I Need an Adirondack Chair, Stat!

At church this morning, our minister, Cynthia, led a Buddhist-inspired meditation on the end of life.  Rather than imagine our own death in stark detail—as Buddhists are apparently supposed to do—we were asked to simply imagine ourselves at the end of our lives.  Where were we?  What did it look like?  How did we feel?  Were we at peace?

I was a little surprised to learn that my old, dying self was pretty chill.  I liked Death’s Door Knickers.  Ass planted in an Adirondack chair, she drank sweet tea and watched the butterflies in the garden.  Everything was overgrown, of course, since old me still can’t garden, but she’d learned a while back how to plant things that could grow without her interference.

The house behind her was small and brown, like it had grown right up out of the earth with the black-eyed susans and honeysuckle, and beneath her bare feet were rocks hauled up from the nearby creek.

I’m not sure who’d done the hauling.  The grandkids, maybe.  Or perhaps just some neighborhood kids seeking to earn a few bucks and an afternoon snack from Granny Knickers.  Either way, they’d dragged ‘em up from the creek and dropped them higgledy-piggledy behind the house.  Knickers had filled in the gaps with sand and pea gravel and let it be.  Every time she stubbed her toe or twisted an arthritic ankle on an ill-placed rock, she’d thought of the hands that put it there and didn’t mind too much.

Her ankles didn’t hurt on her dying day, though.  She’d gotten up feeling sleepier than when she went to bed, and her hands throbbed like a sonofabitch, but she could walk just fine.  She threw on the cashmere robe she got for Christmas back in ’12—wrinkled ass showing through the moth holes—tossed back her meds with last night’s sweet tea, and wandered out into the garden to watch the sun come up.  Knickers saw the sunrise a lot now that her insomniac sleep patterns had evolved, or perhaps dissolved, into a series of frequent catnaps.  She was still a night owl, but she’d grown to love mornings.

She was alone this morning.  Not sure where everyone else was, but she was happy to die alone.  Way less stressful that way.  She didn’t have to reassure everyone that she’d be just fine dead and they didn’t have to worry about whether or not their demeanor was appropriate to the situation.

She’d never understood the common practice of gathering every twig of the family tree together for a death.  The family members all had to hopscotch between socially-acceptable bereavement and loud, sugar-laden family reunion, while the poor sod who had the trouble of dying either got increasingly annoyed or, if they were lucky, increasingly insensible.  There was real bereavement, too, of course, but those folks usually weren’t the ones sitting around your dining room table with forkfuls of casserole while you lay there dying.

She didn’t need a deathbed audience.  She had said her goodbyes in her own way, little by little, over decades.  She’d been sick and in pain enough in her life to know that you couldn’t leave shit undone or stuff unsaid.  It was the unsaid stuff that festered, and Knickers never let anything fester.

As for leaving shit undone…well, Knickers, in her infinite wisdom, figured there were two categories of undone shit.  Okay, fine, three.  There were the things you’re actually going to do when you get the time.  This includes paying bills and fixing the leaky pipe under the kitchen sink.  Everyone does that stuff eventually (unless they die, of course, in which case, someone else does it; either way, it gets done).  Then there’s the stuff you like to play at, for which “getting done” is rather beside the point.  This includes redecorating the house, learning to garden, and pretty much every knitted project.  Finally, there’s the stuff that you should’ve done, like, yesterday.  These include telling your dad you love him one last time or making sure your long-suffering husband knows you don’t take him for granted.  She had learned her lesson about this last category years ago, so she’d tried to make sure that shit never got left undone again.

She wondered as she sat there in the Adirondack, breaths getting softer and shallower, whether spending a summer in Scotland penning the next great novel belonged in the second category or the third.  It was a dream she’d often pretended at, both the Scotland-browsing and the novel-writing, and in some ways it really didn’t seem to matter that she hadn’t actually made it across the pond (she had, at least written a novel, now bound with a metal clip and stuffed under her bed).  She’d loved the pretending enough that it had a value all its own.  On the other hand, she clearly should have done it, like, yesterday, since it wasn’t going to happen now.

She smiled, then, remembering the first real conversation she’d had with her son, Ephraim, about death.  “Well, no one really knows, of course, but I think it’s probably kind of like that Doctor Who episode…” she’d said when Ephraim commented that death must just be like going to sleep forever.

Knickers couldn’t remember the specific episode now, or even the gist of it, but there’d been something about one’s energy going out among the stars after it left the body.  The notion that we somehow just…were…out there, somewhere, always…had resonated with both of them at the time, and it had stuck through the years.  She might not know where she’d go when she stopped breathing—any moment now, she thought—but she knew it’d be somewhere.  And that was enough.

Get your ass to Scotland, Knickers whispered as she died.

Whether that was meant for me or for whatever was left of Granny Knickers remains to be seen.

Desperation…Without the Diet

My last post was weeks ago and promised a weekly, if not daily, blog on clean, farm-to-table eating.  With recipes!  And photos!!!

Um, yeah, I haven’t quite followed through with that whole thing.

Lack of follow-through is a persistent problem of mine, like excessive hair dying and saying things I shouldn’t, so the fact that my diet blog lasted exactly one post will surprise no one.  But it isn’t just that.  Truth is, for the better part of the last several months, I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m depressed…that is, when I’m not too busy feeling depressed.

