Saturday, May 31, 2014

4th Annual 30 Day Photo Challenge ~ Day 1 ~ Self Portrait

Here are the rules:

1) One picture per day per person.
2) There is no requirement that you participate every day to be eligible for the contest.
3) Only one picture per person will be selected for the contest.
4) What is chosen for the contest is entirely at my discretion.
5) I will remove photos I deem offensive, and reserve the right to do so.
6) Only post pictures of people you have permission to post images of.
7) The idea is to take NEW pictures. You may not re-use pictures submitted in past years.
8) The contest runs after the challenge ends, hosted on my blog, for seven days. 
9) The prize is never that exciting, so you're mostly playing for bragging rights.
10) HAVE FUN!!!! I love photography and started doing these to get people out there experimenting with their cameras.

My goal with this prompt is always to try and get people to take better pictures of themselves. I know that I avoid cameras more than I probably should, and I'm trying to be better about it.

Here are some tips for taking a self portrait that doesn't suck.

1. Pay attention to the lighting. Avoid using the flash whenever possible
2. Decide what your best angle is - makes faces at yourself in the mirror if you don't already know.
3. Look just up and to the side of the lens, not directly at it.
4. If you have double chins (not that you do, of course LOL), look slightly up to take the picture, hold the camera a tiny bit higher than you normally would.
5. Make sure there isn't anything messing up your background, or giving you bunny ears, or growing out of the top of your head.
6. Take more than one picture, with slightly different expressions. Then you can pick the best one.
7. Try to laugh naturally so your smile doesn't look forced.
8. Remember you can always zoom in, but you can't zoom out once the picture is taken.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer School of Rock ~ Rush

Now, before I start this post, I have a confession to make. I haven't always loved Rush.

My husband, on the other hand, has adored them for pretty much his entire life.

They grew on me, but it took a while. Being subjected to hours and hours on end of Rush probably contributed.

My initial goal with this project was to spend one month showcasing the most influential 31 bands/artists in rock. I got sidetracked because of things that happened and didn't get a chance to finish it, but then I realized that it was never meant to be done. There are so many more than 31 worthy mentions that this could go on indefinitely. 

So here we are. 

SHARE THE MUSIC YOU LOVE WITH YOUR KIDS. It totally pays off when you catch your 11 year old daughter singing along to The Wall

If you'd like to read about some of the other bands and artists I've already covered, I will link them by name at the end. 

Up today, that band I hated that grew on me...Rush.

I know, I know, I know. Some of you out there are wondering how someone who claims to love rock music as much as I do could have had a hard time loving this one. I have no explanation for you, honestly. As I have aged, though, I have a greater appreciation for them, and even if it took me a while to get here, I got here. So there.

That's all that matters, right?

Here is one of Peart's more famous drum solos, if you've never had the pleasure before. (It starts around 3:15)

Their first album was released in 1974 and they built an audience fairly quickly based on their complicated instrument harmonies and use of newer technologies. They began to utilize keyboards and electronic style music far earlier than most bands did. All members of the band are held out to be some of the best players of their instruments in all of music, and rightfully so. They are immensely talented people. 

Nominated for Grammys multiple times, they've never won, but were inducted into both the Canadian and US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Their lyrics have always been fairly heavily influenced by science fiction and fantasy literature, which just made them more well loved by many people.

As they've aged, their music has evolved. It was darker and harder in the beginning, then they went through a long period where different genres were incorporated. Now they've adopted a more acoustic sound and have moved back to a guitar focus.

Still together after all this time, they completed the Clockwork Angels tour last year...they still sound amazing. The clip above is from 2007.

The earlier bands in the series, in no particular order:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

All The Birthday Feelings...

There is this thing that people do whenever someone like me, someone who puts a bit more of themselves out there publicly, expresses sadness. It happens all the time to my fellow writers too, and more than a few of them have struggled with it lately.

It happens in real life as well, probably for everyone who ever acknowledges openly the fact that life isn't always sunshine and rainbows.

Our society tells us that happiness is paramount to all else, that we are supposed to only ever focus on the positive, that we are supposed to ignore the negative feelings, stuff away the sadness...if not for ourselves, then for everyone else because our emotions make them uncomfortable.

To that, I say, too bad world. 

Things aren't always happy, things aren't always great. There is a comfort in sadness, a realness in it. It wraps us up in memories and hopes and things that will never be. Only when you've felt the stinging pain of loss, when you've grieved, when you've missed something or someone so deeply and profoundly can you truly begin to conceptualize what joy is.

Happiness is overrated. It is fleeting and fickle and far too often we couch those terms in the actions of others.

Joy is what I think most people mean when they urge us to seek happiness. Joy is the elation, the high, the bliss we take from the moments where all is right with the world, even if it only lasts for a moment.

Days like today mean that I'm feeling all the feelings. I've learned the hard way that I cannot suppress them, any of them, good or bad. I have to feel them all. If I try to push any of them away, they won't disappear. Instead, they will burrow deep inside my soul and fester until they start to systematically undo all the work I've done to get where I am today. 

There is no harm in sadness. There is no danger in grief.

I'm at a place now where I confront these feelings as they come. I sit with them for as long as I need to, and then I move on. No burrowing and festering. Nothing lingering in the back to steal the moments of joy.

I suspect this is something that we have to live to understand, because far too many well intentioned people try to tell me that I am wrong all the time. I know that they mean well, and perhaps for them they are still able to push away the negative aspects of life. I know I can't. Not anymore.

And so, here we are. The 29th of May.

The day that belonged for so many years to her, my Mother.

This is the first one that we are here without her on this Earth, though like I have mentioned before, it isn't really. I began grieving her long before her death, out of necessity. She was gone before she was, and these milestones seem less impacting in the wake of her loss than they ever did with my Father.

