Sunday, March 30, 2014

America's Biggest Threat: Little Girls

It’s been a tough week for 8-year-old girls in America.

In Virginia, Sunnie Kahle was denied return to her current Christian school for not being girly enough. In a letter to her grandmother--her legal guardian--the school inferred that Sunnie’s alternative gender identity was causing confusion among other students and that it was not in line with the school’s biblical teachings. Administrators admitted that she was a very good student and that they “love” her, but I guess not enough to let her keep learning in their institution…unless she wears a dress and grows her hair. 

In South Carolina, Olivia McConnell asked her state representative to sponsor a bill making the Wooly Mammoth the official state fossil. With strong historical and scientific support behind his young constituent’s proposal, Representative Robert Ridgeway brought it to vote in the House, and it passed 94-3. All was a go until Senator Kevin Bryant insisted on amending the bill to include a passage from the Bible explaining the creation of life…which is another banging-head-on-desk essay for another day. Olivia’s bill is currently stalled, not for lack of historical significance, but because a Christian fundamentalist cannot remember that religion has no place in our government, or that the earth is over 6000 years old. He must've missed third grade.

And in Colorado, Kamryn Renfro was suspended for shaving her head, which she did in support of her best friend who was bald due to the effects of chemotherapy treatments. Her crew cut was deemed courageous and supportive dangerous and distracting by school officials.

So we’re punishing young girls for being themselves, for honoring scientific discovery, and for standing with those who are too weak to stand themselves. We’re alienating them, diminishing them, and telling them to hush up and sit pretty.

What. The. Heck.

At an age where these girls should be encouraged in their research, individuality, expression, intelligence, initiative, and ability to connect with others, these schools and politicians are stifling their mental and emotional growth which so necessary is to become well-adjusted adults.

I don’t know the circumstances that led to Sunnie being raised by her grandparents, but situations like that rarely arise because the actual parents are doing an awesome job. So let’s assume she has had some emotional discourse in her past. If she does indeed have gender identity issues, kicking her out of school and away from her friends is not helping the situation. Remember, this is a Christian school... I guess they forgot that line in the Bible about “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Nothing in that passage about just the pretty ones.

Kamryn said she shaved her head “because it seemed like the right thing to do.” And it was. That sense of empathy is to be applauded in a child, because it shows strong character. Instead of being sent home, Kamryn should have been given an assembly in which to explain her action and inspire her classmates.

And really, Senator Bryant. Leave your Bible where it belongs, in your church of choice and your own home. Keep it out of Congress. Try to learn something from this third-grader today. Olivia will lend you her science book. 

Don’t banish these girls for their haircuts and their boyish t-shirts. Don’t dismantle their budding interest in government and science while hiding behind your Bible-shield. The times, they have a-changed. 

Keep at it, girls. When grown men in positions of power are threatened by your drive, your passion, and your fortitude, you know you’re doing something right. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doodling Hearts On My Trapper Keeper

I love my husband. He’s awesome and cracks me up every day. But right now, I have a new crush. He’s a 12-year-old boy named Adam Goldberg, and he’s fictional. Sort of.

The real Adam F Goldberg was 12 years old in 1980-something, and was the dork who always carried around a VHS recorder, capturing the shenanigans and hijinks of his suburban ‘80s family. Now he’s the almost-40-year-old writer and executive producer of ABC’s new sitcom The Goldbergs, which recreates those same shenanigans and hijinks in 22-minute capsules. Episodes are built around footage from those vintage tapes, glimpses of which we are treated to during the closing credits.

The show is brilliant and funny in a Wonder Years-for-the-Gen X-crowd way, but it’s the actor playing Adam who has stolen my heart. Sean Giambrone plays the kid who is the aggregate of every boy I went to middle school with in the mid-1980s. He’s my neighbor down the street with the Midwest accent who thought his new Lightning Bolt t-shirt would finally make him popular. He’s my other neighbor whose prized possession was his Lego Millennium Falcon set. TV Adam Goldberg is the real Adam Goldberg reliving his childhood on film, and he is magnificent. He’s innocent and genuine, excited and hopeful, frustrated and confused. And he’s so darn cute.

“Hey mom, take my picture, I want to remember this outfit forever!” Adam yells to his mom after his grandfather (“Pops”) buys him a new pair of back-to-school  Z.Cavaricci pants.

(Don't try to deny the existence of the same scene at your house featuring OP cord shorts, Duran Duran fedora, or "Frankie Says" t-shirt...)

When Pops takes him to the movies to see Poltergeist, Adam is so scared of his clown doll at home that he fakes a tummy ache in order to sleep in his parents’ bed at night.

I just want to pinch his cheeks, give him a Fruit Roll-Up and juice box, and challenge him to a game of Missile Command.

To me he’s the nice boy who held the door open for me in the school library. He’s the boy who didn’t notice the three girls giggling at him on the bus because he was too busy drawing the Star Wars logo on his spiral notebook. And he’s the kid who didn’t understand why his dad was always yelling at him for everything because he was basically a good kid who sometimes got too excited. Come on, he’s 12.

