, and then sit back and enjoy being knowledgable and educated in my field, and being mistaken for a student.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Facebook Fasting, Followers, and Friendships

I apologize for another alliterative title, but these things just come to me in that between sleep and awake place. And I love alliterations. Anyway...

The inspiration/idea for this post came from Jill the Great and I thank her for the suggestion, for supporting my love of cats with her own, and for being a welcomed PenPal. :)

If you have recently tried to search for me on Facebook and found me to be missing, I'm not blocking you, I promise. As I've previously mentioned, I gave up Facebook for Lent. For those of you who are not familiar with what Lent means beyond the fact that it comes after Mardi Gras and people usually give something up, allow me to explain (and try not to bore you; please continue reading). In the simplest terms, Lent is a season of fasting and reflection that lasts the 40+ days between Mardi Gras (in the church world, referred to as Shrove Tuesday) and Easter (which isn't just about chocolate bunnies). This church season is observed each year and signifies the days leading up to Christ's death (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter). Faithful Lenten observers will use this time for prayer and introspection, and often either take on a discipline (reading the Bible each day, walking, etc) and/or a Lenten sacrifice. Many people give up sweets, or eggs, or bread or chocolate, all of which I've done in previous years. The year before last, I gave up alcohol. Those of you closest to me during that period know that this was a really good idea. Last year, it was sweets. I know I said Easter is more than just bunnies and candies, but I gorged myself on jellybeans last Easter. Jellybeans are my weakness.

I love the colors of Easter! stock.xchng 
Since I've been better about eating and exercising anyway, I decided to challenge myself to something else. I'm not even ashamed to admit I was addicted to Facebook. I, like millions of other users driven by Maslow's smartly determined need to belong, am drawn to it's omni-presence like a moth to flame. After e-mail, it's my first click and despite hours of screen time for my job, it was often the first thing I logged onto upon returning home from work. It's everywhere, even accessible on my phone. I delighted in reading and commenting on statuses, viewing and sharing photos and posting articles to spark discussions. Thankfully, I never played any of those ridiculous games (except Words With Friends, from my phone app). Facebook keeps people connected; indeed it has kept me tethered to friends and family scattered across the country, which is largely the basis of it's appeal for me. It was starting to become so life-consuming, and I was [needlessly, as it turns out] so dependent on it for that feeling of connectedness. I knew it was what I needed to give up for my Lenten sacrifice.

I know you're all dying to know what it's been like. Initially, it was liberating. Amazingly liberating. Like pulling up the anchor and setting the boat free (apparently, it has allowed me to wax poetic as well). Suddenly, I'm not logged in, latched on, or hooked in (the Matrix?). I didn't have to waste my coffee-drinking hour at work scrolling through statuses. Detaching myself from the minute details of everyone's lives was actually really easy. A large portion of my FB "friends" were people I sort of know, or went to high school with, or are friends of friends, so I found it easy to let them go. My new found time has allowed me to focus on other things. I think I've written my best posts during my FB hiatus and I've read more books. Giving up Facebook has really liberated my time. I've filled the void with actual conversations ( even on the phone, actually talking, not just texting), reading excellent books, taking walks with Ethan and keeping up with current events more than I ever have. I've shared meals with friends and fun nights out and shopping trips and gotten to know people better. Rarely, during any of this did I think "I wish I could post about this on Facebook." The experience is enough.

Been doing lots of reading. Catching Fire and pudding!

I will admit I am starting to miss it a little. Lately, I've been starting to think "what have I missed?" Has someone announced an engagement or pregnancy? Who's been accepted to grad school? What are people saying about our political climate? There's a disconnected feeling. But, from who? I've still managed to talk to my nearest and dearest friends (whom, as it turns out, aren't as FB obsessed and post-crazy as I and others are) and I don't feel any less socially fulfilled. Sure, there are acquaintances I miss hearing from and learning about and I have far fewer Twitter followers than I had FB friends, but the Facebook fast has not been as unbearable as I thought it might become. What I'm realizing is, I miss it the most when I'm bored. Everyone knows FB is one of the best ways to beat boredom, at least until it becomes boring itself. But, without it, I've had to find other ways to entertain myself. It's been a great time, figuring out things to do. It's definitely lessened my screen-time and absolutely enriched my life.