Maybe that makes sense to some of you, maybe it doesn't. Maybe you aren't there yet, maybe you never will be for the simple fact that your relationship with your parents wasn't as complicated as mine was.

The complication doesn't end just because life does.

I am sad and I miss her, but more than that, I know that wherever she is now is better than wherever she was. There is relief in knowing this, knowing that she is free from all that encumbered her here in this life.

And then there is more.

For as many years as this day belonged to her, it didn't always. Once my son was born, the day was his too. Except that it wasn't. Not really anyway. It was always shadowed by her, there was always a piece of his moment that he had to share. This is what he's always known.

The two of them together,
just before she left for the last time,
almost exactly two years ago today.
Now, it doesn't have to be that way anymore. He no longer has to share this day with her and her complications and her emotional manipulations and her determinations of how things should be.

It is just his now.

There is a peace in that, though it brings with it the sadness of knowing he won't ever again share this day with her.

Except that he will. In spirit anyway, in the memories of years gone by, in the moments when we will always remember.

We keep the good with us even when they're gone.

Happy birthday, Mom, wherever you are. We thought you'd like this and so it came to live with us here. I know it looks pink right now, but the blooms that have opened completely are your favorite shade of purple. I love you.

Happy birthday also to The Oldest. The little boy who taught me more about myself than anyone else ever has. Who came early, who changed all of my priorities, who changed my life. I love you.

p.s. stay weird. we like you weird.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Goodbye, Maya Angelou, From a Grateful World

As a writer, as a lover of words, there are but a few people in this world that I truly look up to, that I admire. Maya Angelou was one of them.

She spoke without hesitation or reservations, revealing the truths in her life as she saw them. She was real, she was genuine, she was a gift to the world.

She will be missed.

Maya passed away this morning at the age of 86.

Doug Mills/AP Photo
She backed out of a prior commitment earlier this week, citing undisclosed health concerns as the reason. We may not know what the cause of death was for a while, and perhaps she didn't want us to know.

For as public a voice as she was, she was a private person in every other aspect of her life.

She was one of the most prolific creators of content in the past hundred years, with poems, books, acting credits and more. There is a vast library of her work left behind in the wake of her passing.

The thing that struck me immediately upon learning of her death is that there will be no more of her words to be shared with the world. She will have no more observations about the events that occur. We will no longer be able to look to her for wisdom in the moments when we crave it the most. Fortunately, she's left us all with a tremendous legacy, woven with the intricate beauty of words she pieced together.

Rest now, Maya.

Thank you for sharing so much with us all.

It seems appropriate to end this with her own words, words that ring true certainly in her life and in her death.


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always irregularly. 

Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, 

never to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be better. 

For they existed.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the military mental health and #yestoallwomen edition

Howdy. I was tested this weekend in many ways, you guys. I have a general rule about not touching the computer on weekends and try pretty diligently to stick to it. I had to get online yesterday to write my post for Lefty Pop later today, which ended up being a good thing. That post is about the first topic here today, and will be live in a few hours. 

This is going to be one of those self limiting weeks. I'm only talking about two topics even though there are tons of them to cover, mostly because I have so much to say about them.

Off we go.

We Are Failing Veterans
I have rage issues when it comes to Memorial Day. I admit this.

It has always bothered me that some people don't seem to understand what the day is about. It isn't just a reason to have a day off of work and school, it's not just a good day for a BBQ with friends and family. It isn't even supposed to be a day to celebrate the hard work and sacrifice of all veterans (though I'd make the argument, for certain, that we need to do that far more than we do as it is). Memorial Day is about those killed in service. I guess I'm more touchy about it because I actually do know someone killed in the wars of the last few decades, so it hits closer to home.

The past few years have taught me more than I'd ever want to know about addiction and depression and anxiety and PTSD, conditions affecting countless numbers of veterans - conditions that far too often lead to their deaths, whether at their own hands or the circumstances around them. I feel like all those people should be included in any discussion of Memorial Day. I feel like we should all be talking about them, about how our system is failing them.

When I came home from the hospital Sunday (yes, there was a trip to the hospital...The Oldest caught a ball with his face at baseball practice and we had to have him checked for facial fractures and concussion...never dull here), my husband was watching the Memorial Day concert on PBS. Those events just rub me the wrong way, and I'll tell you why. (grab your pitchforks)

They bother me because it always seems like they seek out the most obviously disabled veterans with the worst physical injuries, but make sure that the people they pick are stable and grounded and emotionally sound. Then they parade them around as if to say, look how great these guys are doing even though this horrible thing happened to them. And they are doing great, and I certainly don't intend to diminish their individual situations in the least, but (and this is a big but), what about all the veterans who come home with the injuries we can't see? What about all the people suffering horrible flashbacks and insomnia? What about the guys who come home and lose all family stability because of their erratic behaviors? What about the ones discharged who can't hold a job in the private sector? Maybe if we saw more of them, maybe if we truly understood the lasting horrors of war, maybe if we could wrap society's mind and heart around the reality that emotional injury is as legitimate as physical injury, maybe if we fully saw the consequences of a health care system where thousands are falling through the cracks...maybe we'd all worry more about sending men and women to war and maybe we'd demand that we take better care of them when they come home.

Steps off soapbox and places it in the closet.

Drags the soapbox out of the closet and climbs back up on it.

There was a shooting, another shooting, Friday night in Santa Barbara. The details were a little sketchy at first, as they always are, but it became obvious fairly quickly what happened.

This guy, this 22 year old son of a Hollywood industry professional, decided to kill a bunch of people. He stabbed three of his friends first, then went out shooting from his BMW, intending to kill as many blonde sorority girl types as he could.

