Thursday, December 30, 2010

Definitely NOT a Witchhunt

Just when I thought I'd heard the last from perennial candidate Christine O'Donnell after her defeat last month, the Justice Department is looking into how she spent the $7 million her Senate campaign raised.

I don't admire her. But for God's sake, the biggest part of me would rather let her abscond with money people were foolish enough to give her campaign than to hear her screechy voice complaining about how the world, and Joe Biden, are against her. She's going to use this investigation as fodder for her false sense of importance, while adding to the Delaware-sized chip on her shoulder.

O'Donnell has never explained how she earns a living. So I'll take a guess--she's a professional candidate. As long as she keeps running for office, she'll be able to pay the bills. She may well be running the biggest scam ever in the country's second smallest state.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Legs, not Wings

I've written about my grandmother in other posts. She was a salty gal, as at home wearing hip waders in a flooded basement and using choice profanities as she was powdering her nose before going to 7 a.m Mass. What a woman. Think Annie Oakley with painted toenails. I wouldn't mind being remembered this way.

In other ways, Grandma was surprisingly conventional. The woman was wild for chicken wings. Now bear with me. Loving chicken wings seems like a non-sequitur, but I'm making a Point. No one could understand her wingomania. Why not go for a breast with its large expanse of crispy skin, leaving the dry, tacky stuff for the dog, or a juicy leg? Who in their right mind would choose a wing? There's virtually no meat on them, and they're a pain in the ass to eat.

My mother's theory was that Grandma, who grew up in a big family, got whatever was left over. And learned to love it.

When I lived with her, she did most of the cooking, because her kitchen was her palace. She claimed I was too busy with my studies to muss my hands with cooking. But about once a month, she'd beg me to make these Asian-spiced chicken wings I got from an old Craig-Claiborne-does-Chinese-cooking. They're made with star anise and stick cinnamon, and they are pretty damned good, for chicken wings. I haven't made this recipe in years, as my husband and kids think anise tastes terrible. Maybe instead of those wretched deep fried wings with bleu cheese dressing people serve at Super Bowl parties, I'll invite over some people who would appreciate wings stewed with star anise and stick cinnamon.

As for that Point I promised to make--sometimes eating what's left over is good discipline. Like so much in her life, Grandma made the best of her circumstances. She knew how to put aside her desires and share, and that's a good thing.

What she wasn't so great at was communicating what she wanted. A lot of us, especially females, lack this skill.  Sometimes it's somebody else's turn to share, especially in the daily give-and-take of family life.

So go ahead--tell your familiars you're taking the pick of the litter tonight, whether it's from a platter of chicken or the thickest steak. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite. Don't worry, you're not going to forget how to share. It's like riding a bicycle. Where you need practice most is in putting yourself first.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Sound Mind and Body

In the University of Colorado fieldhouse before my race, with Patrick and Phil,  Don's co-worker.
I started running again more than three years ago, when it became obvious that my weight was creeping up, despite an active lifestyle that includes walking, yoga, hiking and skiing. Not to mention recreational eating. Plus, I was entering into the Perimenopausal Zone (no offense, gentlemen, but the PZ is not a place where fools march in, so perhaps you'd rather not read this post). At first it was kind of a secret pastime, because I wasn't at all sure I was going to like it enough to continue. I vaguely remembered that running hurt, or was uncomfortable, or something, and in the immortal words of Daffy Duck, "I'm not like other people. I don't like pain. It hurts me." Or as secret as any pastime that requires running around my neighborhood, where I've lived for a decade and I suppose I'm as well-known as any other long-term denizen.

Sure enough, running was as uncomfortable as I remembered it, if not exactly painful. My right knee was particularly rebellious. It squeaked and groaned like an old house wondering if it could stay on its foundations. But beyond a slight twinge and some strange creaking sounds, my knee didn't hurt. I was still running a month or two later when I noticed that it was no longer protesting. I can't say I loved the experience, especially during it, but there was no quitting now, especially since nothing really hurt. Besides, I felt great afterward, endorphins soaring, and the weight already slowly dropping off.

This was good enough to keep at, I decided. I started entering local 5- and 10K races and delighted in their carnival atmosphere. I wasn't in it to win it. I just didn't want to embarrass myself. I researched training programs and starting running hills and intervals to increase my stamina and speed. These strategies worked. I became a faster, if not award-winning runner. That was, and still is, good enough for me.

The trouble is, I still live in American society, where progress is a foregone conclusion. The next logical step would be for me to run a half-marathon, or even start training for a marathon. Don't get me wrong--I revere anyone who trains for and competes in a marathon. Just ask my family--I'm one of those dorks who sits around on a Saturday afternoon watching NBC Universal repeats of the running portions of triathlons. I love to watch how people run. Each person's style is as unique as their face. A running fingerprint of sorts.

But why in the hell would a big gal like me, 5'10" and who weighs, well, a lot more than I'm ever going to confess publicly, ever run a marathon? Marathon runners are thin and wiry, not strong and bulky like me. And besides, I'm perfectly content running 10K. It's a great distance for me. I've lost twenty pounds running consistently, if not breaking any records for speed and distance. A couple of running buddies have pointed out that the weight would come off if I stepped up my training. But I'm not in this to lose any more weight. I like to think of myself as kind of a throwback to actresses of the 1950s, like Jane Russell or Ava Gardner or Marilyn Monroe. I actually don't mind having breasts and hips. Running off my belly fat and thunder thighs was one thing. Why would I want to run off the good jiggly parts?

So what AM i in it for? Given my disposition, which alternates between biliousness and anxiety with occasional, very occasional bonhomie, I might well be a lifetime candidate for Prozac. But I'm also into yoga and alternative medicine. Running is my alternative to Prozac. In the process of pursuing a sounder body, I've also stumbled onto my key to a sounder mind. Certainly the yoga asana and meditation play a huge part in cultivating peace of mind, besides being excellent physical and emotional exercise. For one thing, I've stopped giving the people around me so many pieces of my mind since I added running to my routine. Yes, I still write letters to the editor in response to some blowhard who really needs another blowhard to put him in his place. But I'm kinder and gentler about it.

At the two-mile mark at Saturday's race

This is what works for me. I'll just keep plodding along. If the weight starts creeping up again, or Don starts telling me my Bitchiness Quotient has increased to intolerable levels, then I'll consider my next steps. By that time I'll be over 50. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I just don't think it's a good for me to start running marathons after 50. I'm more likely to bungee jump.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Kind of Veteran's Aid

Don, the boys and I were walking on Main Street in Bozeman, Montana on a snowy June evening. Yes, folks, it snows in Montana in June. And every other month, too. But that's another story. We were taking in a little after-dinner window shopping, when a man walking in front of us careened around and fell backwards smack on his head. Our first thought was that he was having a seizure. But almost immediately, he bounced back up.

One whiff of his breath made it clear his fall was alcohol-induced. He didn't seem to know where he was or what had just happened, but he was walking and talking. We offered to call the paramedics, but he waved us off. We kept walking with him, because we were pretty sure he wasn't in any condition to cross streets safely. He was coherent enough to mention he'd been in Iraq. But the conversation quickly devolved into him insulting us for judging him for his drunkenness and not appreciating his service. He was clearly looking for a fight.

I didn't think our boys needed to witness any more of this, so Don and I quickly agreed I'd take them back to the hotel and he'd deliver him to the VFW, which was another block and a half up the street. We were hoping the other vets would know better how to handle him than we did.

It probably wasn't the first time this young soldier had picked a fight with someone. And he may have landed in jail for it more than once.

In a small way, Judge Ronald Croder has begun to address the issue of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder who run into trouble with the law, often for alcohol-related offenses. The retired two-star general has started a Veteran Trauma Court that is more interested in helping traumatized vets deal with life than in punishing them.

Bravo, Judge Crowder, for using your expertise and life experience to help other people. The judge, a prosecutor and a public defender are actually working together instead of being adversarial. Let's hope their good work becomes a model for other courts in Colorado and across the country to emulate.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Elbow Grease

My Grandma Finnegan swore that her wringer washer got clothes cleaner than agitator washing machines. In 1986 the one she'd bought in the sixties died, and she went to the trouble of special ordering one from Sears. I'd have liked to have been a fly on the wall when that transaction took place. The sales clerk likely showed her the latest models, and I'm sure she politely looked. But in the end the wringer washer was the only machine for her.

