Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Day I Changed

Most - if not all - women have a moment like this, an instant in their lives when their sense of self is rewritten and their self-image is forever changed. This is how it happened for me.

* * * * *

My cousin, Sharon, and me on the Thanksgiving of my fourth-grade year. 
I felt endlessly chic in that plaid coat and the double strap Mary Janes. Was I already fat?

My nine-year-old self woke up on a cold winter Monday in Michigan. Weak and worn after a two-week bout of pneumonia, I still felt far too exhausted to face the day. But my mother pronounced me ready to return to school and cheerfully commanded me to get out of bed and dress. 

I dragged myself upright, pulled on my favorite fourth-grade outfit: a long-sleeve mustard store-bought mock turtleneck, and a cranberry corduroy skirt. My mom had made the skirt, as she made most of my clothes, and I had picked the pattern featuring a single triangular pleat in front, and the corduroy fabric. I wore a lot of corduroy, but this was a special blend of wide wale and standard width wale alternating in thick and thin fuzzy stripes. 

I loved that skirt. 

My stylish ensemble usually filled me with confidence but on this morning it did not work its usual charm. I stumbled from my room, and drooped to the table where my mom was setting out breakfast. I still hoped she might take note of my listlessness and tuck me back into bed, rather than marching me off through the snow to the school bus. But she was all systems go. 

"You'll be fine," she announced as she cleared away my dishes.  I stood up to go get my snow clothes on, and she surveyed my outfit approvingly. "You look very nice." 

Then, with unmistakable excitement in her voice, she added, "I think you've lost some weight! Your skirt looks so much better on you now."

And suddenly, I was very, very confused. 

I knew I had been seriously sick. Besides missing two full weeks of school, I'd taken a lot of medicine, undergone multiple chest x-rays, and spent countless hours in bed, too weak to even haul myself to the couch for reruns of Andy Griffith and Bewitched. I'd heard the concern in my doctor's voice as he had quietly conferred with my mother, and I knew she had worried about me too. 

Yet now, she seemed almost happy that I'd been sick. Whatever I had been through, however awful I still might feel, was I to understand that it had all worth it because I'd lost weight?

Did I need to lose weight?
Had I been fat? Was I still fat?
Why had I not known this about myself?

This was the day I began to feel shame about my body. 
This was the day I began to worry about my weight. 
This was the day I started feeling fat. 

And this was the day I began to believe that suffering was the price I was required to pay in order to not be fat. 

* * * * *

I don't blame my mother for this. I later learned that she and I come from a long line of body-shamers, strong German women who mistook their broad shoulders and strong hands for clumsy, unattractive girth. We are not pretty, dainty ladies, my maternal bloodlines subtly preached to me; we are big and fat. 

Friday, May 11, 2018


Also I do not skimp on soaking up the spring blossoms. 

Take care of yourself with that Bell's palsy, they tell me.

Honestly, I don't really know what that means. 

But here's something I do know. With a paralyzed face, I have to move slowly in the shower. 

I make sure the shampoo doesn't drip into the corner of that unblinking eye. Slowly, carefully I run a warm washcloth over the cheeks and brow with my untrained left hand as my right hand holds the left eye closed. I move gently and carefully so as not to flick water into an eye that doesn't know how to protect itself. 

After the water stops, my newfound patient and slow rituals continue. I towel carefully around my unblinking eye, gently pat down my unmoving face, brush hair and teeth gently, carefully slip fresh clothes on.

In a final concession to my palsied condition, I pull back my hair into a low and soaking wet ponytail, then slip my black pirate eye patch into place. It’s a visually jarring addition to my peaceful routine but I've come to love that patch. My eye is well protected.. I feel safe for the night.

I slip into my bed. The room is dark and very chilly. I tuck my legs up against my faithful dog who snores sleepily from her nest at the foot of the bed. She has already warmed my comforter. My husband is long since asleep. I lay my neat wet head on the pillow, tuck my hands under my cheek, and feel the cool breezes blow across my shoulders. 

I consider pressing play on my current audio book but decide to skip it. Everything is perfect peace right now and I hate to disturb it. I take a long last sip of ice water, relishing every delicious drop.  I know that I will wake up many times in the night, thirst crazed by my medications, and drink ravenously, but for now, this sip is perfect. 

Now I am ready to sleep. . 

And while I can't be sure, I think I have taken good care of myself. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Bell's Palsy

Happily, in spite of Bell's palsy, spring goes rolling along and so do I.

Woke up Monday morning drooling on my pillow.
Never a good start to a day.

Brushed my teeth and drooled some more.
Something is definitely wrong.

Looked in the mirror.
My face was, for lack of a better word, crooked.

Unsymmetrical, puffy and misshapen
Eyes twitching, mouth carved into a sneer.

What in the heck is going on?

Twenty-four hours later, I had some answers.

