Tuesday, June 30, 2009


After I recovered from the divorce, I fell in love. Hard. That courtship and the years that followed remain some of the happiest of my life so far.

My new love and I took a canoe down the St. Croix River on the 4th of July. It was a memorable day, one where our picnic got rained out and I skinnydipped for the first time in my life. When I got back to my car to change out of my swimsuit, I discovered I’d forgotten to bring panties to wear with my dress for the dinner portion of our adventure.

With no other choice available, I went commando--the first time in my entire 40 years on the planet I’d stepped outside my own home without a full complement of underwear. It felt daring and dangerous, another step toward the new woman I was becoming. It became something of a theme: Over the next few years, I “forgot” my panties in a variety of memorable ways. (Once I let a pair sail out of an open convertible speeding through the night down Highway 1 in the Florida Keys. Always wondered who found them.)

And every single time I thought, My mother would absolutely die if she knew I went outside without panties. Die or Kill. Me. Dead.

Last night, Mom and I went over to swim in my sister’s pool. Deb showed up about an hour after she was supposed to meet us, just as we were getting out of the water. We got back in with her for a while, and by the time we left, Mom and I were both pretty well fried.

Changing in the little guest bath, I looked at my pile of clothes, thought, “Who cares,” and slipped into my running pants and a t-shirt sans undies. Just easier. I folded my panties and carefully tucked them into the bundle with my towel and wet swimsuit, thinking, Mom would die, but if I’m careful, she’ll never know the difference.

As we walked to the car, my 75-year-old Mom danced a funny little jig on the driveway. “Whatcha doing, Mom?”

“Well, I thought I lost my panties in Deb’s bedroom. I found ‘em after I got dressed, but I was just too tired to bother. And now…,” she lowered her voice, “I am outside without my panties. It feels kinda good.” She waggled her butt at me and laughed.

Shocked the pants off me. Or…it would have if I’d been wearing any.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sheep vs. Goats

On the way to the farmer's market last week, Mom and I passed opposing factions demonstrating on opposite sides of a street in front of a Bible college. On one side stood a group of people waving signs like "God Hates Jews." These people were screaming and gesturing wildly.

On the other stood a group of people whose signs said things like "God Is Love." These people were standing quietly, firmly.

Dad and I had a long talk about God and heaven this weekend. He's worried about whether he's a sheep or a goat. Frankly, this makes me boiling mad. To imagine that you are or are not acceptable because you were or were not circumcised or were or were not raised in a particular faith or did or did not have water sprinkled on your head as an infant--any of it, all of it strikes me as well beyond absurd. It pains me that lessons from his childhood haunt Dad now.

After a lot of discussion, I finally told him this: Anything that creates an "us vs. them" scenario is from humans, not from God. We are all part of God's family, and God accepts and loves us all. As humans, we choose actions or attitudes that take us closer or further from God, closer or further from peace and love. But, as Carl Jung believed (quoting Desiderius Erasmus), "Bidden or unbidden, God is present."

There is no reason to scream or carry on. We can stand quietly in the sure and certain knowledge that God is love. For all of us. For each of us. Doesn't really matter whether we're sheep or goats: All are acceptable in God's sight.

Many paths. One God.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Heading Home

Waiting Room B. VA Hospital. Kansas City, MO

Dad lies on an exam table 20 yards from here, sleeping lightly while a pulmonologist searches his lungs. Lights. Camera. Action.

Mom sits beside me, stitching down the binding on a quilt she’s making for great-grandchildren she does not have. A TV drones directly above our heads, some faux-court parading the drama of the lowest common denominator—questionable paternity, trading sex for car repair, destroying the windshield of a cheating boyfriend's car.

A tiny black woman sitting opposite us contributes to the sound track.

"Girlfriend, if your son curses, he learned it at ho-o-o-me!"

"Ah...he won't give her no mo-o-on-ney!"

"I hear you, child. I KNOW that one!"

Her smile reveals as many gaps as teeth. Her delight in the program is entertaining. The show is not. Mom stitches. I type, trying to work on a magazine piece due this week.

A small Indian man appears at the door. “Farris?” he asks quietly.

Mom and I go into the hall with this man we do not know to hear news we do not want. The doctor faces Mom but turns his warm brown eyes to the wall. A large mole on the end of his nose mesmerizes me, a bouncing ball to follow for these terrible lyrics.

A slight slump in her posture tells me Mom hears his words and understands their import, but she says nothing. I wait for her to ask, but she doesn't. Tears glisten on her cheeks. Her eyes beg the doctor for mercy.

