My favorite flower

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite flower.  Don’t misunderstand.  Tulips are not my favorite type of flower: that’s an iris.  This specific tulip is my favorite flower.   My husband and I have owned our house for almost 18 years.  I believe this flower came with the house, or at least I don’t remember planting it, and I don’t remember a spring when it didn’t bloom.  It’s a big tulip, the flower probably four inches tall, and it can’t decide if it wants to be pink, orange, salmon or all of them at once.  In a garden filled with blossoms it commands attention.

The spring before my daughter was born I remember checking on my favorite flower each morning wondering if my baby or flower would arrive first.  The flower bloomed a month before my due date, and my visions of enjoying it’s beauty with my baby evaporated when it’s petals fell and I was still pregnant.  Seasons, flowers and babies have their own timelines.

Now every spring I remember the anticipation, anxiety, and excitement of those last weeks of pregnancy.  With my favorite flower’s arrival comes reflection on my decade of motherhood.  I tell the story of the flower to my daughter, and we remember our springs together.  My favorite flower makes me pause to remember and appreciate the wonder filled life I’ve been given.

“Check it out”

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The perfect family stood in line waiting to select their bagels.  Two parents — the expected mom and dad — and three adult children out for Sunday breakfast.  The attractive eldest stretched to at least 6’4″ if you measured to the tip of his glossy black hairstyle:  spiked enough to be stylish, but not so much as to be inappropriate for one closer to 30 than 20.  The daughter’s lithe body, draped in a dark red lace shawl, clicked past me on sensible-heeled above-the-knee boots on her way to the restroom.  Her face was beautifully sculpted, framed by the sleek black hair, but she kept her eyes lowered as she excused herself  while slipping past me.

“Check this out,” the oldest held out a smart phone and bent over his smaller brother.  Glasses slightly askew the third child moved with less grace than his siblings, or others in line.  His face, his glasses, and his demeanor conveyed an extra chromosome or perhaps an abnormality in one.  The third child belatedly smiled at the phone and the mother beamed as her eldest protected her most vulnerable.

The father, had he been straight, would have neared the height of his son.  Stooped as he was, the top of his head reached the same height as the mother.  Trying to make sure her family didn’t cause an inconvenience, the mother directed her sons to the menu ensuring their orders would be ready the moment they reached the front of the line.  She was a strong looking woman, not lithe like her daughter, but fit and powerful: the backbone of her perfect family.

“Let’s check it out,” the older brother motioned to the menu and his brother’s gaze slowly followed.

The daughter breezed back from urinating, or fixing her hair, or her pre-breakfast bulimic purge.  Upon arriving back she closely conferred with her mother, who left for her own bathroom ritual.  Catching me watching her family she smiled an eye crinkling smile at me, which I returned.  Her joy at having her family together was genuine.

His wife gone, the father took on the shepherding of his family.  They stood closer together than a normal family of adults might, always keeping the third child toward the center as if protecting him from outsiders.  The daughter’s shawl provided a physical barrier to her brother as she placed her hand on his rounded shoulders.  The moment it was time to order they efficiently stepped up one by one and succinctly selected their bagels.  Returning, the mother walked directly to the cashier confident her order would be accurately conveyed by her daughter.  While waiting to pay, the mother surveyed the tables for one that would seat her family of five.

The only mishap was when the youngest son and father approached the drink cooler.  Apparently drinks had not been accounted for during their in-line planning, so they had to backtrack.  I stepped back to give them access to the cooler.  The son reached for a bottle of orange juice and mistakenly grabbed orange mango instead.  “That’s orange mango,” the father corrected, “or do you want to try something new?”

“I’ll check it out,” replied the third child echoing the sentiments of his majestic older brother.  His speech was deliberate.

The father paused reaching toward the traditional orange juice, but changed his mind at the last minute veering toward orange mango.  “I’ll check it out too.”  He nodded my direction in acknowledgement of the minor inconvenience he and his son had caused during their drink selection.

