Aspirations

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Someday….

Someday I will be a morning person.  I will jump out of bed before the sun even rises, lace up my running shoes, greet the day with the chirpy birds, and let the pink glow of the sun warm my soul as it lights the sky.  Upon arriving home, I will feed the chickens and barn cat — respectively thanking them for my eggs and for killing the rats.  Then I will feed the house cats and take a moment to appreciate the happiness they bring to my life.  Exercise, gratitude, and chores complete, I will shower, shave, and be ready to greet my waking family with well-groomed joy knowing my day has begun with no sleeping-in or running-late guilt.

Someday my body will be a temple.  I will feed it nothing but wholesome food.  All the fruits and veggies it can take.  Eggs from my beloved chickens.  Cheese from cows lovingly hand milked in pastures where they eat nothing but all organic free range vegetation.  I will cook my own meals, and when I can’t, I will only eat at restaurants that also consider my body a temple worthy of local low-carbon-emission produce.  Occasionally I will allow myself a treat of a single square of bitter dark chocolate, so I can savor both the sweet of the dessert and the bitterness off mistreating my temple.  The only beverage I will ever drink is pure clean water from glass containers.  I will exercise everyday, but vary my routine from running to yoga to Pilates to ensure my cardiovascular health, flexibility, and strength.

Someday I will be on time to everything.  After my blissful morning and my temple-worthy breakfast I will drop my child off at school exactly seven minutes early.  Time for her to play a bit, and visit with her friends.  Then when the bell rings I will walk my perfectly dressed self — in a size six, a slim nonjudgmental size — to my car and drive to work, arriving exactly at 8:30.  People will depend on me, knowing if they schedule an 8:30 meeting I will be there nonplussed and ready to face whatever challenge they need faced.  After working an 8 hour day — not including the 0.5 hours spent enjoying the wholesome lunch I packed, then walking around the park to clear my mind — I will be waiting for my daughter at 3:00, just as the bell rings, to walk her home from school.  Hand in hand, we’ll talk about her day and my day as we much on fresh vegetables from our garden.  She will have friends, I will be successful at work, she will be successful at school, and we will be so proud of each other.  Then I’ll drive her, and all her friends, in my electric vehicle — powered by solar panels installed on our home’s roof — to whatever practice she has that day:  carpooling to ensure our position in the social hierarchy while minimizing our carbon footprint.

Someday I will make good use of all the time available to me.  While my daughter practices I’ll be using that time to write my novel, do grad school homework, catch up with beloved friends and family, or knit scarves for the poor.  However, I will willingly pause to talk with other sports parents where I will be modest about my child and supportive of their children and their worries about traffic.  I won’t squander time dinking on my phone, talking to parents who make me want to stab my eyes out, or half-listen to eye-stabby parents while dinking on my phone.  I will be present and understanding.

Someday my evenings will run like clockwork.  After practice, I’ll enjoy a wholesome meal with my family.  We will all eat exactly the same thing, correctly proportioned to our body mass index.  Dishes will be cleared, washed, and the kitchen will be cleaned in harmony, then everyone will sit down to homework.  (Well, everyone but my husband who will enjoy a well deserved hour of rest watching some sporting event, but he will not be too loud or too emotionally attached to the event.)  Homework done, my daughter will bathe, and I will read aloud to her for 20 minutes.  Then she will make her lunch, brush her teeth, brush her hair, put on pajamas, and deposit her dirty clothes into her hamper.  She will go to sleep by herself in her own room in her own bed after reading to herself for exactly 10 minutes.

Someday my late nights will be all my own time.  Having accomplished everything I needed to do while in the office, I will spend 45 minutes catching up with my husband.  2.5 times per week we will have age-appropriate sex.  Sated or not, I will then spend a few hours editing my novel, writing a blog post, or drafting a new short story.  Sometimes, I will work a bit on a knitted gift for a friend, or hand-write a few thank you notes.  Occasionally I will document my day’s accomplishments in a perfect Instagram shot or Tweet.  Before bed, I will do a quick clean up of the house – filling the dishwasher, folding laundry, picking up clutter, sweeping, and wiping down counters and other surfaces – before reading for 30 minutes and then drifting off for an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep.