Bell's palsy
Temporary paralysis on one side of my face.
Facial nerves from chin to forehead are inflamed and irritated, and completely shut down.
Caused by close association with invasive viruses, such as chicken pox, shingles or herpes.
But I have had none of that.

A disease that is not common but not terribly rare.
Taking steroids to heal the nerves and wipe out any intrusive virus.
Biggest risk is to my eye that cannot close - call in the artificial tears and eye patches
This should all be over in a week to ten days.
Bell's palsy.

Well. Isn't life full of interesting little surprises.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Midnight Snacks

You should know that as this sandwich was being prepared, I foolishly left the butter on the counter and turned my back. In a heartbeat, Gracie leaped up and snatched the golden cube; in a second heartbeat I commanded her to drop it. She did. After inspecting the butter to find only the tiniest of tooth marks, I rinsed it off and used it anyway.  

I am passionate about my midnight snacks.

Well, I'm a firm believer in home-cooked meals at all times of day.
And because my body clock works on a delayed sleep schedule, my daytime meals are very light, and I'm up for many hours after dinner.

So a warm, satisfying bite to eat around midnight is a necessity for me.

Lately my obsession has been a grilled cheese sandwich.

Now, I've been churning out these classics for decades, and usually my goal is to elevate the ingredients.

Wheat bread loaded with nuts and seeds or sourdough, tangy and crusty.
Sharp cheddar or smooth Monterey Jack, stringy mozzarella or pricey provolone. 

But lately, I'm all about the low-brow basics of buttermilk white bread and American cheese.

I know.

So salty and processed and utterly unhealthy.

But when I cook one of these babies up, savor every heavenly bite, and lick every last buttery crumb from my fingers, I have no regrets about my midnight snack.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Reading Children's Books

My reading tastes run deep and wide, but so far this year, eight of the nine books I've read are children's books.

Well. Young adult novels, anyway. Focused on children in their teens who are stumbling their way toward adulthood. A unique genre within the overall category of children's literature, to be sure, but nonetheless children's books

But why do I read so many children's books?

Fair question. But let's back up another step and ask, what makes a book a children's book?

According to my hero, Madeleine L"Engle, a children's book is any book that appeals to children.

Well. I happen to know that is false. Because when I was quite an innocent young thing, I found a book on my mother's private bookshelf that began with a detailed description of a row of tiny buttons on a woman's nightgown and how they were oh, so slowly unbuttoned, one by one, and I knew for a certain fact that this book was not meant for me but boy, oh boy, how those words lured me in. 

So, sorry dear Madeline, but we must toss your definition aside. 

I submit that a children's book is one that tells something of what it is like to be a child. 

And this is exactly why I love to read children's books. 

They remind me of who I used to be.
They show me how far I have come.
They stir up the childhood me inside the adult me
They make me feel more complete and alive. 

Not only do these five books remind me what it's like to be a teen caught up in the first throes of self-discovery, but they also deliver on tense and intricate plot lines, cleverly crafted characters, and gorgeous settings around the world. I recommend them for humans of all ages. 

* * * * *

Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle

Now that Meg Murry and her much younger brother, Charles Wallace, have had three lovely time-travel adventures to themselves, their in-between twin brothers now get a turn. The pale-skinned teens fiddle with their scientist father's newfangled computer and inadvertently send themselves to a desert of unknown time or place. Sunburns kick off a crazy set of coincidences that ultimately reveal their unique place in history, and an ending is just oh, so satisfying. 

The Arm Of the Starfish by Madeleine L'Engle

Let's skip ahead a generation. Meg has married high school hottie and fellow time traveler, Calvin, and they now have a brood of children running around their home-sweet-scientific-research-post on a remote island off Portugal. When American college boy, Adam, hops the pond to do research with Calvin for the summer, he gets caught up in an international ring of bad guys (and one very bad girl) who want to steal Calvin's research for their own deliciously evil purposes. Also involves swimming with dolphins and riding horses on wild beaches. 

Dragons In The Waters by Madeleine L'Engle

This time, Meg and Calvin's eldest daughter, Poly, plays the lead as she and her father innocently embark on a Caribbean cruise intending to do some scientific research, but get caught up in an intrigue involving an orphan boy, his just-crawled-out-of-the-woodwork uncle, a tribe of native people mostly untouched by modern society, murder, intrigue, kidnapping, and a missing portrait of Simon Bolivar. The ending is surprising and satisfying. As characters from L'Engles' other novels pop up here and there in this and other stories, the feeling is one of huge cocktail party where you never know who you might meet...or meet again. 

A House Like A Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle

Awkward little Poly has come mostly mature Polly, who at age seventeen is taking a solo trip to Greece. In the first half of the book, she sightsees in Athens with a flirtatious American beau; in the second half, she works as a gofer at a literary conference in a secluded village and lives in the world of thoughtful adults. Throughout the adventure, she flashes back and tries to make sense of confusing aspects of growing up.