My order placed, paid for, and received, I walked to the soda dispenser.  The family had settled at a high top table with four seats nearby, father opting to stand rather than take a seat from another table.  They were not a family to take more than the appropriate allotment of chairs.  As I turned to go, I heard one of the family’s men utter, “…check it out,” and I wondered at what point did that repetitive phrase break the sister’s or mother’s perfect facade.  I knew I would break, but their life was not mine.  Perhaps the phrase was their own security blanket.  One that conveyed their belief in open-mindedness, curiosity, and willingness to make the best of what life had to offer.


Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

RIP Zombie Hamster

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It wouldn’t be the holidays around the Afthead house without a pet dying. Yesterday, when my husband was looking for things to do I suggested he check on Lula, the zombie hamster.  He disappeared into the basement and shortly returned shaking his head.

“She’s really dead this time?” I asked.

“Had been for awhile from the looks of her.”

And like the dope I am I burst out crying. She wasn’t my favorite pet, but death is sad.  We had a quick burial beside the dead-bunny-bush where Lula joined the baby bunny who died in our window well several years ago.  No words were said, because it was 20 degrees out, but her tiny body curled neatly into the hole I managed to spade out of the frozen ground.  She looked very Lula-esque as I sprinkled dirt on top of her.

The last time I knew she was alive was December 14th, because she tried to run around on her wheel while I was working at home:  the tumor on her hindquarters made movement difficult.  I gave her a slice of apple which she nuzzled on for a bit before drinking and heading back to her purple cave.  It was a nice final hamster human interaction.  (Yes, she could have been dead for two weeks in there, but I was dealing with a cancer scare at Christmas and couldn’t bring myself to check on her.)  The last time my daughter saw her was at our Christmas craft party where one of Afthead Junior’s friends suggested feeding Lula to her pet snake.  I can’t say that would have been a worse ending for Lula, but my daughter balked at a Lula death by snake swallowing.

This morning, I did a little research.  Lula’s life expectancy was 1.5 – 2 years.  By my calculations we had her almost 3.5 years.  So she lived an entire lifetime as a hamster, then another as a zombie hamster before the zombie-hamster-tumor took her agility, then her sight, and finally her life.

My last hope for Lula is that she and the bunny don’t start some mini Pet Sematary in my back yard.  I really hope she rests in peace back there.

Embarrassingly Excessive Advent

I have a confession to make.  I have an obsession that has gone into the realm of embarrassing.  Do you have one of those?  Maybe a penchant for shoes or purses or coats beyond what is reasonable for your budget or your closet size?  Maybe this desire even contradicts your core beliefs?

My addiction is advent calendars.  Not those paper ones where you open for a new picture every day.  Not the felt ones where you stick a new ornament twenty-four times.  Not one where you get a festively shaped piece of chocolate every day.  Not even the cute ones with little drawers that can hold a Hershey Kiss.  Folks, all those enabling Advent calendars have been part of my life, but I’ve moved beyond those.  My problem is much worse.

Behold!  My daughter’s advent calendar!  Purchased from The Land of Nod several years ago it has been the instrument of my decline.  Note that every day in December, up to and including Christmas – totally Advent inappropriate, having a pocket for the 25th – my daughter gets a gift.   I’d like to say that they are just little trinkets, and there are some.  However, there are Lego sets in there, my friends.  Small Lego sets, but Legos nonetheless.  There are objects too big for the calendar, thus the “box” cards, which direct my little girl to an extra box of wrapped gifts.  For example, today she got a book, which is too big for day 1 pocket.  I confess that there are even articles of clothing in some of those numbered pockets.

If I step away from this monstrosity and look at it objectively I’d tell you that I live in a tiny house that doesn’t need more stuff.  We are a family that values experience over things.  My daughter will get tons of Christmas from our extended family, if I didn’t get her anything she’d have more gifts than the average kid.  I’m sure, in confidence, my mom would tell you that I’ve made her feel bad about buying things for her granddaughter because I’m so anti-stuff.  In fact, the commercialism of Christmas is just obscene and my favorite part of the season is our celebration of Hanukkah, where we light the candles together as a family and quietly say a prayer as the lights burn down.   I love that moment of togetherness and quiet.