I live for this show. I don’t know how this millennial actor has so expertly perfected a persona from an era long before his birth, but somebody owes him a lifetime supply of Whatchamacallits and a subscription to 3-2-1 Contact magazine for his achievement. He wears a home-made Tron costume like a true Gen-Xer, and seems to genuinely understand the zen of the Karate Kid.

TV Adam Goldberg, my 7th grade self is leaving an intricately-folded note in your locker, written in sparkly purple pen, asking if you like me. Check the 'yes' or 'no' box and meet me by the bus stop after school. 
Luv, Me. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Achtung, Puppy!

"So why haven’t you written lately?"

It’s a simple enough question but it conjured up anxiety when I heard it a few times over the past month. Where I used to post here once a week, this blog has been silent since January. 

“Are you giving up the blog?”
“Do you have writer’s block?”
I shrug. Yeah, I guess. Both.

But there’s more. Right after my last post went out to the masses, this happened:

That’s Milhouse, a rescue puppy. As best as we can tell, he’s part Pug, Beagle, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. We adopted him on February 2, and on February 7 he was diagnosed with Parvovirus. The evening prior to the 7th he was on the porch with me and ate a begonia flower, which he threw up shortly after.  Just to be safe, I Googled “are begonias poisonous to dogs.” Yep, they are. Crap.  But, he threw it up, he should be okay, right?   

Around  6 a.m. we got up to take him to pee. He did more than pee. A lot. And he was trying to throw up again. All he wanted to do was curl up on his pillow. He was listless, but still awake and still licking our hands and wagging his tail. We still thought it was “just” the flower and thought it would pass with time since he had thrown in up entirely. Even so, we took him to the vet first thing. On a hunch the vet asked to run a Parvo test because the symptoms were similar. We agreed. We really didn’t think that would be the case as the paperwork from the rescue indicated he’d had his Parvo shot before we'd adopted him.

It didn’t matter. He was Parvovirus positive and also positive for Giardia, which is an intestinal bacteria. Parvo usually kills puppies this young, and we knew that. Five days we’d had him. We were already fully attached to him. 

He spent four full days at the vet getting constant IV fluids to keep him hydrated and instill nutrients. Parvo destroys the intestines’ ability to hold onto food, so an infected puppy cannot retain any nutrients from food. Death typically occurs from dehydration and malnutrition. There is no cure for Parvo, you have to wait it out and hope for the best. Treatment is palliative.

We visited him twice per day, every day. Because the virus is so contagious, we had to clean everything at home that he might have touched with a bleach solution…the floors, his crate, our driveway/sidewalk/porches/yard where he’d “gone”, his toys and bedding.  The virus can live in an environment for up to six months so treating the outside was imperative to keep other neighborhood dogs from becoming infected with it should they step in our yard. When we visited him at the vet we had to step in bleach water at the doorway to prevent tracking out any contaminant on our shoes. We had to wear scrub gowns to hold him. The poor pup was quarantined in a tiny room all alone, but the vet techs there quickly fell in love with him and gave him lots of attention. I believe this had a big impact on his recovery. Even now when we go to the vet for a checkup Milhouse makes a beeline for those girls and showers them with licks.
Those four days were utterly exhausting. When we weren’t cleaning, we were cursing the rescue (who refused to return my phone calls!!) or crying. It was emotionally draining, terribly expensive, and we were angry. We thought we had done a good thing by supporting a local dog rescue, but it turned out that once they had our money they didn’t care one bit about this puppy. Our faith in this rescue was demolished. But we comforted ourselves knowing that we rescued him from such a shady outfit where he surely would have died that week if we had not adopted him.  

Somehow that little guy persevered. He spent the night of Day 4 at the emergency vet office to get one last full night of IVs. It was there I caught this moment between Milhouse and my husband. 

                                                   “OK, Daddy. I’ll get better for you.”

When we brought him home he was down to 7-1/2 pounds. But he ate. For the first time in 5 days, he ate solid food, out of Jeff's hand.

What followed was 10 days of multiple medications to make sure the bacteria was gone, to help heal his gut, to promote digestion, and fight other flu-like symptoms.  Pills, powders, squeezy-syringes at round-the-clock intervals. We needed a spreadsheet to keep it all organized. 

Yesterday he reached 10 months old. He’s now 30 pounds, all muscle, and runs like a cheetah.

He has a girlfriend down the street named Charley. She’s a one-year-old Beagle who also survived Parvo. From the first day they met each other they’ve been in love. They whimper and howl if they catch a glimpse of each other in the neighborhood. When set loose in the house they tussle ‘til exhaustion. It’s freaking adorable. 

The past eight months have been so tiring. Even after the illness, we had behavior issues to address. Countless hours of training sessions and constant trips to the off-leash dog parks for socialization have helped immensely, though he’s still a rockhead.

But when he hops up on the couch, rests his chin on my lap and sighs deeply, I swoon.