Someday….

My favorite Christmas Present? A Benign Biopsy

My new favorite word is benign.  Say it with me: benign.  It’s a little choppy and doesn’t really flow off the tongue;  there may be too many syllables for the length.  It wasn’t a word I’d given much thought before last week.  In fact, if you’d asked me before that, I would have said I liked the word malignant better.  It has a force to it, a weight, and a power that is scary as heck when it might be related to your own body.

Last Friday I was presented with that glorious word, benign.  All day I sat by the phone waiting for my biopsy results.  Before the biopsy, the mammography center had warned  that I might not hear the results until after Christmas, but the surgical center seemed certain that I’d hear on Friday.  My husband and I had discussed the uncertainty and decided that if the sample was cancerous we didn’t want to hear until after Christmas.  I rationalized that I could fake my way through the holiday not knowing, but would likely ruin everyone’s Christmas if I did know.  However, when I discussed my plan with the biopsy nurse practitioner and doctor they looked at me like I was crazy.  “I mean, I’ll have questions and I’ll need to know what the plan is if it isn’t benign.”  I told them.  They assured me that there would be a plan – nay a whole team ready – if the sample was not benign so I capitulated and agreed that they could call, which seemed to satisfy their need for procedure and protocol. (“Not benign” is such a stupid euphemism.)

My arms were deep in the sink, soaking my brother’s Christmas scarf for blocking when my daughter ran in, “Mom, your phone is ringing.”  I dripped while sprinting into the study and grabbed my phone.  Better to ruin my phone with soggy hands then miss this call.  They were going to tell me if the turtle ripped from my body was a good turtle or an evil turtle.

There is no situation that is beyond the absurd in my life.  While I was laying face down on a surgical table, my clamped and bleeding boob protruding through a hole, the doctor put up the image of the sample taken from my flesh.  It looked exactly like a turtle with a bulbous middle, a head, and four smaller blob appendages.  Of course, I shared my interpretation of this image with my medical team.  Appeasing me, they pointed out the lighter squiggles on one turtle foot.  That was the sample they wanted.  The worrying parts of the turtle were now outside of me ready to be analyzed and tested.

The call had no preamble before the nurse practitioner – the one who convinced me that I wanted to talk to her no matter what she was going to tell me – said, “I have good news for you.  Your sample is benign.”

That moment is clear in my head.  As unclear as the medical guidance given to me by my doctor during the biopsy procedure.  He was very kind, but the nurse assigned to me seemed hellbent to ensure any medical information provided was covered up by cheery banter.  She entered with the doctor and was “there for me” in some role perfectly clear to her.  At the moment the biopsy was about to happen the doctor said, “I’m going to take the sample now.  You might feel…” but whatever I might have felt was drowned out by the nurse screaming in my face, “WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE?” I still don’t know what I was supposed to feel, but Nurse Rose knows I like sugar cookies the best.  Her question wasn’t a total non sequitur.  She’d drowned out the anesthetic information by asking me my plans for the day, which involved making Christmas cookies.

Sure, maybe making Christmas cookies they day you get a biopsy might seem a little strange, but that’s what happens when you get an irregular mammogram less than two weeks before Christmas.  My brother’s scarf was carried with me from waiting room to procedure room to waiting room the day of the biopsy, because I had knitting to finish before the holiday.  My potential cancer worries were all wrapped up with holiday concerns – pun intended.

The decision to have the mammogram right before Christmas was an odd one for me.  In a flash of uncharacteristic optimism I took the appointment offered because, after my first irregular mammogram in June, my doctor and I looked at the films together.  She’d assured me that the worrying spots had been on my mammogram in 2015, disappeared in 2016 and were back in 2017.  She said it was probably nothing, but cautioned me that I needed to go every 6 months, just in case.