His motive? He was angry that he was routinely rejected by women. He was still a virgin. He couldn't understand why his car and his fancy sunglasses and his expensive clothes weren't enough to attract all the women to him. He was frustrated that no one would have sex with him. He was angry, very angry, and he declared all of this in his manifest before the killings began.

He was under the care of a therapist. His family apparently tried to locate him after he posted his last video. They've tried to deflect some of the blame by referring to him as a child, as someone diagnosed with high functioning Asperger's. The police had been alerted to him in the past, of his misogynistic videos. At least one of the roommates he killed was already planning to to move out because of his behavior.

As the media is oft to do in these cases, the reporting centered on the weapons used (bought legally). Then the reporting shifted, as it always does, to the mental health status of the now-dead suspect, to speculation about what motivated him, to guesses about the treatment he was under.

What the media did a fabulous job of failing to report in the first few days was his actual motive, one that he made pretty obvious for us all - his deep rooted hatred of women.

In the days since, angry women all over the country have forced that issue to the forefront, refusing to allow the media to gloss over the 500lb elephant in the room and fall back on their old arguments about gun control and mental health care. There is a huge, glaring issue here, present not just in this case but in many others, that we absolutely need to talk about.

It's an issue that most women I know are already quite familiar with.

We are taught from a young age how to defend ourselves, how to escape, how to evade the advances of men we aren't interested in. We tell our girlfriends where we are going, have them come along and spy from a distance when we go on dates. We turn on the GPS on our phones when we get uncomfortable. We carry our keys laced between our fingers when we walk through parking lots. We take self defense classes because we know that we might need them someday. We know women who have been attacked or we have been attacked ourselves. We may have had a stalker or know someone who has. We have been followed, relentlessly pursued by men who couldn't get the message we were so obviously sending them.

They think they are being persistent. They think we are playing hard to get. They think this is a game.

We do all these things because men in our society far too often think that they are entitled to us. They deserve access to our bodies, our lives, our hearts. They believe that our refusal of their advances is an invitation, a ploy.

Are all men this way? Of course not. No one is making that argument, and I don't believe that anyone ever would. The fact that the #notallmen is being raised as a defense is ludicrous. These warped entitlement issues certainly don't impact the lives of all men, they certainly don't motivate them all, but there is enough of it present in our society that women understand how widespread it is.

We live in a society where men in charge want to muse about the legitimacy of rape, about the harm done to our bodies when they are violated.

We live in a world where the motive behind this crime, one screaming at us from the screen in the perpetrators own voice, written in his own words, is being glossed over because it's easier to think that this case had more to do with a gun or a knife or a prescription or a diagnosis than it is to admit that maybe, just maybe, misogyny is the real problem.

Misogyny is absolutely the real problem here.

Women have known it for a while and we're not about to let everyone else ignore it this time. #yestoallwomen

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Summer Curriculum, Week 1

Hi there. A few people have asked me to write up what we are doing each week now that the kids are out of school. I learned a long time ago that they all do better with some degree of structure, and that it helps me stay sane throughout the summer if I have a list to pull from. This isn't to say that anything about our plans are set in stone. Sometimes we don't get to everything. Sometimes things get moved around. Sometimes other things come up and the whole week gets tossed. It is what it is, but for me this is a helpful tool.

By this point, my kids actually look forward to our summer lessons because they can learn about things they want to learn about without having to worry about tests or homework. The older two helped set up the plans for this summer themselves.

I'm focusing a bit more on science this year than I ordinarily do for a few reasons. One, all the kids love it. Two, science experiments are rad. Three, Freckles is moving on to middle school in the fall and will have a dedicated science class for the first time, which is something this aspiring veterinarian is very excited about.

As for the amount of time we spend on all this, I can't really say. Some days we get so involved in the book of the week that they ask to just finish it. We read the book, then watch the movie. All books chosen have been made into films or stage productions so they can compare. Sometimes we get so caught up in the science projects that it distracts us from everything else.

I also have them all work on penmanship and cursive during the summer. I will also have them start working on typing and formatting references this summer since it's something that drove me a bit crazy with The Oldest this year.

Lower case printing worksheets
Upper case printing worksheets
Cursive worksheets
Free typing website

Each week on Monday, I plan to share our goals for the week and will include any external resources I am using as well as links to where you can download the books. We will be trying to go on one local trip a week related to the theme as well, and though you don't necessarily have the same things where you live, there is probably something similar enough if you are interested. Check into free days, family days and special events for discounts for those locations that charge admission.

Week 1 - May 26-June 3

Book: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. Available for free download on Amazon here.

Movie: We will be watching the 1954 Disney version of the film after we finish the book. It is available to rent on Amazon and youtube for $2.99. It is playing on BYUTV for those of you who receive that channel on May 29th. We are recording it from there.

Writing: We will do some creative writing, some research based writing. This week, for the older kids, the topic is, "If I woke up tomorrow with amnesia...". For my younger kids, the topic will be, "The best part of being me is..."

Science: Animal kingdom, classification and diversity. My primary resource for the science unit is this book (though I don't generally love Usborne books, this one is pretty good).

I also use a ton of online resources for science generally, but the best I found for animal diversity and classification is this one, through the University of Michigan Zoology Department.

Project: We will be constructing a huge tree of diversity, using as many animals as we can think of, placing them on the tree according to their classification. It's similar in idea to the tree that Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about on Cosmos a while back. If you haven't seen the show, you simply must watch it. The tree of life episode is here, in full length if you haven't seen it yet. 

Trip: We will be going to the zoo towards the end of the week, and I'll have the kids bring journals to write down the classification names of the animals.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Summer School of Rock ~ The Black Keys

Hello old friend, I've missed you.

So, before we get to the post itself, a little background for those of you who haven't been here since the dawn of time...