(But I also REALLY love the Advent calendar.)  I love that there is a day where the cookie cutters I bought her in Minnesota will remind her of our family vacation.  I love that there are Nutcracker leggings for the day she’s going to the Nutcracker, and brass instrument leggings for the day we are going to go see a brass holiday concert.  I adore how she springs out of bed every day in December to see what I got her.  Her joy and gratitude are an amazing way to start the day.  I love the planning involved:  making sure her crafting gifts are delivered just before our annual crafting party.  It is excessive and ridiculous and I can’t stop.

I CAN’T STOP!  Last year the Advent Calendar issue took a terrible turn, because my favorite online knitting shop, Jimmy Beans Wool, started offering a knitting Craftvent calendar.  I couldn’t resist and I loved getting a knitting surprise every day last year.  So I bought it again.  Gak!  There’s not even any thoughtfulness in this one.  It’s pure unadulterated Christmas commercialism and I love it so much that the guilt just slips away.

I refuse to calculate it, but I may spend more on my daughter’s Advent calendar than on her Christmas presents.  My husband is a stabilizing force with the actual holiday gifts.  I know I spend more on my Craftvent calendar than he spends on my gift.  It’s this weird annual sickness I have: excessive advent celebration.

I cannot wait to see what we get tomorrow!  And the next day!  And….

Tales of the Fourth Grade Crypt

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I have vivid memories of fourth grade.  Not long drawn out memories, but vignettes that have retained clarity over thirty-four years.  First was sitting down in the front row of class and realizing that I was out of rows.  My inching forward year after year had led me to a front row seat and a still blurry chalkboard.  I could see nothing.  Finally admitting my handicap to my perfect-vision parents meant starting the year in the front of the room with my chubby face famed by brand-new large plastic framed glasses.

I don’t remember when in the year the spitballs began.  Mrs. Busick – a teacher name worthy of a Stephen King novel if there ever was one – would turn to the board and about the time the chalk dust scent reached me I’d hear the fwwt as tiny wads of spitty paper balls were blown through the barrels of Bic pens at the ceiling above my head.  As Mrs. Busick scratched her lessons some of the spitwads would miss their mark and go careening around the room.  Others wouldn’t be sticky enough and rain from the ceiling-tiles marked with holes like giant incomprehensible braille messages.  However, when the projectiles hit their mark the bulbous white insect larvae would dangle above my head waiting to drop and infest my hair and clothing with their sticky bodies.  Throughout the day I could hear them plop down around me, and each morning my desk and chair were littered with the dried husks that fell overnight.

My best friend’s younger brother was in my class, and I remember his guilty confession one night at her house, “I’m sorry about the spitwads, but everyone else is doing it, so…you know.”  I did know.  He felt bad doing it, but not so bad that he wanted to risk being the next target or not join in on the fun.

At some point the year got better.  Maybe Mrs. Busick finally put an end to the shenanigans, or maybe the boys moved onto someone or something else.  While the spitballs are one of my sharpest memories of fourth grade they weren’t life altering.  I haven’t spent hours at the therapist talking about those mean kids.  In fact, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve given the episode more than a casual thought, normally brought on by ceiling tiles in antiquated bureaucratic buildings.

The memory is important now, because tomorrow my daughter starts fourth grade.  I know we are different people.  She has perfect 20/15 vision – I never say “no” when our pediatrician asks if we’d like her vision tested even though she’s always had perfect sight.  (This 20/400 vision mom has the opposite bias of her own parents.)  I also know my daughter’s school would never allow systematic bullying of one girl… well… not for long anyway.  The memory matters because this is the year I expect kids to get mean.  I expect them to flex their intimidation muscles and try inflicting some pain.  This is the end of the nice years and the beginning of real life, and I want to prepare her but not scare her. How do I give her the resiliency my parents gave me, so that if she is the target she will be bothered, but not damaged?   What if she decides to be on the other end of those hollow pen barrels?  How do I teach her crappy she’ll make other people feel before she inflicts that pain?

Ah parenting.  What a journey this little person has brought me on, and how unexpectedly she’s forced me to relive my own past.  Fourth grade here we come.


Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.

