Friday, September 2, 2011

Santa Cruz Trip

We moved away from the coast in July 2009 and since then have been back to visit Santa Cruz exactly once.

We're going back tomorrow for the long weekend.

I hope there is fog.  I hope we find weirdness.  I hope we can walk down Pacific Avenue Mall and visit the pizza joint and Bookshop Santa Cruz and glance up to see the bands playing at the Catalyst that we'll never pay money to see.

I hope the traffic on 17 isn't too bad coming through Scotts Valley, although we could just as easily exit at Glenwood and go through Felton.  I hope the crepes taste as good as I remember them at that Place on Soquel Avenue.  I hope we can get a real good taco.

I hope the surf is up on West Cliff, and the dogs are out in force at the dog beach on the other side of the lighthouse.  I hope we can drive past the old house and admire the new paint job and talk with the old neighbors a bit.  I hope Ella is still alive, well and kickin' and cursing the new tenants next door to her.

I wish Kathy were still principal of the school where I used to work and willing to give me a job whenever I wanted to ask one.  I wish the rent weren't "too damn high."  I wish we had a truck so we could bring the surfboards back - they are lonely sitting under the landlocked deck.  I wish we could sit out on our old patio with beers and music and hear the sea lions barking at the wharf.

Oh, Santa Cruz.  I miss you, and I fear going back to visit.  I love where we are now.  I love the job and the friends and the frank open-ness about this place.  But I do feel The Draw.  And we'll get a taste of that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

..but not the next day after that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Size 7

Last year around this time a bunch of my friends had suggestive Facebook statuses: "I like it on the kitchen table," "I like it on the floor," etc.

It was one of those breast cancer awareness "campaigns," where you were supposed to write where you keep your purse as your status.  Those out of the loop were supposed to be scratching their heads at how saucy these people were while the rest of us giggled.

I was pretty upset.

My mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and here were a bunch of (probably) well-intentioned people making light of it, trivializing it, turning it into something that they could use to become attention-whores or part of an "in" crowd.

I don't know about you, but I haven't run across anyone who looks at me, startled and amazed and says, "Oh wow, cancer in the BREAST?  I had no idea you could get cancer there!" when I mention that my mom passed away.  I think most people are pretty aware.

So this year there's a new "campaign."  Write your shoe size.  Yeah yeah yeah, it's supposed to be "secret," and "fun."  But again this year I'm pretty annoyed and what I think of is the phrase, "Act your age, not your shoe size."  How many people will giggle and write "size 8!" and then...that's it?  I guess I just don't see how it actually does anything to help cancer patients.  This is the third year in a row that I've seen these statuses around: write the color of your bra, write where you like to put your purse, write your shoe size.

"Black - but that's only because I still have both my breasts."
"I like it on the kitchen counter, but I'd really rather be able to hear my mom complain about me leaving my stuff out all the time just once  more."
"7.5, but I wish I could go shoe shopping with my mom again."

Done and done and I feel good, and cool, and part of the in-crowd and I never have to actually do anything to help anyone.

So please, instead of throwing up a status that you'll forget you wrote next week, be creative.  There are lots of things you can do.

1.  Donate to a cause.  You all know of one (:ahem:), and even if you can only contribute $20, or $10, or $5, or $1 it will make a difference and be appreciated.

2.  Participate in a walk or fundraiser yourself.

3.  Volunteer at a hospital or other treatment center.  AND A WORD ABOUT THIS.  When my mom was in the hospital two volunteers came by and asked if they could do anything for her.  She said, "Yes.  I haven't had my Starbucks for a week.  Do you think you could find me some coffee?"  They went out and got her the first coffee she'd had in what, for her, was practically an eternity.  It took them about 3 minutes to find the coffee at the nurse's station, bring it to her, and make her day.  When the nurse came back and asked her if she needed more pain meds, my mom smiled, held up her little styrofoam cup, and said, "No, I've got my coffee!"  It didn't cost the volunteers anything but TIME, and they gave her about 30 minutes of delight in the middle of a mind-blowingly painful (physically and emotionally) time.

4.  If you knit or crochet, you can make chemo-caps and donate them.

5.  Make meals for the families of hospice patients.

6.  Donate crossword, sudoku, puzzle books, or other kinds of quiet entertainment to a cancer ward.

I know I'll see about a million status updates that say, "Size 9!"  But my sister's Bocce Ball fundraiser has only 9 people signed up to attend (out of more than 400 invited).  The cost is less than taking 2 people to the movies, and it'll be a lot of fun.  

If money is your hang-up, first remember that even if you can't afford to donate much (believe me, I KNOW this feeling), even the cost of a frappucino helps...and then if you still don't want to donate money, then you can volunteer your time.  It's free to you and makes a world of difference to the people you help.

And now I'm going to climb down off of my soapbox and go to work in my size 7 shoes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oh Hai

OK, I did it again.  I ignored The Blog while life intervened.

In the meanwhile, though, some Stuff happened.

1.  We got moved.
2.  We had visitors - my husband's oldest 2 kids, their mom, and their younger sister visited.
3.  We went to go see my husband's family for their annual family vacation.
4.  We got rid of internet at home.
5.  We had a few weeks of breathlessly hoping that we could afford to make it through August.
6.  We found out that yes, we can make it through August.
7.  We found out that we can totally survive pretty comfortably on my salary alone.

Remember my old post about wanting to research and find out about 1950s cost of living and today's cost of living?  Yeah, we're living that research.

Check out item #4.  "We got rid of internet at home."

$75 per month gone.  At least for now.  Netflix?  Cable?  Gone, too...although the cable was gone long before the Netflix.

One of the bigger shocks to me during the little bit of internet research I did (pardon me for not citing my sources - limited connection time, you know), was that in 1950, 26% of the household budget went toward food, while today Americans spend about half that (US Census Bureau - you can check it yourself.  Google is your friend).  Most of the other budgetary percentages were at least officially the same, which means that in theory the savings we get in food costs go toward our more modern expenses.

This makes no sense to me at all, whatsoever.

With cell service, we spend almost twice what we would on simply a landline.  Quadruple the landline cost if we had smartphones with data plans.  If we had an iPad, cable television, Netflix, a second car, used air conditioning in the summer and propane heat in the winter, bought flatscreen TVs, BluRay discs, made credit card payments, took vacations besides fairly local camping trips, ate out in restaurants, drank Starbucks, went to the movies, etc. etc., we could easily add $1,000 to our monthly budget.  That's a lot more than the modern day savings in food.

Here's our current budget:
1.  Rent + water (combined)
2.  Car payment (which will end in December.  YESSSSSSSSSSS)
3.  Car insurance
4.  Cell phone service
5.  Electricity
6.  Savings (necessities + emergency)
7.  Student loan
8.  Food
9.  Gasoline for the car

Once things get evened out from moving, we can cover our basic expenses on my salary alone, with enough left over to save for $1500 yearly car expenses, $600 for Christmas gifts, modest vacation funds, clothing funds, and emergency savings.  Payable in cash, not credit.

No, we don't have cable, we don't eat out, we don't take spectacular vacations, we don't have the latest gadgets or the most fashionable clothes and accessories, we don't go to the movies or go shopping for fun, we don't buy stuff just because we want it.

We do shop at the discount grocery store, we get most of our clothes at the local thrift shops, we get most of our kid's toys from garage sales or as hand-me-downs, we visit the library (or download public domain e-books for free), we have our kid run around outside in order to PLAY, we give away the things we don't want or need to friends and neighbors and they return the favor whenever applicable to us (BARTERING - it's an ancient concept that works).

In short, we buy or trade for what we need, and forgo what we don't.  And in the end, we have a little left over for a few things we want.

Would it be super awesome to take a trip to the Bahamas or Europe?  Heck yes.  Would I like a new gadget like an iPad, or a service like cable?  Would it be nice to go out for a nice restaurant dinner sometimes?  Of course it would.  But as it turns out, when we can't afford those things and don't buy or use them I don't miss them as much as one might think.  Amazingly, one can survive and even thrive without gourmet coffee and 3G.

We win.

Suck it, Capitalism.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuff Like Whoa

Here's an interesting exercise.  Give away 1/3 of your possessions, decide that another 1/6 is trash.  Then move into a place 2/3 the size of your current home.  Then watch your things multiply!