A few years ago, this all started when my husband was a den leader for Webelos, covering a lesson on music with the boys. I was shocked/appalled/sad that the vast majority of them had no exposure to anything outside of whatever is played on the top 40 stations. One had never been exposed to anything other than country music. When they didn't all know who the Beatles were, an angel cried. 


And thus, this began. I decided standing in the kitchen that night, watching it all unfold, as my husband exposed these kids to Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana and Metallica and Nirvana, that we had to make more of a point to share our love of all types of music with our kids at least. (My son had obviously heard it all before that night).

I started to teach him about the history of rock music. We started with rock because he'd just received his first guitar and wanted some simple, easily recognizable riffs to play that gave him a bit of street cred.

I spent the better part of a summer exploring new bands with him (and by extension, his siblings). After mentioning it a few times around these parts, people started to ask if I was going to share it all the following year I began the Summer School of Rock. 

My initial goal was to spend one month showcasing the most influential 31 bands/artists in rock. I got sidetracked because of things that happened and didn't get a chance to finish it, but then I realized that it was never meant to be done. There are so many more than 31 worthy mentions that this could go on indefinitely. 

So here we are. 

SHARE THE MUSIC YOU LOVE WITH YOUR KIDS. It totally pays off when you catch your 11 year old daughter singing along to The Wall

If you'd like to read about some of the other bands and artists I've already covered, I will link them by name at the end. 

Up today, The Black Keys

The Black Keys
Most of the bands mentioned previously in the series are older, classic rock pioneers. Music evolves though, keeping the best pieces and adding new technologies over time. Every so often, that comes together in a strange and magnificent way, such as it does with The Black Keys.

They are on my mind a lot these days because we were looking into getting tickets for their tour this year, but then realized we didn't want to see this band in an arena. No. I know enough people that saw them play Red Rocks a few years ago, and I'm going to trust their judgment when they tell me that I really need to see them there. 

Plus, how Tickethorse gets away with charging the completely outrageous fees they do, I'm not sure. There, I said it.

As I write this, the son that inspired the series is pounding out Fever on the piano. By ear. Which is crazy. He clearly doesn't get it from me....

Anyhow, The Black Keys are what I'd generally refer to as the anti-rockstars. They aren't showy, no one is taking their shirt off routinely on stage and sauntering up and down with the microphone all sexy like. There's no pandering to the audience. They're goofy, they're funny, they look more like the guys from IT than a pair of world famous musicians.

Oh, yeah, that part of it still blows me away after all these years. 

Their videos are just fantastic. I could literally watch Lonely Boy on an endless loop and Gold on the Ceiling is one of my favorite songs ever. 

Little Black Submarines is Little Boy's favorite song of theirs, and it always gets turned up in the car. Always.

Their sixth studio album is the one that launched them into the spotlight - which should encourage any band out there, making and recording music, playing small gigs, then slightly bigger ones, to keep at it. Persistence pays off when you're as talented as these two are. Tighten Up was their first huge hit. 

They just released their eight album, Turn Blue

It immediately went to number one on the charts...and is in heavy rotation here in my house. 


The earlier bands and artists in the series, in no particular order

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Clarity of Grief. Revisited. Again.

The thing about processing death is that it comes in waves. Sometimes you can see them coming, sometimes you can't. Sometimes it takes an event occurring, a friend in need, something else external to make it all come into sharper focus.

Then, suddenly, it all just starts to make sense in a way that it didn't before. The issues you've wrestled with in your mind settle. Weight lifts.

There is really no other way to explain it. Clarity is the best word I can think of.

It's been seven months now since my mother passed, much longer than that since she really left, and there is so much about the turmoil we experienced that I can understand now. Ways that she prepared me and equipped me to better deal with what the world would throw at me, even if she never intended for that to occur.

These lessons, they weren't intentional ones. No.

I'm certain that none of it was intentional. At the time, it was just a part of the chaos in the moment. Looking back now, I understand more of it in some ways. In other ways, I know that there are parts of it all that will never make sense. The finality and abruptness of death, though, forces me to accept every piece, the ones I understand and the ones I don't because there is no more time remaining to change the course of history. Death ensures it.

These lessons, they weren't intentional. She didn't mean to be teaching me anything. She, I'm sure, was so caught up in what was happening, not understanding it all herself, lashing out at the people who were actually trying to help her, relying on those who took advantage, making everything worse in the process for everyone. There was no element of intention involved. No.

Regardless of motive or cause, I learned from those times.

They were the studies in life experience handed down after what transpired between us, with her, with me. They were the tomes of knowledge that my brain was methodically sorting and storing for future use, shelving in the deepest recesses of my mind for safe keeping until the day that I would discover them.

Bit by bit, I am finding these books stored in the recesses. I am opening them up and thumbing through them and seeing the world in an entirely different light with each page revealed. It's true, oh is it true, that death is the great equalizer.

She taught me to be on the lookout for those who would take advantage.

She taught me to trust my intuition.

She taught me to question motivations.

She taught me that when people appear to change, words aren't enough. 

She taught me that words can be used to manipulate.

She taught me to protect myself.

She taught me to shield my children.

She taught me that my value doesn't come from how others perceive me.

She taught me to trust my own heart.

Some of those lessons may have, at one point or another, been intentional ones on her part, though doubtfully in the past few years. The past few years for her weren't about me or anyone else. They were about her. It was always about her.

Understanding that what someone else does, how they react, what they think and feel and act, almost always has nothing to do with us is hard, particularly when we have often been the recipient of collateral damage. Accepting that the damage inflicted upon us wasn't intentional, is hard too. She didn't seek out to hurt me, it was just a natural consequence of everything else.

But I learned. I learned so much, and those lessons will be with me for the rest of my life. Some of them are lessons my children learned along with me, others that I will share with them as they get older.