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle

After her adventures in Greece, Polly has been whisked up to New England to spend the year homeschooling with her brilliant scientist grandparents. Not only does this lead to re-encounters with the American beau from Athens, but she also stumbles upon a time portal, apparently similar to the one her...ummm, let's see, he would be her uncle Charles Wallace used in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Hijinx with Native Americans ensue - some friendly, some not - and Polly, like every L'Engle heroine, must make the best of some tough choices. 

* * * * *

Read more about my reading:

Reading Children's Books

Friday, March 30, 2018

Making Friends

Even when we are back at home, Gracie is always on the lookout for someone new to meet. 

Snapping out of a daydream in the midst of our walk, I suddenly realized that Gracie had rounded the corner ahead of me and was heading into the busy high school drop-off and pick-up area on her long, long leash.

Quickly I stepped to my right to improve my sight line around the corner, and breathed a sigh of relief. The sidewalk was empty. Yet Gracie was standing stock still, all alone in the middle of the waiting area, staring at a lamp post and ever so gently wagging her tail.

Hmm,.That was a little weird.

As I came closer, I realized I was missing a key bit of information. Standing on the far side of the lamp post, hidden till now from my view, was an older teenage boy. He was slim as a wisp, though even from a distance I could tell he was obviously more mature that the typical harmlessly rowdy mid-teen; he had the sullen sulk of a full-on 18 year old senior. Dressed in black from head to toe, he wore a heavy puffer jacket on a warm spring day. His hood was pulled up and his face shrouded in shadows; he topped off the look with a pair of dark glasses. He leaned slack against the lamp pole, looking just as withdrawn and antisocial as an angsty teen can possibly look.

And there stood my big red shaggy dog, right up in this bad boy's bubble, calmly gazing at him in obvious delight and wagging that cheerful red tail.

I scurried up, looping up the extra length of rope as I prepared to apologize. But before I could speak, the young man broke the silence.

His clear tenor voice sparkled with delight. "I saw your dog come around the corner on that long rope but I didn't see you at the other end. I thought she was all alone. She's so nice."


Gracie continued to stand and wag, close enough for him to reach out and pet her, though he did not.

"Thanks," I said. "You caught me by surprise."

He smiled. Then I smiled.

And Gracie gave him one last friendly glance, then turned and headed off down the sidewalk, in search of her next new friend.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March For Our Lives

This was my favorite poster. WAKE UP, AMERICA.

Today I walked in the Seattle edition of the national Parkland student-led March For Our Lives.

Though my early childhood was colored by civil rights marches and Vietnam war demonstrations, this was my very own first formal peaceful protest. Bucket list checked, for sure. 

And while I found the emotion and community spirit of the experience to be deeply moving, I wasn't at all surprised by that. This is Seattle, for heaven's sake, where personal expression and social compassion are our stock and trade, where democracy is freely exercised and lovely manners prevail. 

I smiled as the crowd broke into unrestrained applause as we passed police officers protecting us from traffic at major intersections; I grinned and waved as the monorail train drove by overhead, the friendly horn tooting to greet us as we marched along underneath. 

Establishing commonsense gun control laws is an idea whose time has come. The Parkland students have mobilized themselves, their fellow students, and a goodly percentage of the American people to stand up and absolutely demand that our lawmakers address this issue. And I believe that with the power of today's national demonstration, we have achieved a tipping point. It's simply a matter of time before officials who resist change are voted out. And with forward-thinking businesses stepping up to invoke their own commonsense policies around gun sales - I'm looking at you, Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Fred Meyer - the tides are already turning. 

Which leads me to consider the next facet of gun violence - one that is very real and very personal for me - that I hope our national conversation may soon be ready to address. 

Consider Emma Gonzalez's words today, at the front of her profound address at the Washington DC protest:

"Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands."

If you haven't seen the full video of Emma's six and a half-minute speech, 
check it out. You will be moved. 

My guess is that Emma was thinking about the people who stand on the receiving end of the bullets:

those killed or injured, 
those traumatized from witnessing and watching,
their families and friends,
their communities,
those who worry that they might be next.

And yes, those people hold a special bond of fear and powerlessness and horror that the rest of us can only begin to imagine. I honor and respect what they suffer. 

But with her words, Emma spoke a deeper, more powerful truth than she may have realized. 

Someday, we need to expand our conversation to consider those who pull the trigger. 

Because despite all the ugly talk about monsters and terrorists and deranged social misfits, the shooters are human beings. The cold grip of gun violence destroys their lives too, as well as the lives of their friends, families, and loved ones. 

I look forward to the day that our culture develops a clearer understanding of the horrific power guns have over everyone involved in these shootings, and we learn to embrace the fact that gun violence is always a two-sided tragedy.