At the time, the mammogram didn’t seem like it was “just in case,” but in hindsight the lady doing my mammogram got less and less chatty as she took more and more pictures.  Since this was my first followup appointment, I just figured she didn’t find my demeanor charming.  Or maybe she was also unsure how she was going to get everything done before Christmas.  When she asked me to sit in the waiting room I didn’t wonder, but when she asked me to come back into the bowels of the mammography center I got concerned.  She led me into a dimly lit room with faux leather chairs around a small conference table and I panicked.  The room looked exactly like the special room my vet has for euthanasia appointments.  When the radiologist arrived and didn’t bring me a warm blanket and a cocktail of life-ending drugs it was a relief, until he suggested a biopsy.

The warm blanket came right before they strapped my legs to the biopsy table and raised me into the air on the worst amusement park ride ever.  Nurse Rose did not find my amusement park ride jokes funny as the table made herkey jerks and my boob was smashed and smushed and poked.  I feel like being “there for me” should have involved laughing at my jokes.

The benign call ended awkwardly.  When asked if I had any questions I mentioned that I thought the incision was bleeding more than it should.  The nurse practitioner seemed taken aback, like the invitation for questions was rhetorical.  I was supposed to just hang up in a blaze of relief and joy.  When I told her that the bloody spot under my bandage was much bigger than a dime or nickel she said, “Well, if it’s still a problem on Tuesday give us a call” then said goodbye.  My Christmas cancer worry was replaced by a smaller bleeding-out worry.  Nothing I couldn’t fake my way through, but enough to make me drift off to sleep with images of bloody wounds dancing in my head.  (Spoiler alert, I haven’t bled out yet.)

When people ask me what I got for Christmas this year I go blank.  I got benign, but almost everyone doesn’t know I had a biopsy.  A few friends and family members along with an astute coworker who caught me at a bad time know, but I didn’t tell anyone else.   When was the right time?  During the band concert?  The school holiday party?  During our work calendar exchange?  At my friend’s dad’s funeral?  Had the ending been different I would have had to tell, but now I’m just awkwardly hugging on one side and randomly asking people to carry heavy things for me.

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Along with my constant appreciation of the absurd are my rose colored glasses.  Even after my Magic 8 Ball told me I didn’t have cancer (this was before the actual diagnosis) I couldn’t help planning for the worst.  The silver lining of the cancer scare was my evaluation of the things I was afraid of losing:  my family, my friends, my book, my stories and – surprising to me – my Master’s degree.  In the week between mammogram and biopsy I planned how to transition my work role to others, write my book at chemo so my mom could read it, and make countless videos and knit objects for my kid to remember me by.  (Because a box of hand-knits is almost the same as having a mom, right?)  I also hoped I would feel well enough during treatment to go to school.  It’s interesting the things that rise to important when you are considering th….

“WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHRISTMAS COOKIE?!?!?!”

Now when things start to get serious around here, you’ll understand why I’m screaming cookie gibberish.  My surgical pamphlet tells me that one in eight women develop breast cancer and four in five biopsies like mine end up benign.  That means many women are having these procedures and it’s all okay, but for each four of me, one other woman is dealing with all the fears I had the past two weeks.  If you find yourself in this same uncomfortable situation, my hope is that your turtles turn out benign and your warm blankets just make your uncomfortable amusement park ride a little bit more pleasant.

A Fishy Passover Tolerance Lesson

As a child I could get a little rambunctious at the grocery store.  I clearly remember that when my brother and I got exceptionally crazy mom would threaten us.  She’d point to jars filled with gelatinous covered white orbs and say, “If you guys don’t cut it out I will buy this and make you eat it.”  We’d squeal and make faces and wonder what poor kids had to eat those creepy floating things.  Into adulthood I’d walk through the Ethnic Food aisle and shudder a bit on my way to the pasta and salsa looking into those clear jars.  Still I wondered who ate that stuff.

My senior year of college it happened. I met a boy, and one day he took me home to celebrate Passover with his family.  The Seder began and we ate parsley dipped in salt water, raw horseradish root in an apple dish called haroset.  All ceremonial foods, all different, but all edible.  I enjoyed the readings and the novelty of the celebration and learning about a new culture.