The pain fades. The lessons stick.

It is easier on this side.

I can see the wisdom without being forced to wade through the shit.


It is a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

...some of my best friends live in my computer...

This internet thing.

It is bizarre and surreal at times. It makes me crazy fairly often. There have been days, many days, when I've been tempted to just shut it all down and walk away. Having this particular platform, having a public persona, being willing to tell my stories here has invited criticism from people I actually know in real life and from far more people I've never met.

You have to grow a thick skin if you're going to do this for any length of time, for sure, unless you are content to write superficial things that everyone can agree with.

Clearly, that isn't me.

I write about all the things, even the controversial ones, even the emotionally draining ones. I write about the complicated relationships in my life, the losses I've experienced, the observations I have made about the pieces of society that we aren't supposed to talk about.

I joke that I like to make people uncomfortable.

That's not entirely true, if I'm being honest. I don't set out with any intention of making people fidget, but that's just what happens sometimes when you talk about the subjects I do.

The upside to all of it is simple - you guys.

This connection that we have. The stories I tell that encourage you to tell your stories, whether just to me, whether in an anonymous guest post, whether in the places you already write, whether in a new blog or book you start working on.

The connection that I have to the other writers in my life, the people I've come to know through this strange and messy internet world.

The connection that I have to all the people that I've reconnected with, people that I knew long ago in real life and lost touch with and then they found their way here one way or another. In more than a few cases, we've discovered that we now have more in common than we ever did when we were actually in the same physical space and time.

There are benefits, very real and tangible benefits to this crazy thing I do.

Every so often, one of them, the people from my past, reaches out. As a writer, there are really few things more amazing than having someone tell you that something you wrote made an impact on them. I'd be lying if I tried to say otherwise. We say we write for ourselves, and we absolutely do...but to know that our words resonate with someone else in a way that matters is...well...huge.

It keeps us here, writing, fighting off the trolls, ignoring the haters.

It tells us to get up again, open the computer and just write.

For that, I need to say thank you.

One of those friends, one of those people from my past that I've reconnected with, one of those that I've come to know in an all new way in these past few years, one of the people that I have far more in common with now than I ever did in the past, is Kristin.

She popped up on Facebook a while ago asking if she could have my address, and so I gave it to her.

Then this came in the mail.

Something I'd written had been just what she needed to read at the time. To show her gratitude, she sent me this amazing necklace that contains so many of the things I love in this world.

It's like she knows me or something.

Because she obviously does.

When I realized what it was and stopped crying like a baby, I thanked her over and over and over again. Then again.

She is a distributor for Origami Owl, the company that makes these insanely cool necklaces. You choose the charms to go inside the pendant, to symbolize all the things that are important to you or someone special in your life.

If you find that you now need to have one of these necklaces or know someone who does, please share her links. She is just amazing and will help you find the perfect combination.

Her Facebook Page for Origami Owl

Her Origami Owl Website

Thank you Kristin, for your friendship after all these years. xoxo

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the nobody ain't got time for that edition

Hi. I have an hour, so let's do this thing. The last week of the school year is upon us, which means that I have a million places to be at specific, often conflicting times, often at different schools. Throw in a few baseball practices, softball games, boy scouts, girl scouts, the graduation ceremony that isn't a graduation ceremony because they are just moving from the 5th grade to the 6th grade and a shift in my posting deadlines effective this week for Lefty Pop, and you have a woman gone mad.

Mad, I tell you.

Like, if I lose my shit and start laughing maniacally, you should just back away from me slowly. Keep eye contact though. Just in case.

On top of all that, yesterday was a crap day. Craptastic. Crapholish. You know those days that just seem to get worse and worse and worse and so you really should just go home, retreat to the hole and refuse to have human interaction until the next sunrise, but you can't because you still have too much shit to do? That.

Today is a new day, and I'm going to kick it's ass. Carefully. With swollen ankles. Ack.

Anyway. Off we go.

Jacked Up Priorities
I feel like this is becoming a recurring theme around here, my ranting about how little people care about the stuff they should care about and how much they care about the silliest inconsequential things. Even CNN ran a breaking news story this month about Bradley Cooper putting on muscle weight for a movie role. Seriously, CNN??? Don't you have 24 hour coverage of a missing plane that we're never going to find to worry about???

I kid. Sort of.

I've seen this image floating around the internets for a few days now. I'm not sure where it originated from, but it's so spot on accurate.

From Purple Clover FB
While everyone and their brother were totally preoccupied with some fight between two famous people in an elevator, a whole bunch of other things were happening that people should have been focused on. And no, the cat doesn't count.

The tiny little sliver on this scarily accurate pie chart refers to the Antarctic ice sheet destabilizing past the point of no return, which should be the lead story on the news because it is something that will actually affect all of us, but no one cares about it because anytime climate change is brought up in our twisted society, it somehow turns into a political debate.

A political debate about science. Bangs head on wall.

Science is true whether or not you believe in it, so says one of my man crushes, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It doesn't matter whether or not your elected representative believes it, whether or not the commercial on television paid for by industry people posing as objective third parties tells you it's real.

Disrespectful or History? Too soon?
The 9/11 museum opened this week in New York, and the opening hasn't been without substantial criticism. The museum admission is $24 per person, which some people take issue with on its face. Many believe that the museum access should be free to the public since, for many families, the remains of their loved ones were never recovered or identified. To pay their respects, they have to pay. Literally.

More troubling are the gift shop full of trinkets and the themed stuffed animals, which just tends to put a bad taste in the mouths of many people. The museum isn't one that people will go to for fun, to discover new's supposed to be a tribute to those lost.

