Monday, July 21, 2014

Books that inspire.

If there is one thing I will never deny my children {let's suppose it's just one thing} it is a book, or rather, books in abundance.  Books are literally falling off the shelves in our house.  I love books and, luckily, so does my duo. Sometimes they find a series or book on their own and become deeply entranced with it {as with Rick Riordian's Demigod series}. Sometimes I suggest we read something together {as with the first Harry Potter novel, though they quickly read the remaining six without me}. Sometimes, however, I see a book somewhere and think they should read it. Sometimes said book sits on an overcrowded shelf for months. Occasionally, a year or more.  

Such was the case with Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me.  I do not recall the circumstances which precipitated this purchase. I do, however, know that it has been on the "kids'" bookshelf for at least a year. Recently, however, when I noted my duo was far too entrenched in TV, and computers, and video games, I insisted they take a few tech-free days. 

When asked what in the world they would do with their time, I suggested reading any books on the shelf not heretofore read. After both kids devoured the book they handed it to me and said we should read it together.

We read very few books together anymore as the season of lolling in bed with freshly bathed, pajama-clad kids has passed. Our evenings are now more generally categorized as frantic meal making whilst transporting children to and from their myriad of activities {I am nothing if not a multi-tasker}. I yearn for those by-gone days and gladly jumped at the opportunity.   

And so we began reading When You Reach Me together. We were, however, neither pajama-clad nor freshly bathed. In fact we didn't even snuggle together in one bed, but instead, we were haphazardly strewn about my bedroom - one on the chair, another on the bed, and me running around multi-tasking. 

After our first session of reading together I was inclined to read the entire book more quickly than our sporadic, joint readings allow. I received permission to have at it all alone. And so I did. I read it immediately upon waking the next morning. I read it while eating breakfast. I read it while brushing my teeth. I read and read and read until I found myself weeping on a treadmill at the YMCA.

I was absolutely awestruck by the taunt yet complex plot, characters, and heart-breaking poignancy of it. Every single word and sentence has meaning. Stead appears to effortlessly weave together mystery, historical fiction, middle school fiction, life lessons in friendships and relationships, all with a string of time travel cleverly traversing through it.

I admit I became a bit of a detective while reading -- examining the map-like cover for clues, studying the clever chapter titles after each and every chapter, and constantly recalibrating my own hypothesis as more and more clues were revealed.

In addition to the gripping storyline, I was also struck by the clarity of Miranda's, the main character's, voice. Stead offers an emotional connection to a girl struggling to make sense of her world. And from Miranda's perspective, as with most sixth grade children, life-or-death stakes and the loss of a friendship may not feel that far apart. Miranda's narrative voice is startlingly authentic, in part because Stead so skillfully conveys the self-doubt of the age. It's not just the story's or life's bigger mysteries she is unsure of. Trivial ones are equally perplexing.

A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books of all time, as is also the case with our heroine, Miranda, is referenced throughout the story. Both books superbly convey a sense that life is full of unseen mysteries. "It's crazy the things a person can pretend not to notice,” Miranda says in the first pages, foreshadowing the many overlooked clues to follow. Later, she returns to the theme, explaining her mom’s theory that our experience of life is always mediated and incomplete. “We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces,” Miranda paraphrases, “But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind that blew it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is.”

This book undoubtedly lifted my veil. It let light shine in in a way adult literature cannot manage in a mere 197 pages. It was like a breath of fresh air delightfully and cleverly packaged in a book both young and old can appreciate.  

In the end, I'm not sure if it was the story's poignancy or if I was just feeling nostalgic, or perhaps something in between, but for a few hours this 43-year old was 12 again. And if that's not time travel, I don't know what is.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ten Years.

Daddy and me ~ Cabos 2001
It has been ten years since I lost my father.  A full decade of life lived without him.  He has not been physically present for nearly one-quarter of my life. 

Though I have physically felt the loss every single day of said ten days, I am utterly dumbfounded to think I've somehow lived ten years without hearing his voice or receiving his gentle encouragement. 

He, more than any other person, made me who I am today. 

His unconditional, perfect love is the gold standard; and the one I set for myself as a parent. 

His patience makes me strive to be more patient with others {work in progress}.

His humble spirit causes me to keep myself in check and accept slices of humble pie when served. 

His inability to see the bad in me encourages me to continuously work on being a better mother, sister, wife, and person. 

His gentle spirit and tender heart was, I believe, a beautiful gift he left with my son. 

His wisdom, always dispensed timely and in so few words, I yearn for often. 

His ability to be fully sated, in the moment, monetarily, in relationships, and with life in general, is a quality I admire but by which I am sadly still quite perplexed.

His selflessness was unparalleled in our always-looking-out-for-number-one world. 

His confidence in and love for me will never be matched. 

One of the last emails I received from him, a Corkyism, reads as follows: 
They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but an entire life to forget them.  

Love, Daddy. 

One decade behind me, and I'm here to say:  I will never forget.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

That Day -- The Hug.

A friend recently approached me with this moving and very personal piece. She would like to remain anonymous but felt publishing and sharing it might help others suffering through the loss of a child. 

I am a big believer in the cathartic power of writing and also find solace in the written words of others.  