Feeling moderately comfortable at the table the first course of the actual meal was served: gefilte fish.  Someone set in front of me an albino patty with gelatinous quivering globules glistening on its surface cradled on a bed of lettuce.  All around me strangers I wanted to impress covered their helpings with fluorescent pink horseradish and dug in with apparent glee. Here in front of me was the nightmare of my childhood and I had two choices: be “that disrespectful new girl” and shun this foreign food or face my fear and try a bite.  There was not an option to run screaming from the room.  This was before the days of smartphones so I couldn’t snap a picture and send it to my mom with an eww, like I did for this blog post.  I had to put on my big girl shoes and face my fears if I wanted to be respectful.  I don’t think I made it through half of the fish and I know I drank an entire tumbler of water but I ate enough to not make a scene.  The rest of the meal followed without incident.

Twenty two Passovers now, give or take.  I’ve watched guests come and go and seen the judgement passed down upon those who do not try.  I’ve learned that no one thinks it wrong that I enjoy my fish with a piece of Matzo, which at least hides the horrible texture with a bit of a crunch.  I bought the New York Times Passover Cookbook and with fear read the gefilte fish recipes only to learn that it really isn’t that scary.  Just whitefish cooked in broth until the broth congeals.  I could make it myself, but I don’t.  I don’t buy it either.  Instead I make the haroset, hard boil the eggs, make the dessert and bring the wine.  I feel at home with the ceremony.

I also learned that my husband will always eat the second half of my patty.  I push it onto his plate and yum yum he finishes it off and asks for another.  No judgement, we are so cute sharing food.  I always help clear away the fish plates and bring out the matzo ball soup, which I love.  Before I sit down I refill the water glasses.  It still takes me an entire glass of water to finish off my fish half.

This life we live, it’s filled with scary slimy fish isn’t it?  Things we reject without a thought or a consideration for being different and gross, and really they might be different and gross to us even once fully understood and experienced.  Things we threaten our children with because you’ve got to make them behave in the supermarket somehow.  Every year at Passover I think my lesson is one of overcoming the fear of the unknown, different, and strange and while not embracing it – and certainly not enjoying it – at least learning to tolerate.  For my husband’s Jewish family and their ancestors more tolerance would have changed history.  And really, isn’t that an acceptable lesson?  Maybe we can’t embrace each other and all join hands in unity, but a little tolerance – even if it requires a big glass of water – goes a long way in this world.

Happy Passover, happy Easter and happy spring to you readers.  May you find tolerance for yourself, your beliefs, others, and other’s beliefs in your own little corner of the world.

If at First you Fail Spectacularly

Fostering cats.  It’s the one thing in life that I can look back on and say, “Well, I sucked at that.”  Last year five tiny baby kittens were taken into my care and four died three different ways.  I broke when the fourth one had to be euthanized and kept the last one to heal my heart.  She has since become a beloved member of our household.


For the past year I’ve held onto this failure.  I have to admit that I have dubbed myself the Cat Grim Reaper.  I’ve lurked on the foster parent group on Facebook and watched litter after litter of healthy kittens grow and thrive under other foster parents care.  I’ve watched sick and hurt cats become sleek and healthy.  Quietly I’ve kept my training up to date in anticipation that I was going to try again.  Once and for all I was going to cement my definition of the kitten event:  bad luck or killer.

Our local shelter just had an influx of animals and needed foster parents to take sick, but not dying, animals home to make room for the new really sick animals.  With little input from my family or friends, I volunteered to take one of the cats.  He has an upper respiratory infection, his leg is bandaged hip to foot, he just got neutered, and he has a heart murmur that needs to be evaluated once he gets over the other ailments.  His name is Bart and he’s a beautiful long haired light grey cat.  He loves my daughter and has a purr that vibrates his whole body when she pets him.


As Bart snores away on the other side of the bathroom door – he is quarantined because of his infection – I’m not confident that he’ll make it.  He hasn’t gotten better in the five days in my care.  We’ve had to change antibiotics, and he’s not eating.  The plan was to take him back to the shelter Tuesday to have his heart murmur evaluated, but already they are saying I might have to keep him longer because he’s not improving.  He is living in a mist of water vapor as I try to keep his nasal tissues from bleeding each time he sneezes.  