I put an arm around her and step into the breech, asking the necessary questions and clarifying a few things. The doctor negotiates this sea change without a ripple. When he sets up a follow-up appointment, it is me he consults. When he finishes this consultation, it is my hand he seeks to shake. I'm shaking, all right.

Back in Waiting Room B, Mom makes 10 or 12 tiny, even stitches on her quilt, then drops her thimble and her head. She sobs silently. I put my arm around her again. She wipes her face with her hands, retrieves her thimble and makes two more stitches before her head drops to her chest again.

The gap-toothed lady in the corner jumps up and leaves the room. Nine people in a 12 by 12 room—everyone has a front row seat for everyone else's drama. I'm afraid we've made her uncomfortable with ours. A few moments pass, and she reappears. Nodding toward Mom, she hands me a stack of Kleenex. "I saw her head go down," she says.

Her simple kindness overwhelms me. I thank her through a flood of tears. Mom nods in thanks as the woman returns to her seat. She's not talking to the TV anymore, but any time Mom or I look up, she speaks to us. "Yess-um. I pray for you. Take it to God, yes sir."

I smile at her and she comes to stand in front of me. "Let's aks Jesus," she says. For a few seconds, she's motionless, praying for a man she's never even seen. Sincerity radiates off her the way heat shimmers in the desert. Send me an angel. Send me an angel. Right now. Right now.

The fellows, whom we met before Dad's procedure, appear at the door. We step into the hall with Mark and Raj, our new best friends. Their explanations are more direct, their language more open than the doctor's. Honesty has not yet been trained out of them. Raj is a small man and the white doctor's coat he wears looks like something he stole from his father's closet. Mark looks more the part—his coat is embroidered with his name and he wears it over a layer of confidence. He tells us Dad has lived beyond anyone's expectations and that he knows many of those unexpected years have been good. "I guarantee you there will be more good times," he says.

Back in Waiting Room B, more drama plays out over our heads. The television "judge" says to a troublesome woman, "Thank you for coming here today. Seeing you makes me so grateful for my own life."

When the nurse summons us, we go to the Recovery Room to collect Dad. He's sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed and ready to go. Mom helps him gather his things while I get the car. It's half a mile and several large hills away, and by the time I pull up to the entrance, Mom and Dad are seeking shelter from the merciless sun under a pitifully small tree. They walk to the car holding hands. Dad opens Mom's door and helps her get seated, then gets himself in the van.

"So what's going on?" he asks as he puts on his seat belt.

"What do you mean, Dad?"

"Well, what's got your mother so upset? What did they find?"

The fellows told him, but they mentioned he may have been too sedated to understand. Apparently, they were right.

Dear God. Not this, too.

I face Dad but turn my wet brown eyes to the road. "Part of your left lung is collapsed. They found an abnormal growth obstructing an airway."

Let's aks Jesus.

I stop the car and look into my father's eyes. "About 2 centimeters, as far as they can tell. They did three biopsies. We'll get the report next week. You have an appointment next Wednesday to discuss the pathology reports and select treatment options."


I put the van into "Drive" and, ever so slowly, we turn toward home.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Round and Down

2:00 am, my parents’ house.

Terrible storms tore through the area last night, terrible in that Midwestern, end-of-the-world way that turns the sky green and sucks the last molecule of oxygen from the last breath of air left in the entire state of Missouri.

No electricity and thus no machine to help my father breathe through the night. No air conditioning. Not even a fan to stir the air above his bed. Until tonight, that fan hadn’t stopped in two years. Its skeleton dangles from the ceiling like a phantom limb, blacker against blackness.

The whole neighborhood hums with the generator at the fire station two blocks away, its low whine accompanied by the manic jangle of wind chimes. People in retirement communities love wind chimes. Maybe they like to hear what they no longer go outside to feel. You never see anyone outside here. They stay inside their houses, their doors closed against death. Do they know death doesn't need a door? Any crack will do.

I lie in bed, waiting to be needed. A magnetic ebb and flow pulls me down a perfect Fibonaci spiral—a nautilus shell of night. Round and down…round and down…round and down it drags me into the vortex of this stillness.

I meditate. I repeat a mantra, humming with the generator. I beg for release from this prison built of my own fear, but I can’t sleep. All I can do is listen for Dad’s next breath.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Day of This Father

My father's day is passing.

The whole family (most of it, anyway) went to my brother's house for Father's Day. I rode with Mom and Dad. To be accurate, I rode for 30 minutes of the 3 hour drive. It quickly became apparent that Dad should not drive, so I chauffeured the rest of the way.