This was our fatal error: not taking into account the fact that the garage doesn't "count" in the square footage of our house.  So 1500 feet is actually, well, a lot more.

Luckily, the attic space is ample so we aren't in as bad a spot as we thought.  And we do have most of the bigger furniture still on the way (with drawers and cabinets and such).  And there is outside storage.

But we'll be living cozy for a while until both of us decide we can part with some more things.  Or figure out how to condense it all.  For instance, I have a lot of yarn - most of it came from my mom - but it takes up two 17 gallon tubs.  By winding it up in yarn balls I can fit it all in a hanging sweater...thing.  You know, the thing you put in your closet so you can store things vertically.  Yeah, I can fit three times as much yarn in one of those things when it's balled.

Books.  Oh my goodness, the books.  So many of them.  And I've already ditched the duplicate copies (both in hard copies and the ones I have in digital form).  And the ones that I can get for free on my Kindle because they're in the public domain.  And the ones I realistically won't read.  And the ones I can find regularly for 50 cents at a thrift store.  Goodness.

And bedding?  Holy cow, we got rid of extra sheets and blankets and we're STILL busting at the seams.  The only things I refused to part with were the quilt my grandma made me when I was a baby, and a blanket I knitted myself.  We kept 2 sheet sets for each bed - one for warm weather and one for cold - and a blanket and comforter for each.  I think what we'll need to do is assess how well the wood stove works come winter time and then maybe ditch some blankets.

Camping supplies.  Big sigh there.  How is it that this stuff can take up so little room in the back of my little Toyota and then magically increase in volume once it comes time to put it somewhere in the house?

My husband's clothes.  How is it that such a simple man has more clothes than me?  He wears the same 3 things every week!  Luckily we have a dresser coming that should solve that problem.

Ironically, I think the only stuff that takes up LESS room than I had anticipated is my crafting supplies.  Yarn, patterns, fabric, paint, canvas, all of it is pretty compact.

And the moving continues...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Please Stand By

Just checking in.  We're in the middle of our move, and we got the internet up and running last night.  However, we still have a lot of treks to make between the two houses not to mention deep cleaning 1500 feet of house.

And work starts up again a week from tomorrow.  So I have a lot of prep work to do there, too.

So here's the deal with the new house: it's growing on me.

For instance, last night the temperature dipped under 50 degrees.  In the old house, this would equate to indoor temperatures of 52-55.  Here?  67.  Yesterday afternoon it was actually cooler inside than out - an unheard of event at the other house.  This is not an insignificant fact given summer temperatures here routinely rise above 95 and often go over 100.

The kid is loving the freedom to run around both the much safer house and the gated front deck.  I'm loving not having to stay within arm's reach every moment of every day.  PLUS it came pre-baby-proofed, with the go-ahead to install more drawer and cabinet stoppers if need be.

We get PBS and network television courtesy of the rear house's cable connection.  I can get all the Huell Howser I can stand!

So yay!

We have most of our kitchen and master bedroom moved, but it doesn't seem to have made much of a dent in the other house.  So we have our work cut out for us.  Posting will be sporadic for a while, but I hope that unlike this blog's previous incarnation "sporadic" will mean just that, rather than "nonexistent."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Netflix Price Hike

Yesterday I, along with millions of other customers, got this e-mail from Netflix:

Dear Anne,

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

   Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
   Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team

And the internet promptly ignited in a giant fireball directed squarely at Netflix.  As of this morning, when I clicked on "Dear Netflix" as a trending topic, within two minutes there were 171 new tweets..

People are pretty pissed.

Here's the thing: most of the tweets that I was reading weren't even all that upset with the final cost of the streaming + DVD plan.  What people tended to be upset with was pretty much two-fold: 1) that it was a 60% increase all at once, and 2) that there would be no corresponding increase in streaming content or other boost to service.

I get that even if all the people who say they're going to downgrade or leave their Netflix subscription actually do so, that Netflix will still make money.  I get that it costs a lot of money to distribute all this streaming content in addition to DVDs.  I get that it's still less than half the cost of cable TV.

But it's still a comparatively huge increase all at once.  And the tone of the e-mail seems a little strange to me - as though they figure a lot of people are going to quit Netflix altogether so they might as well make it easy by providing the link.  Could you imagine a cable company making it that easy to cancel subscription when they announce a price increase?  Heck no - they hand you over to retention and try to sell the crap out of the great features that they have.  Netflix didn't do that in their e-mail.  There's no mention of how many titles are available via their streaming service or DVD, no mention that they have the best selection for the lowest price.  Nothing.  It's either incredibly cocky or incredibly apathetic.  Probably both.

I have until September to decide what to do.

Here's my thought process:

Back in November 2010 Netflix changed their plans to offer streaming-only as an option.  I had the $8.99 streaming plus one DVD plan.  Rather than save a buck and ditch the DVDs, we decided to pay the extra dollar to keep our service as is.  We don't rent a whole lot of movies as is, but if we rented even two movies in a month then the Netflix would be worth the extra $2.

But November 2010 got me thinking about what else was out there.  I took the time to find out that even in my little rural don't-even-have-a-Walmart-community, there is a Redbox.

Now skip ahead to yesterday, and they're asking us to pay $6/month more for the exact same service.  That means that in order for the $15.98/month to be worth it to us, we would need to rent 6 Redbox movies each month.  Not gonna happen.  That's more than 1 movie per weekend, and we just don't have the time or stamina for that.  It makes no sense for us to keep the same account with Netflix when we can rent just one movie per weekend with Redbox and STILL pay less overall.

So that's what we're going to do, and from the looks of social media we're not alone.

It seems like a really silly thing for Netflix to do on the surface - anger the majority of their customers by boosting their price without providing much justification (or increase in service).  But the reality is, they're still going to be making more money this way.  For most subscribers like me they'll only lose $2 in revenue each month, and I would bet that the majority of users will just swallow the increase.  That's not even taking into account new subscribers who will likely opt for the streaming + DVD plan.

In the meanwhile we'll keep the plan until the last possible moment and then downgrade.  We use the streaming feature a LOT, so the $7.99/month fee is worth it to us.  The same fee for DVDs?  Not so much.  We'll be using Redbox instead.

So Redbox: I think it's time that you sat down at your desk and start writing your thank you letter to Netflix.  If Twitter, Facebook, and my own decision-making process is any indication, you're in for a lot of new customers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I came across this disturbing story on NPR the other day.  It's a story basically plugging a book about supermarket tomatoes and why they are so...gross.  (Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook).

I'll quote the part that was the most disturbing to me: 

" Up until recently, workers on many of Florida's vast industrial tomato farms were basically slaves. "People being bought and sold like animals," Estabrook [the book's author] says. "People being shackled in chains. People being beaten for either not working hard enough, fast enough, or being too weak or sick to work. People actually being shot and killed for trying to escape. That sounds like 1850's slavery to me, and that, in fact, is going on, or has gone on."

Estabrook adds that there have been seven successful slavery prosecutions in Florida in the past 15 years." - Courtesy of "All Things Considered" July 9, 2011
Wait, WHAT?!  People being shot and killed for trying to escape?!  Seven successful slavery prosecutions in the past 15 years (meaning, many unsuccessful prosecutions where there?  How many settled out of court?  How many have slipped under the radar?)?
The author's main point, according to the NPR story, is that tomatoes are a summer fruit.  They just won't grow below a certain temperature.  Florida has that temperature year-round, but it doesn't really have the climate or the soil for large scale tomato crops, so they have to constantly irrigate, use antibacterial agents and fungicides, and fertilize the hell out of them.  And they have to get them to places across the country at cheap enough prices that people will happily buy them in January.  Hence, the actual, literal slave labor.
The author's solution?  Grow your own, or at least buy local if you want taste.  And don't expect fresh tomatoes in wintertime, because where they came from...ain't pretty.
Sounds easy enough to me.  Excuse me while I go water my romas.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Point of Release

I have a lot of time to think on my training walks now that I've hit the six milers.  At my pace that's about an hour and forty five minutes of think time.  I also have a fairly limited area where I am able to walk.  Sidewalks are scarce, and towns with a population of, say, 1500 or so don't exactly have sprawling urban areas where I can people watch or otherwise distract myself.  So I do some repeated loops.

