Tuesday, December 18, 2012

when the elves come....

Have you ever wished you had your own little elf helper? Apparently lots of people have. 
It's only natural. These days we have such crazy busy lives. But this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Even when I was a kid - back in the 1900s (as my daughter says) – we were always rushing out the door for one activity or another. Sometimes that meant things around the house were left undone – clutter in the living room, clothes unfolded, dishes unwashed.

That was fine until we got home. Standing on the front porch, my brother and I moaned and groaned about how tired we were, hoping for a chore reprieve.

Then Mom would remind us of our favorite wish:

“Well, maybe the elves have come!”

In our world, elves were benevolent creatures who – if you were really good - might mysteriously show up at your house and do your chores for you.

My brother and I crossed our fingers as Dad opened the door, hoping this time the elves had come.

They never did, but that’s probably a good thing. If we’d seen elves in our house, we probably would never have slept peacefully again.

But apparently we weren’t the only ones who wanted to outsource our chores to elves. Even Santa is taking advantage of his workforce.

Because now there are new elves in town.

Not the cookie-baking or toy-making kind.

The spying kind.

These new elves run reconnaissance on innocent children in their own homes while they sleep.

I guess I’ve been under a rock, because I only recently became aware of this new infestationtradition. So I put on my research hat (i.e., I went to Google) to find out more. What I found looked surprisingly familiar.

These little pixie elves aren’t new. My late mother-in-law had a whole elf colony she used to hide around the house on candlesticks, light fixtures, door frames. They didn’t do any undercover work. They just sat there and looked cute.

But apparently a few years ago an enterprising mother/daughter team took the initiative to turn these little Germanic pixies into Navy SEALS for Santa.

It’s a brilliant idea. Creepy, but brilliant.

And at $29.99 plus tax, I wish it had been my idea.  

But truthfully, any elf I would have come up with probably wouldn’t be as marketable. Or even child friendly.

My elf would probably be too acerbic, more sarcastic than sappy. He would be a shy loner of an elf, the kind of elf that spends too much time with theater people and indie book store owners.

Picture David Sedaris as Crumpet the Elf in “SantaLand Diaries.”

Not wanting to bother Santa, he would take things into his own tiny mittens and whisper well-intentioned but disturbing warnings to the kiddies.

“Psst, Tommy – do you know what Santa does when a boy pulls his sister’s hair? Let’s just say it’s a good thing your dad still has a job…or does he?”

“Wow, Sally, hiding candy wrappers under the bed is a novel idea! By the way, every time you hide a wrapper, a fairy loses its wings.”

“Bobby, have you ever noticed how your dad takes out his teeth?  I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think your parents could be zombies…”

“Oh, Jane, you really shouldn’t take that money from your mom’s purse…seriously…put it back…ok, I won’t tell, but if you wake up tomorrow and all your furniture is gone, don’t blame me.”

When my elf became bored, he would quote Joan Crawford movies and old sitcoms.

He would have conversations with imaginary friends.

He wouldn’t wash your dishes, but he might rearrange them.

And in the still silent hours before dawn, sitting alone and forlorn in his hiding place, my elf would start crooning like an old blues singer on helium, his high little voice cutting through the night like a rusty knife.

I’m afraid my elf wouldn’t last long.

Sometime during Advent, he’d probably find himself used as kindling. See the happy family gathered around the fireplace to watch his paint and felt go up in festive pink and green flames?

Nothing unites a family during the stressful holidays like a common enemy.

To keep up this happy tradition, every family would need to buy a new sarcastic elf every Christmas for the annual elf burning. A modern-day version of the Yule log.

Hold the phone!

My sarcastic elf might be lucrative after all, especially in urban areas. Even city dwellers not into cutesy or kitschy enjoy tradition and an extra hand where their kids are concerned.

And whoever stated that “sarcasm is imaginatively bankrupt” obviously never read the New Yorker. Or followed David Sedaris’s book sales.

One of my friends knows Mr. Sedaris. I think it’s time to do a little Christmas networking and get my copyright going. I smell a new tradition spawning.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

i am an egg...?

How do you respond to adversity?

I have to admit when the going gets tough, I don’t so much “respond” as “react”. My fight-or-flight urge kicks into high gear, and tends to be at one extreme or the other.

Sometimes my innards scream “Run away!” (a favorite quote from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”) and I take off for parts unknown, because anywhere must be better than here, right?

Sometimes I put up my dukes (and my hackles) without so much as a brain cell kicking in.

And sometimes I do both simultaneously, limbs and attitude flailing vigorously as I run. Usually in a circle.

These kind of extreme reactions are ok if someone is chasing you with a knife or someone you love is being threatened. You should let the adrenaline kick in if it’s a matter of saving life and limb. It’s ok to run screaming like a maniac, punch the villain in the mouth, or pick up the car if you’re trying to avoid death or dismemberment.

However, except in cases of extreme danger, none of these reactions are very effective.  I usually end up causing some kind of damage, real or perceived, which then is added to the pile of stuff to be dealt with. Yippee.

We’ve all seen the little ditty that compares how we deal with adversity to eggs, carrots and coffee. If you haven’t, here you go:
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.
Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."
"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma the daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently.
  • The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
  • The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened.
  • The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"
(I don't know where this story came from. Maybe some mother was just using a situation to teach her daughter how to cook and it got turned into a psychology lesson. Sneaky moms…sometimes you use what you’re given.)

If I took this story at face value, I’d say I am an egg – the fragile thin-skinned individual who tends to get hard and unyielding when placed into hot water.

And not just a regular egg, but one that already had some kind of flaw before going into the water (so human of me). The kind of egg that leaks air bubbles when the water is heating, develops cracks, and leaks its egginess into the water. It’s ugly and gross – useless as an Easter egg, not even that great for egg salad. And it coats the rest of the eggs with a really nasty scum.