Grandma was a great believer in the power of elbow grease. The wringer washer experience epitomizes this ethic. When my parents used to take my sisters and me to Montana every July, I spent many happy hours helping Grandma send all our clothing from the washing tub through the wringer into the rinse tub, and through the wringer again. Did the clothes really get cleaner this way? Maybe it was one of Grandma's illusions. At least every article of clothing was touched four times in the process.

Anyone who uses a wringer washer is going to forgo the dryer and use a clothesline. That's fine in July, when the daytime temperature is in the eighties. Fast forward to when I lived with Grandma in the 1980s. She wasn't going to let a little thing like minus 20 degree January temperatures stop her from hanging out our clothes to dry. Freeze dry. The wind could be blowing like crazy, and our clothes would not flap. They waved. And they took three or more days to fully dry. After that first experience hanging clothes in  bone-numbing cold, I was a lot more careful to wear my clothing as many times as I could get away with. I was just learning to drive in the snow, for Pete's sake. My thin Californian's blood was no match. Grandma would be out there before dawn shoveling snow, wearing nothing more than a windbreaker over her pajamas.

I'm not suggesting that we go back to the days of using wringer washing machines. I am thinking we could all stand to use a little more elbow grease in our daily living. A little inconvenience is good for a person. If it doesn't build character, it might just build some patience, a virtue all Americans are going to need in abundance in the coming years.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pat THIS Down

Tuesday night I went to the salon, and we were talking about Thanksgiving plans. What we were all most thankful for was that none of us were flying anywhere for the holiday.

"What do you think of the body scanners?" my stylist Teryl asked me.

"TSA can kiss my ass," I said over the drone of the hair dryer. "If I thought body scanners were making us safe from terrorists, then it would be different."

"Then you'll have to go for a pat down," she pointed out.

True enough. But after a lifetime of conditioning about not allowing any stranger to touch my privates, any pat down is going to be on MY terms. Especially state-sanctioned fondling that offers only a vague promise of safety from terrorism. Like I said in the salon, TSA can kiss my ass. My dimpled ass, that is. Though I'm a reasonably fit 49-year-old woman, my weight has fluctuated over the years, not just due to two pregnancies, but mainly because I like to eat and drink. It'll be just like my high school job at Winchell's Donuts in Hermosa Beach--I used to wear my bathing suit underneath my uniform so I could to the beach after work. Now I'll wear it underneath my street clothes. I'm all about making life easier for the people around me.

I've been thinking about something Mr. Walter Douthwright frequently talked about in government class my senior year. He spoke of how the politics in this country are driven by crisis. As in no decisions are made until the big one strikes.

And strike it did, several times in this decade, beginning with 9/11. Our government's response--two wars that still don't have a clear outcome. Many Americans are more patient with the lack of well-defined outcomes on two wars that have spanned the decade than they are with a recession that has lasted three years. Doesn't taking your shoes off at the airport make you feel safer already?

The same people who have linked shoe removal and color alerts with national security have now brought us virtual strip searches and patdowns, as if everyone boarding a plane is a potential underwear bomber.

My friends tell me I have a knack for stating the obvious, so here I go again. What's next? Everybody has at least one body cavity. The next terrorist wannabe is going to tuck explosives where the sun don't shine. Where the hell is that going to leave airline travelers? Are we going to be treated to strip searches? I pay Lynn Walker, M.D. good money to examine me once a year. No amateurs allowed.

When my mom was out to lunch with her singing group last week, body scanners were a main topic of conversation. A middle-aged guy sitting at the table next to them interrupted.

"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation," he said. "I'm here to tell you, if I'm going through a scanner, I plan on being at full attention." Lucky for him this is a salty bunch of septugenarians.

My neighbor's father is Israeli. I asked her what the Israelis do int heir airports.

"Profiling. And it works. Oh, yeah, Israel's a smaller country with fewer airports. But it works well enough. The problem is, it will never happen in this country."

It's enough to make a girl go all Forrest Gump. Hello, running shoes. The next time I go to California to visit my parents, I'm seriously considering running there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Race Day

On Saturday my family and I ran in our local Turkey Trot. Yes, folks, even Don, who hasn't willingly run, well, ever, ran the two-mile course. One of his Facebook friends quipped, "Was the liquor store closing soon and the car wouldn't start?" Our 12-year-old Patrick and I ran the 10K. I ran mine in 1:01.13, and Patrick ran his in 45 minutes. Patrick's ass-whooping of me is only going to get worse, as his legs and his cardiovascular system grow. That's OK. I'm happy for him. As long as I'm still running races at age 79, like someone I met on the course, I figure I'm doing well.

As I was running toward the three-mile marker, I saw a thin elderly man running along. As I passed him, I asked how long he'd been running.

"Thirty-five years."

"Hope I'm still running in thirty-five years."

For the next mile and a half, we took turns passing each other. I was doing what I call my inchworm intervals, running as hard as I can for a minute, then pacing myself for another two minutes. Damned if he didn't pass me for good right before the five-mile marker. I saw him at the finish line, where we shook hands. I congratulated him for his strong finish.

"You helped me out there," he said.

I couldn't imagine how. By encouraging him? By providing a target for him? I was too high on endorphins to care one way or t'other. "Thank you" seemed the best thing to say.

Anyone who knows me well knows I'm a big-time eavesdropper, and that usually leads to some butt-inskey comment. I usually can't resist the temptation to comment on what I've just so audaciously overheard. Here's the best one of the day: "Did you hear about that guy with one leg who ran a marathon in like, two hours?"

"Hell," I offered, "I can't run that on two legs. Not even on three."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let Them Eat Negative Ads

I don't know any voters, Republican, Democrat or Independent, who thinks the harvest of negative campaign advertising was worth the estimated $4 billion spent. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, we don't even know who funded many of the ads. This is a travesty. I frequently write letters to the editor, and I am required to sign my name to them. Signing your name is part of the deal in free speech. Apparently it's OK with a majority of Supreme Court justices to allow corporations and labor unions, in the name of free speech, to anonymously donate to national and local political campaigns.

When Don and I lived in Vermont, we went to a candidates' night where then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (now a senator) said something I'll never forget. In terms of the federal budget, expenditures in the millions of dollars are chump change. It's only when they cross over into the billions that it matters.

All righty, then. So much for investors not having major money to spend on investing in businesses. The 2008 campaigns, which included the costliest presidential campaign in history, cost around $2 billion. Four billion dollars could have gone a long way toward investing in new and established businesses and industries in every congressional district. I'm sure there are rules about how campaign funds can be spent, and they surely don't include investing in businesses (unless you're in the advertising biz). Governor-elect John Hickenlooper is a notable exception of a candidate who didn't go negative in his ads. Then again, when you have Larry and Curly as your opponents, who needs advertising at all?

This is a great country. I'm sure there are ways for candidates, whether incumbent or challenger, to show  voters what they can do to create jobs in their districts. In my congressional district, there are worthwhile alternative energy concerns that could have used the more than $32 million that was spent statewide on campaigning. Whatever's left over could be used to pay for ads explaining to voters what candidates have done to strengthen the job base in their districts.

Karl Rove has famously said that negative ads work. For whom? Voters can't drink enough Pepto-Bismol to make it through the next round of toxic waste he and his cronies are already planning. 

In the meantime, this voter would love to see an ad from any candidate that talks specifically how they worked with industry to create jobs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can We Talk?

In sports, I'm a natural defender. I would have liked to have been the kind of player, like Linda Appio on my eighth-grade basketball team, who made magic happen almost every time she took it to the hoop. Instead I was someone who kept track of the ball and made my move when my opponent was being sloppy with it. And then I gave it to Appio, who was much more sure to score than I ever was. When I played basketball, I frequently put my hand on the small of my opponents' back, just to let her know I was still there. At the very least I irritated them. Sometimes that was enough to knock them off their game.

During this election cycle, I've been doing a political version of playing defense. The U.S. representative of my district, Betsy Markey, asks volunteers to phone and canvass Republicans and unaffiliated voters. The first time I volunteered, I can't say I was excited about this. Very few mere mortals enjoy getting in the faces of people who oppose them. (The title of this blog post comes from Joan Rivers, one of my favorite comedians, who has made her career on getting in people's faces. She's another Appio.) But I get what Markey's doing. Rep. Markey, unlike her predecessor Marilyn Musgrave, is trying to represent her entire district, not just a slim slice of fawning admirers. Musgrave believed that the Defense of Marriage Act was the most important issue facing our country. Not. She was wrong then, and the economic and political crises we face in our country only make her grandstanding even more unconscionable now.