Earth Day in my Gardens

It’s Earth Day!  What better way to celebrate than to show you my gardens?  This post was written last year when Amanda Soule of Soulemama asked her readers to submit a piece about their garden.  Each month she selected one to share with her readers.  Well, my gardens never made her blog, but they can sure make mine!  Shall we go for a stroll?


Gardener: Johanna Levene

Garden Location and Zone: Denver, Colorado – Zone 5

Vegetable Garden Size: Home (300 sq feet) School (500 sq feet)

Image 1 - windows into the gardenSpring in the Garden 

How long have you been gardening?

I don’t ever remember not gardening.  My spring and summer childhood memories revolve around Mother’s Day flower shopping, mixing bright blue Miracle Grow water for tomato planting, and sitting very quietly with my mom listening for tomato hornworms as they chewed their way through our plants. When we found one we’d fling it into the street, except the one time we put it in a terrarium and watched it grow into a spectacularly terrifying moth.

Image 2 - Johanna in the gardenMe and Raggedy Ann in my grandma’s garden 40 years ago

I taught my husband to garden when we bought our house and he has taken over most of the maintenance while I still focus on the new plantings and the vegetable garden.  We’ve moved away from the chemical fertilizer of my childhood to organic gardening, but he brings a new kind of technology to our efforts.  As a mechanical engineer he can be found weekend mornings walking around our yard with his AutoCAD drawings of our garden recording the growth, blooms and colors of the plants.  He maintains both an electronic and hard copy of these maps:  he is a modern garden dork.

 Why do you garden?

Gardening is one pastime that brings our family of diverse interests together.  In our life we have two working parents and an only child and it’s easy to get swept away in all the things we “should” be doing.  Gardening makes us slow down and spend time together because we all enjoy being outside together playing in the dirt.

Where do you go for gardening inspiration?

My garden inspiration is largely found in walks through the neighborhood, visits to my parent’s house, and trips to my local nursery.  I have been known to steal seeds from a neighbor’s unique flower or bring a trowel when visiting a friend who has a particularly pretty iris.  

What’s your biggest gardening challenge?

In Denver late freezes, summer hail, and early freezes are the destroyers of gardens.  Last year we planted two Sundays before Memorial Day and our garden was demolished by hail two days later.  The year before we had Japanese Beetles for the first time.  We tried to control their population by borrowing a friend’s chickens for a weekend.  We believed in that solution so much that we got our own chickens last year in order to avoid loading chickens into the back of my Subaru.  Also chickens turn bugs into eggs, which is awesome.

Image 3 - Hail DamageLate May hail damage and our white picket fence.  Poor plants.

 What’s your biggest garden accomplishment?

For the past couple of years we have included our daughter’s friends in the planting and harvesting of our garden, and we’ve loved introducing new kids to our garden.  Last year our family expanded our influence to include seventy-five third graders at our public elementary school.  The parent who had been in charge of our school garden was graduating her oldest child, so when the school asked for volunteers we jumped at the chance.  We plant with the kiddos in late May and harvest in September.  We love every minute of it.  My favorite moment last year was at the plant sale when this tough eighth grade boy came loping down the stairs and said, “Do I smell tomato plants?  I love that smell.” Even the big kids get excited about the garden.  The school garden gives kids a focal point that they look forward to in the younger grades, own in third and fourth grade, and then remember in the later grades.

What do you most love to grow?

We grow flowers and vegetables.  In the veggie garden tomatoes and Anaheim peppers are our standby favorites, but the past few years we’ve grown potatoes, and they are magical.  The plant grows, the plant dies and you don’t know what the harvest looks like until you dig around.  We never fail to miss a spud or two so the potatoes just keep perpetuating.  Oh, and don’t get me started on pumpkins.  One day you have no pumpkins and the next day one has grown so big you can’t get it out of the tomato cage.

Image 6 - pumpkin in a cagePumpkin in a cage

In the flower beds we have tons of spring bulbs: tulips, miniature iris, hyacinths, crocus, and daffodils.  My heart thaws every February when the first crocus appears.  We’ve got color all year, but the flower gardens reach their peak in spring and early summer.  In Colorado, July and August are a bit hot and dry for many blooms.