Lent is a time of reflection and spirituality, and while it doesn't seem like giving up Facebook could be a spiritually enriching moment in my life, I assure you it has been. I've had more time to think, to pray, to search for a new church home all without comment from others. Ethan and I have been in the midst of planning our wedding ceremony, which has included meetings with my priest, a brief Bible study and an examination of our relationship. Facebook pales in comparison to those Saturday afternoons with Father Jim and Ethan, talking about God and our love for one another. I went to church at Trinity on Sunday and enjoyed it immensely; especially coming home and not logging on to Facebook, but instead relishing in my spiritual fullness by filling my stomach. It's been quite wonderful.

Twitter has been fun; my 60 followers seem minor compared to my 500+ Facebook "friends" and has allowed me to feel somewhat connected (I couldn't give up ALL social networking). I've got regulars with whom we tweet back and forth, mostly about our cats (shout out to my cat chat loves!) and reading tweets from celebs I like. Don't tell FB, but I think I like Twitter more. Maybe it's not hip to read all the time and take walks instead of post. But it's pretty much more fun. And while I'm sure I'll log back on to Facebook from time to time, to connect with family and friends I don't see as often, I know my FB time will be much more limited. The people I most want to stay in touch with, have put themselves in touch in other ways; these, I have learned, are my truest friends. If Facebook shut down tomorrow for everyone, they are the ones with whom I know our connection wouldn't skip a beat. Perhaps that has been the best part of logging off.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Second Wedding Dos and Don'ts

First of all, let me say a shout-out thank you to my dear Jenny, for encouraging me to run with this blog idea. All my love, lady!

For those of you who don't know, (really, you don't?) my up coming marriage to Ethan will in fact be my second marriage. Long story short, my first marriage ended in divorce. C'est la vie. So yes, I am now a statistic and despite my ex-husband and I trying to live beyond the "starter marriage" stereotype, it is what it is. That said, naturally I myself, and others, have been comparing the two weddings (not the marriages), which leads me to this post.

The first wedding was more or less traditional. We cut some corners to save money, but overall it had the standard wedding elements and structure. This time, it's going to be much different, in a good way! The process of planning this wedding has been only mildly stressful, and definitely big fun. What I'm about to post are recommendations only, based on my personal experiences, things I've seen/read/heard and are in no way meant to pass judgement on anyone's wedding. Also, I will use "traditional" wedding terms like bride and groom, but I support gay marriage too. Love is love!  /end disclaimer

Second Wedding Dos and Dont's

  • Don't feel like you need to replicate, one-up, or completely out-do your first wedding. This is brand new wedding, to a brand new person. Guests (if you have them at the 2nd one and there are cross overs from the 1st wedding) may make comparisons, but gently remind them that you want this one to be different on purpose. 
  • Don't feel like you have to wear a formal wedding gown. In fact, I'd go one step further to say don't wear one. The beautiful dress I had the first go fit the time, wedding, and person. It's marvelous, but it's not me anymore. I certainly wouldn't wear that dress again, nor did (that's right, bought my dress already. Sorry, Ethan reads this, so no pictures yet!) I want to buy another wedding gown. Do throw caution to the wind and shake-it up a bit.
  • Do buy something(s) new. While it shouldn't be doesn't have to be a "wedding gown" per se, make it something new. Recycling a pretty dress you've worn a whole bunch will take away some of the novelty. Plus, shopping is fun! You could wear these, for example:

Fun and fashionable!
  • Do figure out what you really, truly want in your wedding the 2nd time around. Is it the opposite size and structure of your first? (Small, then big or vice versa, etc). Is it fancy or low-key? Guests, no guests, family only? Remember, this is you (and future hubby's call), so do what you want. This may sound like a no brainer, but don't do things you don't like, just because it's "traditional" or "for show."
  • Don't stress out the bride! (duh)
  • If it is your second wedding (or hers, or both of yours) don't expect it to be like your first wedding. In fact, expect it to be very different. 
  • Do express your opinion! You might want to leave it all up to her, but chime in here and there (even if it's about china patterns or napkin folding). If you really want to have something in particular, speak up! Most planners like the help; that makes it a little less overwhelming. 
  • Don't wear jeans. Just don't. At least put on khakis. And, like your bride, wear something new! 
  • If it's your second wedding and your wife's first, be prepared to go all out; she may want to have all the smells, bells and whistles. Just remember to speak up if you're not comfortable with something. 