I used MapMyWalk to chart out the distances in increments of 1, 2, 3, and 4 miles.  An entire circuit of the main streets in my subdivision give me a whopping 3 miles.  A somewhat dangerous training tip from the Susan G. Komen website was that my training miles do NOT have to all be logged at once.  For my six mile walk, for instance, I could do three miles in the morning and three in the afternoon.  Or two miles in the morning, two mid-day, and two after dinner.  Oh, the temptation to cut a walk short and finish it later...

I did try this a couple of weeks ago.  I wasted it on a three mile walk.  I did two in the morning and had all great intentions of walking a mile in the evening and then going for a swim.  Well, I did the swimming part, but it was just outside that I skipped the walking part.

No more.

Which is not to say that the temptation isn't there.  For my six mile walk, for instance, I do the initial 4 mile loop, pass right by the house, and then complete the two mile loop.  The individual parts of the loop have temptations in and of themselves.  The four miler is very similar to the three miler, with only taking a couple of side streets to differentiate them.  The difference between the one and two mile loops is a matter of turning either left or right at a certain intersection.  During a six mile training walk there are at least four intersections where I need to make a decision either to take the longer route or the shorter.

But after the last decision point, it's done.  No matter whether I'm tired or hot or cranky or don't feel like continuing for any number of reasons, in order to get home I'll need to complete the mileage.  That is a great feeling.  It's hard to describe, and I feel kind of silly writing it out, but it's as though just not having a choice in the matter of whether I'll finish the day's training or not makes it easier to walk.  Or like I'm already finished with the training even with a mile of walking ahead of me.  It's a point of release.

And then at the same time I feel like such a jerk for complaining inside my head about the training.

I just finished reading Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy.  Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma at age 9, underwent radiation and chemotherapy, had half of her jaw removed, and dealt with reconstructive surgery for the rest of her life (she passed away at age 39 not from the cancer, but from an accidental overdose of pain medication).  This was her memoir.

The part where she described the chemotherapy was excruciating.  She described trying to give herself pneumonia as a child in order to get out of going for her treatment, she described the daily nausea, and the brutal anticipation of her weekly appointment where it would all start again just as she was beginning to feel as though she could keep down food.  She described radiation burns inside her mouth that made it impossible to eat anything but the blandest of foods.  She recounted that this treatment continued for two and a half years.

I get to walk.  I might not look forward to aching legs, or the sun, or quite frankly the boredom.  But every time I go out there and train I get stronger.  Each time I go it gets easier.  And why am I training?  To try to raise money for cancer research.  Each time someone gets a dose of chemotherapy or radiation, it does NOT get easier.  It gets harder to endure physically, mentally, emotionally.

So I can deal with my trivial frustrations, the weight of deciding whether or not to fully train.  I get to have those decisions.  Now it's time to make them matter-of-fact and just release them, make the whole walk that point of release.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mom, Part 5

The 3 weeks of antibiotics were up.  Mom's pain continued to worsen.  Almost a month to the day after she first went in for "that weird tongue thing," she went back to the hospital to try to find a way to better manage her pain.  That's when the family started to unravel.

Communication is emphatically NOT my family's strength, and living 500 miles away from them was not helpful in the least.  Somehow key details were left out in conversations until they were old news.  For example, I found out in the middle of a late night phone call with my sister that Mom's cancer was upgraded from stage II to stage IIIC or possibly stage IV weeks earlier.  So many of the events of this time are hazy in my mind, disjointed and illogical in the order presented; only because the whole damn thing was illogical in my brain.

I was 29.  My mom was not supposed to be this sick.  She wasn't this sick and it was all some annoying headache that just needed to get resolved NOW.

So when she went into the hospital again on the 10th of November I expected a barrage of text messages, e-mails, telephone calls, a repeat of October.  I wasn't expecting to hear that the lesion in her brain was still there along with another lesion on her liver.  Or that the liver biopsy would come back positive for cancer.  Or that I would need to change my planned Christmas visit to a Thanksgiving visit because Dad didn't think Mom had another two months left in her.

I faltered in asking for the time off.  I didn't want to take the time.  I think in my mind I felt as though if I made her wait until Christmas that damn it she would just have to hang on and wait.  But I went ahead and booked a sub for the three extra days and waited.

November 11th she had the liver biopsy.  The results came back the next Monday.  Positive.  Next on the to-do list was a bone scan to see if the cancer was present in her bones and spinal fluid.  Results would come back by Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday I attended church for the first time in nearly a decade.  The homily was about how we all have life-shattering experiences.  Those times that truly test faith and make us question the goodness of God.  The priest was very forceful in explaining that we must trust in God and stay with him during these times and he will stay with us.  He threw in a little fire and brimstone along with a steaming heapful of Catholic guilt regarding church attendance during trying times.  I was thoroughly turned off.  But in the middle of the recessional, at the end of mass, my phone buzzed.  A text message from my younger sister: "Bone scan NEGATIVE."

I walked out to the car after church, sat behind the wheel of my car and melted.  I hadn't cried during any of this before, but I did then.  Bone scan NEGATIVE.  It was hope.  It was the only good news we had gotten since she'd had the mastectomy.  Somehow, despite all of the other facts - her constant pain, the cancer in her liver, her shaky voice over the phone - somehow this one fact convinced me that she would pull through and conquer this thing because the bone scan was NEGATIVE.  After a while, I peeled my forehead from the steering wheel, wiped my eyes, and drove home.  I still needed to lesson plan and pack.

It was going to be a grueling week anyway.  That Thursday I had two parent meetings and a formal observation by my supporting teacher (I'm still a newbie).  My supporting teacher was in the loop as to what was going on with Mom, and we had both agreed to get this observation over with early so that we could stay ahead of the game.  Last year we had to deal with my unexpected pregnancy, so we already knew that staying as far ahead as possible with the paperwork would help us out big time in the end.

Thursday rolled around and I got my first meeting finished early.  I went back to my classroom to prep for my observation.  That's when the text messages started rolling in.  My older sister was driving in from out of state with her family.  The text message was from her: Dad called her crying, asking when she would be getting in.  Shit.  Something's going on.

The bell rang and students started filing in.  No time to think about that now, I have a lesson to teach under observation.

We got started, and the lesson was going really well.  And then, toward the end, the phone just started exploding with messages (on vibrate, don't worry).  For a brief moment I made eye contact with my supporting teacher.  She made a motion to indicate the question, "Do you want to suspend the lesson?"  No.  I definitely did NOT want to suspend the lesson.  We soldiered on, my kids did great despite the buzzing coming from my purse every few minutes.  The bell rang, my students and observer left, and I went straight for my phone.  I had about 10 minutes before my next parent meeting.

Mom was dying.  Soon.

She had 2-3 months at best, and probably much less than that.  How soon can I come down?  Dad's a wreck.

My meeting was pleasant enough.  I didn't mind that we were meeting during lunch.  I wasn't in the least bit hungry anyway.  We worked through a plan for the student, wrapped up neatly just in time for my afternoon classes.  I don't even remember what happened the rest of the day or at all the next day.

Two to three months.  Dad doesn't think she'll make it to Christmas.  How soon can I get down there?

I made plans to drive down with the family on Saturday, arrive Sunday after going to church with my mother-in-law.  We packed quickly and left early, 8 inches of early snow on the ground; it had all fallen the night before.

Then Saturday's phone call came through as I was sipping a beer, unwinding from the drive and anticipating the next day.

Mom was asking for me.  The doctors say it will be soon, probably within the week.  People who are dying often hang on so they can wrap up unfinished business with people, or give them final messages.  Mom was asking if I was there yet.  But don't change plans, she'll hang on for you.

I changed my plans and arranged to leave as early as possible the next morning.  Church with my mother-in-law could wait.  Mom couldn't.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Moving Right Along

Last month I wrote that we may have found a new house to rent.  Well, cross of the "may have."  Our application was accepted, and we begin moving next Friday.

I'm still working on that research on cost of living, by the way.