So no, I haven’t written lately.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

If (Gen)X = 40, Solve for Why

I was really excited when I first saw the preview for This is 40, the latest movie from GenX writer and director Judd Apatow. I turned 40 this year, and I love when movies coincide perfectly with my life. In much the same way I was super psyched when Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion came out two years before my own 10-year reunion.I was also glad to see that Forty was a comedy, and not a total downer like The Big Chill was for Boomers at this age(though I totally concede Chill is a great movie that still holds up). 

So now that it’s been out for a month or two I finally got around to seeing it today. Friends asked for a review. Okey doke. Here goes.

Holy crap. I didn’t expect it to be so emotional! In the trailer it looks FUNNY. And it IS. Hilariously so. Many times I was near peepee pants from laughing. But then suddenly and out of freaking nowhere I was practically in tears. When the teenage daughter character had a breakdown at the breakfast table I nearly had one of my own. When the two main adult characters had one of their what-are-we-doing-in-this-marriage freakout spats (and there are a lot of them) I held my breath that they wouldn’t break up. The juxtaposition of the adoration between spouses and the shit that happens in life was very real and relatable. The weird physical changes that come with aging—the ones that are best not shown head-on but rather hidden behind a strategically placed hand mirror—offer fodder for some of the funniest moments in this movie.

Some of the dialogue was overly clever, in a way that makes you realize nobody is that adroit at witty repartee that spontaneously (I made the same comment about Reality Bites almost 20 years ago). And though I personally love Leslie Mann, I could see how some people might get a little tired of her whiny baby voice, but it’s not enough reason to avoid seeing this movie. 

Above all this is a movie that will make you laugh. You’re in serious need of Zoloft if you don’t bust a gut, though you and your spouse will probably find different scenes to be the funniest. But be prepared for a little soul punching if you’re hovering around forty, a parent, married, having career issues, money issues, health issues, parent issues, or any combination of those problems. Just make sure you stay into the closing credits; the outtake reel of a scene featuring Melissa McCarthy is 60 seconds of crass bliss.

My just-turned-40-husband’s comment:  “There were some very funny moments, but I thought it was kind of disjointed. And it was predictable based on the preview. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd played off of each other well. They blamed everybody but themselves...but that’s our generation.”  Point delivered, Mr. Apatow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Her Name is Jenny and She Dances to the Band

On the first day of 6th grade in 1982 I met a girl named Jennifer. A quiet redhead, she quickly earned the label of smartest kid in class. One weekend she invited me to spend the night at her house. Upon walking into her room for the first time my eyes were immediately drawn upward. Taped to the ceiling directly above her bed was a poster of five guys, all dressed in black and white, one wearing a fedora. It was the iconic picture of British pop band Duran Duran.

At the time I knew OF the group, but I didn't know anything about them. Jen quickly schooled me. She was already an expert. 30 years later, Jen is a little less quiet, happily married, and has a law degree, but is still one of the biggest Duran Duran fans around.

Part of a community of GenX women who travel the country following the band on tour, she recently attended her 33rd Duran Duran concert. They're like Deadheads but with better overnight accommodations.

No doubt their resources as professionals allow them better seats and pre-concert drinks, but they also have more life-work responsibilities to work around. In 2005 Jen (who lives in South Florida) learned on a Monday morning of a one-night-only show that Southern California. She told herself all day that she couldn't possibly swing that trip on less than a week's notice. But that night she IM'd a fellow Duranie to discuss options, and by Tuesday she had a ticket, a flight, and a rental car. "It was a special show in many ways—intimate venue, no distractions, just the five of them," recalled Jen.
Totally worth it.

This photo was taken by Nick Rhodes while the band played "Girls on Film" at a show in San Francisco. Jen is in the front row...somewhere.

Attending so many shows--and those pay-extra pre-show events--does have its benefits occasionally. One of the ladies in the group was at an Atlanta show and asked Nick Rhodes for a picture after the concert, adding that it was her birthday. A few months later he saw her after another show and acknowledged her as “Birthday Girl.” He said that he didn’t remember exactly when or where it was because that all starts to run together, but he remembered her.
...with John Taylor at a book signing in New York
To anyone who's ever obsessed over a celebrity, this is huge. And I say "obsessed" in the nicest way possible.

While these ladies' admiration surely began with pre-teen hormone rages, they truly are music aficionados. No two live shows are ever the same, and the anticipation of hearing a rarely-played song is one of the things that keeps them following. Jen always tries to get tickets as close to the front as possible. "It may sound silly," she says, "but there is something about getting a smile or a wink from one of the guys who used to be totally untouchable idols in posters on the wall."

In fact, when the group went to a pre-show meet-and-greet with the band, they walked in and John Taylor said, “I know you guys. You go to a lot of shows.” EEEEEEEE!!!

Jen continues, "And I guess a part of it is that in a way, it does take me back to that time. For a few hours, all of the adult responsibilities go on the back burner. When I first started trying to explain this to people, I said that I had found my inner 14-year-old, only she has discretionary income and no curfew."