Many of the Republicans I've contacted are having none of Markey's approach.
Then again, phoning them or coming to their door is a way of gently putting my hand on the small of their back, just to remind them I'm here. Most have been gracious, even if my call didn't change their minds. A few have sincerely thanked me for calling or coming by. Two have told me they have no idea what Betsy's opponent, Cory Gardner, stands for, and that they'll vote for Markey--again. Far fewer have been downright rude, like the man who said, "Longmont Area Democrats?" before blasting his FAX machine in my ear. Some others have treated me like I was an invading army, and therefore an enemy, instead of someone who simply has a world view that is different from theirs. I believe the official Republican party position on repealing the health care law (even though many of them agree with most of its provisions) is misguided. This does not mean I believe Republicans are unpatriotic and therefore my enemy. Yesterday's Doonesbury strip pretty much sums up the Republican party's lack of concrete solutions and the misdiagnosis of the problems in our country.

When I canvassed a neighborhood in northeast Longmont yesterday, the last two houses I visited were those of elderly Republicans. When I asked the one gentleman if he's joining me in supporting Betsy Markey and Michael Bennet, he sneered, "Absolutely not," as if the very idea of voting for these two incumbents were an affront to his honor and morality. 

The woman next door said, "You've come to the wrong house," and laughed kind of maniacally as I walked away. 

No, honey, I've come to the right house. Betsy Markey was elected this district's representative in 2008, making her your representative. The Democratic party and the people who support Democratic candidates are no more the enemy than Republican candidates and the people who support them. Colorado's 4th district is inherently ungovernable. It covers a huge and varied geographical area of the state, from cosmopolitan Ft. Collins to teeny little towns on the northeastern prairielands where cattle outnumber voters. Markey has made some of her liberal supporters mad with some of her votes, such as her vote against the stimulus package and the first iteration of the health care initiative. Not to mention her A+ endorsement by the National Rifle Association. One of my neighbors calls her "the Republican Betsy Markey." I confess I haven't liked all her stands and votes, but again, I get what she's doing. She's doing her best to balance the interests of those diverse and often cranky voters who are her constituents. That's a rare and admirable thing in today's politics, where the personal opinion and emotional state of the representative take precedence far too often.

By the way, Cory Gardner has not attempted to contact me by phone or mail, and his campaign has certainly never darkened my door. Nor has Michael Bennet's opponent, Ken Buck. Does that mean they don't consider me to be one of their constituents?

This is exactly what is wrong in public life these days. This enemy-making mentality is eroding our ability to acknowledge difference and to trust in one another. Just because we disagree about the nature of the solutions to our country's problems does not make us enemies. It makes us people who disagree. Some have become so cynical they believe there's no remedy, and they simply give up and retreat into a state of hostility and resentment against those who oppose their world view. 

So what do people do when they have conflicts within their families? Do they brand them irredeemable enemies and throw up metaphorical, or even literal, walls? We know from our own bitter history that Americans cannot live in a house divided. Nor is conflict resolution a matter of getting the other guy to see things your way. 

Conflict resolution does involve the art of compromise, an art that has received some very bad press from the far-right Tea Party as well as the far left. My understanding of compromise is that you sit down with your opponents and have open discussions about the nature of the dispute. You both commit to doing everything in your power to defuse it. Together you identify what each side can give up, and what they absolutely cannot give up. No fair telling the other side they're simply wrong.

If we continue going down this path of perpetual discord, we're heading for a divorce. Our country can't afford a divorce. It's absolutely critical that we work out our problems, and yes, for the sake of the children. Because all this hostility is unhealthy. It resolves nothing.

So let's roll up our sleeves and do some really good work we can all be proud of, the work of finding agreement where there previously was none, of acknowledging disagreement as respectfully as we can, while making a sincere effort to understand where our opponents are coming from. Maybe by accident we'll even be able to respect each other. And maybe, just maybe, out of this synthesis, we can begin to find creative solutions to our problems.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Just do it! Vote!

'Tis the season of pre-election telephone calls and all the negative advertising money can buy, while voters throw up their hands and say, "What's the difference? All the candidates are the same anyway!"

These voters have a point. It is hard to tell the difference between some candidates. A strident ad is a strident ad. Especially when you don't know who's funding said negative ads. I recommend tuning them all out and instead listening to public affairs shows on your local public broadcasting stations. You'll learn a lot about the candidates and the issues and be able to make up your own mind about how you'll vote. That's what democracy is all about.

Speaking of money, the Republican candidate for governor in my home state of California has spent in excess of $119 million of her own money for her campaign. Some tout that as a virtue--at least she's not beholden to lobbyists. Ah, the naivete of youth. Seems to me spending that much money on a gubernatorial campaign would automatically make her candidacy suspect. One hundred million dollars could go a long way toward solving a lot of California's problems. But then Meg Whitman would be heading up a nonprofit organization, largely toiling in anonymity as most executive directors of nonprofits do.

It's sport in our country to bash politicians and lobbyists for their fecklessness and corruption. But remember that spectators can cause their own trouble. Just think soccer houligans, or stampedes at rock concerts.

I've been making phone calls in support of Betsy Markey, the Fort Collins Democrat who is nearing the end of her first term as U.S. representative for Colorado's 4th district. The two young women who work in the Longmont Democrats' office observe that people were willing to volunteer during the 2008 election, but not so much now. Midterm elections just aren't as prominent, and therefore less important.

Get with it, people. Americans have the opportunity to vote every year in state, national and local election. Even on the years when presidents are elected, only about 60 percent of eligible voters turn out at the polls. It's less than 50 percent during midterm elections. Why isn't it 100 percent for every elections? We citizens are squandering the privilege of voting for candidates we believe will represent the interests of the majority of people.There are people in oppressive countries like Burma and El Salvador who would love to be able to vote. 

Every election counts, folks. I don't really care what political persuasion you are. This is a participatory democracy. Don't let cynical people tell you your vote doesn't matter. And worse, stop listening to those ads that distort the character of candidates, Democrat or Republican. The more all of us are invested in elections, the more hope there is that excellent candidates will present themselves. And then we can get down to the business of solving the very real problems we face in our country.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Healthy Self-Love

After my husband and I were married, our first home together was an apartment in Kurt and Victoria Singer's house in "downtown" East Burke, Vermont. I put downtown in quotes, because if you happened to be driving through town and blinked, you might miss it! Kurt was an English professor at Lyndon State College, where Don also taught and managed the meteorology lab.

Kurt was the most generous landlord I ever had. Compared to what, you may ask? There is no comparison. What other landlord never raises your rent after four years' occupancy? Babysits your newborn son while you and your spouse slip out for a quick dinner at a restaurant? Leaves the local newspaper on your step every afternoon after he's read it? Almost always has something witty or encouraging to say when he sees you?

Kurt was a man of strong opinions. A lifelong educator, he believed the trend toward raising self-esteem in students as a vehicle toward higher achievement got it all wrong. I'm not against people having higher self-esteem. I get downright militant when I see anyone putting somebody down. Valuing oneself and others is, after all, one of the themes of this blog. He was overstating the point, but I think Kurt what meant was that cultivating self-esteem too frequently gets in the way of holding kids to high educational standards. You risk having kids who think they're all that, when they don't know anything.

I think a lot about self-esteem these days, sometimes indulging myself in reminiscences of when I had little to none of the stuff. I ran into a woman I've known for sixteen years last week who said, "You're looking wonderful. What have you been doing?" I was in the middle of a conversation with another lady and promised her I'd let her know my "secrets" another time. I saw her again in passing yesterday and still haven't given her an answer.

This post is a beginning. Her question got me thinking. I could simply say I've learned to love running again and am watching what I eat. Both are true. But I wouldn't be telling her the whole truth, because healthy self-regard is the bigger part of my "diet secret," to use the vernacular.

How did I get there? Conventional suggestions, like a food diary, have certainly been helpful to me. Stepping up the intensity of my exercise has also been effective. I've always been active, but I also love to cook and eat and drink wine. My weight was slowly creeping up. When I admitted to myself that there weren't enough hours in a day to exercise in proportion to the calories I was taking in, there really wasn't any other option for me. I had to eat less.

But what drove me to eat too much? Or more to the point, what was eating me? Once I began exploring that topic, I discovered reservoirs of self-knowledge, self-acceptance and ultimately increased self-confidence. And even a little courage. I started running 5K races, which led me to train for the Bolder Boulder, a race where 50,000 mostly local folks walk and run every Memorial Day. I never really stop training. I know some marathoners who encourage me to try the Everest of running, but this girl knows her limits. The 10K is a good distance for me, challenging my body and mind while not pushing too hard. After all, I'd like to still be at this for quite a few more years.