My prayer today is for healing for my friend as well as however many others this may reach.


Here I am approaching That Day again, the day when my life changed forever. It was a sunny day in December, 4 days after Christmas, 4 days after I hugged my firstborn son for the last time. Now, years later, I can still recall That Hug as though it happened only a few hours ago. 

That Hug. There was something incredibly special in That Hug. Think of how many times you hug your kids. From the huggly-snuggly-kissy way you love on your babies to the pure and innocent, heartfelt hug of a preschooler to the unexpected and absolute pleasure of the unsolicited hug of a pre-teen and yes, to the squirming away, don’t touch me hug of a young teen. I had been through them all with my firstborn and I knew that they were behind me and that this hug – this from the heart adult-to-adult hug meant that he loved me as much as I loved him. It meant that he saw me as an adult, that he forgave me for my shortcomings and that he loved me still. 

A few days later I learned that my beautiful firstborn son was dead. Years have passed and my life has changed dramatically. My younger kids have grown up to be accomplished young people. They are on their way to finding their roles and purposes in the world. I am getting plenty of hugs from them as they pass through the stages of life. My pleasure in my young children is immeasurable. 

Still I sob every time I approach That Day. It is a day of remembering the wonder of my firstborn son; the way he was so little when he was born, the fact that he could swim like a fish but always got a sunburn on his nose, the way he would come downstairs with a towel wrapped around his wet hair and wait for me to iron his shirt before school. It is also a day of reckoning. Why wasn’t I a better parent to him? How could I have been so caught up in my own life? What could I have done? Why didn’t I do this or that?

But there are things that can’t be changed - things that are forever drawn on the fabric of our lives. What helps me the most as I approach That Day, when all the memories and questions wash over me, is to remember That Hug; that one perfect moment when mother and son connect with each other in a way that is truly immortal. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

War on the Poor.

Recently I have been completely overwhelmed by what I view as a war on the poor. An entire wing of established politicians proliferate the view that if you are poor somehow you are automatically shiftless and lazy. Propaganda spews forth with images of gangstas collecting welfare and bragging about not having to work. 
Strangely, those I've known who unfortunately fall into the "poor" category look nothing like the images portrayed by the establishment. If people would actually take the time to learn about one of the many individuals they portray as lazy and undeserving, I fear their attitudes might change.  
This piece by Linda Tirado has gone viral which makes my heart swell. I am so glad people are taking a moment to understand another's perspective, and perchance, to understand why the poor are not actually so coddled by unemployment and food stamps that they refuse to get a job.

The war on the poor needs to end. I hope this piece sheds some light on why such hostility is quite clearly misplaced.

This is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense

by Linda Tirado (reposting as per permission granted)

There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.
Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I'm in bed by 3. This isn't every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I'm in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won't be able to stay up the other nights because I'll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can't afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn't leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn't in the mix.
When I got pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2. Had I had a stove, I couldn't have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron whilst knocked up.
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That's not great, but it's true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle-class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.
The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That's a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can't afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don't want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We're aware that we are not "having kids," we're "breeding." We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.
Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.
Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I've been turned down more than once because I "don't fit the image of the firm," which is a nice way of saying "gtfo, pov." I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won't make me a server because I don't "fit the corporate image." I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying.
Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I've spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn't work, but is amusing.
"Free" only exists for rich people. It's great that there's a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don't belong there. There's a clinic? Great! There's still a copay. We're not going. Besides, all they'll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. "Low-cost" and "sliding scale" sounds like "money you have to spend" to me, and they can't actually help you anyway.
I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.
I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It's not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn't that I blow five bucks at Wendy's. It's that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There's a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there's money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It's why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that's all you get. You're probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer. That's all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dinner this week.

Wham, bam, thank you ma'am. It's going to be that sort of week. So what business do I have planning homemade, comfort-food type meals? 

Absolutely none.   

But I never let silly realities like my schedule dictate my appetite. This is what I need this week. Amidst the craziness, I need good, warm meals. I need to slow down and allow time for the beef to braise.

Some people meditate. 

I cook. 

And so despite my time constraints, I am determined to make this work.  I have the grocery list to prove it and need to finalize this post so I can dash to the store and get started. 

Literally. Right. Now.

1.  Chicken Pot Pie - Talk about comfort food!  I plan to make these as individual pies with the biscuit topping. I'll likely modify the recipe a bit but this recipe is my inspiration. 

2.  Beef Stew - I have my own beef stew recipe I adore. Mine, however, is filled with vegetables, and if there is anything my duo dislikes, it's anything filled with vegetables. And so I'm going to try this version with only beef, carrots, and potatoes. What's not to like?!

3. Spaghetti and Meatballs - This is a staple at our house {I make batches of meatballs, freeze them, and pull them out as needed}, but I'm trying a new recipe. I've tried many, many meatball recipes over the years. I am never displeased, but am still searching for . . . the one.

4. Chicken Noodle Soup - This may well be my family's favorite meal. Mine too. This will be it's highly-anticipated debut this season.

If it's chilly here this week I assume the rest of the country is absolutely freezing. Let me know your family's favorite cold-weather comfort food? 

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