If you’ve boiled eggs before you know what I mean. It isn’t a pretty picture.

Maybe I’m being a little hard on myself (no pun intended).  How about you – how did you fare?

Ok, now forget all that.

The more I think about the device used in this little story, the more its reasoning starts to fall apart.

(Especially since everybody knows you start eggs and carrots in cold water...)

First of all, unless you’re a bodybuilder, who wants a raw egg, or one that doesn’t firm up when it’s cooked? I like mine fried in butter, over easy so the yolk is just runny enough to sop with my toast. Even better, I like to cut up my runny eggs and my bacon and then mix them up in my grits, just like my daddy taught me. But I digress....

Secondly, while I like raw carrots on occasion, they work much better in soup and other dishes when they’ve softened a bit. Boiling carrots works ok, but I prefer sautéing mine in a little butter. (Butter is wonderful, BTW) Either way, you really need to peel those carrots first to take off the bitter skin. Don’t know about you, but skinning seems way worse than boiling. Using both is positively medieval. 

Finally – and this is a BIG one - you don’t boil coffee. Ever. Unless you know nothing about coffee, or just like really bitter, nasty coffee.  If that’s the case, please let me know when you invite me over.  I’ll pick up a Traveler from Starbucks before I come.

So, what is the point of this story anyway? 

If it’s helpful or gets you thinking, great. We could all be healthier if we monitor our reactions, consider the clean up involved with radical responses, learn more effective ways of dealing with everyday stress and strife.

But truthfully, none of us react the same way every time something bad happens. And what we perceive as “bad” changes from day to day, hour to hour, based on our environment, our hormones, our outlook, the traffic, whether we’ve had our (unboiled) coffee....you name it.  

If you think you could handle stress a little better, find a way to do it. We can change the way we think, the way we react, even whether we “react” or “respond” to a situation. They aren’t the same thing.

So, as for this little fable, I’m going to take my little lesson and pitch the rest. Because I’m not that simple. You aren’t that simple. Life isn’t that simple.

And, girlfriend, the cooking advise is atrocious!

Monday, December 03, 2012

bad mommy moments (or, thank heaven for little girls)

Have you ever had a “bad mommy” moment?

I had one today.

I picked up my daughter at carpool. Normally she rides with another family to her 3 ½ hour Irish dance lesson on Monday. Since class was cancelled today due to a weekend competition, I decided to surprise her with takeout dinner and a trip to see the latest Bond movie. Sneaking off to the movies in the afternoon was a small mommy/daughter delight.

That part was good.

It was dark when we came out of the theater. We held hands and laughed as we walked to the car. On the way home we talked about our day. We called her dad, who was traveling, and they laughed together on the phone.

That part was good, too.

She told me about an upcoming field trip to see a holiday show. She is excited to be big enough and old enough to be a “front seat” rider in the carpool to the theater. She wondered who she would be riding with, and hoped it wouldn’t be with “the little kids” again.  She’s so good with the younger kids, but wishes someone else would get that responsibility for a change.

She started talking about school and who was friends with who. Two of her best friends at school happen to be boys. She seems to get along better with boys. Less drama, she says. Only, some other girls at school tease them, calling them “lovebirds”. Like girls and boys can’t be just friends. I told her that girls and boys can be great friends, and that a good friend of any gender is a special and wonderful thing.

Another good part.

Then she brought up a term that I abhor, one that you see everywhere on t-shirts and backpacks and slap bracelets and necklaces.


I get so tired of that phrase. Maybe because I don’t understand it. I’ve had girlfriends. I am friends with other women. I would do anything for them, and I know they would do the same.

But when I think of BFFs, I think of girls who spend every waking moment together, finish each other’s sentences, have each other’s back 24/7. Sorority sisters who stand up at each other’s weddings and take girls only trips every year. Other than a brief time during my junior year of high school, I’m not sure I ever experienced that kind of girl closeness. Maybe because I never looked for it. Or accepted it. Or offered it.

So when my daughter brought up that term, I guess I bristled.

I asked what she meant.

She explained that while some of her friends were boys, she had three girl BFFs. I asked who they were, and she named them proudly.

Now, each of the girls she named are great girls and are her friends. But I don’t see any of them having the kind of affection for her or the exclusive relationship that goes with a BFF designation. And I guess knowing my little girl wants something so badly that seems elusive and that I have no control over brings out the tiger mama in me.

Without stopping to think or filter or realize there was no need to be too serious about this, I stated my opinion bluntly.

“Baby, you don’t have any BFFs.”

Bad mommy moment.

If I could have sucked the words back out of the air, turned back time and unsaid them, waved a magic wand and made the previous 10 seconds disappear from history, I would have.

But I couldn’t.

I saw her face fall, felt the joy drain out of the car. As we pulled into the driveway, she quickly grabbed up all her stuff. I turned off the car and she reached for the keys to let herself into the house. I heard her sniffle as she ran to her bedroom.

Deflated and needing time to think, I let the dog outside to do her business while my daughter nursed her hurt feelings.

Why did I have to say that? Am I just projecting my own insecurities onto her? Does it matter what title my daughter gives her friends? Isn’t it enough that she has friends? More importantly, isn’t it wonderful that she knows how to be a friend to everyone she meets?

She greeted me as I came back into the house, her eyes rimmed in red. I apologized as she fell into my arms. I told her I had no right to say what I did, and that I was sorry I hurt her feelings. She smiled and gave me a big hug. She said she forgave me. And she told me she loved me.

My girl is going to be ok. Actually, better than ok – she is going to be great. Even though my mama’s heart will leap in front of her at the slightest threat, I know I don’t need to worry about her.

She knows how to love unconditionally. Yes, this will expose her to hurt and disappointment, but it will also open her up to the most amazing opportunities. She will always have friends because she knows how to love unconditionally. Anyone who lets her be their friend will have a friend for life. The extra special people who decide to return her affection will be doubly blessed - the luckiest darn BFFs ever.