For me, however, getting in touch with my physical self is deepest when I check in with my spiritual self. I was introduced to meditation at age 21, when I started doing tai chi at the mission in Santa Cruz in Sherry Seidman's rose garden class. Standing meditation doesn't look strenuous, with your arms encircled in front of your heart--until you try staying in the pose for five minutes. Persisting with anything strenuous, whether it's running or tai chi or a difficult patch in a relationship, builds strength. Later I added yoga to my repertoire. Most people know yoga asana, the series of poses. But most people don't know that asana was developed to facilitate meditation practice. Your body has to be supple and relaxed to sit in meditation long enough to reach those higher states of consciousness all yogis and yoginis aspire to.

I can tell you from many years of experience it's worth the investment of your time. In the process of discovering who you really are, rather than what you'd like to be or what others tell you they'd like you to be, I can guarantee you will be grateful for the place you occupy in the world. Even if it's less exalted, as has been my experience, than what you had previously hoped for. That's what I mean when I refer to healthy self-love. Not the crass self-esteem we see expressed everywhere in American culture, the kind that causes sensitive souls to run screaming in the other direction, saying, "Is that all there is? Because I ain't buying it."

I'm here to tell you you don't have to buy into anything. You can, however, earn healthy self-love. Start today.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Harvest Time

It's been a good year in our garden. I say this with some hesitation, because some things have been less successful than in years past. Raspberries, eggplants and peppers have been noticeably fewer. Tomatoes, sour cherries and cucumbers, on the other hand, have been bounteous, to the point where I've considered playing doorbell-ditchums with the cukes. String beans, meanwhile, have been middling.

I suppose my Grandma and Grandpa Finnegan must have felt the same ambivalence about the varying fortunes on their ranch in Montana. My grandpa was a restless person who, because of deteriorating health, ended up spending the last thirty years of his life in one spot. Grandma said whenever they had a down year on the ranch he would talk about moving to Oregon, where you could stick anything in the ground any time of the year and it would grow. I imagine a good part of his suffering was due to seeing the grass growing greener everywhere but his own fields.

That's the problem with comparisons of any kind. Everything changes. Always has. Always will. Best to accept it. Eat what grows best this season. We've enjoyed every raspberry, eggplant and pepper we've picked. Though we don't have a peach tree in our yard, this year's crop of Western slope peaches have been everything a peach can promise. You know how some peaches look great, all plump with that perfect peach blush, only when you bite into them, they're disappointingly pasty? This year's crop tastes as good as it looks. After a few down years on the tomato front, it's been great to have more than our fair share. I've dried a lot of cherries I'll include in my oatmeal, and I've frozen enough of them to make a cherry pie in the dead of winter.

I still wish we had more eggplants this year. I love baba ganouj and mousakka. There's always next year.

Worry Holiday

In church yesterday, our minister Rev. Martie McMane gave a great sermon on keeping the Sabbath. It's almost incredible that a minister of the progressive United Church of Christ in the People's Republic of Boulder, no less, would give a speech on keeping the Sabbath, and keep a congregation of more than 200 people totally rapt. But that is the courage of Martie McMane.

She touched on worry as an activity to leave behind on the Sabbath. As a world class worrier I decided I was going to do my best to take a worry holiday, to not borrow trouble. I've been saturated in worry since I was in my mother's womb. When the women in my family love, we worry.

But worry is so negative. It's a way of not allowing myself to feel the tender, out-of-control-ness of love. Love might overwhelm me with tenderness and vulnerability, while worry is a spiral, perhaps motivated by love, but actually more by fear, and the fear of losing what I have, or what I think is mine, or wish was mine, or despair that will ever be mine. Worry is pain. Love has a pain component, and there's also that vulnerability piece I avoid like the plague. Not gonna allow myself to be vulnerable and exposed.

Worry constructs a wall against attacks, real and perceived. Whereas with love, there are no walls. Only unity with all that life can bring, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, courage and fear. In love there are no barriers. That's what Joni Mitchell is saying in "Clouds": "I really don't know love at all." I admit I really don't know love.

I could judge myself for that--I've had almost 50 years to learn, blah, blah, blah. But I'm going to start my loving close to home--I'm going to refrain from self-judgment.

Because my capacity to love is not a competition--it's an evolution. I make no judgment on how fast or how slowly I've evolved in my capacity to love. Let's say I'm growing in my capacity to love. I'm not going to pretend I'm better or worse at it than anyone else, or than I have been at other times in my life. I am where I am. Or to quote the great Popeye, "I yam what I yam."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Respect yourself

All of us have challenges in our relationships. It's easy to point fingers of blame at those who oppose us, offend us and annoy us. It's difficult to look at ourselves as troublemakers in our own lives.

In some instances, a little offense is the best defense. But as a way of life, not so much. If I'm often taking offense at what people say or do, it's time to look at my reactivity and control issues. Who am I to think I can get everything I want, when there's a whole world of people who want things, too? I get through my days better and sleep through the night when I let the small-minded stuff go. I'm clearer about what I really need.

It all comes down to respect. Respect for others is important, but I argue self-respect comes first. You can't truly respect anyone until you respect yourself. When we don't properly respect ourselves, we drive ourselves hard, or we let ourselves off too easily. We don't allow ourselves to rest, or we get lazy. We judge ourselves, or when that's too painful, we tell ourselves we have the right to blame somebody else for our problems.

One of my favorite songs on my MP3 is the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself." The Staples aren't letting anybody get away with blaming anybody else. Respect yourself by taking responsibility, not by expecting somebody else to do it for you. When my energy is flagging during a run and that song comes on, my legs lighten, my breathing eases and I hold my head up high. With my new attitude, I know I can make it.

I pride myself on my physical flexibility, which allows me to easily do almost any physical activity. For instance, I used to be able to get out of bed in the morning and touch my toes. In the past year, I haven't been able to do it. Like cold silly putty, it takes a little while for my muscles to warm up before I can lengthen them. Intellectually, this isn't such a bad thing. I am pushing 50, after all. If this is the worst thing I can say about my physical condition, I'll take it.

But I've noticed something more insidious: I'm judging myself, and therefore disrespecting myself, for not being able to touch my toes first thing in the morning. Something within, some combination of ego and early conditioning, tells me, Why, you used to be able to do that. You ought to still be able to. When I began to notice I was judging myself, I started to think about how self-judgment was infiltrating other areas of my life. I haven't been successful in my job search, not to mention that I haven't been that successful in my career as I'd like. I'm not a good mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. You see the potential for a downward spiral. For disrespecting myself.

I also found, to my amusement, that I was judging myself for judging myself! So then I gave myself some kudos for honesty and a sense of humor about my foibles--a value and a talent I've been working on for most of my adult life.

See how easy it is to respect yourself? Just begin where you are. Don't worry too much about where you've been. As your relationship with yourself improves, you relationship with others will improve, too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning from Pagans

I'd never heard of Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits until I heard his obituary on NPR last week. He was the founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein, a Druid Fellowship.

I was raised in a Christian home, and I'm still an active member of a Christian denomination, but I've been accused of having pagan tendencies. Hiking, and running--heck, just about any strenuous physical activity--transport me not to a state of praising Jesus (though I'm not averse to it) but to one of reverent awe.

It turns out we all have something to learn from Isaac Bonewits. He developed a framework to gauge whether religious groups like his own were edging toward cultism. He called it the "Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame." Simple as ABCDEF. It measures a religious organization's level of internal and external control, wisdom/knowledge claimed and credited to, and dogma, among other things. My favorite is of Grimness, or in Bonewits' words, "The amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader." People who take themselves too seriously are funny, yet frightening.

Take The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida and its plans for the 9/11 anniversary.

Will the center:

a. plan a day of prayer in remembrance of those who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania

b. host an interfaith dialog between Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders

c. burn as many Korans as it can

Ding, ding, ding, if you guessed 'c'! Hard to believe a church that calls itself Christian would host a Koran roast, but there it is. Now which religion is it that we're supposed to be tolerant of?

Terry Jones, the church's pastor and his so-called "congregation" are registering high marks on Bonewits' Grimness measure. Ain't nothing funny about hate.