Perhaps what bothers me, and most people, more than anything, is the fact that there is a portion of the museum housing over 8,000 unidentified pieces of human remains. You know, not far from the gift shop.

Macabre is a good word here, I think.

Maybe it's too soon. Maybe it will always be too soon.

The Most Disturbing Case in the News This Week
Alright, if you don't want to be rocked to your core, then either stop reading or just scroll on down past this section. Seriously. I'm warning you.

Last chance.

It takes a lot to rattle my cage anymore. I've sat in on murder trials, I worked at the DA's office. I've done rounds in the emergency room in a major metropolitan hospital. I've held drug addicted newborn babies whose mothers were hauled off to jail for countless crimes, leaving them in the hands of the hospital staff until the foster system absorbed them. I've sat in on ethics panel decisions to terminate life support for kids abused at the hands of their parents.

I've seen things, you guys.

This case, though...this one rattled my cage. Hard. Mostly because the criminals here are children, children who almost certainly are victims of something unimaginable themselves...and because it reminds me way too much of a case I'm familiar with.

In Oklahoma City, an 8 year old boy raped a 10 year old girl in an elementary school bathroom. His sister helped hold the girl down while he did it. 

She told her mother immediately after the incident, and examinations in the hospital were consistent with sexual trauma.

My heart breaks for the girl who was raped here, not just that it happened but that it happened at school in a place where she should be safe. The perpetrators here aren't the ones to blame, though. Something terrible has happened to these children to make them believe that their actions were appropriate, and whoever that person is must be found and held accountable for the whole situation. These kids, all of these kids, need to get into therapy yesterday.

It just makes me physically ill. All of it.

Medicating Little Kids
A friend of mine posted a link to this story yesterday and when I read it, I had to manually pick my chin up from the floor. I've written before about ADHD a few times, about how it affects me and my kids, about how some of us are medicated, some of us managed symptoms with behavior adaptations.

I haven't written about Little Boy. Because it makes me curse like a sailor and want to throw things. his first conference this year, his teacher flat out asked me if he has ADHD.

I told her, in my most calm voice for which I should totally get a gold star, that he is a five year old boy and one of the youngest in the class. He needs time to adjust to being in a classroom setting because he missed the last year of preschool. He has trouble communicating with others because of his speech problems. He may have ADHD, he may not. I certainly don't think that there is anything in his behavior outside of the normal range for a child his age with his history in his situation. If and when it becomes obvious that he needs to be screened, at some point when he isn't five and adjusting to school and can communicate properly, I will do so without hesitation. I am not anti-diagnosis. I am not anti-medication.

But I'll be damned if you want to slap a label on my very ordinary child and force me to medicate him because it might make your job easier.

Told you guys. I get a gold fucking star.

My son may have ADHD. He may not. I'm not seeking a diagnosis in a five year old because it is just too early in my opinion, given his behavior (which isn't out of the ordinary).

So, when my friend shared this article yesterday about the diagnosis and medication of 2 and 3 year old children, I was tremendously upset. The fact that children on Medicaid are more likely at that age to be diagnosed and medicated is even more upsetting, because it makes you logically wonder what other factors could be coming into play with those particular kids that lead to these diagnoses and treatments.

Most ADHD meds aren't supposed to be used in children under the age of 6 or so at all. Many are known to cause problems with growth. Some alter moods and can create symptoms of other conditions falsely, when it is just the side effects of the medication. Many children exhibiting ADHD like symptoms may have unstable family situations that appear the same as ADHD on paper, but are caused by something else entirely. There are too many other possible variables, too little information on the safety of these medications, too many concerns about whether children that young should even be diagnosed at the rates they are being diagnosed at.

Are there 2 and 3 year olds who clearly need physicians to make these calls? Without doubt.

Are there really as many who legitimately need treatment that we are seeing? Far more troubling. I fear that many of these kids are, for one reason or another, being diagnosed way too early and medicated way too young for a condition that they may not even have.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sorted Neatly Into Boxes

I was planning to write about something else entirely this morning, but then last night I opened the door to my oldest son's room and gasped.

It wasn't because it was messy the way it usually is.

It wasn't because I was starting to wonder where all the cups/hangers/towels in the house were.

It wasn't because he'd left a light on. Again.

I was checking to see if he'd made any progress in there, if what I had asked was something he was actually working on, or if he had spent the better part of the afternoon sitting on the floor playing with his LEGOs or guitars or whatever else it is that he usually does when I ask him to clean his room.

When I opened the door last night, I wasn't really prepared for what I saw, which makes absolutely no sense considering that it was precisely what I had asked of him.

This is what it looked like. (just don't tell him I put a picture of his room on the internet, okay?)

We are starting the long process of moving their rooms. With the baby coming in a few months, the girls are taking over his enormous room to share. He's moving into one of their rooms. Little Boy is moving into the other and the baby will have his room. It's a massive undertaking if I am being honest because they've all lived in this house for almost their entire lives and consequently, there is a lifetime of stuff to re-home.

He's actually made a lot of progress with his room, as you can see. The boxes on the futon are sorted. Some of it is the stuff destined for the basement. The treasures of his younger years that he doesn't need taking up space in his room, but can't bear to part with.

I get that.

He's a sentimental one, this kid.

Always has been.

The other boxes, sorted with the books he is keeping and moving, the art supplies he'll use, the other things that get to stay for now.

It looks like he's packed up and ready to go.

And so when I opened the door last night, anticipating that his floor would be still covered with all of the things, figuring that chaos was waiting, I saw all this instead.

His life. Sorted in boxes.

The past 13 years and the next 5 all flashed before my eyes in that moment.

And the tears that I couldn't fight back urged their way out because it hit me right then and there that this isn't the last time I will see this. Someday he'll pack those boxes up for good, and that someday isn't as far away as I feel like it should be.