Hopefully that will always include even bad mommies like me.  

(PS - This blog post is daughter approved :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

new tradition: "giving tuesday"

I'm skeptical of 'traditions' I've never heard of or that didn't exist more than 50 years ago. There is no vetting committee to validate whether something is actually a 'tradition' or not. More often than not these 'traditions' are made up by some marketing firm in an attempt to guilt people into parting with their money so the marketing firm's customers can create another off-shore account in Grand Cayman. (See 'Black Friday.')

However, there is a new 'tradition' in town, one that I can actually get behind. It involves spending money, but it doesn't involve making other people leave their families on a holiday to go work in retail so other people can run around like crazy people buying things before someone else can snatch them away. Instead of being about consumerism, it's about philanthropy.

Today begins open season on Giving.

The Giving Tuesday campaign was initiated by two lead charities to encourage a national day of giving back during the holiday season. According to the #GivingTuesday website, it is a day to celebrate a culture of giving rather than a culture of getting.

We Americans take some flack for our consumerism, but giving back is as much a part of the American psyche as mindless shopping and $5 lattes. The United States ranked #1 on the 2011 World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation, with an unprecedented World Giving Index score of 60%. 

However, charities cannot afford to lose traction when getting the word out about their needs. According to a new survey by Blackbaud (a company that advises nonprofits on fundraising), almost half of existing donors said they plan to give less or to fewer charities this holiday season. The average donor age is around 65. By using social media, the Giving Tuesday campaign hopes not only to encourage giving, but also to engage younger donors and enable them to be more actively involved in the causes they support.

Over 2000 charities or groups supporting charitable projects have registered as partners with Giving Tuesday. However, any charity is fair game - need knows no holiday and your favorite charity will be happy to receive your donation whether or not they are official partners. 

Blackbaud will analyze the impact of Giving Tuesday to help nonprofits understand its success and practical lessons for going forward. As a company that puts its money where its mouth is, Blackbaud is also donating $10,000 to a foundation that encourages innovation in philanthropy. 

As a former nonprofit manager and fundraiser, this is an encouraging move. As a former Blackbaud employee, it is especially gratifying for me personally. It feels good to know you have done something that matters. And as a charitable giver, this gives me yet another kick in the keister to do my part. 

So I am going online right now to make some donations. And for the record, if I'm on your Christmas list, don't worry about what size I wear or which color I would like - green always looks good, the size of a donation is always a perfect fit, and - an added bonus - it never, ever needs dusting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

my own dos equis: from waiting to XX years of love

I have always had a fear of being wrong.

Somehow that never stopped me from being cocky and opinionated. Especially in my early 20s, when I preferred anything that was different, non-traditional, abstract, odd. Including men, which I preferred older. Much older.

I sneered at traditional column houses, platinum-trimmed bone china, and station wagons. I shunned shiny faced boys straight out of college. Modern architecture, geometric dinnerware, quirky stick-shift foreign numbers, and someone with laugh lines and a little graying around the temples - these were more to my liking.

If I had married in my early 20s, my hypothetical (and hopefully older) husband and I would have registered for china, purchased a car, chosen a house.

But what I liked in 1986 is not what I would want now. Our tastes change. Had I had married in my early 20s, I'm pretty sure by now I would have donated the dinnerware to Goodwill, ditched the car, and run screaming from the no-longer-contemporary house.

Which makes me wonder: How would the hypothetical husband have fared?

Hopefully we would have grown together and suited each other as we aged. But...what if we didn’t? What if our marriage became as outdated as the Aztec-themed dinner setting I liked when I was 23? What if he stopped growing? What if I made a mistake?

They never talk about this stuff in fairy tales. What happens after the “happily ever after”?

Fear of making the wrong choice kept me single for a very, very long time. Honestly, I thought I would never marry. It just seemed too risky. And I didn’t trust myself very much. It took a lot of living and a lot of mistakes to get to the point where I could even like myself. Until then, there was no way anyone was breaking through my shell. Better to be alone and content than married and miserable.

Then one day, just when I’d given up for good, the unthinkable happened. The right person walked through the right door at the right time. I looked at him and saw an attractive man who was confident and successful. He looked at me and saw an attractive woman who was confident and comfortable in her own skin.

Boy did we have each other fooled!

He was fresh out of a failed marriage and a stalled career, starting over in every way imaginable. He had seen “ever after” and found it wasn’t necessarily a happy place.

I was a bag of insecurity and doubt, tied up with guilt and fear. I was terrified of “ever after” and had written off relationships for good about four months before we met.

We made absolutely no sense together.

So of course we fell head-over-heels in love.

Twenty (XX) years later, my tastes have changed dramatically. My house has four columns in front. There is gold-rimmed porcelain in the china cabinet. I drive a minivan.

And every morning, I wake up next to The Most Interesting Man in the World  - my own dos equis - with his graying temples and a spark in his eye. The man I will never outgrow because we keep growing together.

Together we have built (and rebuilt) careers, a home, a family, a life that is richer in love than I could have ever imagined.

It’s nice to know I wasn’t wrong about everything.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

if vampires can shine, why can't i

Quick, who said this:

After eighteen years of being utterly ordinary, I finally found that I can shine.

Unless you live under a rock, you probably guessed it's Bella of "Twilight" fame, the awkward girl who finally gets her shiny wish. The last movie in the series is coming out this week, so there are Bella quotes and pictures everywhere.

As a previous rock dweller, I will admit I had not seen any of the movies until recently, when my 10 year old requested a Twilight movie-thon. I am now sufficiently caught up. Forever.

Ok, so I wasn't blown away, but I wasn't disappointed either. I hear the books were better, but the movies were well made, fun and surprisingly wholesome for monster movies. It was refreshing to find love, romance and commitment still have some value in the age of hook-ups.