If Dove World Outreach Center and Ar nDraiocht Fein were the only places of worship left on the planet, one guess which one I'd attend.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Humor Deficit

There's lots of talk about budget deficits. But the humor deficit, arguably easier to address, is raging out of control. There are way too many people taking themselves way too seriously. People seriously need to lighten up.

You see it in Charlie Rangel's pissy response to Luke Russert's question, "What are you going to do if you lose your job?" You see tea partiers being unintentionally funny when they hoist photos of President Obama sporting a Hitler 'stache.

I've been known to laugh at comedy that excoriates people, especially when it's aimed at politicians and celebrities who have started to believe in their own hype. But there's a special place in my heart for comics who use themselves as the subject and object of their humor. Dave Chappelle is a genius at this. Chris Rock of "Everybody Hates Chris" fame also uses self-deprecation to great effect.

I'd like to add another to the list, Greg Keeler, one of my English professors at Montana State. He ought to be better known than he is, because he is one of the funniest people on the planet. He teaches poetry, and he's also turned his talented hand to writing songs in the cowboy poet tradition. The first time I met Greg was at a retreat at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel the week before my first semester at MSU. I was slightly older than most of the other students, and the professors had already heard Greg perform many times before. But his songs, delivered in Greg's deadpan, Kristoffersonian voice (I think that's a good thing, by the way), completely cracked me up. From "Bunny Hell" to "Trout Fishing Beatitudes," I was the only person to laugh out loud.

After that, I made sure to take a poetry class I could with Greg, hoping some of his magic would rub off on me. To no avail, because my poetry still sucked. Still does suck. But I always had fun in his class, and he was unfailingly encouraging.

The first time my husband Don ever met Greg was at an English department picnic. Don was instantly charmed when Greg invited him to shoot targets with a BB gun he'd brought along. The target? "Poetry Man" comic books another student had made, with Greg's cartooned image on the cover. Luckily he had brought a big stack of them along. People were shootin' 'em up!

Who knows? Maybe laughter is some kind of wealth engine we can use to attack our budget deficits.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Got Optimism?

Where does someone in need of an infusion of exuberance and optimism look? Why, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, of course. OK, only if you're a total dork, or have an English degree. Guilty on both counts. I looked through my bookshelf, thinking I still had a copy. Earlier this week I received a facsimile of the original 1855 edition.

What I'm looking for is right there on the cover, beneath the title: "Bold-faced thoughts on the power and pleasure of self-expression." Zowie. There's the beginning of that mojo I need to reclaim.

Whitman wrote LOG less than a hundred years after the founding of this country, and he's downright giddy about the possibilities. I don't remember reading his prose introduction, which reads more like a list of America's virtues than an essay.

"The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. . . . Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall."

I'm only at the beginning of the book, but already I can't help but contrast Whitman's faith in the inherent greatness of our country and its people with the gloomy and mean rhetoric we hear from many in public life now. I don't hear enough of the "power and pleasure of self-expression," unless it's from people who are more interested in hearing themselves talk than in making our nation greater. Maybe there's so little of it because many have decided we can't afford it. There's altogether too many bald-faced accusations and mischaracterizations and not enough trust in our ability to solve the problems of our day.

It's not like I'm going to stop reading the news. But I expect that marinating myself in Whitman's prose poems is just the tonic I need.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Meditation, not medication

Even before I became a stay-at-home mom, I often felt out of sync with the rest of the world. I don't think I'm alone in preferring life to come at me in slow, long waves instead of the hectic pace so many people are following, or trying to follow.

My eighteen-year-old son has always been great at wiggling, Houdini-like, out of stuff he'd prefer not to do, in favor of doing precisely what he wants to do--play. I mean it when I tell him I hope he can figure out a way to earn a living by playing. Others have. Why couldn't he?

Similarly, I've set my life up to be slower than the average bear's. Everything, rewards and stress alike, have arrived at a slower pace. Everything has its price.

My grandparents had stopped working their ranch near Bozeman, Montana, almost twenty years before I came to live with my grandma and finish my degree at Montana State. She had a pasture full of alfalfa that neighboring farmers cut. The most memorable of the bunch was a guy who used two draft horses instead of a tractor to cut the hay. You didn't much see draft horses in Montana. He made quite a spectacle of himself.

Grandma was a sweet gal, but she had a tendency to be a little judgmental. That must be where I get it from.

"I don't why he doesn't just use a tractor, like everybody else," she'd say. "He must be plumb crazy."

Still, her natural frugality always took over. A lifetime of ranching, the Depression and World War II had carved it into her soul. Grandma never liked anything to go to waste. Besides, he may have been crazy, but he was paying good money for that hay!

He came by with his team on a hot, dusty July afternoon. I decided to see for myself just how crazy he was. I took some ice water out to him.

He seemed surprised. "People don't usually offer me anything when I'm out here." Which meant to me that he wasn't crazy, because truly crazy people don't even notice that others think they're crazy.

After he drank the water, we chatted and I petted the horses. They were much calmer than the quarter horses and painted ponies most common around there, who usually jerked their heads and snorted at the touch of strange hands. He explained that he'd been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and his doctor had casually suggested that he slow down. That's what they all say, as they're writing a prescription for hypertension medication. But this guy really took that to heart. One of the ideas that grew out of his journey toward taking life easier was to do some of his farm work by draft horse.

"Haven't had trouble with my blood pressure since."

A few years ago I took a six-week meditation course. At the first class, one of the other students said she was taking the class because she had high blood pressure, and she'd heard that meditation could help lower her numbers. She came to every class, and by the last class she reported that her doctor had suggested a little experiment: reducing her medication and keep going with the meditation.

Sometimes when you're behind, you're actually ahead. Kind of sounds like something Ricky Bobby's dad ("If you're not first, you're last") would say. I'll take my chances with less stress and low blood pressure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Signs of intelligent life

A friend who was recently laid off from his job and I were discussing how our job searches were going. He said he has a few things in the hopper. The best I could say: "It's going." That day I'd applied for one of those sign-of-the-times jobs, as a part-time, substitute technician at the local library. After I expressed doubt about why I was even applying, he said (and I paraphrase), "Well, you've been out of it for a while, so you might have to take what you can get."


Now, we've known each for almost sixteen years, and I'm sure he didn't mean for it to come out like that. Except that it did come out like that.

Maybe he knows something about the job market and the workplace that I don't know. After all, I have been "out of it" for ten years.

Then again, he knows me. He knows I'm smart and capable. It's not like I'm some sixteen-year-old applying for her first job at Taco Bell. I've worked since I was eleven (babysitting for neighbor kids). I have a bachelor's degree. I've got some skill-dazzles.

An employment coach recently told me that a lot of employers hesitate to hire people with resume gaps because they assume they're going to have to teach them everything and hold their hands all the time.

Is Bobby Riggs writing the human resources manuals here? Methinks it is not I who needs updating.

Number one, it's not like I'm Rip Van Winkle. I've been awake, though often sleep-deprived, and yes, even sentient, during the last decade. Google has practically idiot-proofed the Blogger program I'm using at this moment. But for cryin' out loud, is it necessary for me to point out that I'm using Blogger at this moment?

Number two, don't most jobs, apart from the President's, have training programs?

Number three, I can learn, from training programs, and also with the desire to get and keep and improve at a job and just plain old curiosity.

And number four, I dare anyone to try staying home alone with a toddler. Talk about being an independent contractor. With most of the other women my age at work, I often felt like a pioneer woman, out there alone on the prairie. High lonesome winds. Had to invent our own fun and stay sane, and yes, sentient, at the same time. Cookin' up a new batch of play dough. Pitchin' a tent over the dining room table and playin' Indians. Not a hint of adult conversation in sight. Years before I talked in a complete sentence.

Or at least until my husband got home from work.

Surely there are hiring supervisors out there who can put aside their prejudices about resume gaps and the intellectual capacity of stay-at-home moms.

I'm counting on it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Just my opinion, ma'am

When I wrote for my high school newspaper, I entered several journalism contests in the editorial category. Most of the time the best I did was to get a honorable mention, but my last contest my senior year I actually won for my editorial on busing. Remember that issue? Serendipity played a role in my victory, because a couple of weeks before that contest I had been listening to a talk show on KPFK, the National Public Radio affiliate in Los Angeles. The topic: busing.

The contest organizers never told me that I won because my editorial exhaustively covered the issue, just as KPFK had that day. Of course I had an opinion--it wouldn't have been an editorial otherwise. As if I were debating, I discussed the pros and cons and explained why the position I took was the correct course of action. I was shooting for a well-reasoned, earned opinion that was based on my interpretation of the facts.