The relationships between these women go deeper than just a love of the boys in the band. What started out as online chats with other groupies has turned into a group that gets together outside of concerts for things like baby showers and 40th birthday weekends. "In some ways, the band is almost secondary now," said Jen. Almost.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Swift Kick in the Pants

In an old episode of Sex and the City, cosmopolitan attorney Miranda invites her bartender boyfriend Steve to a formal event. "So you'll have to wear a suit," she says. "You do have a suit...right?" Having only recently started dating each other, it was a valid inquiry.

"Of course I have a suit," Steve replies. "It's gold."
"Gold?" Miranda asks.
", corduroy," Steve says, as if implying something obvious.

At this point Miranda's facial expression registers the knowledge that her new boyfriend may not be as up to the standards of current fashion as she'd hoped.

This is exactly the emotion I felt yesterday, except I wasn't judging my significant other. Rather, I was looking in the mirror.

Before heading to the grocery I threw on a favorite pair of jeans and t-shirt. A cursory glance in the full-length mirror caused me to do a double-take. Hmmm...something's weird, I thought. Turning, looking over my shoulder at my backside, turning back around, I scan myself from all angles. Did I shrink? Are the pants too long? I roll them once; no, no, not that. They're not dirty, or wrinkled, or on backwards. They still fit, I don't have muffin top. What the heck? 

I ask my husband. He looks at me suspiciously, trying to guess what underlying issue I'm secretly asking him to dispel, a la do these make my butt look big? "They're fine," he says dismissively.

Finally it dawns on me. These jeans are old. Not in a broken-in Levi's button-fly 501 blues way, but in a fodder for an SNL skit way. Not by any means "mom jeans"; I mean, they're not high wasted, pleated front, and peg bottomed, but they are distinctly of an era past, when denim was faded...really faded. And very evenly colored. I remember that they were deemed "boyfriend cut" by the catalog, but I can assure you that no boyfriend would wear these jeans. I can't remember exactly when I bought them, but I can narrow it down to when I was still single, and I've been married for nine years.

As a means of secondary confirmation I posed a question on Facebook: How old is too old for

Most answers were noncommittal (I'm assuming my friends didn't want to insult me), and a few tried to be funny by referencing designer brands that were de rigueur in middle school (Gitano, I'm looking at you).

When one high school classmate suggested I post a picture on myself wearing the pants so everyone could vote, I panicked. As tempting as it was to relive the teenage experience of having classmates judge my clothing choices again, I declined this option. It occurred to me that had I worn 10-year-old jeans to high school, I would have been laughed right out of the cafeteria.

How did this happen to me? I've always had an interest in, and sense for, current fashion trends. Even when I didn't have money to spend on nicer clothes, I still knew what was hip and I knew what I WOULD buy if I could. I watched Style With Elsa Klensch for 15 years, dammit! But somehow these jeans escaped all of my periodic clothes-purging marathons (probably because I was wearing them each time).

Now that I'm 40, I feel like I need to pay more attention to not falling in ruts. I don't want to be that woman who's 45 and still dressing like she's 25 because that's when she feels she looked her best, but in the end she just looks sadly trapped in the past. Just because something fits, it shouldn't necessarily be worn in public.

(For a glimpse at a pair of jeans I will never...ever...ever get rid of, read I Love the Smell of Bleached Denim in the Morning )

Monday, August 27, 2012

Comfort is the New Black

I have a love/hate relationship with dress codes. I've typically always followed them without question, seeing them as an element of civilized society. With every new job I've always asked what the code is. I think dining in a fancy restaurant warrants wearing a fancy dress. I would rather be overdressed than underdressed in practically any situation.

But as I've gotten older, I've grown to see some of the long-enduring rules of appropriate dress as both antiquated and unnecessary.

As a college senior in the mid-1990s I was required to attend a mock job interview at my school's career center. This included dressing *professionally* as one would for a real interview. As luck would have it, a snowstorm hit the night before my interview. Awaking to find my car utterly snowed in, I put on several layers of clothing and laced up my snow boots for the half-mile hike to campus.

Despite my intelligent answers and professional demeanor, the interviewer at the career center marked points off my evaluation for my "inappropriate attire." I suppose I should have trudged through the snow in pumps. A woman is only as good as her appearance, right?  

I later found out that a classmate who had an interviewed the same day was deducted points because the heels on her shoes were deemed "too fat and trendy." I'm so glad to know that our tuition money was well spent on footwear advice.

Ellen Warren is a syndicated writer with the Chicago Tribune, currently producing a weekly shopping advice column. Back in March she focused on new college grads who would soon be facing the job world. Among her Dos and Don'ts was "hosiery is a must." Are we back to this debate again? Have we not come to the conclusion that lower extremity sausage casing does not in any way indicate a woman's qualifications to be an accountant/engineer/doctor?