If you have children, what role do they play in your gardening?

We include our daughter as much as she wants to be included.  From year to year her interest and commitment change, but we try not to force her into gardening because we think nothing ruins a kid’s love of “yard work” like being told they must participate.  Last year my husband and I did most of the planting – both times, stupid hail – by ourselves.  The spring vegetables are her favorite and she’ll head out to the garden before school to snack on lettuce and snap peas.  In the fall she’ll help us harvest the veggies and process them for storage.  Our daughter is also enjoying our new role as garden parents at school and is looking forward to her turn planting the school garden this year.

Image 7 - baby in the gardenGardening before she could walk eight years ago

 Can you share one or two of your favorite gardening tips?

We’ve lucked into a couple of natural pest solutions that make gardening easier:  plant cilantro right next to your tomatoes to keep the hornworms away, and a huge lemon verbena plant in the middle of everything keeps a variety of pests away and smells great when you *accidentally* crush it when weeding.

 Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your garden?

We have an urban garden at our house, and it supplements our meals, but does not come close to providing all the food our family eats.  Our school garden provides an opportunity for kids to learn where food comes from and harvest a feast for the fourth graders in the fall.  Our gardens are as much about growing our family and community as they are about growing food.

 Can you tell us about yourself?

By day, Johanna Levene is a manager of a team of ten web developers, database administrators, analysts and projects managers that build web tools about renewable energy and alternative fuels.  In the evenings she transitions to a mom of a third grader which can include the roles of a soccer coach, gardener, meal maker, and pet caretaker of two cats, one hamster, three chickens, and a few snails.  Once the kiddo goes to bed, Johanna’s evening persona morphs into a crafter with a primary focus on knitting, and an aspiring novelist.  When she’s not busy with the rest of that stuff she manages to be a wife too.

Presidential Equality

February 3, 1870.  That’s when the fifteenth amendment stipulated that
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

To be clear, all men regardless of race or color had the right to vote.  It would be over 50 years before women of any race or color could vote.

August 18, 1920. That’s when women received the right to vote in this country. My grandmother-in-law, who turned 100 this year, was born when women couldn’t vote. A woman with whom I spend my holidays had a mother who could not vote in the first election of her daughter’s life.  I find this unfathomable.

Never in my life have I questioned my worth when compared to my male counterparts, and I am grateful for that.  Along the way key points of the women’s intelligence dogma missed me.   Somehow I managed to excel in reading and writing AND math and science.  Girls are bad at math and science?  Who knew?  In 3rd or 4th grade I made the gifted and talented program in English, but not in math, which I found unacceptable.  Whatever stipulation the school set I must have accomplished, because I was in both the math and English G&T program from then on.  I scored a perfectly even 650 math and 650 English score on my SAT.  After high school I received scholarship offers for acting and engineering programs, and went the engineering route. My class ratio started at 8 men to every woman, but I never thought I shouldn’t be in an engineering college; I just found it really easy to find a date on Saturday nights.  After getting my degree I went to work for a big management consulting shop and picked the most challenging technical track I could find, without ever thinking if a girl belonged in that role.  Now, 20 years into my career I lead a team that is half women and half men and not a day goes by when I question if one of my male colleagues is better at his job than I am, because they are not.  We may have different skills and strengths, but they are not better.  My husband, as I have mentioned before, has had the same career duration as me and we make exactly the same amount of money.  My life is a symbol of the equality between men and women, and until recently I believed with all my heart and soul that gender equality was a reachable goal for this country.

In 2008 I held my baby girl and marveled that Barack Obama, a black man I voted for after caucusing for Hillary Clinton, was elected as president.  So much social change has been catalyzed during his 8 years in office.  Why shouldn’t the barrier of a female commander in chief be the next to fall?  In my mind it was a foregone conclusion, so I sobbed on Election Day when my dream of celebrating President Hillary Clinton’s win with my little girl evaporated.  How did a highly qualified woman lose to a man who has never served a day in office?  I don’t want my daughter live in a world where boys are just assumed to be better leaders than girls, because I have never lived in that world.  How dare this election destroy my 42 years of proof that men and women can be equal in this country?