As a high school senior, my mother was fond of telling me that I thought I knew everything. (The fact that I didn't was going to become abundantly clear to me over the next few years.) But the one thing I knew even as a seventeen-year-old was that editorials are distinct from news, a fact that escapes news producers and consumers alike.

Nowadays it's fashionable for editorialists to write copy that tears down their opponents' point of view without ever explicitly stating their own solutions. Charles Krauthammer's article in the local paper entitled "Obama still dreamer in chief" is a great example of this kind of writing. While he doesn't hesitate to describe President Obama as "fatuous" and otherwise unmoored from reality, never once does Mr. Krauthammer come right out and say, "Oil producers ought to drill wherever and whenever they can, and nothing, not even the worst oil spill in U.S. history, ought to disrupt the flow of oil to consumers. And there's no need to think of 50 years from now, after that supply of oil is depleted and other spills of this magnitude have occurred. Drill, baby, drill!"

If this is what he had written, the best I could say is that at least he was intellectually honest.

There are no news sources that are unbiased, primarily because there is no one alive who is unbiased. The closest thing to an unbiased news source is the Christian Science Monitor. I haven't followed its coverage of the health care debate, but I would expect a bias against medical technology. FOX News' "Fair and Balanced" moniker: baloney paid for with Rupert Murdoch's gazillions. Fair and Balanced, compared with what?

Rush and O'Reilly aren't the only ones who are confusing opinion for fact and entertainment for news. I'm as big a fan of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" as the next guy. For the record, I think Stewart and Colbert know where the lines are. They wouldn't be performing on Comedy Central if they didn't. The trouble is, some of their viewers don't get it. It scares me when I hear people say they get their news from "The Daily Show." I take Jon Stewart at his word--this is fake news, and he's a fake news anchor. The fun is in the comic perspective he takes, completely purposefully, unlike Glenn Beck's deadly serious yet unintentionally ridiculous diatribes. Stewart and Colbert's zingers routinely hit the mark. Sometimes they do it better than the "real" news anchors. Still, both shows are comedy first, and opinion second, with commentary on current events mixed in.

If you want reassurance that there are still some people in the news biz who know how to do their jobs, I recommend "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer." on PBS. I am always reassured, about both the state of the journalism business and the world, when I watch Lehrer's show. The guests, who are experts on the issues, are often sitting beside each other, and frequently, in the studio with the interviewer. That lends itself to more reasoned, civil discourse. It's really difficult, unless you're congenitally ill-mannered, to personally attack someone when they're breathing the same air.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Keeping Hope Alive

I've been thinking about the state of the world more than usual because I'm sending our 18-year-old out there. A world in political, economic, spiritual and environmental turmoil. When I was 18, I had high hopes that I could help make the world a better place. The fact that the world is in such a mess isn't all my fault, of course. But dang it--I wish my sons were inheriting better circumstances.

Get over it, some might say. The world is always in a mess. It's a ruthless old place, and our kids better be prepared to deal with it. The prescription: grab up as many resources as you can to keep you and yours safe. That looks like driving around town in a Humvee, living in a gated community, attending a megachurch and sending your kids to private school, or better yet, homeschooling them.

My idealism has waned and waxed. As I've faced personal and professional challenges, I might have been convinced that yes, indeed, the world is a tough place and I'd better put up my dukes. But along the way I've also happened onto more than my fair share of truth and beauty: the births of my babies, the outpouring of sunshine, birdsong, the kindness of strangers, rain in the desert, the blazing beauty of trees in autumn, the bounty of summer vegetable gardens, the shy presence of deer, startling displays of talent, and the healing of disease.

I'm going to share a secret for preserving hope in a world with a serious shortage of the stuff: I'm always on the lookout for more of this sweetness, the kind no man makes, that is there for us as surely as dew on the lilies of the field. An outpouring that usually appears at those moments when we most expect it.

In the 80s I worked in the prep room of the Swan/Heavenly Goose Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz (later leveled by the 1989 earthquake). I was chopping vegetables below a barred window facing onto Front Street. Front Street was a rough place by Santa Cruz standards, and nearly all the businesses along there had installed bars on their windows. A transient walking by stopped to stare at me.

"Lady," he said, "you're in prison."

I was too stunned to speak, so it was up to my co-worker to respond. Franco had more life experience, and it didn't hurt that he'd grown up in Brooklyn.

"Hey, pal," he said, waving his cleaver, "the bars work both ways."

No doubt Franco would have said he was just a street-smart guy chasing off the riff raff. His words have stuck with me because, like Springsteen's in my previous post, they're so true. The bars work both ways. On the one hand the bars kept the business safe from thieves and vandals. On the other hand there are people with electronic security systems in their homes who are imprisoned by their fears about all that could threaten them. Their vigilance is focused on filtering out the bad. But if the filter's too fine, the good, the truth and beauty, can't make it through, either.

Creating a better world is still a good idea, even if pursuing it too often feels like sandbagging against a rapidly rising stream. In my experience, cultivating eyes and hearts to expect truth and beauty is a recipe for lasting security.

Here's Emily Dickinson saying it poetically:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Taking Inventory

In an interview some years ago, Bruce Springsteen said something to the effect, "I may not be the best singer, I may not be the best guitar player, I may not even be the best performer. But when you put together all the things I do, I got something."

His words have stuck in my mind because they're so true. As I search for employment, I'm constantly thinking about all the things I do and matching them with job descriptions. I don't sing, I don't play guitar, and the idea of performing in front of a crowd gives me the heebie-jeebies. But I got something.

There's a lot of talk in employment circles about "monetizing experience." Along those lines, my friend Alaya suggested I start putting together a little package of all the things I do--especially the ones I most love to do. When I start listing all the things I do, have done and would like to do (and this last one may be the most important), it's a long list that at cursory glance doesn't necessarily seem to have any connection to one another. Editor/writer. Wild animal care volunteer. Caterer. Sound system operator. Hospitality host. Event planner. Chef. Amateur spiritual director. Interviewer. Nonprofit fundraiser. Active listener. Yoga practitioner.

My friend Kathryn looked at one iteration of my resume and said very sweetly and to the point, "I don't know how to get my arms around this." Read: the average human resources person would throw my resume in the "Flake" category. I'm sure there is one.

But with a little imagination and a lot of insider knowledge, there are some themes. Excellent overall communication skills. Nurturing and nourishing skills. Planning and management abilities. An interest in lifelong learning. A versatility very much needed in today's workplaces, where employees are often fulfilling more than one job description.

Try it yourself. It can't hurt. At the very least it clarifies my presentation and sharpens my discernment about where I would be most effective.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I was just listening to Colorado Public Radio's summer pledge drive, or rather tuning it out until "Talk of the Nation" comes back on. I have that right. I've pledged to public radio since I was a teenager.

The pledge drive made me start thinking that the government might make its citizens really happy to pay taxes instead of listening to constant appeals like: "If you like the Social Security program, please run to your phone right now and pledge. Pledges start at $60 annually . . ." or "For the cost of one grande latte a day, you can ensure that the government will continue to cover the costs of national defense."

In other news: Have you heard the one about BP's claim that the oil it's reclaiming from the spill will pay for the Gulf's clean-up?


Reminds me of when Bush/Cheney said the U.S. would pay for the Iraq War with oil revenue from Iraq's oil fields.


I thought the U.S. invaded Iraq, meaning it was on this country's dime. I support National Public Radio, but I was always against the Iraq war. That oil wasn't ours to claim.

BP and Bush are and were full of bull-bleep.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure

I admit it--I'm a hardcore "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" junkie. As someone who has interviewed people for a living, I say with all confidence that Terry is the best in the business. She really knows how to get people talking. I think it's because she's really well-prepared, and that includes being prepared to follow up on the surprising responses she elicits from her guests. Being a really good listener doesn't hurt her, either.

My favorite Fresh Air interviews are numerous--the one with Borat/Sasha Baron Cohen was especially naughty--but I have to say I enjoy the ones with John Waters, the director of "Hairspray" and "Pink Flamingos." He was on today's show

Full disclosure--I can't stand his movies. I walked out of "Pink Flamingos" when I saw it at the Nuart Theater in West L.A. shortly after it came out. So when I heard Terry interview him about five years ago or so, I experienced some serious cognitive dissonance. I expected Waters to be just like his movies--irreverent to the point of rudeness, creepy, bizarre. That he was articulate, polite and unabashedly exactly who he is was a pleasant surprise. I think Quentin Tarantino might very well be riffing off John Waters. Neither director is afraid to show their audiences the unedited content of their imaginations. As an aspiring writer, I could stand to riff off Waters and Tarantino.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Gulfs

The only good news about the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is that it's drowning out the news of Lindsay Lohan's latest scandal.