Thursday I dreamed Bart was playing with my parent’s cats, and woke with one thought in my head, “This is too much.”  Fostering is just too much for me, for my family, and for my other cats.  I hate saying that.  I feel like some aristocrat looking down her nose at hard work and saying, “Oh no, I can’t do that.  It’s hard and messy and time consuming and inconvenient.”  No part of me doesn’t feel like a failure.  But I’ve had to put a litter box in my bedroom to stop our cats from peeing and pooping on my bed, because the presence of the foster cat near their normal boxes makes them nervous.  My daughter sits stroking his soft fur with tears running down her face. “I’m going to miss Bart,” she says.  I drive back and forth to the shelter to drop him off and pick him up so his bandage can be changed.  I wipe bloody snot off our walls, off of my daughter, and off his fur.  The truth of the situation is that this is not our path, and not our way to help.  Bart will be our last foster and if he dies I will take the mantle of Cat Grim Reaper and wear it, but I will not partake in a third foster experience.  I will find other ways to make the world a better place.

It isn’t all terrible, don’t let me mislead you.  There are moments like this. I hope that Bart recovers and some amazing family gets to enjoy this giant  purr for years to come.

For all those who care for shelter animals, either at the shelter or in their homes, I applaud you. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wish you all the strength and courage to keep doing what you do.

 

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!

The Recliner

Today would have been my Grandpa’s 103rd birthday.  A few years ago my mom uttered this infamous – in our family – statement, “It makes me feel better knowing that if grandpa was alive he’d be dead by now.”  She’s right.  If my grandparents weren’t dead already they’d probably be dead by now, but the week bracketed by their birthdays is still one that pulls at my heartstrings.

Adding to the angst this year is that we finally got rid of their recliner.  When my grandma died, I inherited this gem.  I was poor, just out of college, and furnishing my first apartments and home.  Somewhere in there Grandpa’s recliner became mine.  I didn’t care what it looked like because I just wanted a comfy place to sit.

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Now the recliner has lived with me 16 years, which is longer than it ever lived with my grandparents. The chair has seen me and my boyfriend turned husband through innumerable head colds and bouts of bronchitis: nothing is better than a recliner when you are stuffed up and coughing.  My daughter has spit up, peed, pooped spilled, and snotted on this chair.  Throughout her infancy breast-milk was leaked all over it because I loved nursing in this chair.

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When our basement construction started, heralding the end of the recliner’s life in the house, the baby chickens pooped on it while my daughter sang lullabies to them in the garage.  I hand medicated little baby Rosie chick in that chair.  There may or may not be mice in the chair because there are mice out there.

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The time for the chair to leave our home had come.  No more would my daughter recline the back, extend the footrest and launch herself off her indoor playset.  Finally I could stop worrying which kid-friend would end up with stitches from emulating my daughter’s antics.  We will never figure out where that missing thumb screw goes: the one that fell out of the bottom one recline. I’m sure there is a whole set of knitting needles and stitch markers hidden in there, never to be found.

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Before putting the chair out to the curb I went out to the garage, curled up, and read in it one last time.  The book was A Man Called Ove, a perfect choice because my grandpa could have been named Ove he was so much like that character.  I read, I cried, I remembered, and I watched my cats stalk spiders and mice.  Finally, I turned off the lights and, like a dope, said “Goodbye chair.”  By the time I got home from work the next day it was gone.  My mom said, “It was an awfully big memento,” and it was.

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The first post-chair evening I was down in my study digging around in my sewing machine cabinet and for a moment I smelled cigarette smoke.  Throughout my childhood my grandparents were both smokers and that scent still calls up memories of them.  At that moment I realized that one of them was reminding me that my sewing machine belonged to my grandma.  I remember sewing Halloween and theater costumes side by side.  I still use her manual, filled with her hand written notes, every  time I need to sew on rickrack.  I still have a big memento and one that isn’t going anywhere.  All I need to do to reconnect to them is sew something and, you know, my husband did just mention that the chicken coop needs curtains.  (Well he actually said “The chicken coop needs window blankets,” but either way it means sewing project.)