Misogynist is being thrown around everywhere and peppers casual conversation in my circles.  Misogyny, according to the old hardback Merriam Webster Dictionary on my desk,  means the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.  Filled with vitriol the word is spat meaning the first two words, but my fear is that it’s really the third.  Hatred and contempt could be focused on a single candidate or person.  It could mean that Hillary Clinton and her actions kept her from becoming elected.  However, I am terrified that the real problem is that the 48% of voters are actually prejudiced against my gender.  That is a much bigger wall separating women from the presidency, because that isn’t a candidate problem it’s a cultural issue.  My fear is that somehow outside of my bubble lives a country that still thinks women should be seen and not heard, honor their husband and father, and stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

We still have a chance to have our first woman president before the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, but on the eve of this inauguration day that historical occurrence seems unlikely.  Friday I will watch Hillary attend the inauguration as the wife of our former president and worry that I live in a country that doesn’t think a woman can take the oath of office.  I will wonder if my father’s adoration and pride in me over the years would have been enhanced if only I’d been a boy, even though that thought seems impossible: he always seemed so proud of me. But he voted for our new misogynist president and I believe he is excited about the direction our country is going.  Is my own bubble more fragile than I ever imagined?  I will worry that my daughter will have to overcome obstacles that I was lucky enough to avoid through pure dumb luck.  And I will hope that the pace of change has accelerated from the late 1800s and we don’t have to wait 50 more years – the duration between black’s right to vote and women’s right to vote – before this country’s prejudice of women ends.  Will my daughter’s granddaughter be the first woman in my family to have a presidential female role model?  Will that far off progeny finally live in a world that I falsely believed I inhabited; a world where men and women are equally respected and valued?  Time will tell.

Bart the Cat LIVES

Two weeks ago Bart the cat headed back to the shelter.  I was going to be out of town and he had procedures planned:  bandage change followed by cardiology appointment.  He was still very sick when I left him sneezing and bandaged.  My soul hurt not knowing if he was getting better, going to be diagnosed with a fatal heart murmur, or dying from complications due to his other problems.  Right before I left on my trip the shelter called: Bart was doing okay, but couldn’t go to the cardiologist until he was 100% healthy, which he was not.  They mentioned he would likely need foster care again, if I was willing when I got home.

I decided I was willing.  From Washington DC I e-mailed to let the foster folks know I was heading home and could pick Bart up if they needed me.  An emphatic “Yes” was delivered to my inbox.  When I arrived last Tuesday he was bandage free, upper respiratory infection free, but his nose was a bloody mess.  Having had a snotty cold for three weeks his nasal passages were a wreck, so I was told to take him home, get the humidifier on him, and bring him back in a week if his nose stopped bleeding.  Only then could he get his heart murmur evaluated.  (He also can’t be actively bleeding at the cardiologist.)

Poor bloody nose.  Ouch!

Well friends, I’m here to tell you that I might not be the cat grim reaper.  Look at this beauty!  Bandage gone, bloody nose gone, fur free of blood, and Bart  cleans up quite well.  Almost a week of damp kitty humidification action and he looks like a cat that will find a home in no time.

I’m so happy.  This was what my foster experience was supposed to be.  The shelter and I worked in partnership to make Bart well.  I’ll take him back Tuesday night and the cardiologist will evaluate him Wednesday.  If all goes well he could be up for adoption Wednesday night.  This boy could have a new home by Christmas, and I’m actually hopeful for the first time in my foster career.  The best part is that even though he loves my daughter I don’t feel like he’s our family’s cat.  While I’ll be sad when we leave him Tuesday it all worked out the way it was supposed to: Bart was sick, we got him healthy and he and his huge purr will make some family an amazing pet.  I still don’t think that this is the best way for our family to help make the world a better place, but I feel healed knowing that our first litter was bad luck, not some kind of horrible cat curse.

If you are in the Denver area and in search of a new cat, drop me a message.  I can hook you up with a winner.  Mr. Bart will steal your heart away.