That means a few things: I'll need to find new places to train, we'll need to seriously downsize our possessions, and we'll need to get used to a new neighborhood.

There are plenty of benefits to living in the new house (else we wouldn't be moving, right?).  For one thing, it has an attic, some double paned windows, lots of shade, and at least a touch of insulation.  In an area with actual seasons this is not a small consideration.  The last two years here have taught me that coastal California dwellers are s.p.o.i.l.e.d. when it comes to comfortable living.  High ceiling, A-frame houses on top of a hill sure look picturesque, but when there's nothing between the ceiling and the roof it makes for either exceedingly uncomfortable living quarters, or exceedingly expensive ones.  The rule in my house is that the air conditioning is forbidden when the inside temperature where the thermostat lives is under 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  That translates to 96 degrees in the living room.  In winter time we spend most of the snowy days within 4 feet of the fireplace bundled in our winter coats, willing the thermometer to hit 55 degrees by late afternoon.  We all know how expensive air conditioning is, but what I didn't know before living here is that a tank of propane costs more than $500 to fill.  Yikes.

An attic will help with the heat.  The shade will help a lot, too.  For the winters we will graduate to a wood-burning stove, and around these parts it is entirely possible to get your hands on a cord of wood for $10, provided you're willing to fell, chop, and season your own wood.  Sign us up for that deal!

Incidentally, I marvel at and salute the pioneer women who came to the foothills before such things as weatherized, insulated structures and air conditioning.  I can't imagine cooking over an open flame in a modest, floor length dress and petticoat in 105 degree heat.  You can't tell me that hanging a wet blanket in the doorway is an adequate solution.  Believe me, I've tried it.

Anyway.  Back to the benefits.

The other thing that we are allowed to do in our new abode is plant whatever we would like in the ground.  I mentioned my vegetable garden, and the new landlord said that would be fine and that I can certainly put those in the ground.  If we end up staying for a while I may even get bold and look into purchasing some fruit trees...

We will also have a brand new trail head about 5 minutes up the road that leads to some amazing views of the foothills.  I hear a rumor that on a clear day you can even see out as far as the Coastal Range, although I do wonder how many clear days we get anymore.

In the other direction a 5 minute drive will land us at a small lake, open for swimming, fishing, and non-motorized boats.  There's a playground for the kid, and the beach is an off-leash area for dogs (not that we have a dog, but it sure is fun to play with them).  It's a nice place to go to get away from the heat.  Today, for example, we plan on going up there with the surfboards and paddling around a bit.  Hey, they still need to get some use, right?

If it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself that it'll be a good move, then you're onto me.  I won't miss the indoor heat (or the cold), and I won't miss having to use a gate card to get onto the road to my house, but I just can't shake the feeling of...I don't want to move.  I like going out onto our deck in the morning with a cup of coffee and seeing the pine-forested mountains.  Or sitting in the evening with a glass of wine watching the sun set through the trees.  We won't have those kind of views at the new house.  We won't have the quiet, either.  Gated communities are known for being pretty snooty (which I won't miss), but they certainly are quiet.  The new house is on a road that leads directly to Main Street in the next down over, so there is a lot more traffic.  It's nestled in the trees, so we'll lose our mountain views.

But mostly I guess it's that it's change.  I don't like things to change too much, and the last three years seem to be nothing but: my husband losing his job, me losing mine, getting a new job, moving to a brand new area of the state, unexpectedly getting pregnant, each of us losing a parent, and now up and moving again.  Sure it's just up the road, but it's still a disruption.

I just wish (and hope) that things could be a little more...boring for a while.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

3 Mile Training

Tuesday was my last 3 mile training walk for a while.  After this it gets a little, um, intense.  Especially for someone who loves her couch as much as I do.

So to celebrate I brought my camera with me to show you a little bit of my neighborhood.

Here's a blurry glimpse of the view from about 500 feet away from my front door.  I used to think that this was looking out toward the Central Valley but as it turns out we're looking straight down toward the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Heading up toward and around the top of the street we get a view of the canyon.  When it snows you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the tops of mountains in the high country.

See that road snaking up through the middle of the picture?  I walk up that road.  It's steep.  Did I mention how much I love my couch?

Of course, before you walk up a steep road you need to go down one first.

Back over to the canyon...wouldn't you just love to have that view right off your deck?  Or, heck, why not have a second deck as well.  It's good to have choices.

It was about 80 degrees already by the time I started my walk (8:30 AM).  Depending on my mood on a given walk day this sign is either cruel irony, or a delicious reminder that cooler days lay ahead.

I think this is my favorite part of the walk.  By this point I've been walking downhill for about a mile, much of it in the shade.  Here there's a short bridge and a water trap.  Yes I live in a golf resort community.  Shush.  It's still half as expensive as Santa Cruz.

And here's the final leg of my journey: 0.6 miles uphill.  Look, do you see all that shade?  Me neither.

Joking aside, I love walking through this little neighborhood.  As long as I can start my walk early enough the weather is pleasant, the views great, the houses beautiful, and the people friendly.  When I started walking in May it was a bit of a pain to do even twenty minutes.  Now I'm up to five mile jaunts and am able to look at the 3 milers as my "easy" days.  It's amazing what 4 walks per week can do in such a short amount of time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Verdict

Last month I wrote about my frustration with the media in relation to high profile criminal cases like Casey Anthony's.  It was a long, rambling piece about how we have a system that is supposed to presume innocence, with the burden of proof being on the prosecution to convict.  I expressed concern that when so much evidence is publicized before the trial that it will taint prospective jurors, thus denying people their right to a fair trial.

And then yesterday (in case you somehow missed it) Casey Anthony was found not guilty of 1st degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child.  She was convicted of 4 counts of providing false information to law enforcement.

My Facebook newsfeed went sort of ballistic.

I counted 20 posts regarding the verdict.  Of those, 12 posts were along the lines of, "Eff you, defense attorney/Casey/jury she did it and you know it!"  6 posts stated something about reasonable doubt and how the prosecution didn't prove their case well enough so the verdict was valid, 1 post simply stated "I wasn't on the jury so I can't judge," and 1 post was completely neutral, only linking the news story with the comment "Not guilty."

Now, I want to be clear here: I have a gut feeling that Casey Anthony killed her daughter.

And now I want to tell a story that was in the news when I was in college.

A man and his wife went out for a night-time excursion on their boat.  They did the wrong thing and had a few drinks.  When it was time to turn it around and come home, something happened - the boat hit a wave wrong, the wife slipped, I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the wife ended up in the water.  The husband, being a little woozy already, panicked and briefly tried to find her in the water but then realized that he wasn't equipped to help her.  The longer he stayed there the greater probability that she would drown.  So he went for shore as fast as he could, tied up the boat, and called the police.  When the police responded, they decided to treat this as a crime.  So they interrogated him for four hours and didn't bother to notify anyone to start a search party for the wife.  By the end of the four hours it was clear to the husband that the police had a rough scenario mapped out: husband wanted out of the marriage for some reason, maybe an affair he wasn't admitting, maybe there were money problems, whatever, so he staged this to look like an accident by pushing his intoxicated wife overboard in the middle of the night.

Luckily for the man (and especially luckily for the wife), a small fishing boat happened to be nearby and happened  to hear the wife call for help.  She figured that her husband had gone to the police for help, so she headed there, too, and corroborated his story 100%.

Now what would happen if that fishing boat hadn't been there?  The police would have had a body and a flimsy story with no witnesses to back this guy up.  Under their scenario they wouldn't have had to look for any injuries since the cause of death would have been drowning, and any traces of alcohol left in her system would have backed up the idea that he'd liquored her up to impair her swimming.


I'm not saying that I buy Casey Anthony's story.  What I'm saying is that without direct evidence that Caylee Anthony was even murdered (that evidence itself is circumstantial - no injuries to the skeletal remains, and no chemical evidence found, either), and without direct evidence that Casey - and only Casey - had the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out said murder, then the accidental drowning story provides reasonable doubt.

The violent reactions against the verdict that I was reading were completely emotionally based.  It was either that same gut feeling that I have, or pointing to her behavior during the month that Caylee was "missing," but it wasn't based on science, direct witnesses, or any irrefutable evidence.