To me, it was no problem. I was happy to drive. For Dad, it was difficult—another marker of the end of the era when he was the strongest, most capable member of our family, the rock on which we all stood.

Dad was once 6'4". He now stands less than 6 feet. He once could eat anything and everything he wanted without gaining a pound. He now eats a bowl of oatmeal without sugar for breakfast, Slimfast for lunch, and a small dinner. He once carried concrete blocks like children's toys. Now he struggles to carry himself.

Far more important than those things, though, is the loss of the feeling we all have had, all our lives together this time on the spinning blue marble, that Dad could hold up the sky. He could build anything, fix anything, make it all better somehow. Now he often says, "I used to know how to do that...."

Watching his body fail him is one of the harder things I've done in a life that's included plenty of challenges (as well as more than my share of joy).

When he laments some new loss, I often tell him he's done for us all our lives and now it's our privilege to do for him. The gallant knight in him, the one whose armor is rusting, the one whose lance is no longer sharp--that knight replies, "But I'm supposed to do it."

The knight on the white horse gets a lot of glory, but that glory comes at a terrible price. The Piper has enormous patience and a very long memory. The day has come to pay him.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I adore some things. Adore.

Walking near any body of water.
Picking produce from a garden for dinner.
Mary Oliver's poetry.
Misty mornings on the Oregon coast.
The colors, sights, sounds, and smells of a farmer's market.

Lots more, but that's enough to make my point, which is that simple things make me solidly, thoroughly happy.

My sister went to the farmer's market with Mom and me this morning. Never been before. Probably won't go again: The produce department at the local store is easier. When I pointed out a stall with a particularly beautiful display, she looked at me blankly. "They're vegetables."

She's right, of course. And she couldn't be more wrong. They're vegetables. They're also colors and textures and smells and tastes. They're the fruits of someone's hard work. They're the potential for delicious, nutritious meals. They are simple beauty.

No matter how much my family makes fun of me for it, I am deeply grateful for my ability to take pleasure in simple beauty. It holds me to the Earth when I might otherwise fly off into complete panic over the friends who are seriously ill; my daughter, who is shopping for an engagement ring; my favorite aunt and uncle, who are facing Parkinson's (her) and advancing Alzheimer's (him) without a younger generation to help (their only daughter died at 38); my father, who must have a bronchioscope on Thursday to check out a "narrowing" on his airway.

These are hard things, and when there is anything I can do about them, I do. When there is nothing left to do, I revel in picking fresh basil and composing a beautiful tomato mozzarella salad.

If that makes me simple minded, I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rough All Over

At a coffee shop the other morning, I watched a man repeatedly shuffle papers in a notebook and dial his phone then snap it shut with a grimace.

Despair. I was watching despair.

Someone he knew approached and asked the man if he was all right.

"I have to find some work. Today. I have to find work today."

A story tumbled out, one of a man willing and ready to work but unable to find a job. Mentioning his wife and children, the man's eyes welled and his voice shook.

This morning I edited an article about the relationship between the rising cost of health insurance and poverty. 62% of bankruptcies relate to health care costs. Of that 62%, more than 70% have insurance coverage. Inadequate to be sure, but coverage. Insurance rates are rising at more than five times the rate of inflation.

At this moment, I am well. I have everything I truly need and most of what I want. The sun is shining on my little house, my doggie is snoring beside me, and I am headed to another full day of work.

Rumi's blossoms of blessings are falling all around me, and I am grateful.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Not a Triceratops

Katie was complaining about something this morning, something silly. I laughed into the phone.

"Oh, Babe. You so 2000 and late."

Her screech nearly gave me the new cartilage piercing I want.

What did you say?

"You know...I'm so 3008; you so 2000 and late."

Again with the shriek: How do you KNOW that?

"It's from Boom Boom Pow. The Black Eyed Peas. I like Will.i.am."

But....but...that song is on the radio NOW. It's....it's...from.....TODAY!

And apparently, I am not. From today. Or supposed to know anything current.

"I'm not a dinosaur, Sweetie."

Mom and Dad were talking about something this afternoon, something silly. Mom laughed when I mentioned Alec Baldwin's SNL skit, Schweaty Balls. She knew what I was talking about and thought it was funny. I could barely believe it.

"If you think that's funny, you've got to see this." I pulled up Alec Baldwin doing an SNL skit about playing Wii on Hulu.

Very little could have surprised me more than seeing Mom and Dad laugh hysterically over that skit. They got it. And they thought it was funny.