This time next year, he'll be done with middle school. This time next year, he'll be looking ahead to high school. He's already chosen which high school he wants to attend, and he's made that choice based on what career path he is intending to take.

He wants to be an ICU nurse.

All the stories of the times my father was in the ICU stuck with him. Seeing my mother in the ICU burned the shortage of highly skilled male nurses into his brain. Knowing that he started his own life in the NICU has made an impression on him. He has a reason for his goals.

He's a helper, just by nature.

He's a gentle, nurturing soul.

He was a good kid who has become a good young man.

He makes me crazy at times and there are days that I'm certain his head would float away into space if it wasn't attached to his body, but I wouldn't trade any piece of him for one second.

He's passionate about what he loves. He's constantly playing a game of 20 questions with the universe, always curious to know more about everything.

And he's growing up, whether I am ready for him to or not.

The time that we have with our children isn't enough. Though there are days that last for an eternity, moments that seem to drag on indefinitely, the years pass with more urgency than we would ever ask.

You don't even realize how fast the clock is running until you open a door one day and it's laid out there in front of you, the pieces of who they've been, who they are, who they want to be, all sorted neatly into boxes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the gay blood sugar conspiracy edition

Hi there. I don't have an abundance of time this morning since I have to get to a doctor's appointment, so this might be the quick and dirty version of my typical Tuesday rants.

Speaking of the doctor....

I am pissed at blood sugar issues right at the moment. I take the lowest possible dose of an oral med to control my blood sugar, thanks to the wonder that is gestational diabetes. For the past few weeks, my sugars have been slowly trending upwards, which I knew they would. Placentas and pancreases (pancreai?) don't get along so well generally, but they are downright enemies in my body.

I was fully anticipating that I'd have to increase the dosage today, which I was fine with and expecting. Then the last few days, I've been running low in the morning for no particular reason (my fastings are usually when I struggle the most and have the hardest time controlling levels). Then this morning, I woke up and my blood sugar was 60.

60. Goddammit.

The lowest acceptable fasting level.

I would like to direct this question to my pancreas: what the hell????

Anyway, I have to go see the doctor in a little over an hour and I'm sure she will be overjoyed with my complicated complications. Not.

Oh, and speaking of blood sugar...
Little Boy is running high again. He hasn't run high in months now, even when he has been sick, and I was almost getting to the point where I really started to believe that he was finally outgrowing it instead of it turning into Type I.


For those who don't know, he has stress induced hyperglycemia. Basically, what that means is that any time his body is stressed (usually when he is sick), his blood sugar runs high. It can be a precursor to Type I, it could be something he outgrows. We quite literally have no way of telling. His last A1C was normal and the test for the antibodies involved was negative, but it can turn in a hurry if it does.

Anyway. It's stressful.

All of a sudden, he was acting funky yesterday. The sleepy, bags under his eyes for no good reason kind of funky. The kind of funky that freaks the mother of a kid like him out for obvious reasons.

So, I checked his sugar. 144. Over 4 hours after he had eaten.

I am trying not to worry, but I'm a worrier. I will be watching him like a hawk for the next few days to see what happens. I'll be crossing my fingers that he comes down with some kind of illness and that's all it is. (which is bizarre and twisted in it's own special way, right??? normally, we don't want our kids to get sick, but when you have one with the issues he has, I'm hoping that he does and that's all it is and it isn't something a milion times bigger)

I'm sure that worrying will do wonders for my blood pressure at my appointment today.

Drops mic.

Conspiracy Theory Jerks
Now, before anyone out there reading who happens to subscribe to conspiracy theories gets their panties in a wad about what I'm going to say, let me confess something. Ready?

I totally believe in some conspiracy theories. Well, at least one in particular. I believe in it because I personally know one of the parties involved and maybe someday if my lady balls ever get big enough I will write about it. (Which I would seriously not hold my breath for this happening because of the magnitude of the shitstorm attached to it. I like to be alive. I have to legitimately worry about my family and stuff, so chances are that I won't write about it for a long long long time if I ever do...but trust me, it's a good story. A few people have heard it.)

Anyhow, there are most definitely some conspiracy theories with elements of possible or probable truth to them, and I won't deny that for one second.

I am not, however, a member of the tin foil hat club. I do not own a bunker or food rations. I do not stockpile weapons or run background searches on everyone who I come across. I am not a prepper, though I really think that some of their ideas are good ones to utilize, regardless of what you think is going down in the future. I know I'm probably on a government watch list already because I write about drones and shit. Meh.

What is irritating me are the conspiracy theories that seem to gain tons of steam in this wonderful world of the internet. Now, paranoia is a marketable thing, you guys. There are websites...sooooo many websites dedicated to uncovering the truth about everything that happens. Because all of it is a lie. All of it.

The one that is really pissing me off this week is the theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was a conspiracy devised by the government, namely the Obama administration, to advance some kind of agenda on gun control.

There are several flaws with this theory of course, perhaps the most glaring one is the fact that there really hasn't been any significant gun control legislation passed at the federal level since. Because NRA.

The fringe theorists actually claim that it never even happened at all, that it was all a lie. This week, a playground dedicated to one of the victims of the shooting was vandalized. The man who claims responsibility says he did it because it's a hoax, told the grieving mother that her child never existed.

It isn't the first time something like this has happened, and it probably won't be the last.

Being Gay Isn't a Lifestyle
I did write about Michael Sam being drafted yesterday for Lefty Pop. I'm limited to 700 words (because they are mean and stuff over there, wink, wink), so I can't always say everything I want to say about stories like this one.