The prosecution just didn't have the kind of evidence that they needed to absolutely prove that Casey Anthony had the motive or used the means that they suggested in carrying out first degree murder.

Child neglect?  Sure.  Probably even neglect resulting in the death of a child.  Murder one?  No.

Again, I feel the need to point out that I do have the gut feeling that she did it.  BUT...

Here's the thing, you guys.  Sometimes innocent people are arrested for heinous crimes.  I repeat the question that I asked last month: is it better that more murderers sometimes go free so that we reduce the number of innocent people wrongly convicted?  Or is it better to tighten the system so that fewer actual criminals are acquitted, but more innocent people are jailed (or worse)?

She was on trial for a crime punishable by death, and the prosecution was going to ask for the death penalty in the event of a conviction.  You can't take that back if there's a mistake.  If evidence comes up down the road that exonerates someone, you can't vacate the sentence.  It's done forever.  That's why we need to be very, very certain of guilt.  And I'm not talking about a certainty based off of gut feelings or crazy behavior that doesn't match what you think you would do in that person's shoes.  I'm talking proof beyond a reasonable doubt - proof that a murder occurred, that there was a clear means, motive, and opportunity, and no one else who could reasonably have committed the crime.

I'm not happy that Casey Anthony is going to walk free after her stint in prison for her misdemeanor convictions (if she even goes to or survives prison).  But I am happy that I live in a place where it's tougher to sentence someone to die when there isn't much more evidence than my gut feeling that she did it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mom, Part 4

I left Mom and Dad's house at the beginning of October after a short 4 day visit.  Mom was still recovering from her September surgery and a resulting infection, but was otherwise in good spirits.  She was so focused on getting through the round of antibiotics so that she could start chemotherapy.  The night before I left, my older sister flew in from out of state to help relieve my dad so he could continue working.  The day I left they sat together for several hours at the hospital waiting for a follow-up appointment.  Sis said that Mom was in good spirits, and when I talked to Mom directly she jokingly complained about living at the hospital.  All seemed to be going well and the fever and swelling had gone down enough that the chemo appointments went onto the calendar.

October 9th Mom's Facebook page indicated she was going out for one last hurrah before the hard treatment: "On our way to Palm Springs for a late lunch with friends."

That night we got a text message from Dad - Mom was in the hospital.  After lunch, she had excused herself to go to the bathroom for some privacy because she noticed that her tongue was acting strangely.  She couldn't make it go to the left.  On the way out the door she mentioned it to my dad, who works in health care.  Concerned that this was a neurological symptom, he took her straight into the emergency room.

They gave her a tentative diagnosis of a stroke, and started running test to confirm immediately.

I hadn't looked back that far on her Facebook page until I started writing this post to make sure I got the dates right.  It's incredible what stress and anguish can do to distort perception of time.  I was sure that she had spent nearly an entire month in the hospital in Palm Springs - in reality it was less than a week.  So much happened that week: the stroke diagnosis, the brain lesion that couldn't possibly be cancer, the infection diagnosis, the IV antibiotic infusion, the return of the stroke diagnosis, and then finally infection.  Behind and through and under everything, pervasive in every tense conversation was the question, "But when will they let her start chemo?"  We knew Mom's cancer was aggressive, invasive, and quick moving.  She had just disclosed to us (after my visit) that 18 out of the 23 lymph nodes removed in surgery came back positive for cancer cells.  She needed to get on the chemo and quickly.

Mom was out of the hospital and in her own bed by October 15th with an intensive IV antibiotic infusion regimen.  That means that she needed a dose every 3 hours around the clock for three weeks.  With no nurse, that meant that my dad or sisters would need to take turns staying home from work to be with her.  A wonderful neighbor offered to step in and give her the infusion on my dad's work days so that we could all save our sick days for when she would start chemo.

Every time I talked to Mom during this time she was grateful for all the help, all the prayers, but she was bored as hell.  For someone as social as my mother it must have been the hardest thing to be holed up in the house, attached to a bag of fluids, sequestered from the world to defeat an infection.

As it turns out, it was probably a phantom infection.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American History

I love history.  I studied it once upon a time in college.  Now I teach it.  Talk about a challenge...

For me history is, well, the story.  It's how people lived during good times and bad, peace and war, economic booms and devastating depressions.  It's how the family unit interacted, what people did to survive, how technology changed day to day life and social behavior.

It is not this for many (most?) people.  Most people, including my students, consider history to be this terribly dull subject full of dates, names, and rich people they don't care about.  So toward the end of the school year I decided to make it personal.  I printed out a copy of an old newspaper so that my students could read the news from the day after my grandmother was born - there was an article about Italy joining World War I and a local interest story about a survivor from the Lusitania sinking.  I printed my great-grandfather's draft card from 1917.  I brought in another newspaper article: a short story on my great-grandmother, and how five of her sons were enlisted in World War II.

After telling an anecdotal story, leading into another history topic, one of my students interrupted me.  "Ms. B,  how come your family is so interesting?"

"It's not any more interesting than any of your families."

"Yeah it is, you have all these stories about how your family was around for all this stuff that happened."

A-ha.  And that's where I catch them.  They all have family who were around for "all this stuff that happened," they just don't know the stories.  But even if they can't or won't track down the stories, what did happen in class was suddenly they remembered what the big deal was with the Lusitania because of "Ms. B's grandma." They figured out that Pearl Harbor was a big deal because "Ms. B's grandpa and all his brothers signed up the next day."

And all that got me thinking some more.  I've been researching genealogy since my mom passed away in November.  Since then, I've found an amazing amount of information through birth records, census data, newspaper articles, death records, and more.  As a person who spent most of her academic life studying history, it was an informaganza of personal connections to the history of the United States.  I've found stories and records of ancestors hitting on almost any topic of study in US history that leaps to mind.  We've got Jamestown settlers, Revolutionary War veterans, War of 1812 veterans, early pioneers in the Westward Expansion, Free-Soilers, anti-Free-Soilers, slave-owners (ugh), California 49ers, Confederate Civil War veterans, Union Civil War veterans, successful cattle ranchers, cattle ranchers who lost everything in the depression of the 1870s, late 19th century Italian immigrants, tin mill workers, grocers on the run from the Mafia, covered wagon pioneers of the Oregon Trail, a disgraced local politician, a lieutenant governor of Texas, a preacher during the Great Awakening, Hoover supporters (both Herbert and J. Edgar), and socialists, World War I veterans, people who dropped out of college during the Great Depression to keep the family afloat, World War II veterans, and much more.

Maybe I've been reading too much Bill Bryson, maybe I'm too much an admirer of the late Howard Zinn, but I want to write a book.  A personal history of the United States.  My family might not be any more "interesting" than my students' families, or your families, but their lives make up a story of what the heck happened in this country since before it even was a country.  It's the story of people in times and places where they did what they needed with the materials available to survive and raise their families.  And it just so happens that their lives coincide with the major events we're all supposed to remember from school.  Or, hey, even some not-so-major events that just lend some color and context to the time.

Would you read something like that?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Curse of Santa Cruz

Summer time in the Sierra Nevada foothills usually means brilliant sunshine, warm (OK, hot) daytime temperatures, and night time skies clear and dark enough to see the Milky Way.

It's beautiful here, but sometimes I get homesick for the coast.

But not really for the coast; for Santa Cruz specifically.  This is a little strange, because the only time I spent in Santa Cruz was the 6 year period between graduating college and moving up here.  There's nothing really binding me to Santa Cruz - family and childhood friends are mostly in southern California, I didn't go to college there, the cost of living was nothing to feel nostalgic about, and so on.

My husband, who spent many more years there than I, tells me that there is a curse on Santa Cruz.  Actually, there are several, but the one that he related to me goes as follows: 

Hundreds of years ago, Europeans arrived in California.  The Spanish set up missions and pretty much terrorized the native population.  90% of the indigenous people died, and most of the rest were displaced, forced into servitude on the missions, and made to assimilate Spanish culture and language.  It was not happy fun times to be an Ohlone, that's for sure.

One particularly bold shaman is said to have given the Dominican padres this message: "You can come here.  You can take our land and force us to change our way of life.  But you will never be happy here, and you will never be able to leave."  