And who knew vampire dwellings could be so posh and artful and filled with light? Totally jealous.

So, back to Bella. Before meeting Edward, Bella felt like a misfit - different, displaced, an outsider. The possibility was within her to shine the whole time. Other people saw it in her, but she didn't. It took an outside force - the love of someone totally unexpected - to awaken her to the possibility of a different life. In the process, she discovered value in herself. She had things to offer Edward (ok, and Jacob) that were never thought possible. Being open to the possibilities changed everyone around them.

And so it goes in our own lives. There are people and situations we encounter in life that challenge us, enhance us, transform us. Whether knowingly or unaware, they serve as a catalyst to forever change our outlook, our perceptions, our locations, and even our character DNA. Our hope in life is that we can impact at least one other person in such a significant way for the better.

Those who touch us and those we touch are not necessarily one in the same. When they are, magic happens. Not Hollywood magic, but ancient magic, deep and strong. The kind that pushes us out of the armchair and catapults us into the unknown.

Sometimes we fly together. When that happens, it takes our breath away. It awes us that someone can care that much about us, is willing to invest in us, and wants to walk beside us. Even when it is messy and inconvenient. Maybe especially then.

Other times the catalyst sees us off and becomes a memory instead of a companion. Some catalysts serve a purpose and are meant to be left behind peacefully in the past. Maybe it was a nice experience. Maybe it was a devastation. Either way, it opened a door, a window, a portal, or shoved us out of the way and onto another road. One that made all the difference.

When we mix the two up, we can stall. Sometimes we try to drag people or things or scenarios forward with us instead of leaving them in their proper place and perspective. The "what ifs" haunt us and taint our present. While we would not be in our present state without them, it is often difficult to leave the past behind.

An old Roman poet named Catullus (whose name sounds delightfully like 'catalyst') described it as an inability to "put away a long love".  Even when that "love" is something pretty ugly, there is comfort in its familiarity. The whole "devil you know..." conundrum. It's hard to let go of that devil when you think it's the last secure thing you'll ever have.

Ironically, letting something in the past hold us back - whether regret or guilt or longing or even something that was good - can keep us from living into the fullness of what is before us. Even worse, it can keep us from having hope.

In Bella-speak, that drags us back into being utterly ordinary and keeps us from shining. In country-speak, it keeps us in a rut, which is just a grave with both ends knocked out.

Not even vampires live in graves these days. Don't know about you, but I'd much rather be in the posh glass house on the hill, even if it's just metaphorically speaking.

Friday, November 09, 2012

tiny little hairs

I can't believe I had to learn about this from a man.
I read women's magazines and blogs. I write a women's blog, for heaven's sake. We hold nothing back, right?

We find it easy to tell everything we know about love, sex, love without sex, sex without love, men, menstruation, menopause, mental health, menus, recipes, weight loss/gain, careers, career equality, career moms, home school moms, young moms, old moms, choose-not-to-be-a-mom...the list goes on and on. 

But apparently we keep some things to ourselves. 

For example, little tiny hairs - hello?!? Why didn't you tell me? Why did I hear about them from Bill Cosby, America's Dad? 

Oh, don't sit there and pretend you don't know what I'm talking about! If you are over 35, you need to just 'fess up. If you're under 35, you're forgiven, but you should take note. You'll need to know about this. Soon.  

Body hair was never a problem for me before now. Most of my ancestors were pretty WASPy. From them I got red hair, pale skin, and invisible eyebrows. The rest were Native American. From them I got the ability to go long periods without shaving my legs. I would have liked a little melanin and my mom's cheekbones, but guess those weren't in the genetic cards.

Scientifically, redheads have the least hair of all the hair colors. There are lots of famous redheads now, but being redheaded in the 70s and 80s was not fashionable. I would have gladly been a little more hirsute if it meant I looked like Farrah Fawcett or Brooke Shields. It took a lot of years for me to embrace the fact that I would never look like a celebrity.  (Well, maybe Kathleen Turner or Carrie Fisher - but not in the Body Heat or Jabba bikini years...phooey.) 

Just when I'd made peace with my pale aging hairless body, I felt them. 

Little tiny hairs...growing on my face. Just like in Bill Cosby's comedy routine. Except for women. Except...not funny!

I couldn't even see them at first. They were elusive, sneaky little buggers, taking advantage of my aging eyesight and limited dexterity.

Finally I broke down and bought a 15x magnifying mirror and a really expensive pair of tweezers. I still couldn't see them indoors, even with the mirror. I took my trusty mirror and reading glasses outside into the sunlight - bingo! Nasty black (!) hairs were springing from my chin, some of which I hadn't even felt. 

I was surprised at how long some of them were. There was even one on my neck the length of a toddler hair. I wondered why no circus had recruited me to be their bearded lady. And I was thankful my husband is farsighted in more ways than one. 

Nowadays, I keep my mirror and tweezers in my purse. That way I can take advantage of the sunlight in the car. When my husband drives, I gladly sit on the passenger side and do a little personal maintenance. 

The first few times I did this, he was shocked. (After living with me for so long, it takes a lot to shock him.) I believe he said, "Ugh, are you going to do that where EVERYONE can see you?" 

Obviously not EVERYONE could see me. Just the truck drivers cruising beside us on the interstate, and I'm sure they had way more interesting things to look at than a crazy old woman plucking facial hair in an SUV. 

And obviously I couldn't give a fig if anyone saw me, because I just told everyone on a national women's website about it. I'm sure you forgive me.

As I forgive you for not telling me about this. 

Just promise me there are no more nasty surprises coming up. I mean, I'm 48...what else could there be! 

What was that...? Wait....are you serious?