Correction 10/28/2016

I misquoted my mother in the original version.  She did not say, “It makes me feel better knowing that if grandpa wasn’t already dead he’d be dead by now.”  The corrected, and even sillier, quote is above.  Thanks mom for pointing out my mistake.  Love you!

A Knit for One Hundred Years 

How do you acknowledge 100 years of life?  The invitation clearly said “no gifts” but my fingers itched to make something to celebrate my grandmother-in-law’s birthday.  I wanted to make something soft, useful, bright and bold because she loves red and purple as all 100 year-olds should.

Nothing in my stash seemed right, so I was off to my local yarn shop.  Not only did they have this amazing purple alpaca yarn with bright pink highlights, but they recommended the perfect pattern, Trillian and even had a sample so I could see and hold it: an asymmetrical narrow shawl that could be worn several ways.  It would be pretty, soft, elegant and functional.  Thank goodness for real world yarn shops.

 

I had never knit a shawl before or anything this big on size 3 needles, and time and birthdays wait for no knitter.  It didn’t take me long to realize this was a more involved project than I had anticipated.  The knitting began to take over every moment of my free time and several moments of my not free time.  Soccer practices, conference calls, long drives, and parties all became opportunities to knit.  My husband drove everywhere so I could knit.  I became a public knitter out of desperation.  At the end I used my plane trip to Austin to knit for 2 hours non-stop each way.

 

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Blurry car knitting

Deadlines are motivating and two days before the big party I cast off my last stitch and wove in the ends.  Blocking opened the lace edge and hid the little snare from my cat’s attempt to drive me absolutely crazy with her disrespect of the knitting.  The day of the party I wrapped up the finished object in tissue and set it in the gift bag.  10,570 stitches to celebrate her life.  It seemed like a big present.  Maybe too big.


Truthfully, I had never knit anything for her before.  My in-laws aren’t crafters, so I had not made things for them, because I never knew if they would be appreciated.   I set my lone gift bag next to a basket overflowing with cards.  Everyone else had followed the rules.  I was so nervous that my hand-cramping gift would be frowned upon that I didn’t ask her to open it.  After she danced, ate, and celebrated with a room full of friends and family I said, “I made you something” as I told her goodbye.  Desperate that my little gift bag not be thrown away or misplaced I also told my father-in-law, and his sister.  I was worried that she wouldn’t like it, but terrified that she’s never see it.

When the phone rang the next evening with her number displayed on the caller id my stomach flipped as I answered the phone.  “Johanna,” she said in her creaky voice, “I love my shawl.  Thank you so much for thinking of me.”  She loved it.  She loved the color.  She said, “I wish it was cold so I could wear it now.”  And just like her grandson – my husband – the thank yous were done and we were off the phone in under five minutes.  Who knew brevity was an inherited trait?

Tomorrow it’s supposed to dip into the 40s.  I hope she wears the shawl.  I like to picture her playing bridge, at choir practice, or doing crosswords at home wrapped up in warm softness made by my hands.  She is 100 in age, but still lives in her own house, does laundry in her basement, and leads an independent life even after being widowed the day I was born.  In the end, my 10,570 stitches are nothing compared to her 36,525 days on this Earth.

Equality? #wwwp5k

img_4616“Gender inequality doesn’t exist anymore.” My husband declares with the emphasis of someone seeing his inherent privilege fade away. He goes on to outline the female project manager giving him fits, the multitude of females at high levels in his company and his aggravating female client. For an engineer who started his career seeing cubicles filled with monthly images of scantily clad women wielding power-tools, this twenty year rise of women from calendar to manager has been rapid and probably unexpected.

I can’t really argue too much with him. I manage a team of engineers, half women and half men. With our matching engineering degrees we make the same amount of money.  (Well, we leap frog. When I get a raise, I make more. Then he gets one and he makes more.) We have similar responsibilities, similar jobs, similar flexibility to balance parenthood and employment.

We both coached our daughter’s soccer team. He does the dishes and laundry. I shop and cook. He fixes the broken fence; I sew buttons on when they fall off. I handle plumbing issues and he handles electricity.