As my husband tells the story, the curse applies to every outsider who moves to Santa Cruz: once your move there, you will never be happy, and you will never be able to leave.  Santa Cruz grabs your soul and hangs on.

I was feeling a bit of that this morning.  I wasn't missing the rising crime, the meathead college students, the high rent, the traffic congestion, the dippy faux hippies.  What I was missing was the morning fog, the sound of sea lions barking, the smell of salt in the air, the quick walk you can take in any direction and find an independent coffee shop, the rows of Victorian houses on Walnut Street, the sound of the carnival rides at the Beach Boardwalk, the vague humming of the ocean, the Nickelodeon, Castle Rock (which will be closed in a few months thanks to the new state budget), Pacific Edge Climbing Gym, The Crepe Place...

Sometimes it's tempting to peruse job postings, look up homes for rent, fantasize about coming back, even though it's not where my people are, it's not where I'm from.  But it has hints and shades of a home; I could never really be happy there, I know.  But I don't think I'll ever be able to leave.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cutting Loose Old Issues (AKA Blog Post of Epic Proportions)

I was thinking about an ex this morning during my 4 mile training walk.  About how I wish I could go back and feed myself empowering responses to his bullshit...and then GTFO of that relationship a hell of a lot sooner than I did.

Here's the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of how we got together:  freshman year of college I spent some time hanging out with the front desk attendant.  One day his friend, we'll call him "Bob," was there, too.  Bob and I hit it off immediately - he was witty, obviously smart, and we played off of each other really nicely.  Within 30 minutes I was introducing him as my Close, Personal Friend.  Bob had a girlfriend back at home - a girlfriend that he just wasn't sure he wanted to stay with, since here he was off at college and surrounded by all kinds of new people.  After spending lots of time together (totally platonically), and then going home for the summer, he came back...single.  After a few months we started dating.

Bob had issues.  Huge, chauvinist ones.  For example, he described his future wife this way - she would be well-educated, very pretty without wearing makeup, very thin (he preferred size 5 - yes, please do note his use of "junior" clothes sizing), exceedingly intelligent but not smarter than him, she would need to work at least 30 hours per week outside the home so that she would have interesting things to talk about, she would need to be responsible for all the child-rearing except for the fun stuff like ball games, oh and he didn't clean or cook so she would have to do all of that, too.  He told me all of this not as what his "ideal" wife would be like, but rather as his standard - he would accept nothing less.

So let's stack me up against those criteria, shall we?  At 19 I was in college, he thought that I was, "Not beautiful," but that I, "Clean up nice" (yes, he did actually tell me that), a size 14, he alternated between telling me I was smarter than him and yet at the same time stupid, not sure that I wanted kids, and not willing to take on a full time job without splitting the chores.  Hmmmmm.  There's a bit of a disconnect there.

He would remind me of the fact that I was bigger than he liked.  Constantly.  He would talk about how he's just not attracted to "bigger" girls, and how 5 was the "perfect" size and what did I wear again?  and he would point out girls walking by with nice bodies, and would invite me to go work out with him at the gym.  He said he was trying to "encourage" me to be "healthier."  But here's the thing: I wasn't fat.  I wasn't even overweight.  Ever.  Sure, I was right on the upper end of the healthy range on the BMI chart, but that does not equal overweight.

I think what compounded it was the fact that before I even met him, I was starting to get a little nervous about my weight gain.  I put on 10 pounds my senior year of high school, following foot surgery and a yearlong recovery.  Then I put on the freshman 15 25.  One morning I was getting dressed and saw them: bright red streaks across my rear and thighs.  Stretch marks.  I was horrified.  But at that point all I would need to do is go back to my habits before, and the weight would stabilize.

No.  Now it was a question of whether this guy that I was over the moon for would still be attracted to me.  So I dieted, failed, dieted again, lost weight, regained it, dieted again, and took up various forms of exercise in the process.  I remember, with a cringe, jogging down the streets of my college town, huffing and puffing, and with each footfall thinking, "If I lose 20 pounds, Bob will think I'm hot."

So guess what?  I lost the weight and he still broke up with me.  Something about wanting to "meet new people," and, "break out of his circle of friends."  The next time I saw him he was dating someone else he had known since freshman year.  After that ended he dated one of my sorority sisters.  When I told him that I had a crush on one of our mutual friends, however, he went ballistic, accused me of going for his "best friend," and being a whore.  I put the weight right back on and started dating his "friend" (actually more of a casual acquaintance - the friend was thoroughly confused at being named Bob's best friend - "We only talk like once or twice a month...what gives?").

Fast forward 10 years.  I lost that weight again, and then some.  I'm actually back down to where I was in high school and that's after giving birth.  But I didn't lose the bulk of it by dieting - I lost the bulk of it by surfing and rock climbing.  I was having fun, and I wasn't worried about the weight loss.  I mean, it was a super awesome side effect, but not my main goal.

I want to go back to my 19 year old self and give me a good shake and a slap upside the head.  I want to explain to myself that this guy was disgustingly toxic, and that there was nothing that I could do to make him attracted to me.  I want to tell me that even if he did ever decide to fully commit to me that I would be miserable with him, because no earthly woman could ever live up to his "standard," and that any woman who did live up to it would have the self-confidence to ditch his sexist ass in a heartbeat.

I want to tell myself that being thin for someone else is far more unhealthy than being a comfortable size for ME.  It gives someone else a kind of control over my body that only I am allowed to have.  He's allowed to have his preferences, but if my size was such an issue for him then he needed to cut me loose and cleanly, too.

But here's another thing that I want, and I'm not sure how healthy this is.  I have a secret fantasy of happening to run into Bob somewhere around town (he ended up moving to my hometown).  We run into each other, catch up on old times, and I let him know how many years of damage he did to my self-confidence and body image, and that I didn't drop the weight that he hated so much until I was able to love myself for me - and realize what a toxic influence he was on my life.

But that's probably not a healthy fantasy, either.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go the @$%# To Sleep

I came across the opinion piece "'Go the F*** to Sleep' Not Funny," by Karen Spears Zacharias on CNN's website last night.

I found it...puzzling and contradictory.  On the one hand, she cites experts who say that it's alarming to find "violent" language associated with children, given the fact that child abuse is a very serious issue.  Or that if the subject of this book were members of ethnic or religious minorities that the kind of language would be unacceptable in our society.

Then she notes that the people buying this book are most likely good parents, who do read to their children at night and probably do not speak to their children in the manner depicted in the book.

What she glaringly omits is this: children are effing frustrating sometimes.  Especially when they're being made to do something they don't want to do like, say, go to sleep.

I will be the first to stand up and say that I was blessed with a remarkably easy baby.  He is good natured, easy-going, doesn't cry much, isn't picky about his food, (usually) teethes like a champ, and generally sleeps well.  And he is sometimes effing frustrating as all get-out.

I'm telling you, anyone who tells you that they never got angry or frustrated with their baby is either lying or pathologically deluded.

You see, babies are brand new human beings.  They haven't had the 20+ years of experience with things like eating, drinking, sleeping, or exploring.  They're learning new things every day, like how to roll a ball, how to make loud high pitched noises, how to make you laugh, how to walk forwards and backwards, and how to climb the entertainment center.  They are experiencing new emotions like joy, fear, love, and jealousy.  They are exploring new sensations like soft carpet, and liquid, and how various liquids feel when poured on the carpet.  They're learning how to manipulate things, for example how to make a musical toy play sounds, or how to squirt milk from the nipples of their supposedly hard-bodied bottles.  They're doing things like figuring out "OMG I HAVE A NOSE AND MY FINGER FITS RIGHT INSIDE OF IT!!!!11!!1!one!!!11!!" ...or "WOW OMG if I drop stuff over the side of my high chair it falls down every time!!!

They're doing all of this amazing stuff, and no, they're not born with some innate sense of what is "good behavior" and what is "bad," and "what will make judgmental strangers give Mom the stink-eye in the grocery store."  That's what parenting is for - to teach them how to get along in society.

But you know what?  Sometimes it gets effing frustrating, no matter how much you adore your child.  Sometimes it's harder to deal with a frustrating situation than other times.