Sigh, on second thought, maybe ignorance is bliss.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

why I am not voting this morning

I’ve never been much for politics. I tend to shy away from controversy, from debates, from disagreements.

I’m no dummy. I have a Mensa card in a drawer somewhere if you want proof. But that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily smart in practical ways.

For one thing, I feel like I need to know all the ins and outs of a political topic in order to discuss it at all. I shouldn’t feel this way. Most people have no problem talking about things they know nothing about. That’s pretty obvious, with all the misinformation and snow jobs blowing around this time of year. Perfect morons seem to be able to make a decision, come down as black-or-white on the issues at hand. Why do I have such trouble?

Partially because I’m an empath. I feel what others around me are feeling. Sometimes this is a blessing, but other times it is a curse. I tend to see both sides of an issue and have feelings about both because I know people on both sides. (I'm even worried about my use of the word "moron" in the previous paragraph.)

This leads to a lot of internal conflict. So much so that the thought of adding external conflict is almost unbearable. I imagine everyone I know, left and right, unfriending me on Facebook, shunning me at church, and excluding me from parties.

It seems people who tout “tolerance” the most have plenty to go around until you disagree with them. Then you get labeled. I don’t do labels. (Ok, now I really regret using "moron.")
Also, I’m not used to discussing politics. Our family didn’t talk much about it growing up. We pretty much knew which presidential candidate our parents voted for. But we never really talked about candidates or issues or even political parties as a family. If we did, it wasn’t memorable.
I had best friends on both sides of the aisle. One friend came from a large Anglican family; her mother was president of the Republican Women’s Club. Another friend came from a larger Catholic family; she wore McGovern/Shriver campaign buttons to school in the second grade. At least I was surrounded by examples of active political women from a young age.

My sphere of political diversity and empathy continues today.

Much of my family and some of my friends are very conservative. Some of them are on the radical right, like “I believe Barack Obama is a Muslim non-citizen who loves to kill babies” radical. But most of them just have strong beliefs in God and country and family, and believe in voting their conscience and their values.

Many of my friends and some of my family are very liberal. Some of them are on the radical left, like “I believe Mitt Romney hates all women/Mexicans/gays/Big Bird/fill-in-the-blank” radical. They also have strong beliefs in God and country and family, and believe in voting their conscience and their values.

So here I am, stuck in the middle again. I have little-to-no patience for people who insist a vote for Romney is a vote for misogyny, discrimination, and the 1%. Just as I have little-to-no patience for people who insist a vote for Obama is a vote for Islam, socialism, and the end of the family.

So what is a sensitive-but-thinking girl to do?

When I feel lost, I go back to basics. I consider our history, the founding of this great experiment of a country. When asked what type of government we had, Ben Franklin cautioned, “A republic…if you can keep it.” Ben was no saint and was considered a lowbrow for thinking ordinary people said anything worth listening to. He was the only person who signed all four founding papers – the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with Great Britain, the treaty with France, and the Constitution. He didn’t agree with everything in each of those documents, but trusted the compromise of “joint wisdom” to be superior to the fallible thoughts of only one mind.

Somehow “joint wisdom” has kept this country going for 236 years, through nearly endless foreign conflicts, a brutal civil war that should have ended the great experiment, and two world wars that could have ended freedom for all forever.

But they didn’t. The experiment continues in spite of our brokenness, our disagreements, our disparity of beliefs.

I find great hope in that. I find hope in the people I love, in the people I meet at church and at Starbucks and at the homeless shelter and at the arts fundraiser. I find hope in this great experiment of a country, in the faith of the founders and of the reformers who risked life and limb so there would be a United States of America and so I as a woman could have a voice in it.

And now to the question of how I could possibly consider not voting this morning. Because this morning my daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, please wait until I get home from school to vote. I want to go with you.”

So I will vote this afternoon. With my daughter by my side, I will enter the poll and cast my vote without regard to who might agree or disagree with my choice. And when we find out the results, either on Wednesday or sometime before January 20, 2013, I will have the same hope as I do today.

Because my hope is not in Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

My hope is in you. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

saying goodbye to a saint

Today, we bury a mother. Her name was Patricia. But her family called her Gigi.

She isn’t my mother, or grandmother. She is a mother once removed, mother to my husband’s first wife, and grandmother to our children.

Her daughter and I share the same name, the same town, the same children and grandchildren, and, at different times, the same husband.

I have known Gigi nearly 20 years. In all that time, even when I first came into the family – the second wife, the step mom, the other Cynthia– she made me feel part of the greater whole. She embraced me, helped me fit in, helped me belong.
I loved her grandchildren – and now great-grandchildren - as my own. I embraced her daughter.  I suppose it is easier to accept someone who loves the same people you do. Or maybe she was just that gracious to everyone.

She was a Proverbs 31 kind of woman. She was confident in what she believed and she lived in the truth of it.  She had a tremendous faith in God that carried her through the illness and death of her beloved husband and one of her sons. She stood strong with those she loved as their lives fell apart. And she helped them stand as they rebuilt them.

She was an active woman. She never stopped, and she ran circles around people half her age. She went to every recital, every marching band competition, every graduation. She took care of young and old; her house was open to all. She always had a ready meal, a ready hand, and a ready hug. Even for me.

We were pretty sure she’d outlive our generation. Hoping, maybe. Because as long as she was around, her family had a rock to lean on and a safe place to fall.

When illness struck her, it struck hard. No one saw it coming. It was incurable, ruthless, swift but not swift enough to avoid suffering. A suffering she did not earn.

Today, she suffers no more.

It is fitting that we celebrate Gigi’s life on All Saint’s Day, the day on the Christian calendar that gives Halloween its name (“All Hallow’s Eve”). For we are no longer mourning her illness or even her death.

Oh, there is much grief and heartache and disbelief. There will be tears aplenty for lost time, for missing the sound of her voice, for her empty chair at weddings and birthdays and holidays.