DO throw a Bachelor Party if you want. DO NOT make an ass of yourself.
  • Do what the both of you want to do. It's your wedding (if I had a nickel for every time someone said "this is your day.." I'd have.. $1.05) and you get to make the decisions.
  • Don't get bogged down by the judgements of others. TV, bridal rags mags, friends, even family; everywhere you look someone has an opinion about your wedding. "But that's what has to be done," "but, you have to get a white dress," "at my wedding we did this and this and this. You should do that." Just shut them all out and do what makes the two of you happy.
  • Don't  stress over the guest list. Once you figure out the style, date and budget of your wedding, make a guest list that fits. If someone doesn't fit, or you're going to go over budget, or Aunt So-and-So made a scene at your Uncle's cousin's wedding and you don't want her at yours, don't invite her. Friends and family that truly love and support you will continue to do so, regardless of how you plan your wedding. 
  • Do choose a nice place for your wedding. Whether that's a church, a living room (we're doing it in Ethan's parents' front room, complete with bay window and fireplace) or the beach, just do it where you'll feel at ease. 
  • Do remember the point of the wedding; marriage and love. The wedding is the physical event, the ceremony, reception, etc. The marriage is what you are committing to each other; you're married to the other person because you love them. Never let that get lost in the shuffle. 
Higgins Beach, Portland ME Perfect Spot for a wedding. MKM 2012

Guests, Friends, Family
  • Don't judge. Whether it's the first, second or fifth wedding, whether it looks like yours or not, is traditional or funky, your job is to show up, smile, and support the couple. Reserve your judgments for at home. Remember, don't gossip about the wedding at the wedding or reception. You never know who is listening. 
  • Do honor the requests of the bride and groom. If they put something on the invitation that says "In lieu of gifts, donate to X Charity," or "In lieu of gifts, please help us fund our honeymoon," (*coughwelikethisonecoughcough*)  or even "GIVE US LOTS OF PRESENTS KTHNXBYE" then that is what you should do. If you're broke and the couple wants money, $50 is good enough (according to most of the wedding etiquette I've read, $50 would be an appropriate minimum for monetary gifts). Or offer to pet/house sit while the couple honeymoons. Get creative, but not to the point of buying things not on the registry, for example. 
  • Don't be offended if you aren't invited. Second weddings in particular will likely have an even more rigid/tight budget/guest list/intimacy level. Honor this. In our case, we're doing immediate family, and one or two guests. It's not that we don't love everyone and want them there, but we a) cannot afford a huge wedding and b) want it to be personal and intimate. If you didn't get an invite, you can politely inquire about wedding details, but don't be offended. It's likely nothing personal and lots of other people (including family) probably didn't get invites either. 
  • Do ask how you can help, or offer to spend time with the couple if you want to feel included (people rarely say no to a dinner invite, for example, and a couple may like to relax and unwind from the wedding stress). 
  • Do have fun! 
Feel free to agree, disagree, or suggest something I missed in the comments; I'd love to hear your thoughts! I look forward to my wedding so much and I can't wait to share the photos and [hip] story with all of you! 

xo MK

Thursday, March 8, 2012

And now, a PSA:

UNE takes care of its students and staff. Why do I say this? I've been working there just shy of one year and have been bombarded with gratefully able to participate in a variety of employee and university-wide health events. Back in August of 2011 there was the wellness walk and in the fall there was the HR wellness fair (I won a cheese plate in the raffle! win!). Every 8 weeks or so UNE also sponsors a Red Cross Blood drive (I donate every time; you're welcome hospitals) and just today I participated in the university wide health and wellness fair. Kendra and I received seated massage and foot reflexology. They offered bio-metric screenings for anyone that wanted one, with nurses on staff to discuss results. My health is very important to me, so naturally I partook in the screenings. Okay. Maybe there was also free food. And the massage was a nice incentive. But still. I did it and that's all that matters.