We raise our daughter to love math and science. We raise our daughter to sing and love books. We raise our daughter to be a strong person and gender roles aren’t a topic we ever think to discuss. In her world the best mathematician in her class is a girl. The best speller is a girl and the person with the best handwriting is a girl.

But I’m a runner. I love running when I travel for work. Last week I left my hotel room with my phone in hand and my room key in my pocket. I don’t wear headphones when I run, because I know it’s not safe. I hate holding my phone when I run, but I’m somewhere strange and no one knows I’m leaving and no one is expecting me back. On the off chance something bad happens I can call. On the off chance something really bad happens the last known location of my cell phone might be traceable.

I’ve taken a self defense class. I know what to do if I’m attacked. I know where to gouge how to shout and how to best strike someone to knock them out. I know that if someone attacks me with a knife I’m supposed to grab the blade. My stomach clenches every time I think that: grab the blade. Can you imagine? Have you ever imagined? If you are woman, you might have. If a man, probably not.

I never go for a run and don’t think of my safety. I vary my route. I’m aware of my surroundings.

In Austin I jogged out to my favorite run along Town Lake. Somehow I got turned around and found myself out on this amazing path I’ve never seen before. Maybe I usually run on the opposite shore or maybe I go the other direction?  Regardless, this new route was filled with people so I felt safe and headed out to enjoy an adventure.

Then I came to a fork. One side continued next to the river and the other diverted off into a wooded sanctuary. One side was safe and the other was unknown. I stopped and waited. Every single runner, walker, cyclist stayed on the main path. No one turned. No one sought out the shady refuge from the 92 degree heat. Minutes passed, and my desire to keep running waned. I turned around and headed back the way I came. As I neared my hotel I wondered what was down that path. Was I just being silly? Then I remembered the woman who was attacked the week before walking in my neighborhood. Better to be safe than sorry.

The genders are equal in lots of ways. But my little girl and I will have many conversations in her life about how to keep herself safe. How to make sure she has a friend watching out for her at a party. What the consequences could be if she drinks too much. How to be aware and not look like a victim. Why she shouldn’t wear “that dress”. If she’s a runner I’ll teach her what I’ve learned, and hopefully she won’t take the wooded path either, even if it calls to her soul. Safety first.

My husband and I are equal in many ways, but I have long hair and breasts and physical attributes that mark me as a potential victim.  I am smaller than my husband and I have soft places that bad men want to hurt and probe. My daughter has smaller softer places. I am weaker and could be overpowered by most men, if they wanted to. I have to teach my daughter things I would never teach a son. Just like black families have to teach their kids how to act if a cop pulls them over, which is something that I would never think to teach my white daughter.

“Have you ever worried about you safety?” I ask my husband when I get home from Austin. “Do you worry about being in a park after dark, or walking to you car at the airport?”

“No. Why?” he asks.

The conversation has to start somewhere. With a kneel at the anthem. With a conversation between two almost equals who love each other. Inequality exists.


My musings from my 5k around Austin, Texas and part of the WordPress WWWP5K.

Call me farmer Afthead

The Afthead family got some chickens.  After the rough experiment fostering kittens last year we left the mammal group of the animal kingdom in favor of the bird group.  Meet Buffy, Rosie and Hope.

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“What?!?!  You got chickens?” asks Hope.  The girl with her face in the camera was named after Hope Solo.  We got the chickens during the Olympics and little Afthead decided the representative of the Ameraucana breed had to be named after an American athlete.  As a big soccer fan she decided Hope was a good chicken name.  (Given Ms. Solo’s antics during the Olympics I think having a chicken named after her is appropriate.)

This goofy girl is a Buff Orpington.  I really wanted to name her Buff Orpington the Third, because she’s such a formal sounding breed, but Mr. Afthead won these naming rights.  Buffy was the obvious choice for this brave vampire hunting fowl.  In the coming years I’m hoping that in between laying eggs for our family she’ll star in her own sitcom or maybe a movie about a vampire, werewolf, chicken love triangle.