It's impossible to ignore the news of the oil that's gushing into the Gulf, destroying habitats, wildlife and industry. It reminds me of how I felt watching another debacle unfolding in another Gulf, when the Iraq War was spinning more and more out of control. In the Persian Gulf the world watched the destruction of a country and peoples' lives. In the Gulf of Mexico we're witnessing nothing less than the destruction of an ecosystem.

Another aspect of this debacle is the blame game alternating with denials of responsibility. The problem, as it was in Iraq, is there was no exit strategy. In Iraq speak, the oil would be greeted with debit cards at the pump. It would all be good. So here's the thing--while it's possible to drill a mile deep, it seems to have never occurred to the various engineers involved that they would need to have several back-ups in place in the event of a worst-case scenario.

There's plenty of blame to go around, and it's not just oil executives, engineers, the Coast Guard and government bureaucrats who are responsible. I was driving around town doing some errands, listening to news about the oil spill and getting more and more depressed. I noticed I was low on gas, so I pulled into a Diamond Shamrock (there's no way I'll ever buy gas from a BP station again). That's when it hit me that I'm responsible, too. I'm one of the hundreds of millions of people in the developed world who is addicted to oil.

Time to do my grocery shopping by rickshaw. Time to take the bus to Boulder. Time to start bugging state government to get off the dime and build that light rail system already.

And another thing--please don't tell me that the same people who put astronauts on the moon can't figure out how to stop this oil from gushing. Or that the public isn't willing to help. There are people who can no longer fish for a living along the Louisiana coast just standing by to help BP, the Coast Guard and the government clean up the mess. So far no one's taken them up on their offer. Maybe they're concerned about the liability involved in allowing citizen volunteers to do the work.

If this oil spill isn't a message from God telling the USA to rally together, I don't know what is.
I've been praying that this disaster forces BP to morph into an engineering company in charge of cleaning up other environmental disasters. Or better yet, that this is the environmental disaster to end all environmental disasters. This isn't just about what God does. We can't afford the psychological warfare that opposing parties (and I'm not just talking Democrats and Republicans in Congress) have indulged in for far too long. I pray that people will tire of the blame game and actually start thinking about how to solve this problem. And then get to work.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strange Parallel

Yesterday I attended a Liz Ryan Career Altitude workshop. If you live in the greater Denver area, I highly recommend it. It was like a getting customized career advice rolled into a two-hour therapy session--exactly what's needed for a job seeker looking to reclaim her mojo.

Among the many things we discussed was putting the focus NOT on what you've done and how great you are at doing it, but instead on how what you've done is going to help your future employer.

I paraphrase Liz here: "Diana, you know how when you go on a first date with a guy, and all he wants to talk about is how great he is and all the great things he's done? And what a turn-off that is?"

I haven't dated in twenty-three years, so I only vaguely recall. "Well, I'd excuse myself to go to the bathroom and never come back."

Liz persisted. "OK. So what if you went out with someone who says to you, 'I don't mean to be creepy or anything, but has anyone ever told you have beautiful eyes? And only the most brilliant things ever issue forth from your lips?' " (OK, I added the part about the brilliant things.)

"I have to pee, but I'm not going anywhere," I said.

Bingo! The take-home message, whether it's romantic courtship or career courtship: Figure out what they want, and be the one to bring it to them.

Monday, May 24, 2010


My 18-year-old son is graduating from high school on Saturday, and he'll be attending the University of Northern Colorado in the fall. In between he'll go to Peru with his Spanish teacher and some of the other students in his class.

When I mentioned his graduation in a Liz Ryan Career Altitude workshop yesterday (more on that in another post), one of the other participants said, "Congratulations on your graduation, too!"

Gulp. I hadn't thought of it this way. You see, it's mostly been all about him and my other son.

As big a transition as this is for him, it's big for me, too. Having only ever worked part-time since he was born, and then staying home for the last ten years to raise him and my other son, I've devoted more of my time and energy--not to mention my sense of self--to raising them than the average bear. Some might say I'm a fool. I say it's only proper that I did it this way.

As uncertain a time as this is for me, I'm finding that there's something else underlying it--pride in a job well-done. Joy, too, much to my surprise. That in itself may be my biggest accomplishment. Because during these years of staying at home I knew what some people think about stay-at-home moms--we're a spoiled, lazy, unambitious lot. All too often I bought into that, self-critical critter that I am. I often wondered if this was as good as it was going to get for me.

It's not like I've been monitoring the soap opera chat rooms--not that there's anything wrong with that. The thing is, I've had a job for the last ten years, and I daresay it's one that would have driven a lot of other people completely crazy. (Since I went into this enterprise already halfway there, I'm proud to say my sanity is as intact as it ever was.) Not everyone can keep house, run a small-scale cookie factory, juggle several volunteer jobs, care for the neighbor's macaw when they're in Scandinavia, bake a killer loaf of challah bread, write one of the two novels I worked on in the last decade, and cook wholesome dinners every night. And this would be what I did in a day, twisting and turning time to suit the peculiar rhythms of a housewife's day.

So now that my time as the main keeper of the hearth turns into something else, I'm going to allow myself to be proud of the fact that it's all been worth it. My 18-year-old is a caring, talented young man. I've still got my twelve-year-old at home. I figure he'll be my little boy for another few months, until the puberty fairy comes to visit.

To those of you in transition, I wish you the same pride in accomplishment.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Woody's Words on Worth

There's a poster of Woody Guthrie's song "Born to Win" that hangs over the family computer. The words are worth sharing.

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most by all sorts of folks just about like you.

I could hire out to the other side, the big money side and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyway.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maternal CEO

A woman I met at a networking event told me an interviewer asked her about a one-year gap in her resume. She explained she had stayed at home for a year with her children during a rough patch in their development.

"You must not really need a job then," he replied, shuffling some papers on his desk. Interview over.

Excuse me!?! Of all the things he could have asked to determine her eligibility for the job, he picked a gotcha question like that? Doesn't she get to decide whether she needs a job or not?

And anyway, he's wrong on both counts. She doesn't really need a job working for a retro-guy like him.

I can only imagine the scorn he would have for me, someone who chose to raise her own kids for the last ten years.

But I know for sure what I would have said to him. "Mister, I've had a job for the last ten years--raising my kids. Now I've got a question for you. Are you implying that raising kids is a hobby?"

Out of curiosity I googled "stay at home mom estimated salary." The best hit was It helps you tally up all your duties as mom (I prefer Maternal CEO to Roseanne Barr's domestic goddess). Mine came up to nearly $65,000 annually! It would have been more in years past. When my kids were younger, I did more housework than I do now, because I've taught them to do chores. (There was no designation on the website for life skills instructor. That would have boosted my salary big time!) I also used to do more janitorial work back when I hosted a weekly Cub Scout den meeting here. And I definitely did more nursing work when they were little. With my college-bound senior I've done college advising and career counseling, but those categories were also missing on

Why, I've practically worked my way out of a job! That's why I'm seeking work outside the home.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Raccoon Resurrection

It isn't every day that I get to take a baby raccoon to the animal ER.

I had just arrived for my volunteer shift at Greenwood Rehabilitation Center when the tech came in cradling a baby raccoon named Addie. She was in really bad shape, and she needed to go to the hospital immediately.

Yesterday was May 12, and it was snowing. Yes, snowing. (This could be another whole blog post, but I digress.) The animal hospital was 20 miles away in Boulder. I tucked Addie, who was wrapped in a hand towel, inside my jacket. Her body felt stiff, but she was still breathing. As I drove I could feel where her warmth met mine. Every once in a while she'd stir and trill weakly, but for the most part she was unnervingly still. So still, that at a stop light not far from the vet's office I was sure she had passed away.

"Never underestimate the will to live." An emergency room physician who is in my book group had made this point during our discussion earlier this week.

Addie may not have had much more than that going for her. By the time the vet took her temperature, it was 93 degrees, well below normal for a raccoon, and startling because she had been in an incubator all night long. Because she had been refusing food for the last couple of days, she was also severely dehydrated.

Before warming her, the vet gave her subcutaneous fluids. The entire time the needle was inserted in her ruff, she howled as only a baby raccoon can. Once we got her under the warming blanket, she spent most of the next ten minutes trying to escape, rooting and trilling. She was good to go.