Seriously. Donate blood. It's free and it saves 3 lives!

The results of my screening were very good. Included were BMI, HDL (the good cholesterol), blood pressure, blood glucose, body fat percentage, heart disease risk, etc. I basically got an A+ on everything. I only recently (since our engagement party) obtained a scale but I'd say since my freshman year of undergrad, I've lost 30 pounds. This morning when I stepped on the scale as I do about 2 times a week,  I hit a milestone I've been trying to reach for a while! I spent the morning hoping that when I stepped on the medical-grade scale at the screening that it would read the same weight (it did!). The nurse told me to keep doing what I'm doing; and then she told me that she was jealous of my blood pressure (110/76, baby). What an interesting compliment. But, yay? I have very low risk for heart disease and diabetes, which is good since I have a family history of both.

Come to think of it, my family history weighs on my greatly. While I know that cancer isn't necessarily preventable and can strike even the healthiest of people (I'm fairly certain my mom was pretty healthy when she was diagnosed) I've been doing what I can to stay healthy to reduce the risk. Dad has a host of health troubles, but I know that much of his are due to lifestyle (he smoked for 40+ years [he quit], has a sedentary lifestyle and eats poorly). Still, there's history there, so that's good motivation to stay healthy. The secondary motivation is that I want to bear children in the next 5 or so years and I want to be healthy for that.

Someday, we'll get rid of cancer. I know it!

Ethan and I have decided we need to take up a sport together (I know, I know, me? A sport?) to get/stay more active. After much consideration of our terrible skeletons and my severe lack of balance, etc, we landed on tennis. I always liked tennis when we played at school and I am killer at Wii tennis. It's medium impact (+1 for being joint friendly) high intensity & cardio (+2 for exercise) and will be an excellent test in hand-eye coordination (-2 because I suck at this part). Stay tuned for some hilarious tennis-related updates this spring. I am sure I'll be a hot tennis-mess but at least we'll be working out together.

This is a preview of what I'll probably look like playing tennis!
I'm feeling pretty good overall these days. The tests today showed that I am actually healthy, and I think that's pretty damn hip.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pundits, Personhood and The Pill

For those of you who are my FB friends (when I'm not on a Facebook Lenten fast), today's post will not surprise you. Many of you know that I would often post links to articles on topics I am passionate about, and I was [am] not above letting it stir up controversy. When I started this blog, I had no idea where it would take me beyond my surgery and I was sure it would evolve but I never wanted, or expected it to be a venue for me to express my thoughts about religion or politics. However, in light of the events of recent weeks, the fact that I am Facebook-dry and most importantly, the public attempts to belittle and silence women, I have to speak.

Election seasons are always somewhat crazy; the mud-slinging and empty promises and the "he said/she said" party polarization becomes difficult to watch. Since I became old enough to vote, I have always made an effort to follow the elections in order to make an informed decision for my vote. This season is not much different except that it has me really, really pissed off. Pissed off and scared. This year's pool of GOP candidates has left much to be desired. I could talk about the blatant disregard of civil rights for the GLBTQ population, but perhaps I'll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I am proud to see gay marriage bills being passed in seven (?) states so far and hope there are more to come. What I am currently so angry and exasperated about is the attack on women's rights that is sure to have many disastrous consequences.

A whole gaggle of misogynist crazies!

In recent months, many lawmakers, public figures and media pundits have done their best to show the United States that they feel as though they have a right to dictate what a woman can and cannot do with her uterus. Now, since the era of Roe v. Wade, abortion has been a hot button issue. It usually comes up each Presidential election season among the platforms of would-be candidates. For the GOP this year (and particularly in the group above) it seems to be the only issue. And, abortion is not alone. For some reason, all these rich, "Christian," white, penis-bearers seem to think that they know what's best for women, and wish to make us void of any form of choice about anything relating to our sexuality, sexual health, and conception practices. What law-makers all over this country (not just those running for Commander in Chief) are doing with their law making is basically misogyny, thinly veiled with a guise of Christianity.