At a recent job interview, my interviewer walked into the board room wearing jeans and a hipster V-neck t-shirt. "Egads!", the Boomer would think. "Young man, you march back to your room and put on a necktie until you look respectable!" Oh, wait, this man had "director" in his title, and the company is a corporation with annual sales in the tens of millions. Somehow, despite the obvious lack of silken nooses, it was still a professional environment.

It's important to note that my interviewer was slightly younger than me, because this is where the shift is taking place. Gen X and Gen Y professionals are finally in positions of power and influence where WE determine the rules of acceptable dress. Gen X realized and is forcing into acceptance that we should not judge a person's worth based entirely on their clothing. While Boomers like Ms. Warren cling to decades-old ideals of formality and conformity, Gens X and Y encourage comfort and personality. We realize that comfortable workers are productive workers. A closed toe shoe doesn't make me smarter.

While a friend recently told me that he "wouldn't want to work for" somebody who didn't wear a suit to an interview, I told him I wouldn't want to work for a company where the interviewer couldn't see past my legs to notice my master's degree, 16 years of work experience, and glowing recommendations. Call me crazy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Young and the Hopeful

Cruising through Facebook during this past week I noticed that roughly 66% of the updates were regarding the Olympics. Of these, a recurring theme surfaced that went something like this: "Gillian has now decided she wants to be a gymnast"..."After watching Gabby Douglas, my Peyton is bouncing off the walls and trying to 'stick the landing'"... "Madison has been glued to the TV tonight, screaming GO FAB FIVE!"

These girls are all quite young, one is only 3 years old. But, like I was in 1976 watching Nadia Comaneci score all those perfect tens, they are completely entranced by the Olympic gymnasts. 

Despite women competing in more events than ever before (even boxing and powerlifting), it remains the petite ponytailed powerhouses who capture the hearts of little girls. Neither the runners and jumpers, nor the tall tan volleyballers, the precision divers, nor the bedazzled synchronized swimmers wield the power to render 5-year-olds blinkless in admiration, to inspire 8-year-olds to push their stretch a little further, and to give 10-year-olds the confidence to finally attempt that aerial.

I was four years old when I first saw Nadia, and for years after that my life's dream was to become an Olympic gymnast. Pesky things like growth spurts and an insurmountable fear of landing on my head eventually squashed that dream, but I had a good run of recreational gymnastics training at the local YMCA, and it remains one of my favorite memories of childhood. One of my fellow tumblers is still a friend and we still reminisce about the routines we performed, each time imagining we were flipping in a huge arena rather than in the multi-purpose room above the racquetball courts.

I remember, too, the morning my mother told me that the United States was boycotting the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. When she explained that this meant NBC would not be going, and hence it would not be on television, I burst into tears, realizing there would gymnastics. I was beyond crushed. These girls were the only heroes I knew. They had superhuman ability to defy gravity. Nadia's fluid, graceful lines disguised the intense strength that carried her through every apparatus. She was so tiny yet so .powerful. 

As I am writing this I just saw Gabby Douglas take a heartbreaking slip on the balance beam in her final competition. Despite such a medal-defeating falter, Gabby remained focused and continued her routine through to the end with more composure than most 16-year-olds could muster after simply tripping in front of a cute boy at the mall. Though as a child I didn't understand the concept of focus, I know that I and my fellow gymanstics-enthusiast friends could see it on their faces, and we imitated it. We had that "eye of the tiger" even if we didn't yet have the hearts of lions.

As my bio on this blog has stated from day one, Nadia will always be my hero. But I continue to be enamored by every new team of Olympian gymnasts. Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal, Dominique Moceanu, and now Gabby and the rest of the Fab Five.There is something mystical about these girls. They perform what the rest of us can only accomplish in the dreams of our deepest sleep. Four years old or 40, us girls just want to fly...and then land on our feet with a flourish.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Keepin' it Real...Simple

I love it when something I don't normally pay attention to gives me a life-altering sign.

A few months ago my friend Jackie gave me some magazines she'd finished reading (such a great recycler, that Jackie). One was a copy of the April 2012 Real Simple, which I always see in the checkout line but have never bought, or read. So I took it to work to read during my lunch break.

One article in it was a profile on a lady named  Kim Sava, "who lives by an uncommon philosophy: Keep only what you use."

I was hooked. I didn't need to read any further (although I eventually did, a month later). Seriously. It was so simple (duh, hence why it made that magazine) yet made so much sense. That enlarged and italicized line on the page slapped me just enough to knock loose some cobwebs in my brain. I couldn't wait to get home and put that philosophy to use.

My guest room closet. Not so simple.
Despite a few items held onto for sentimental reasons, I'm not one of those people who keeps everything, nor am I an OCD neat freak. I like order and I get satisfaction from organizing. But despite that, I knew I still had boxes and closets of random stuff that wasn't essential or sentimental, and probably hadn't been used in a few years. But I kept this stuff because "I might use it," or because it had been a gift that I felt obligated to keep.

But not anymore. I started going through my closets, keeping my new rule in mind: Keep Only What We Use.