In the piece I wrote yesterday, I focused on the response of the league this time versus the way everyone responded when he first came out in February. The difference is striking to say the least. Last time, plenty of people came forward without hesitation questioning his decision to come out, wondering why he did it, saying it would hurt his chances in the draft, etc. This time, when another player tweeted that Sam kissing his boyfriend was disgusting, the league swooped in immediately. The team fined him and will make him attend classes before he's allowed to rejoin the team.

What a difference a few months can make, right???

Change is happening right before our eyes, and it's pretty freaking amazing.

I tried to focus on the positive aspects of the story because that is really what we should be focusing on. There will always be haters, there will always be homophobes, and in this social media 24/7 world we live in now, they tend to do a pretty good job of telling the whole world just how intolerant they are without any help. Drawing more attention to them won't do anything but encourage them to keep at it, so I'm not about to do that.

What I do want to talk a little bit about, though, is the fact that there are still, in 2014, TONS of people who use the world "lifestyle" in reference to the fact that Sam is gay.

Being gay isn't a lifestyle. It isn't a choice. It isn't something that you wake up and decide one morning. It's not like you go to the store and order a gallon of paint in the orientation of your choice and slather it on at will, deciding when to change it randomly and on a whim.

It's something inherent in who we are as humans. We are attracted to who we are attracted to, regardless of what day of the week it is, regardless of what profession we are in, regardless of what society believes. Period.

It's not changeable.

Stop using the word lifestyle. 

Besides, the real outrage about Michael Sam has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. The guy has two first names. Let's rage about that instead. 

I kid, I kid....

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Very Complicated Happy Mother's Day

When my father passed away, and even before he was gone, I tended to write about him a lot. I shared the stories I could while he was here, even if I was often elusive about details and fuzzy around the edges. Once he was gone, this blogging platform became my primary mode of therapy. I wrote what I was feeling when I was feeling it, and though I didn't have much opportunity to work through things because of everything else that was happening, my writing saved me. It kept me upright, ushered me onward.

My relationship with my father wasn't necessarily always an uncomplicated one, but it became that way as I grew up and away and realized a lot of things about the conflicts we had always had. It wasn't him and I that always had issues with one another. Often they were initiated, perpetuated, poked and encouraged by someone else. My mother.

Looking back, so much about it makes sense now. So much about almost everything does. She so badly wanted to come in and be the rescuer, the one who fixed it all. To do that, sometimes she created the very issues she sought to fix in the first place.

Okay, more than sometimes. 

I didn't see it all until I was older and away and out of the house. Once there was enough distance, things started to become clearer, and as my father and I both realized that we didn't actually have many problems with each other, it all settled.

Things between us were just different. Better. Calmer.

Things between my mother and I, anything but.

When you realize that most of your life has been a game to someone else, that you've been antagonized almost constantly, it's not a settling thing to come to terms with. When you realize that person is your own mother, all the more so.

Unlike my father, I haven't written much about my mother. I didn't write much about her when she was here, and I don't write much about her now. I don't do it because it is exhausting. Most things about her always have been. The kind of exhausting that sucks a piece of your soul out through the tips of your fingers, then lays in wait for the inevitable picking apart of whatever you've written by those who don't understand.

For people who don't understand, I know that some of this may seem harsh, but I've done the best I can to cope with her life, her death and all the chaos that came then and still comes now. Part of that coping meant that there came a time when I had to erect walls and boundaries, I had to draw lines in the sand.

When it wasn't just about me anymore, when my own children were involved, I had to stop it.

To be the mother they needed, I had to stop being the daughter she wanted.

Stuff like that will mess with your head, I tell ya.

She, albeit unintentionally, forced me to become a better mother.

I've spent the better part of the past year in therapy, and though there were other bigger things in my life to deal with, most of my time was actually spent focusing on her. My relationship with her, coming to terms with the way things were, unraveling all the lies that were told, disclosing the things that had happened, the things she had done intentionally and the things she had done for other reasons that weren't intentional at all. There was a lot to unload.

I love my mother. I loved her then, I love her now. I will always love her.

But I couldn't fix her. I couldn't help her. I couldn't keep letting her hurt me, I couldn't let her hurt them...and she was doing both. I couldn't keep doing it anymore. And I couldn't subject my own children to any more of the chaos she created.

I couldn't do it.

She never forgave me. I understood. It was the price I paid to be the mother my children needed me to be.

This weekend, one loaded with emotions. It's the first Mother's Day without her here, but it isn't really. She was gone long before then, if I'm being completely honest. She hadn't been the mother I wanted or needed in so long that I had forgotten what that even felt like.

She, for better or worse, got me here though, to this place. Whether the path was smooth and unblemished or whether the path was full of potholes and obstacles, she is a large part of why I am the way I am today.

She's the only mother I ever knew.

And I love her.

You can love someone from a distance. Sometimes it is the only way that you can love them. Now, she's even further away, never to return again, and so I can love her even more now. I can remember only the good, piece together the memories, try to erase all the terrible events of the past.

There is a clarity and peace that grief brings. The fog lifts, the pain eases and all that is left is just love.

There is something to be said as well for the truth that this is the first year that I don't have to worry about her. I don't have to work myself up to make the phone call, not knowing what will happen when the line connects. I don't have to feel like I'm playing the equivalent of emotional roulette as the ball bounces from self loathing to blaming to projecting to guilt to shame. I don't have to attempt to reset myself after that obligatory interaction, focus on the family I've built with my husband, focus on the children who made me a mother. I won't need to gather myself and refocus. Not anymore.

I don't have to take any time away from the joy in my own household. I can just be the mother I've always wanted to be now.

I don't have to be the daughter who failed anymore.

It is freeing.

I know that I should miss her, and a part of me does. A bigger part of me feels relief though, because we are now free to love one another the way a mother and daughter should have always loved one another, wholly, entirely, without all the encumbrances of life and reality and everything in between.

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day in heaven.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

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