She will be greatly missed. But today we celebrate her legacy that lives in all who knew her, and the newness of life she lives in now.

Because this saint isn’t just marching in – she’s running! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

just us halloweenies

Ho ho ho, Happy Holloween!

Surely you can understand my confusion. I hardly know what color candy to buy this time of year, there are so many holidays vying for attention. But let's focus on Halloween for now.

I loved Halloween growing up. Our parents always took us Trick or Treating in our neighborhood. Sometimes our cousins or friends came over and we all went together, carrying our pillowcases or plastic pumpkins as we ran from door to door laughing.

I remember having store-bought costumes a few years when we were little. But mostly we cobbled together something from our box of play clothes and whatever we could find in the closet. We were clowns, cowboys, witches, princesses, super heroes...the usual stuff. One year I remember being a gypsy, wearing drapery rings as jewelry since I didn't have pierced ears.

I kept this up through my teens. I'd volunteer to go with the little kids so my parents could stay home. I was using them as an excuse to keep dressing up as a vampire. The foppish Catholic Anne Rice kind, not the glittery Mormon Stephanie Meyer kind.

It's fun to dress up as someone other than yourself, especially a fantasy character. Unless you're a professional actor, Halloween is all you get. Just once a year.

I went to a party store tonight to get a wig for my daughter. She's portraying Princess Diana in her school's Historic Pageant, the Montessori approach to celebrating Halloween in an academic way.

So far she's been Queen Elizabeth I, Pocahontas, Mata Hari, and Lucretia Borgia. This year she picked Lizzie Borden. Apparently she's drawn to notorious women. We put down our collective foot and said "Thanks for playing, try again" and she went with her second choice, Princess Di. Still notorious, depending on your source, but at least she didn't give her parents 40 whacks with an axe.

Anyway, back to the party store. I went by myself because my daughter can't handle the visual stimulation of any sort of horror. Not that I like it. On the way to the wig aisle, I walked by an upside-down flayed torso with a partial spine sticking out, a few zombies, a handful of Scream-type characters, and lots of skinned and bloody looking body parts.

Some people have a sick idea of what makes great yard decorations.

There were also some really odd looking people in there. Funny thing was, they weren't even in costume yet. Apparently Halloween brings out more freaks than normal. I swear I've never seen the likes of them before. They looked, well, like they hung out in graveyards, but they were plunking down big bucks for some freaky flammable nylon costume they would wear one night.

And let's talk about costume choices, especially for women: Why is there a "slutty" version of everything you could possibly imagine? Slutty vampire, slutty nurse, slutty zombies, slutty Navy Commander, slutty Taco Bell Sauce... I did not make that up.

Do all women have a year-long secret desire to be slutty and just can't make a better choice on Halloween? Based on how I see people dressed downtown and at the mall, I'd say the answer to that question is yes....and no. Yes, they have a desire to be slutty, and no, they don't limit it to just  Halloween.

I'm not a prude. One year a group of friends were characters from Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was, of course, Magenta. A little slutty maybe...hey, I was in character. It is is Rocky Horror, after all.

But another year we were the characters from the Wizard of Oz and I was the Cowardly Lion. Not a sexy lion with tights and ears and a little twitchy tail, but a big full-on, body-covering costume with full makeup. That was an anti-sexual costume if ever there was one. And we won the grand prize, which had something to do with waterbeds. Which none of us had. Still, it was fun.

And I guess that's what Halloween should be about.

Once, years ago, I went through a pseudo-fundamentalist stage when I swore off Halloween. It seemed to have gotten really dark, really evil, really creepy, and I didn't want to play. I think it might also have been a little depression kicking in. I refused to buy candy and convinced my husband to stay in the back of the house with the porch lights off.

Great googly moogly, it was so boring!!

Then our baby girl came along. We couldn't let her miss the fun. Her first Halloween coincided with her first ear infection, so she stayed home with me handing out candy in her baby pumpkin costume. Since then we have done something every year, either at church, in our neighborhood, or with friends.

We don't make a big deal, don't spend gobs of money, but we try to have fun. Last year we saw "The Addams Family" on Broadway, and our daughter wanted to be Morticia. I could have bought a costume, but we found a dress at Goodwill and together we modified it. Add a Cher wig, some white foundation and black eyeliner, and a big spider ring - voila! a perfect Morticia.

This year she wants to be a Nerd. A "hurt nerd" on crutches. Apparently "nerd" is all the rage. Too bad it wasn't popular when I was a kid. I could have gone Trick or Treating every day without changing a thing!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

the toughest ship to sail.....

The hardest thing about being human is relationships with other humans.

Think about it. What gives you more joy, more sorrow, more emotional and sometimes even physical trauma than having to deal with other people?

You have to deal with relationships your entire life, from birth to death. Even when they're over, you're lugging along what's left of that relationship by yourself.

They aren't all deal-breakers. Some are really big. Some may not mean much at all. But they affect us in some way, big or small, even when we don't realize it.

There's the grown man who flipped you off in traffic for something that wasn't your fault, the one who made you feel slightly angry and slightly ashamed, the one who made you use the terms "grown" and "man" in a whole new way.

There's the sullen girl at Old Navy, the one with the pierced nose who wouldn't look you in the eye, who said "thank you" so far under her breath that you wonder why she bothered to exhale.

There's the young man at the pharmacy, the nice bright-eyed one who remembers your name and pulls your prescriptions out of the bin before you even reach the counter.

There's the coworker who randomly leaves chocolate on your desk and who makes you feel better when the image in the bathroom mirror seems harsh and cold.

There's the woman who asked you out to lunch at your new job every day until she wore you down and you said yes, the woman who eventually became your best friend ever, the kind you can call after a year and just start talking to without catching up or even having to say hello.