It was almost magically easy.  Old-timey-looking telephone that hasn't been plugged in since '05? Donated. Outdated college textbooks? Trash. Five lampshades for a chandelier I no longer own got mailed to friend who can use them. I had more extra pillows than I had room for bodies on beds. Gone.

Very shortly I had three bags full of perfectly good items ready for the Salvation Army, a few things for the trash, and a few more for give-aways. And I've only just begun.

For a long time I held on to the "good" stuff in the hopes I'd be able to sell it for profit at a garage sale (which I'm not even allowed to have in my neighborhood). But knowing that my husband and I hope to move out of state within the next year, I'd rather do a major purge now without the added burden of ohmygod-I'm-moving-in-two-weeks-and-have-to-pack-this-whole-house stress.

My grandparents, who moved something like 43 times in their 62-year-marriage, were experts on keeping only what they used, but were still able to hold onto sentimental items. Upon my grandmother's death we found a boxful of all their congratulatory wedding cards, her wedding gown, and my mother's baby shoes. So living simply doesn't mean living like a pauper or giving up memories. It just means taking a definitive look at what is necessary.

Now I enjoy opening my closets and admiring the extra room (I will NOT buy more stuff, I will NOT buy more stuff...). Clearing the clutter is both freeing and calming for me. Without getting too philosophical, it's just a good way to live your life...unencumbered by extraneous bulk. Holding on to things we don't use is a burden. It can keep us from moving forward, literally and figuratively.

The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are.
                           --Mother Teresa

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sweatin' in an Oldie

Every time I watch an episode of Hoarders, at some point I think, "how can he/she possibly be attached to that (piece of fabric/empty box/magazine from 1991)?" I wonder why these people can't see that the object(s) in front of them are clearly garbage that should be tossed out. But the truth is, we all own something whose value is understood only by ourselves.

One thing I can't throw out is a college sweatshirt I bought in 1986. At the time I was 14 years old and visiting my brother at his school during Parents Weekend. In anticipation of this trip I saved my allowance for weeks, knowing exactly what I wanted to buy at the student union store. Once purchased, I couldn't wait to put it on; this sweatshirt was the whitest, coziest, fluffiest sweatshirt I've ever felt. It was like wearing a cloud.

Twenty-five years later it's threadbare, tinted a yellowish-gray color, and smells musty from hiding in a storage bin for 8 months out of the year. The neck, wrists, and waistband are completely stretched out. I look like a bag lady wearing it. Still, I hold onto it. I've worn that Duke sweatshirt EVERYWHERE: on vacations (all of them), to football games, and on dates. While jogging, while sick, and while studying. Through high school, through college, through graduate school. It has traveled from Maine to Florida to California to Washington. Every boyfriend I've had has held my hand in this sweatshirt.

My life happened in this sweatshirt.

So when I consider putting it to a final rest, a flood of memories always surfaces. I've come to realize over the years that when my life is going well I tend to purge excess items, and when it's less than ideal, I hold on to more.

I have other sweatshirts, mind you; sweatshirts from colleges I actually attended. And I have newer sweatshirts whose whites are whiter and whose brights are brighter. But the Duke's part security blanket, part historical artifact, like the teddy bear I received when I was three who still sits on a chair in my bedroom. I know it's way past its prime but I just can't let it go. It's my "Wooby." Every time I've tried to throw it out, sentimentality places it back in the bin. Duke's not going anywhere.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sail On, Silver Girl

The summer between my 6th and 7th-grade school years saw a horrific crime in my hometown. In July 1983, a 17-year-old high school senior and her 14-year-old friend were picked up by two men while hitching a ride to the beach. By the end of the day both were raped and the older of the two, Lynn Carol Elliott, was murdered while trying to escape. Her friend narrowly survived, found by police bound in the rafters of a house. Lynn's heroic attempt ultimately saved her friend's life and, as we came to learn, put an end to a serial killer's heinous obsession.

Today, almost 29 years later, Lynn's killer is finally paying for his crime. After spending 28 years on Death Row, the monster will finally be executed, much to the relief of thousands of residents past and present. We cannot say "finally" enough. The anger and heartache have continued to broil all these decades because of how badly it rattled our community.

When the news first broke, I read the newspaper and wondered if Lynn was related to the boy in my class with the same last name. A front-page picture of him and his mother at a court hearing soon after confirmed my connection. "This is such a small town and everyone is about two degrees away from everyone," said a friend recently while discussing the case.

But it's not the crime I want to write about. It's Lynn.

I never knew her, but I will never forget her. I have thought about her a thousand times since 1983. When I've walked alone where maybe I shouldn't have, I thought of Lynn. When I took a self defense class in college, I thought of Lynn every day. When my roommate said she could walk home after work in the dark because "it's not that far," I thought of Lynn and made sure I was there to give her a ride home.

Lynn's senior portrait is indelibly imprinted on my mind. She's one of the most recognized faces in the city of Vero Beach, Florida, despite having been gone for nearly 30 years.

Every year on the anniversary of her daughter's death, Lynn's mother, Jeanne, has published a memorial in the local newspaper. "Sail on Silver Girl," it always reads. Every year those of us who saw the full story emerge comment to each other on the mind-boggling frustration of seeing yet another year pass without justice for the family.