Allow me for a moment, to focus on Rick Santorum. I have already made it known to Ethan and to pretty much anyone else who'll listen that should this man for some God-awful reason become our next President, I am purchasing a one-way ticket to Norway and taking my uterus with me. But I digress. All I know about how this man would run the country is that women would basically be sent back to the kitchen, be forced into  being baby-factories and every school would have prayer time. Oh, and also, homosexuals would have to be forced into 'treatment' for their 'gayness.' Santorum and others have completely blurred the line that separates church and state. They can worship on Sunday at any church they choose, teach their children whatever good Christian values they believe in, but when they return to the office Monday morning, I do not expect them to make laws based solely on their religious beliefs. That's not how the job works. Rick Santorum has spent his whole campaign touting his Catholic values, with a focus on the "family" and "morality." He has said the word "God" more times than I think any politician should. And he and his fellow GOP buddies and ultra-conservative pundits (I'm looking at you Fox Faux news) have centered their attack on women's rights.

I could point to a plethora of articles from a variety of sources highlighting the GOPs position on women's rights, but it would take two or three blog posts to cover them all. Allow me to summarize: pro-lifers are on the same crusade they've always been on to out-law any form of abortion, no matter the terrible circumstances (i.e. rape, incest, unplanned unwanted pregnancies). They've also sprouted more ugly heads, with these so-called "personhood" bills popping up in various states. These laws basically state that life begins at conception, therefore abortion at any stage would be considered murder, but also the "Plan B" morning-after pill would be illegal and perhaps most disturbingly, IVF would no longer be permitted, since not all embryos survive. Birth control has also been creating quite an uproar on the federal level, as under President Obama's health plan, employers would be required to cover birth control and women's health exams. Naturally, the hyper-conservative Christian politicians and pundits got their panties in a twist about that. Sorry, but most women do not want to be Michelle Duggar.

A vagina is not a clown car

The list of attacks on women's rights goes on and on, with panels of all men at a hearing re: the pill issue, constant attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood,  Newt Gingrich accusing Obama of supporting "infanticide," right up to Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke and any other woman who wants birth control "sluts" and "prostitutes" and not apologizing for it. Rick Santorum was asked a few months ago what he would do in the event that his 14 year old daughter was raped and became pregnant. He basically said he would make his daughter have the baby and give it up for adoption. Not only would she have gone through the physical and emotional pain of being raped, she would also have to go through the physical and emotional pain of pregnancy and childbirth of her rapist's baby. Nice one, Rick. How thoughtful!

Why anyone thinks it's the government's job to be all up in our lady-business and decide what we can and cannot do with our uterus is beyond me. Most of these conservatives say they are driven by God, by their solid, Christian values. Well, let me say this: clearly Santorum's God and mine are not the same. The God I worship gave us free-will, the ability to make decisions for ourselves. The God I worship loves everyone, period.  I'm a practicing Christian woman who uses birth control, has sex and thinks that all loving couples should be able to marry. I am the kind of woman the GOP hates and wishes to silence. What they don't realize is that the women of this country who do not buy into this brand of politics are not going to be silenced, controlled, or regulated. The message is clear; get your politics and your religion out of my uterus.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Here I am less than a week into my Facebook fasting. If I've learned anything so far, it's that most of the websites I go to are in some way or another connected to Facebook. Where I used to click "log in with Facebook" I now have to search my brain for the remnants of some obscure username and password. I've started a list. I don't really miss it yet, though I find myself wondering if anyone has announced a pregnancy or a new job or is in a girl-fight. I have enjoyed my extra time to read and surf other websites. So far, so good, though, I don't feel very hip being disconnected from a world that everyone seems to belong to.

Sorry I'm abandoning you, Zuk. You won't miss one of billions.