There's the mother who gave birth to you and raised you and loved you and will never ever let you off the hook for anything, the one you spent the most time and money talking about in therapy, the woman you most love and desire to please while you pull away kicking and screaming. She knows how to push all your buttons. Including the ones that soothe you when the world is spinning out of control.

There's the old lover you can't forget, the person you thought was the "one", the man you dreamed of building a life with.... except he chose a different life that didn't have room for you.

Then there's the person you actually married, who is the most thrilling, infuriating, fulfilling, maddening, complex amalgam of dynamics imaginable, someone who adores you and fulfills all the old dreams, surpassing them and creating new realities you never imagined.

This is the ship of your dreams, the kind that makes you say cheesy things like "My, he is yar" like Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story."

Relationships can be unwieldy, unpredictable, uncertain. Especially when they lose power. But when they are tended to, well oiled, stoked, and regularly taken out for some fun....my, they are yar.

Hopefully I can continue to learn and perfect the handling of that kind of ship.

Monday, October 22, 2012

women's lifestyle expert, apply here

I was recently asked by Skirt! magazine to be a National blogger on their women's lifestyle website! I am so honored and hardly know what to say! First, I would like to thank the Academy and my family for believing in me even when...oops, wrong speech.
Striking the "Godspell" set at the Dock Street Theater...a long, long time ago
Seriously, this is a very cool development.

Now, I'm not an expert on "women's lifestyles." I'm definitely a woman, and I do have a lifestyle, but that alone doesn't qualify me for the job.  Otherwise I could claim to be a skincare expert because I have skin and care for it.

However, my experience is not irrelevant either. It may even resonate with two or three people out there who might actually read my blog.

Now, as a woman, what exactly is my "lifestyle"?

Let's start with the basics. Basically, I am a wife and mom who works. Show me one who doesn't. What I work at changes depending on what hour of the day it happens to be.

In the morning I work on getting myself and one easily distracted daughter out of the house on time for carpool, regardless of whether the dog has peed on the carpet or someone has had a case of prepubescent hysteria. As I back out of the garage I try not to hit the trash can. Or my husband's car. Again.

Then I work on pleasing my customers at my "real" job (i.e., the one responsible for my bi-monthly direct deposit) by crafting technical manuals and papers and online help and "waving my magic wand" over someone else's mangled grammar. Sometimes I even make coffee, because I am a secure, modern professional woman. And because life is too short for bad coffee.

Afternoons are spent working on picking up my daughter from school on time and thinking about what I will do for dinner after carting my daughter to Irish dance and karate and piano.  (Did I mention how well I work to support the economies of oil-producing countries, even with my 24 mpg van?)

At home I work to get some sort of food into the mouths of my family that doesn't come in a box and get covered with milk. "Breakfast for dinner" does have a place in my repertoire, I just don't want to wear it out.
BLT with tomatoes and okra from my garden and a helpin' of Charleston cheese grits souffle 
Speaking of food, I'm working at keeping nasty stuff out of our diet, like HFCS and phthalates and flesh eating bacteria. So I put some raised beds in our side yard to grow fresh vegetables just like my parents used to. Green things are starting to push through the soil. It's probably a matter of time before the locust (or lice or Japanese beetles) descend, but at least I tried. We'll see how it goes.

I recently worked at losing 25+ pounds and rediscovered my love of fashion. Even shoes are more fun now. I never lost my love for shoes. No matter how the size of your hips might fluctuate, those 4" Nanette Lepores will fit every day. Now it's just easier to balance.

Depending on the day of the week, I work on my music and spend time with my friends at church. They are the most irreverent, silly, God-crazy, sold-out, loving weirdos I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They challenge me and make me laugh and pray for me when I just can't do it for myself. They prayed my daughter into existence and have changed my life. I love them.

Some time during the evening I work at keeping my dog from feeling completely ignored. Ditto for the husband. And when the stars align, we all work together to keep the house from falling into C.H.A.O.S. (= Can't Have Anyone Over Status).

I work to stay in touch with my family. I love them so much, but - alas - most of them don't use email or Facebook regularly so I have to call them. On the phone. I hate talking on the phone. I have to work on that.

After bedtime snuggles - definitely NOT work - I spend an hour or so working on something that is just for me. It isn't always earth-shaking (reading! writing! shaving! picking my toes!) but it matters.

Then, after everything else is done, I work on staying awake...for just a little while longer. Because, you know, I LIKE being married and I never, ever want to date again. I would sure hate to see certain fires get neglected.
I'm a lucky girl!
I also deeply love that man and enjoy being adored by him. I'm pretty darn lucky that after 19 years of marriage my husband still calls me his "bride" and thinks I'm hot - I've definitely got a good deal working and don't want to screw it up.

So that's this woman's lifestyle in a thumbnail. A really big, Jack-and-the-Beanstalk Giant-sized thumbnail. It's hard to zip up all this red-headed weirdness into a compressed file. Thankfully not everything good comes in a small package.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

renegade patients/patience

There is an interesting healthcare article in the news this week about doctors who decide to stop playing the insurance game.

A few years ago, we decided to take the self-pay route for our primary doctor. Actually, the doctor quoted in the article, Craig Koniver, IS our doctor. He went to this mode of practice two years ago, and last year pared his staff down to one - himself.

My family is fortunate to have medical insurance coverage. But we chose to stay with Dr. Koniver because his approach to care has revolutionized our health. It's that simple. And that amazing.

Break Free of the System!

Dr. Koniver describes it as partnership. He uses his knowledge of traditional and organic medicine along with his personal relationship with us to guide us in taking care of our own health. We trust his advice, knowing it is based on a holistic approach to our well-being, not on a need to satisfy coding requirements or pitch product. The upfront cost is surprisingly affordable. And since the cost is controlled and agreed to up front, there are no nasty surprises from insurance companies denying charges because such-and-such was coded wrong or excluded by our plan.