So while today finally delivers some retribution for the Elliott family, I hope that they will also know the legacy their daughter continues to sustain. Many of us girls DID learn from her tragedy. We took cautions to heart because of her. And we continue to be the influence on younger generations of girls to protect them from ever meeting a similar fate. Lynn will not be forgotten, I promise you that.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Running Into the Sun

I have a love/hate relationship with running.

I like the way I feel after I've done it but I don't really enjoy doing it.
I like the shoes but not the shorts.
I like that at a lot of races they hand out beer afterwards.

I fully understand the benefits of regular running, and I see how great my runner friends look, but I still struggle with motivating myself to do it.

When I got up this morning after sleeping in late, I opened up Facebook. The top-most post was a picture of four women who'd just completed a 5K run. Good grief, I thought, I've only made it downstairs and they've already competed in athletic pursuits. One of the women in the photo is a good friend of mine, let's call her Fancy.

Fancy has been through a lot health-wise, more than most women her age. And she's done it all while raising her young kids and maintaining a seriously busy career. She's the type of person who looks at the life cards she's dealt, plays them as best she can despite sometimes ominous odds, and impressively keeps winning the game.

Her most recent medical episode involved a pretty serious surgery, which went well. But during her recovery she developed pneumonia. And then a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal if not caught and treated immediately. Because of this, Fancy suffered a pulmonary infarction: tissue death of a portion of her right lung. Through quick action and modern medicine, Fancy survived, and a mere two weeks later was able to throw her husband a big 40th birthday party. This lady doesn't slow down for nuthin'.

So when I saw her pictured at the finish line of a foot race, I was more than happy, more than impressed. I was motivated. If Fancy can do it six months after cheating death, with only 1-1/2 lungs...I can surely do it with two. Let's run!

From Jackson Browne's Running on Empty:

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don't know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that'll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

Monday, March 5, 2012

Introverts: A User's Manual (part II)

My mom says she knew I was introverted even as a baby. Long before I could verbalize my needs, Mom knew.

She said that I would be playing with someone, giggling and smiling, and then at some point I'd just get fussy for no obvious reason. I wasn't hungry or need a diaper change, but I was agitated. So she'd take me into a quiet room for a bit and I'd relax. And this was even before I could walk or talk.

As a small child I used to spend time in our cans cupboard. It started out as a good place to play peek-a-boo, but then I started going in there just to hang out. I'd scoot the canned peaches and soup to the side and just...sit. The space was beneath the in-wall oven, so if Mom was baking it would be nice and warm in there. And it was dark, and quiet. It's funny to think about now, but at the time I really just liked to do nothing in there. I was the child who went to Time Out voluntarily.

But I wasn't hiding; the introvert typically isn't afraid of the world or her immediate situation or environment, she just needs a buffer from it. In that cupboard I still could hear what was going on in the house, and I usually let Mom know I was heading in there. It was like my own little office.

Decades before I knew how to label myself, I knew what I felt about my personality. As a kid I remember hearing a song by Gino Vanelli and identifying with the lyrics: "...and I am lost, living inside myself...somewhere inside my own dreams." At 8 years old I already knew that the life inside my mind was far more intricate and colorful than the life outside my bedroom door. It was also more sensical. I would think about situations in my life and then act out all the parts in my mind, concocting various options for how a scene could play out, as if I was writing a screenplay. Except the story lines were everyday occurrences like what I would say to the cute boy in my class if we ended up sitting next to each other in the cafeteria. This "mental rehearsal" is extremely common among introverted children.

It's no wonder I took to creative writing assignments with great fervor early on. It was an outlet for all the scenarios I'd been formulating in my head. The more I wrote creatively--with no rules and with total freedom--the more I wanted to write. Introverts get their energy from within themselves, and writing is a very solitary venture.

Writing isn't the only time I come alive, but it IS when I am most purely myself. So when I'm lost, somewhere inside myself, that's where I find my vibrancy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Than Chocolate

As a general rule, 7th-grade boys are gross. They smell funny, their voices are changing, and they think they're cooler than they are. Straddling the age between kid and teenager, they're still wearing boy scout uniforms, but stuffed in their pocket is a crumpled page from a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition that they swiped from their uncle's garage. Their idea of humor is fart jokes, shooting girls with rubberbands, and stepping on the backs of our shoes to give us "flat tires." Charming.

But Ryan was different. He was my 7th-grade boyfriend in 1984. A preppy boy with green eyes and freckles, he played tennis and wore one of those braided rope bracelets. I had my eye on him in 6th grade but it wasn't until 7th that I mentioned my affinity for him to a girl at the busstop. The loudmouth promptly told everyone at the busstop, and upon reaching school that morning went directly to Ryan to tell him that I thought he was cute. Nothing is secret in 7th grade. I silently prepared to have my affections rejected.