That's why I found the book funny.  It's those things that I feel sometimes, or even sometimes say in my head but would never actually verbalize to my child.  It's a relief valve, a way to find humor in a situation where it's easy to get angry.

But you know what?  It's also reassuring that I'm not the only one who feels that way towards my child sometimes.  Go the F*** to Sleep is #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Advice and Misc. bestsellers list, and on Amazon's bestselling books list.  That's a lot of people who can see the humor in the sleep situation.  That's a lot of people who can relate.  It's good to know that it's OK to have these feelings.  These feelings make moms (and dads) long as the story remains what it is intended to be: an adult story to share and laugh about how frustrating it can sometimes be to raise a little human.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cost of Living

My husband and I are looking for a new house (fingers crossed, we may have found one!  Eep!) because we need to cut costs.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a discussion on a board I frequent regarding house sizes.

We're a single earner family now, with a kid, making slightly below the average US worker's salary in a place that is slightly above the average US cost of living.

In the middle of house hunting, I got to thinking about how I've heard that the cost of living these days is so much more than the cost of living in, say, 1950.  How it's necessary now to have two-earner households in order to maintain the same quality of life.  It's something that I'd heard ever since high school and never doubted.

Now I'm not so sure.

I'm going to start some research this week because I'm curious.  Once upon a time I was talking to my mom about how tiny our house on the CA coast was.  She asked when it was built: 1948.  She told me, "Oh, that's a normal size for a home back in those days.  In fact, it probably housed a family with two kids.  Homes were a lot smaller then."  Really?  Something to research...average house size for a middle class family of 4 in 1950.  Incidentally, the house we are looking at renting is 960 square feet, two bedrooms, and is only slightly larger than the home we rented on the coast.  Rent is easily 25% of my net income.

The thought train continues...what are the common expenses of middle class households today, besides rent or mortgage?  Utilities, telephone, cell phone, internet, cable television (or satellite), credit card debt, food, car payment(s), car insurance, gas for the car, savings (ha!), renters or home-owner's insurance, clothing...what am I missing?  Tell me in the comments!

How many of those things did people use in 1950?  Clearly they didn't use cell phones, internet, or cable television.  But what I don't know is this: how much debt people carried around with them (today's credit card debt)?  How many cars did the average family own?  How much did they spend on clothing?  Did more people keep their victory gardens left over from World War II?  More things to research...

I wonder this now, because if I can cut down the rental expenses, get a garden going, cut back a bit on driving, and refuse to use my credit cards, then we can live a pretty comfortable life on my income alone.  We won't be taking any lavish trips, and we can add in internet costs, but we can make a nice little life for ourselves with the same kinds of expenses that I hypothesize the average household in 1950 had.  So do we need double incomes?  I wonder...

...and I'll get back to you.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Household Feminism

When I was eight, my older sister was visiting home from college. She made an offhand, positive remark about feminists. My younger sister asked, "Dad, what's a feminist?" The corner of his mouth turned up slightly as he said, "An ugly woman."

Being a family of 5 females versus 2 males, the older women folk exploded. "NO, that is NOT what a feminist is!" "She's too young to understand jokes like that!" After the dust settled a bit, my mother told my oldest sister to define "feminist" for my younger sister and me.

"A feminist is a person who thinks that a woman is just as good as a man, and should have the same rights."

Now that I'm (much) older, this definition holds true for me.  It's broad, simple, and inclusive.  Women are a diverse lot, and being both "just as good as a man," and having the same rights (for example, agency in choices) allows women such a broad range of freedom and lifestyles.  Women aren't quite there, yet, but we're a heck of a lot closer than we were back when, say, we were legal property.

Now hang on, there, Spamifred, you can't be feminist because you like traditionally feminine things.  You teach school; you enjoy needlecrafts; you got married; you clean.

True, true, but I don't think those interests are incompatible with feminism at all.  Yes, I work in a (now) traditionally female occupation.  But even so, I am the breadwinner and was even before my husband lost his job.  I do what I love to do, and I'm taking care of my family at the same time.  Besides, all those hints that feminist women shouldn't do things like teach or become nurses is incredibly degrading to those professions.  Rather than give the side eye to women who choose to enter those professions, why not work to re-establish them as respectable callings?

As for the other things on my list, they are either examples of me having the ability to choose what to do with my body, time, and energy or examples of providing for my family.  I enjoy needlecrafts because it's relaxing and I get to wear the end result.  It's a personal choice.  It's not like I'm sitting there knitting doilies like some angsty Victorian teenager waiting for her beau to propose.  I clean the house because, frankly, my kid needs a clean place to run around.  Having a clean house is more important than who does it.  And you know?  My husband does all the laundry and childcare while I'm at work.  I think that evens things out a bit in the gender division of labor department.  I got married, yes.  There's a tax benefit to it and culturally there's a significance in the ritual - you can swear up and down inside and out to each other that you are committed to each other for life, but standing up in front of friends and family and making that same promise takes on a whole different level of seriousness.  Like, now it's for real because you mom heard you say that!  I did keep my name, though, because I like it.

To me, living in a feminist household is more about working together to accomplish goals than focusing on who does what.  My husband does the child care and he changes the oil in the car.  I'm often in charge of the grill.  Spiders and other bugs (except wasps...:shudder:) we deal with on a Who Sees It First basis.  Same goes with the dishes.  To me, it's feminist because we balance our lives based on our individual strengths, not on our sex chromosomes.  It's feminist because my husband doesn't expect me to do traditionally feminine things, and I don't assume he will do traditionally masculine ones.  Neither one balks at "women's work," or "man stuff."

Of course, none of this really touches on the major issues outside of my own little house.  That is a much bigger topic for another day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Three Days, Sixty Miles

Three days.  Sixty miles.

Yesterday I blogged about the last time I saw my mom (relatively) healthy and just out of surgery where she and the surgeon were optimistic about her recovery from breast cancer.  Two months later she was gone.

It happened the day after Thanksgiving.  By that time we knew it was coming soon.  She had spent most of her last two months in the hospital, and by the Sunday before Thanksgiving rolled around we were discussing options for hospice care.  The shock and disbelief that it was happening and then suddenly had happened was incomprehensible for all of us.

We wandered around my parents' house, the one that they had only bought 3 years earlier with intentions of making it a retirement villa, a mecca for out-of-town children and their families to stay during holidays, a mini farm where they could raise their own produce, where my mom could finally get in shape and walk to the humane society to get her puppy fix - an admittedly impractical house for everyday living.  We wandered through the halls, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, now cleaning and primping for funeral visitors instead of grandchildren coming for Christmas.  Wondering what to do with all those fucking flowers and GOD don't they stink, and I know the next door neighbor is a really nice guy but do I have to run into him at Vons and get the sympathetic shoulder squeeze and doleful condolence face every time?

We were looking for some way to do something with our grief.  Something besides mope and be angry and deal with the I'm So Sorries.  So just before she passed, my sisters decided: the Susan G. Komen 3 Day For the Cure.  The four of us signed up for the November 2011 walk in San Diego.  It's 60 miles over 3 days; twenty miles each day.

If you're interested in donating to the team, you can click on my widget.  $2300 is my goal, and any help would be amazing.

OK, so that's it for today for donation pleas.  Seeya tomorrow!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day for the Cure!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happier posts on the way soon

Just a quick note to let you all know that my recent musings about unhappy events are just part of life as I know it right now.  This is kind of acting as a sounding board for my thoughts.  Contrary to my latest posts, there are a lot of wonderful things going on, too, and I'll be writing about those things soon :)

Mom, Part 3

I went down to visit Mom right after her surgery.  Everything had gone really well from what the surgeon had told us.  She was supposed to have a radical mastectomy, but he found no evidence that the cancer had gone as far as the chest wall muscles, so he left that intact.  He took 23 lymph nodes and sent those off to be biopsied.

She was so upbeat.  And she refused to rest.

After only a few days of defying doctor orders and over-using her arm, Mom developed an infection.  This was bad news, because the day after I was supposed to leave, Mom was supposed to go get her chemo port put in. Since they obliterate your immune system with the chemo, it's really important to not have any known infections. So chemo got delayed and Mom spent a night or two in the hospital on antibiotic infusions.