Personality Evolution

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Image from 16 Personalities.

People, people, people.  The past few days I’ve been obsessed with personality and character, which is not in my comfort zone.  As someone with a degree in engineering who works with a bunch of computer programmers I have spent my life interacting with other humans (because cyborgs aren’t perfected yet) but not always understanding other people.  In my work space I use personality tests and data to try glean information about those around me.  I’m really fond of the Strength Finder analysis and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Oftentimes with those two pieces of data I feel more comfortable knowing those around me.

The one bummer about Myers-Briggs is that it’s ridiculously expensive, and depending on the year my company may or may not foot the bill to let new people take the test.  Well, this week one of my colleagues sent out a link to 16 Personalities.  You get a Myers-Briggs-ish result at the end, with an additional “identity” trait and it’s free! The price point is great, and there is an added benefit of a really spectacular website design.  In about 10 minutes I’d answered all the questions and got my result: INFP-A, The Mediator.

Reading through the results they seemed as accurate as any of those test are, but the F shocked me.  My entire life I’ve been a thinker (T), not a feeler (F).  (The third letter is either thinking or feeling.)  When I first took Myers Briggs in 1999 I was an INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging.)  From the MTBI website:

INTJ:  Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

About 10 years ago I took the test again, and had shifted slightly.  My structure, or how I deal with the outside word, had changed from Judging (J) to Perceiving (P).  I went from being settled and organized to being more flexible and spontaneous.  I was always on the borderline there, neither a strong J or P, so the switch didn’t really surprise me.  Also, my husband is a pretty strong J, so I think I naturally needed to provide some flexibility in our family unit.

The rest of my traits have always been pretty cemented.  I am a pretty strong introvert (I), I love interpreting information (N) and when I make decisions I am logical (T).  For example, I used a spreadsheet and a formula to name my daughter: happy to send you a copy if you want to try it out.  When I need to make decisions I take squishy ideas and turn them into hard numbers, then evaluate those numbers to make sure that I’m not just making a decision on a whim.  I was confident those three character traits defined me, until now.

This new test has me at 59% feeling, so not really even borderline.  The 16 Personality site says,

Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, and focus on social harmony and cooperation.

Okay, well I am still not sensitive and emotionally expressive, but the rest of the definition seems pretty spot on.  I am regularly commended at work for not needing to get credit for my work and collaborating.  My team is built on maximizing everyone’s strengths and acknowledging that we all bring very different but important skills to our work.  I, as the manager and client liaison, am not more important than our programmers, analysts, testers, or system administrators.  We all provide critical pieces to our work in different ways.  Similarly, as a parent I’m the one who listens to the woes of third grade and says, “Man, that sounds so hard.  I’m sorry you had to go through that.”  My husband, a T, has a million suggestions for every conflict.

So I’ve had this new personality suit I’ve been wearing around all weekend to see how it fits.  For highly-self aware people I’m sure that news like this isn’t even news, but for me having a new definition of who Johanna Levene is will take some adjusting.  I’ll continue to dig through my results, and compare it to my husband’s and my kiddo’s to better understand our family dynamics.  As people at work take the test and share their results I’ll figure out if that changes the needs and work of our team.  I’m also going to research if the differences between MTBI and 16 Personalities to see if may there is a difference in methodology.

All that said, I did have a moment of clarity with these results, that might help with my whole writing in a closet dilemma.  According to the 16 Personalities site, Mediators are led by their interests, and not rewards and punishment.

At their best, these qualities enable Mediators to communicate deeply with others, easily speaking in metaphors and parables, and understanding and creating symbols to share their ideas. Fantasy worlds in particular fascinate Mediators, more than any other personality type. The strength of their visionary communication style lends itself well to creative works, and it comes as no surprise that many famous Mediators are poets, writers and actors.

Oh… well at least that helps explain this insatiable need I’ve had over the past three years to start writing and telling stories.  Because really, this new passion of mine is really incongruent with an INTP/INTJ personality type.  See, eventually my inherent N trait will sort this all out…unless I become an S someday…

If you take the test I’d love to hear your thoughts on your results!