To my surprise, that didn't happen. In fact, Ryan said hi to me in the hall. And then I started running into him more between classes. We wrote notes back and forth. He'd walk me to class, and hold my books while I went to my locker. Sometimes he'd call me in the evening. He was a really sweet boy, genuinely nice, and never once made fun of me or blew me off. He was my introduction to the Nice Guy. When I cut my hair, he told me it looked nice, which is funny because it looked like a boy's haircut to me. And he didn't care that I was 6 inches taller than him.

Best of all, on Valentine's Day he gave me a great big heart-shaped box of chocolates; so big that every other girl could see me carrying it (yesssss!). And every girl on the bus was suddenly my best friend--the ones who'd previously laughed at me when they found out I liked Ryan now wanted a piece of my prize. Sorry, suckers.

In our yearbook he signed, "Love Always, Ryan" and drew a heart around the words in red pen.
As it turns out, the last time I ever saw him was the last day of the 7th grade school year. That summer my family was out of the country for a few weeks on vacation, and when we returned I called Ryan to tell him about my trip. His phone number was disconnected. I like to think that he tried to call me before he (assumedly) moved away, but this was pre-voice mail, pre-caller ID, and my family didn't have an answering machine.

This photo was taken on that last day of school. I grabbed a friend to snap it just before Ryan got on his bus home.

I eventually married another Nice Guy. My husband is a genuinely sweet, honest, thoughtful man. It took me a while to find him, but I knew he existed out there somewhere. I knew since way back when that the Nice Guy was worth searching for. So today, on Valentine's Day, before I have a glass of wine with my lovey and cuddle on the couch, I give a quick thought to Ryan, wherever he is, and appreciate the hope he gave me about the existence of men worth holding out for.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Introverts: A User's Manual (part I)

You think you know yourself, and then one day BAM! You discover a third hand. Ok, maybe not quite that dramatic. But this is pretty much how I felt when I made the realization--at 39--that I am an introvert. I'd heard the term many times before, and I thought I knew what it meant. But until a friend showed me a tongue-in-cheek article from the Atlantic called Caring for Your Introvert, I didn't know I was so clearly one of them. Or that it wasn't a bad thing. I'd never seen it explained so succinctly and plainly before.

My entire childhood I'd been told I was shy. I've been told I'm standoffish, and that I think too much, and that I "should get out more." I've been asked what my problem was when I wouldn't go to a jumping dance club, sing karaoke, or to popular rock concerts.

As it turns out, I'm neither of those first two things and I don't have a problem. I'm simply introverted.

It's important to understand that introversion is not a diagnosis or a condition, but rather an orientation. Yes, baby, I was born this way. There's nothing wrong with me, my dials are just set to different frequencies than extraverts. THIS one doesn't go to 11.

So I'd like to dispel some misconceptions about introverts:

--I'm not averse to social situations. What I have is a need to decompress, debrief, and re-energize after social activities. Intoverts find social interaction to be enjoyable but mentally draining. Inversely, reflective time spent alone bring us back to life, kind of like a laptop computer which needs periodic recharging at home.

--I don't have an aversion to bright lights, big cities, loud noises, or hopping parties. I DO have time limits to all of them. I've learned to not commit to parties two nights in a row. I typically can't be fully socially "on" and at my best this often. Since being less than myself makes me feel worse than politely declining an invitation, sometimes I just have to say "no" and stay home.

--Introverts don't only hang out with other introverts. We enjoy all types of friends, both quiet and dynamic.

--Introverts aren't afraid of crowds. One of my favorite places to vacation is Las Vegas, in all of its crowded, non-stop, over-stimulating gaudiness. But my limit is 4 days, and day 3 is usually a sleep-late-and-order-room-service kind of day. After bailing out early on a raucous bachelorette party there, I spent two hours sitting alone in my darkened, quiet 12th-floor hotel room watching planes approaching McCarran Airport at night. This is a perfect example of the introvert's deflation and recovery. The next day I was once again able to join our group and be fully involved in the wedding and subsequent reception, at 100% of my social capacity.

--Introverts don't go off to be alone because they're upset. We go off to be alone to maintain balance. Introverts are typically more introspective and mentally attuned to themselves than extraverts; trust them to know when they need time apart from the group. We are are productive and more receptive to others when we get silent moments alone.

--Introverts are not always easy to spot. Until last month, I did not realize that a friend I've known for over 20 years considers himself an introvert. He related a story of being at a birthday party when he was 8 years old, and needing to get outside for a bit. He was sitting on the kid's swingset by himself when the birthday boy's dad came out and asked him what he was doing all alone. My friend said he just shrugged; he didn't really have an answer. Clearly not upset, the host dad back brought him back in to the house for birthday cake. Looking back on it now, he says, he just needed to get away from all the stimulation for a little while. Classic introvert behavior. And totally normal.

After hearing that story, I felt closer to this friend. It's not easy for an extravert to "get" what an introvert needs because extraverts thrive on the same events that introverts fade under. So having friends who share your social orientation is comforting...even if you just now discovered what that orientation is.