Um...guess they're not dinosaurs, either.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dumpster Diving

We do not have curbside recycling here in the Land that Time Forgot (also known as Where Democrats Fear to Tread). In the last year, many churches have set up paper recycling dumpsters in their parking lots as a way to generate revenue. (They sell the paper.)

Yesterday I was working away when my vision became so fragmented I couldn't read the screen—my body's way of telling me it's past time to take a break. I took a cool shower, closed my eyes for 10 minutes, and decided to take the paper to the recycling dumpster at a nearby church.

I have a weird fear of locking myself out of my car so, as usual, I pulled the key. When I finished loading my bags and boxes into the dumpster, the key was no longer in my hand. It was not in or on the car. It was not on the ledge of the dumpster. I thought I remembered putting it on the pavement beside the dumpster, but it was not there, either.

The champion of fools and little children was on my side once again, and it turned out that I had an extra key in the glove compartment. I drove home, got a step ladder and returned to the dumpster. The lid was so high that I had to stand on the ladder to open it.

And then I climbed into the dumpster.

Yes. I did. I climbed a ladder and dropped myself down into that enormous dumpster full of paper. (Those remote key things cost over $100.) I cleared a corner and shook out every envelope, bag and newspaper insert. I sifted through the shredder litter. I methodically sorted what I had checked from what I had not. It was hot outside and hotter inside the metal dumpster. For part of a minute, I felt a bit sorry for myself but found perspective. It's much easier to search for a $100 key in a recycling dumpster than a million dollar mattress in a garbage dump.

And Then I Came to the End (my apologies to Joshua Ferris). Time to give up.

When I turned and looked at the opening, dawn broke. A dumpster that required a ladder to climb into was not going to be easy to climb out of.


I could reach the opening but could not haul myself up to it. The walls were smooth--no footholds, no way to climb.

(Much helpless laughter.)

Inspiration! I cleared the space in front of the opening and stacked folded newspaper in two steps. When my newspaper ladder got tall enough, I threw myself out of the opening to the stepladder waiting below.

(Please God, don't let them have surveillance cameras on that parking lot.)

Completely mystified, I went on to run a couple other errands. On the way home, I couldn't help myself. I went back to the dumpster.

Getting into the dumpster was easier the second time. I had a stepladder on one side and the newspaper tower on the other. I cleared the opposite corner and worked my way through all the paper again. 40 minutes later--Bupkus.

One more time through the opening. (Really, God. No cameras. Please?)

Hot and frustrated, I got in the car to head home, when the only logical possibility struck me. What if I put the key of the pavement and unknowingly kicked it under the darn thing?

I laid down on the pavement and peered into the darkness. A suspicious lump in about the center held potential. I happened to have a long quarter-inch dowel in the car, which turned out to be the perfect tool.

After a couple tries, I fished out my $100 key. You would have thought I'd struck gold. I danced. I hopped up and down. I shook the key at the sky and said Thank You. I cel-e-brated.

And then I went home and took a long, hot shower.

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Life in Ruins

Went to see My Life in Ruins on Friday. Loved it. LOVED it.

It's a simple, good natured tale. I'll bet critics label it predictable. But that's okay. Like the main character, I have lost my keffe and want to believe I can find it again. Watching Georgia find hers made me happy.

I've never done a bus tour like that, but I've done several hiking and biking tours and it's always gone like the movie: a mess, a problem, people you're not crazy about until you get to know them.... Something crazy or dangerous happens and the dynamic changes in an instant. Before you know it, you're smearing blue pore-refining mask on your faces and performing African tribal dances in hotel hallways (my experience, not the movie's).

Here's what I love about Nia Vardales: She's a never-so-die kind of girl. No one writes parts she's right for, so she writes 'em for herself. After a 10 year struggle with infertility, she adopts a toddler from the foster care system and becomes an advocate for waiting children. No one's green lighting movies for and about women, but she finds a way (with the help of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson).

In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss's character tells Georgia she's seeing the obstacles instead of the magic. It's a valid point.

Both are always present. Why not see the magic?

Friday, June 05, 2009

More More

So, here's what I've learned about holding what you want.

It's very difficult to make choices that lead you away from what you want when you're holding it firmly, leading with it.

With the exhilaration of that 4th of July singing through my veins yesterday, I said no thanks to chocolate without a second thought, took a break and went for a walk, and danced as I brushed my teeth. Simple. Inevitable. Real.

I don't know from vibrational attraction, but I know this. When I dwell on how fat I am, it's easy to think nothing matters, so I might as well give myself a treat. When I concentrate on the feelings I want, they're like the Pied Piper, leading me down the path of righteousness.