But hey!  It looked like the cancer was isolated to the tumor!  Yay!

I have videos that I shot of my son that week.  You can hear Mom in the background discussing baseball with my Dad.  All week she was the same Mom that I always knew, albeit a little more tired than normal.  But that's to be expected after major surgery.  Right?

I'm so angry that I didn't get a chance to spend more time one on one with my Mom that week.  I had my son by myself, and at 6 months and mobile he was more than enough to exhaust me with his exploring, playing, basic needs, and all other able adults thoroughly distracted by what was going on with Mom.  I cooked a dinner or 2, we watched some movies, Mom held the boy and cooed over him.  Actually, my most vivid memory of that trip is trying to put my kid down to sleep and him having NONE of it for two hours.  By the end of the visit I was tired and frustrated, but figured that we would get more quality time together at Christmas.

Oh, I do remember one other night there.  My younger sister had put out word on Facebook a few weeks earlier that she wanted to compile letters from people who knew my Mom.  Words of encouragement, favorite memories, etc. to put together in a scrapbook for my mom to read on bad days during chemo.  On my last night there, the family gathered and we presented Mom with the book.  Everyone cried, and Mom said that she was looking forward to reading all of the letters during treatment.

The next morning it was time to go.  Mom wasn't feeling great - said she slept wrong on her neck and had a nasty crick.  We hugged, I told her that I didn't know if I would be down for Thanksgiving, but I definitely would be there for Christmas.  She wished me a safe trip and asked me to say hello and "I love you" to my husband.

And then the boy and I drove away, not knowing that it would be the last time I would ever see my mother lucid.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transplanting the Herbs

At the end of May, I finally got around to planting an herb garden.  For Christmas 2009 I got an herb planting kit that I had always meant to use.  With my new gardening kick it seemed to be the perfect time.

I began them indoors, in a tray full of tiny peat pots: basil, oregano, cilantro, chives, parsley, thyme, and dill.  They all sprouted much earlier than the seed packets indicated.  For a while they had been growing lustily, but in recent days had really slowed down.  So I figured it was time to transplant them to larger containers.  During my kid's afternoon nap I had a date with some hand-me-down containers, potting soil, and some water.

I'll be hardening these off over the next week or so.  The weather forecast is for near triple digits, so I'll need to keep them well watered.  Hopefully transplanting them in the peat pots will help alleviate some of the transplant shock.  In any case I made sure to get at least two of each plant, so even if one dies I'll still have the other.

Here's hoping this goes better than the radish debacle of 2011!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Once upon a time, I was dating a very nice young man who lived near Monterey, CA.  He was renting a downstairs room from a family who was originally from India.  They were pretty friendly with each other; enough so that when the wife took a class that required her to interview someone from another culture, she asked my boyfriend if she could interview him.  The conversation began with her asking him about growing up American, and then turned to her experience moving to the US as a young adult.

One of the things that she mentioned was how much space and how much stuff American's have.  One thing he related to me that she had said was this: "In India, our houses are one tenth as big as houses here, and we have all of our family living with us - parents, grandparents, brothers, children.  It's very crowded, and we don't have privacy.  No one has their own room.  If we lived like this where I come from, we would be looked down on, like we're trying to live above our station.  And we have one-tenth the possessions.  So we have one tenth the space, and one tenth the possessions, but we are ten times happier than any American I have met."

Now, I'm sure she was exaggerating to some extent.  And she and her husband were here alone, away from their families with a plan to move back to India some day.  So maybe she was feeling nostalgic for home.  In any case, that story reminds me of one of the tenets of Buddhism: unhappiness comes from attachments to things, people, desires, etc. (Tanha).  

After my mom passed away, I had this very strong desire to purge my belongings.  We have a large house relative to where my husband and I have lived before, and despite not needing the extra space we filled it up with extra stuff.  It's to the point that the house looks completely cluttered for no reason other than not having a place to put everything.  In the middle of my grief, all of my things disgusted me.  The garage full of boxes of books and papers, outdated electrical cords, bed frame, crib, sleeping bags, Christmas decorations all seemed so useless.  I wanted to go in and take it all to the dump.

After the grief began to fade some, the desire to rid myself of the extraneous stuff did not.  With the loss of my mother, it seems as though a lot of my sentimentality left, too.  All of the things that I thought I had to keep just didn't seem to be so important anymore.  What did it matter that I still had the American Girl doll that I used to love when I was 12?  Why did I need 3 boxes of books in the garage, packed away and useless?

So I've been decluttering.  In the last two days my husband and I have managed to get rid of 5 boxes of things in the garage, several dresser drawers, and some broken electronics.  We still have a long way to go, but it's already making me feel strangely lighter.  With less junk hanging around it's almost as though I can breathe easier.  It's a difficult process, but it does help thinking, "When we move, or if the house burns down, will I really miss this?"  99% of the time if it's something that has been packed away for 2 years, the answer is a definite, "No."

I'm not interested in fully tackling tanha.  But it does feel great to cut loose some of the clutter that has been tying me down.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lesson Learned

One of the things that I am trying to learn how to do is vegetable container gardening.  We don't have a real garden area, and no way to keep the critters out of the veggies if we planted them in the ground.  Instead, I've been using mostly found containers to grow various veggies.

Being a novice, I decided to try radishes.  I figured that they were notoriously easy and fast growing, so I'd get a quick reward for sticking with something.


Today I was supposed to harvest my first "crop."  The radishes didn't develop!  I had beautiful tops, but zero radishes.  I turned to my personal horticulturalist, Google, for answers.

It was too hot.  I misjudged the radish's ability to withstand the blistering temperatures of a foothill spring.  It got all the way up into the 80s.  *sigh*

So no radishes yet.  And nothing else for another couple of months.  So there won't be a quick reward for my efforts.  But now I know better, and I'll make sure to pay closer attention to when I need to plant my crops.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DIY Bread

About two months ago I decided to give that Dukan Diet a whirl.

That. Got. Pricey.

But I felt so much better on it.  

I've since gone off of that diet, but I still want to incorporate some of the elements of it in my regular every day real life diet.

1.  Yogurt.  I really like yogurt.  And cottage cheese.  Does the cottage cheese part make me kind of a freak?  Hmmm....

2.  Whole grains.

The problem is any kind of dairy is pricey, especially the cultured kind, and if you want to save money on the breads and pastas you have to trade in on the fiber and nutrition.  My solution is to try to do it myself.

I've been making my own whole wheat bread for a few months now.  I had bought a bread machine at a thrift store for $10 and it did its job until I inherited my mother's fancier schmancier bread machine (and her flour and gluten).  I gave the other machine to a friend.  Right now my favorite bread to make is a whole grain mix. Here's what I tend to do:

1.  1 1/2 cups water
2.  3 tablespoons applesauce
3.  3 tablespoons honey (or brown sugar, or granulated sugar, depending on what I have on hand - just something to sweeten it a little)
4.  1 teaspoon salt
5.  2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour - if I use all-purpose I add a little gluten)
6.  1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
7.  1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
8.  1/2 cup whole grains
9.  1 packet of yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

I add the ingredients, in that order, and set my machine to the rapid bake cycle.  2 hours and 17 minutes later I have bread.

It's a hit with my husband (who usually prefers the 99 cent cheapo loafs) and with my 15 month old (remember - no honey before 12 months!).  It makes a nice, tall, easily sliceable loaf that's good for sandwiches, french toast, or just eating by itself.  Once the ingredients are bought and I've made several loaves (usually one per week) it comes out to only slightly more expensive than the one-dollar stuff you find on the bottom rack in the bread department.  It's heavier than what you usually see in the store, so I like to make my sandwiches open-faced.

But my favorite part is that I have more control over the ingredients than if I buy from the store.  I can make sure that everything that goes in is single-ingredient (e.g. the ingredient list for the unsweetened applesauce: apples.).

Tonight I tried my hand at making yogurt.  a 16 ounce container in the store usually costs me $3-4 dollars depending on if it's on sale.  A 16 ounce container of milk + 4 ounces of starter would make me...slightly more than 16 ounces of yogurt at less than half the cost.  We'll see tomorrow whether the taste measures up to the cost savings, ingredient control, and labor...