On a completely unrelated note, I called the doctor recently; per suggestion of a few people. I scheduled a physical (it's not happening until July) and told the nurse about my concerns. The stumbling, dropping, cold-hands and pain are probably all related to my other issues. She suggested also I may have Raynaud's Syndrome but will not know until she sees me. "Keep your hands warm, gloves etc." said the nurse. Great, I really want to sleep with gloves on! Ugh. We'll see. I'd do a follow-up with Findlay, my spine guy, but I doubt anything different would turn up, and I don't want to go through another MRI. I also have been getting the star treatment from Ethan. He's been rubbing my shoulders and not complaining. He tells me when to heat and when to ice. I have this stubborn spot right around my shoulder blade that's a quarter-sized knot. Hurts like a motherf*cker. My left arm/hand has also been going numb/tingly, which then causes me to drop things. FUN. The doctor's office said it's all part of things I've been diagnosed with before and that unless symptoms get worse or I get more uncomfortable, we can wait til my July appointment. At least for the most part my hip doesn't hurt. I'm way too young for all this.

This is what I feel like on the inside!
The weekend is almost here; Ethan and I went on a date last night to David's in Monument Square, I get to see Kellie and Jenny this weekend, we have double-date plans with Micah and Christina Saturday night and Sunday more wedding planning! Let's just hope I don't have too much pain to deal with this weekend...there's always vodka for that, right?


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mild February

As I glance out the window today (it is open right now in fact and a nice breeze is coming in) and see the sunshine and mud, I realize that perhaps I should have titled my last post "Ice Sucks." We've basically had the absence of winter this season. I also just knocked on many wood surfaces, just in case. There are bits of snow here and there; brown-black dirty snow lines the streets making parallel parking difficult but not impossible. Tiny white patches linger in my driveway, on the lawn out back, in piles at the end of parking lots. I find myself thinking about last winter; trudging through the snow both on crutches and not,  hip aching from dragging my heavy-booted feet through ankle [or higher] deep snow. This is a completely different February. For a few weeks now, Roman's parents, who are not native Mainers have been wanting to go cross-country skiing. They schedule a time, plan for me to sit for Roman, and then the place is closed due to lack of snow. Two weekends ago Ethan and I took a walk at Higgin's Beach.

This is currently Maine in FEBRUARY

It's nice to walk around not trudging through snow, being able to wear high-heels (don't worry, I watch out for ice!) and the milder temperatures mean my joints ache less. Still, I can't help but a) worry about getting dumped on in March and April and b) what this means for the global temperatures/ice caps/polar bears. I am not a skier for many reasons, so I'm pretty much okay with the lack of it, but it does make me wonder sometimes.

Now that small-talk about the weather is out of the way, I want to talk about Lent, and my decision to give up Facebook. Lent is a time for sacrifice, reflection, and prayer. Two years ago, I gave up alcohol. Last year, sugar/sweets. This year, I choose Facebook. The reason is twofold: one, because I am addicted to it (I'm not ashamed to say so) and therefore I need a way to cut back and, two, to focus on other forms of more direct communication. I want to have more Skype sessions with friends around the country. I want to talk on the phone, and write personalized e-mails. I love writing and snail-mailing cards. It's very nice to get something in the mailbox that's not junk or bills. So much of our communication these days is indirect; saying "happy birthday" on someone's FB wall when 100 others do the same isn't as special and meaningful as receiving a phone call and/or a card. I want to put in more effort to connect with my friends on a more personal level, and my hope is that they will do the same.

Not as exciting as a letter in the mail
Likewise, I am enjoying blogging, and this medium will likely teach you more about me than any Facebook page. While I like to use Facebook to share things I am passionate about (Ethan, Ophelia, political & social issues) there are other ways to get the word out there. I'm finding myself so passionate and fired-up (and pretty damn pissed off) about what's happening to women's rights all over this country, and I'm looking to start actually doing something about it instead of just talking about it. Maybe giving up Facebook isn't very hip, and maybe it will be a lot harder than I am thinking it will be. Maybe no one will care. I don't know, but I do know that it's what makes sense for me right now.

I will probably spend some of the time I'll save away from Facebook outside with Ethan enjoying what's shaping up to be a very pleasant February.

Enjoying Maine in the...winter?