Okay. Maybe not righteousness. Maybe just a little better than usual. And maybe that's enough.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More Holding What I Want

The 4th of July weekend, 1994, a bunch of friends gathered at a friend's lake home. Someone mused about how much fun it would be to try out a wave runner. Everyone nodded and murmured in agreement and the idea floated off across the lake, just one more pleasant thought on its way to oblivion until I snatched its little tail and jerked it back across the waves.

Why not? Why can't we try one? Someone must rent the things out.

All my life—40 years at that point—I had waited for other, more powerful people to make decisions, to plot my course. For the 16 long years I was married, I waited and hoped and subtly influenced my husband's decisions but made virtually none greater than what to fix for dinner. Now the divorce was weeks from final and the idea that on my own I could make this simple thing happen felt like a cosmic doorway swinging open, inviting me to step from shades of Kansas gray into a technicolored Oz.

After an hour on the telephone, a few hundred dollars, and signing my life away in case of accident or injury, I turned the key on a three-person Seado—bright green and purple and all mine for 24 hours. I screamed across the lake toward Ed and Sandy's house with no real idea of where I was going beyond a vague explanation from the bored hunk-o-boy at the marina.

White Bear Lake covers 2,500 acres—10 square miles of water. I had never driven a boat. I had never been on a lake alone. I had never driven or even ridden a wave runner.

I did have a good life jacket, five summers worth of Red Cross swimming lessons, and faith in the kindness of strangers if I got lost or something went wrong.

Finding the house wasn't all that hard. Hunk-o-Boy's explanation got me to the right cove with only a couple of slight detours and the shouts of my friends' children led me to their dock. (My children were with their dad for the weekend.)

We hooked up tubes and floaty toys and I pulled those kids around the lake until they begged for mercy. In wide swings across the water, we jumped the wake and played crack-the-whip. I turned corners so sharp and leaned so hard I got water in my ears as I laid the Seado on its side. I was brave and daring in ways I had never been. We stayed on the water until darkness gathered and even one more minute invited a visit from the sheriff.

All afternoon, I was both the good girl and the bad boy as Tom Petty sang in my head, I'm free....freeeee faaaalllin.... I screamed out loud with him, falling free through the white spray and the pure blue joy of being alive in the red hot summer sun on what was, in all ways, a Day of Independence.

I want more of that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Holding What I Want

I spend a lot of time angry with myself about my weight. Not a day passes without a fair amount of time criticizing myself for my food choices and the shape I'm in. Truthfully, an hour rarely passes.

Barb and I watched Abraham: Secret Behind the Secret last night. On the way home, I recognized how much time I spend focusing on what I hate about my body and how I do not control my eating and all the times I fail to exercise. According to Abraham, these vibrations attract more of the same.

Um.....no thanks.

So last night before bed and the first thing this morning, I spent 30 minutes visualizing times in my life when I felt trim and strong and attractive. I stepped back into a pair of darling brown shoes worn with ankle socks and a flowing blue dress and walked down Fallbrook Road to Terie's house. I smelled the tree blooming in Cathie's yard and waved to Debbie and Bruce on their front step.

On a picnic bench in Door County, Wisconsin, I shaded my eyes against the sun to have my picture taken, aware that it was one of the rare times in my life I didn't mind the camera. I felt the rough lumber of the table and listened to the clinks of lines on masts in Egg Harbor.

Other runners greeted me as I crossed the finish line at my first 10K. I flopped on the curb to eat my orange and felt the orange zest beneath my fingernails.

My date thanked me for an experience he'd longed for all his life. "I've always wanted to walk into an important party with the most beautiful woman in the room. Tonight I did." Granted, he said this while saying goodnight at my door and probably hoped it would get him beyond the door, but whatever. We were at an awards ceremony at a gorgeous resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin--my gown was white and kind of Grecian. After the dance, we walked out on a dock on the lake and strangers stopped to tell us what a pretty picture we made in the moonlight. I felt like Cinderella at the ball.

Wearing a long brown velvet skirt and tennis shoes, I mowed the front lawn on Fallbrook Road. I had a little time between activities and didn't care what anyone thought. I felt those tennis shoes flop on my feet without socks.

Wearing nothing at all, I floated down the St. Croix River on a rainy 4th of July afternoon. The rain ruined the picnic but not the adventure. I got goosebumps from the cold water and the thrill.

Who knows what this will lead to, but it feels wonderful to start and end the day with strong, positive thoughts. It can only be a good thing to hold what I want.

And I want more of feeling like that.