Finally we have Rosie, the littlest of the chickens.  From the beginning she’s been the sweetest, the most friendly and, of course, was the one that almost got sick and died the first week.  Yeah, we appear to attract sickly animals.  After panicked googling, visiting feed stores, and syringe watering this little girl she’s now in great health.  All that hands-on attention in those early weeks has made her brave, well socialized and willing to pose for pictures.   “Who’s a pretty bird?  You are Rosie!”  Momma Afthead got to name this one, and I went for the obvious color-related name for this member of the Rhode Island Red breed.

So that’s our flock.  Really, I have no idea why we are trying this adventure.  We aren’t big local food people.  We aren’t even big egg eaters.  I think Mr. Afthead wanted a project, and converting little Afthead’s old playhouse to a chicken coop seemed like fun.  Of course little Afthead was in: what kid doesn’t want chickens?  It’s all I could do to keep her from grabbing bunnies, turkeys, miniature goats and peacocks from the feedstore the day we got the birds.  Man, that kid loves animals.

Me?  I’m still on the fence about about being a chicken farmer.  While I love them much more than I expected I don’t appreciate my morning, “Are the chicken’s dead?” routine.  I’ve never cared if skunk, fox, coyote, stray dogs, feral cats, or opossum lived in my backyard before, but now they are all chicken dismembering predators waiting to infiltrate every nook and cranny of our chicken habitat.  Ugh.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we can get these girls through to the spring, so at least we start getting some eggs.  I’m also hoping if something gets them it isn’t a week when my husband is traveling.  I don’t want to handle a chicken murder scene alone.

Now off to go find some overalls, a nice straw hat and a toothpick to chew.  Come back soon, y’all.  I tell ya more chicken stories.  Ah yup.  “Bawk!”

The Third Day of Third Grade

I watch you.  I watch you watch them.  The pair labeled your “best friends”and the other one.  They laugh and touch and a little girl gravitational force pulls them together as it repels you.

I watch you.  I watch the jealousy and anger coil up inside you and I hope that it finds release before you snap inappropriately.  You stare unblinkingly with your ice blue eyes and the look is pure hurt because you are left out.

I watch you.  I watch as your new friend, “Well maybe friend,” you’ve said, “but not yet” walks up to you and you don’t even acknowledge her presence.  I talk to her and compliment her sweatshirt and make pleasantries, which you should be doing, but you don’t because you can’t stop staring across the blacktop as your best friends and the other laugh at something.  They are too far away, so we cannot hear what they laugh at, but we can see they are having fun without you.

I watch you.  I watch as the second maybe new friend walks up and you ignore her too.  Opportunities surround you but you can’t see them because you want to be over there with them in their class.  You want the comfort of last year.  You want familiar.  You want to be inside the threesome again and not stuck outside looking in.  The two maybe new friends stand silently ignored and you continue fester until you turn and say, “I told you I’m not popular anymore.”

I want to hurl idiotic phrases at you.  You catch more flies with honey.  Life isn’t fair.  Make new friends, but keep the old.  I want to stop your stare and refocus it on the sweet kids around you.  I want to plaster over your hurt and wounded heart and tell you it will be okay, but I don’t do any of that.  It might not be okay.  You might lash out at your old friends and miss the opportunity for new friends.  You might lose them all.  I wish for a tree to sprout between your class’s line and the other class’s line so that you don’t have to see them having fun without you.  I know it might be a long and lonely year.

I think of Rachel and Stacy 34 years ago on my playground.  I remember wishing for what they had: for the heads close together and the whispers and hand games and true friendship and wondering, “How do they do that?”  I remember longing for what they had, but never finding it.  I watch you and hope the hurt of my third grade isn’t repeated in the next generation with a different pain of loss instead of longing.

I watch you and feel the agony of a mother’s anguish.  I watch you and hope it will be okay.

The bell rings and the pain of everything makes reach for a hug and kiss, needing to be loved too much to remember I’m embarrassing.  I pour my heart into you, because you are loved and you are amazing and you can do this, and then we part.  I watch you.  I watch you walk away alone.