He is amazingly accessible. And we no longer feel like just a number in an EMR system. We have his direct phone number and email. When we send him a message, he's back in touch within minutes. When we visit, we have as much time with him as we need and we converse on a first-name basis. He knows exactly who we are, what our lives are like, and what we're struggling with, even before he consults his whizbang iPad chart. When he asks how we are doing, he means it, and he wants to know not just our physical state, but how we are mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Because it all matters and has an impact on our health.

My husband was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes ten years ago and has had an ongoing struggle with controlling his blood sugar. Our prior caregiver would look at his numbers, nod as my husband voiced his concerns, then prescribe one drug on top of another. We are not opposed to pharmaceuticals and are grateful for medical advances, but after a few years of being pelted with pills - including one that was later taken off the market - we thought there had to be a better way. We wanted a holistic doctor who would LISTEN to us and would do more than just try to mask our symptoms with pharmaceuticals. Once we found that in Dr. Koniver, there was no way we were going back!

The importance of this approach became more evident this year. After getting to know my husband, following his struggles with his blood sugar, and doing some in depth research, Dr. Koniver suspected the possibility that my husband had been misdiagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He sent us to a specific endocrinology specialist in Atlanta, whose tests verified that he had the marker for Type 1, not Type 2. No one else had ever looked at the numbers and suggested that maybe there was a reason why traditional treatments weren't improving his condition.

Obviously Dr. Koniver has not abandoned all that is good in traditional medicine. He uses everything that is at his disposal to make the best recommendations to his patients. We still use certain pharmaceuticals to treat ongoing conditions. But we prefer to use organic supplements when possible to avoid increasingly expensive pharmaceuticals with questionable side effects. (Seriously, have you ever listened to the rapid fire side effects list on those commercials?)  Dr. Koniver even has his own line of organic supplements. He doesn't push them, but we use them because they make a difference, we trust the source, and they're less expensive/higher quality that what you find in the market. And they work.  My husband and I are in much better health now than we were five years ago because of them. And as my husband would say, if it ain't broke, don't mess with it!

It's refreshing  - and inspirational - to have a doctor brave enough to defy conventions so he can fulfill his true calling of helping people reclaim wellness. He won't get rich this way, but he makes a good living and he spends a lot of time with his family, including his doctor wife who left practice to home-school their kids. Then again, that might just make him the richest doctor in town.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

do over....

Seventeen years ago, I became a technical writer. My goal: make money writing during the day so i could write my own stuff at night. Instead, I entered a 16 year creative vacuum and didn't write a thing.

In my business I document systems based on test case scenarios. If the system crashes, we fix it and start over. It's all part of the documentation process. We get lots of do-overs.

But life isn't a test case scenario. This is the big game. Mostly we get one shot. Rarely do we get to wipe the slate clean and start over.

One day I woke up and realized the big hole inside me couldn't be filled with anything but doing what I was meant to do - writing about the real stuff, the hard stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff that was inside and all around me.

So I'm starting over, where I am, with what I have. No more wasting time. No more fear of critics. I am a writer. The time is now. Here I go....

Thursday, April 12, 2012

smoking gun: feds, ads, and you

Most rational people understand that "truth in advertising" is an oxymoron. We don't believe everything we see. But that doesn't mean it's ok to make any old claims you want about a product. If you take a look at product claims made in historic advertising, it is obvious we benefit from regulations that impose parameters and guard consumers against blatantly false claims.


However, how much power should the government (that is, WE) have over the advertising and packaging of a product?

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated "larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings" be displayed on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Graphic warnings like these:

A federal court declared this mandate unconstitutional to impose this requirement on tobacco companies and struck it down before it could be implemented.

I don't smoke. But I'm not a purist. I smoked for a short season long ago when I worked in theater. Theater folks are typically a smoking crowd, no secret there. And I'll be honest - I enjoyed it. It's relaxing. It curbs your appetite. And it gives you something to do with your hands when you're waiting around for call.

But I got tired of smelling like smoke, of spending money, of hiding my habit from people who loved me and would have disapproved. I didn't like giving that much power over myself to a drug. And I knew it wasn't good for me.

I'd seen what decades of tobacco use can do to people. I'd listened to the wheezing and coughing of people I love. I'd watched their skin shrivel and wrinkle, smelled death on them. I'd watched them struggle for breath as they reached to remove the oxygen tube and light up. I'd seen them cough up something that looked like coffee grounds from the recesses of ravaged lungs in a hospital bed. I'd gone to their funerals.

So I quit.

Now the nanny state wants you to quit, too. And they think forcing you to look at gruesome images every time you buy a pack of cigarettes will do the trick.

See, the FDA claims their job is "Protecting and Promoting YOUR Health." Even if that was true (and not just the result of some committee meeting on coming up with clever mottoes), does it give the FDA the authority or the power to force tobacco companies to use pictures of rotted lungs on cigarette packaging?

Besides, if the FDA is going to force tobacco companies to use deterrent packaging, shouldn't they apply the same standards to other industries? For example:
  • Fast food companies should use only pallid obese people in power-scooters in their packaging (see above pic for cig pack)
  • Candy and soda advertising should feature hyperactive children with rotting teeth 
  • Grocery store brands should exchange pictures of red barns and sunshine for animals packed into CAFOs knee-deep in their own manure and fields sprayed by workers wearing chemical gear
  • Pharmaceutical companies should have to illustrate their products' small-print, fast-paced adverse reactions using pictures of patients vomiting, bleeding rectally, or lying in a coffin
I'm not for smoking. It can contribute to poor health and even death. But so can a bunch of other things that are well accepted - even expected - in our culture. The federal government has a role in regulation and public safety. But when they go too far - even for something we agree with in principal - we need to take note and consider the long-term ramifications to our freedom. After all, "they" are supposed to be "us". I think we have forgotten that....