On the way home, Addie wouldn't stay tucked inside my jacket. The last thing I needed was a sick baby raccoon crawling underneath one of the seats in the car, so I held her firmly against my heartbeat (what baby doesn't like that?) with one hand, and steered and shifted with the other. That was probably as unsafe as driving while cellphoning. (Note to self: Bring a carrier the next time I go to the animal ER.)

As I write this, I'm not sure if Addie made it. But with that kind of will to live, who knows? She may be one of those raccoon juvenile delinquents the center keeps on site until October, when they can be released to a wild food supply.

When I first told my husband Don I'd be feeding baby squirrels and raccoons, he snorted. "Why does the world need more squirrels? We've got too many of them in our back yard as it is."

Turns out he's far from alone in expressing squirro-cidal tendencies. When my friend Jo heard I was caring for raccoons, she shook her head in disgust. Raccoons are a scourge in the downtown Boulder neighborhood where she lives. They're like gangsters. "What? You don't like it when I eat your garbage and strew the rest on your lawn? What are you gonna do about it?"

I'm aware of how aggressive and destructive urban raccoons can be. But I don't think that means abandoned or orphaned litters of raccoons, squirrels, fox or bunnies should automatically be euthanized just because they may grow up to be nuisances. I wouldn't volunteer there if the center sorted animals by some arbitrary worthiness to live. There are all kinds of people who happen upon wildlife in a bad way and feel compelled to help. After all, a litter of newborn raccoons didn't ask to be abandoned in a chimney. You'd have to be the Grinch not to respond to the sound of baby raccoons crying for their mother.

I have a name for people who climb on the roof of a complete stranger's house to rescue live baby raccoons. Don and Jo might call them crazy. I call them Menschkins. Menschkins are the kind of people who drive around with the bumpersticker "God bless everyone. No exceptions." That goes for baby raccoons as well as people who come to eat at soup kitchens. And yes, even for those who have had bad experiences with raccoons and would rather see them all exterminated.

People who answer the cries of baby raccoons by calling wildlife rehabilitators are the hands of God, as surely as the rehabilitators themselves are. These are the same people who are at this very moment cleaning the oil from sea creatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

In case you think it was I who turned the nice turn of phrase about Menschkins being the hands of God, I'm here to tell you I totally ripped off the great St. Teresa of Avila. All props to her and her poem, "You Are Christ's Hands."

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which look out
Christ's compassion to the world.

Yours are the feet with which he is
to go about doing good.

Yours are the hands with which he is
to bless us now.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How do you value yourself?

"How you make your money is not your life."

That's one example of the wise counsel Johnna Baroso, the speaker at a career networking group I attend, offered in her talk "From Laid Off to Living: Building on Change."

Johnna has started companies. She's been an employee who's been laid off. She's written a book with the same title as her talk on Tuesday. So she knows what from the job market. Her take on lifetime employment: Let it go. It ain't coming back. If Toyota can't offer lifetime employment, it's gone forever. The way most companies handle lay-offs is similar to a bad break-up--you go from a close and mutually fruitful association to persona non grata. Not only do you lose your income and whatever identity you invest in your work, you also lose the friends who still work there.

What Johnna and other employment experts are urging companies to do in the New Economic Reality is to develop and articulate a clear lay-off policy. When HR reps sit down with new employees, they still will describe salary and benefits packages and also say, "This is the process our company has devised in the event we need to lay you off."

That is most certainly not what we want to hear as we're preparing to accept a job offer. But we're all adults here. Making such a statement means the company has thought through a way to shrink their workforces, and I would hope more humanely than the current "Up in the Air" mode. I hope progressive companies consider profits AND people and figure out how they're going to treat their employees in the best of times as well as the worse. Downsizing is never fun, but there's no need to make matters worse with the current bad break-up model. Because when businesses do start hiring, they need a workforce that in good shape psychologically and ready to work.

Until that happens, each of us is going to need to redefine the meaning of net worth. If the new reality is, as Johnna Baroso says, that how we make our money is not our life, then what we have in our bank accounts or our home's value does not determine our net worth. Over the last ten years during my time in the Land of Stay At Home Moms, I've reassessed how I value myself. I'd like to share some tips on keeping myself relevant as I did the sacred work of raising my sons. It definitely applies to job hunters or anyone who is in a life transition.

1. Invent places to go, things to do, people to meet. When I quit my editing job ten years ago to stay at home with my then two-year-old, I felt very isolated. There weren't very many women in the same station in life who had, or could, make the choice to stay at home with their kids. A neighbor suggested I check out the local Moms Club. That was great because Patrick and I had somewhere to go a couple of times a week. He could be with kids his age, and I could have adult conversation. Similarly, going to networking events gives me a reason to get up in the morning and allows me to contact people who are also seeking employment.

2. Progress, not perfection. I know people who are a lot more relaxed about reaching their goals than I am. I fall into the category of wanting what I want roughly three days ago. As a result, I feel perpetually frustrated. My advice to you other perfectionists out there: Take a deep breath. To use Johnna's advice, "Trust that there will be movement." In other words, you don't always have to be the one to make things happen. Simply cast the seeds, water them and trust that they'll grow. I take this approach in my running practice. If I set out to do my long run at a certain pace, I've found I'm setting myself for disappointment. If I instead tell myself that I want to run an hour and ten minutes and not worry about how much ground I cover in that time, I'm a lot more satisfied during and after the run.

3. Take some chances. I've found that when I do something I wouldn't ordinarily choose to do it opens up channels of possibility and creativity. A month ago a friend at church asked me if I wanted to learn to run the sound system in our 400-seat sanctuary. You can ask my family about my technical chops, and they'll start to laugh nervously. Ask me to bake a cake, feed your parrot or listen to your problems, and I'm so there. I leave the technical stuff to my husband, who's very, very good at it. But you know what? Running the sound system was so far outside my comfort zone I knew I had to say yes. I've been apprenticing with Richard for a few weeks, and I'll fly solo at the Memorial Day weekend service. At the very least, the experience might be good fodder for a blog post!

4. Care for others. My church, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Boulder, has been such a blessing for me and my family. Apart from the wonderful preaching and teaching we receive and the extended family we've found there, the many opportunities to serve are so important to feeling that we can be a resource to others. If you feel that you're not contributing and therefore not valuable, I encourage you to volunteer. Even if church is not your thing, there are so many organizations in need of volunteer labor. I can guarantee you that you will receive more than you give.

5. Care for yourself. Developing a routine of self-care is so important for people who are in transition. All the years I was at home with my kids, I made a point to get up well before they did to do my spiritual practice, a little yoga or other exercise, or some writing. I would also be showered and dressed before my kids went to school. It kept me linked, on my terms, to the workaday world. Going to networking meetings or to my new volunteer gig at the wildlife rehabilitation center is how I keep myself in a good groove as my new job and I find each other.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. In the future I plan to write about teachers and books that have helped me discover my value.

The Lure of the Blog

Remember those cocktail parties of yore when young professionals would discuss their salaries using terms like "high five figures" or "low six figures"? Though close enough to overhear, I was never anywhere close to earning those kind of salaries. Best to keep my low five figures to myself.

When I left my last editing job ten years ago to raise my kids, I occasionally picked up some writing and editing work that paid at best a couple of hundred dollars. Woo-hoo! Now I was making in the low three figures! Not exactly something to brag about at a party. That was OK. I was working at my pace on a project of my choosing, a novel, maybe even the Great American Novel, that would one day land me a lucrative book deal. My husband would be able to quit his job and get that job at Home Depot he's always wanted. In the meantime I mostly settled for bylines, clips for my portfolio, and the publisher's gratitude.

Then came the Depression Light. And not a book deal in sight--mainly because the book isn't finished. (I've never been any good at endings.) In this time of double-digit unemployment and glacial hiring, the low three figures are beginning to sound pretty good--especially if I can string several of them together. It just so happens that our oldest son is going to college in the fall, and now Mama needs to contribute more than her flexible schedule and homemade cookies. I'm looking for work, whether that means one job, a couple of jobs, odd jobs here and there. I'm making the rounds of networking groups (a shout out to LongsPeakNet!)

Until now I've resisted the Lure of the Blog. Who would want to read the navel-gazing of a middle-aged, middle American mother of two long past her edgy female writer phase? Now I figure, what have I got to lose? I can manage writing a couple of posts a week. I may even be on to something zeitgeisty. I'm hoping you'll let me know!