See, it’s tricky, ’cause I’m not sad.  Or anxious.  Or worried.  I see the melancholy little raincloud guy on the Cymbalta commercial and I don’t think, “Hey, that’s me!!!”  What I DO think–a lot–is, “How long till I can take a nap?”  Or “What am I gonna do with my son all day if I feel too bad to get off the couch?”  Or “I really can’t tell the difference any more between ‘normal’ and ‘in pain’.”  And I REALLY can’t tell the difference between normal and about-to-fall-asleep.

At this exact moment, it is 3:07 a.m. and I tried a while ago to go to bed.  I’ve been seriously fatigued all week, and I was awakened about 19 hours ago by severe pain in my right arm, as well as both hands and feet, so getting to sleep tonight shouldn’t have been a problem.  Even with my sick seven-year-old and a puppy in my bed.  Alas, after less than five minutes in horizontal position, I was literally tracking my RA pain as it moved up from my left big toe, into the bones of my foot, then my ankle, then knee.  My palms were itching like the devil–an annoyance that I recently learned is a symptom of Crohn’s–as were my eyes.  At this point, I sighed and hauled myself out of bed.  Sleep isn’t in the cards for me tonight.

With all this in mind, I’m thinking I’m not so much depressed as I am pissed off.  Sleep deprivation and itchy palms (and throbbing knees and ankles) will do that to a girl.

The truth is, I feel like a prisoner to my own body (not to minimize the plight of ACTUAL prisoners or anything; I AM a liberal, after all).  I can’t plan anything because I don’t know how I’ll feel from one hour to the next, much less how I’ll feel in days or weeks or months.  And if I plan, I have to be prepared to cancel or modify…or dose myself with extra steroids and pain meds to get through it.  I’m exhausted and foggy and achy even on my good days now.  And if I don’t die young, I’ve got another 35 or 40 years of this.  And it’s progressive.  Yay me.

So am I depressed?  I’m still not sure.  But I am tired and hurting.  And guilty.  Because tired and hurting people make really boring moms and kind of useless wives.  I feel bad because my son plays alone a lot now that school is out for summer.  And because I can’t even muster the energy to walk down to the laundry room, much less help my husband fold the mountain of clothes that is almost certainly waiting there.  And because we’re eating way more PB&J and cold cuts and granola bars than we should, since standing for any length of time to cook anything is often beyond me.

Which brings this post full circle.  That diet thing???  I can’t even be bothered to eat half the time these days and what I do eat is often not particularly healthy.  It’s an unfortunate truth of American life that quick and easy food usually translates into “fattening salt-soaked chemical shitstorm.”

Hopefully my flareups and all their myriad of symptoms will dissipate soon and I can post some of those recipes I promised.  Until then, send some healing vibes or magic sleeping powder my way if you’ve got them handy.  Or, failing that, just send me pictures of men in kilts.

Desperation Diet: Week One

Confession: I’m not quite going paleo (a.k.a. caveman diet) as promised.  With the research I’ve done so far, I have some concerns about the red meat content of paleo, and I am not quite ready to give up any and all sweets.  Or black beans and rice.  I am, however, going to largely eliminate gluten and will focus on farm-to-table eating–courtesy of our weekly CSA bounty–and avoid as much processed, artificial crap as possible (the occasional jelly bean notwithstanding)

As promised, I am going to chronicle my kitchen adventures here as I try to find a diet (or “lifestyle” if I’m being PC and self-important) that will make me hurt less, be awake more, and–if I’m lucky–drop fifteen pounds.  When possible, I’ll post include with first-hand reviews, I’ll undoubtedly bitch or whine a little, and I’ll let you know if my pants get looser.  And if it all starts to get boring, I can try it My Drunk Kitchen style. :D

Sooooo, without further ado, here’s the first pic of my very first CSA haul (camera phone and bad lighting–sorry!  I’ll bust out the real camera for next week’s pics):

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Isn’t it beautiful?!?

It also came with a giant bag of kale, which wouldn’t fit on the platter and therefore didn’t make the photographic cut.  I did however make sure to get a pic of these:

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That’s a green egg, folks!!!  Seriously, it’s green.  That is one funky chicken they’ve got there!  Either that, or it’s a rancid and/or radioactive egg.  I’ll get back to you after breakfast to let you know which (Note: I saw green eggs for sale at the co-op over the weekend, so I’m guessing it isn’t radioactive).

First meal post-CSA bounty was Thursday night’s dinner. The lovely platter of veggies above didn’t arrive in time to cook on Thursday, so I decided on a stove-free option.  The obvious choice?  Strawberries with mixed greens and homemade vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette was a no-brainer when I remembered that my stash of Stuarto’s oils and vinegars included a strawberry balsamic and blood orange olive oil:

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That’s all that went into the dressing, folks (from left: poppy seeds, strawberry infused balsamic, blood orange olive oil and a green onion; full recipe below).  Oh, and a small dollop of whole grain mustard just to bind it all together, which I forgot to include in the photo.  Easy-peasy.

The next meal I cooked at home was turkey, white bean and kale soup.  Alas, I forgot to take any pictures, but it basically looked (and, incidentally, tasted) like Italian wedding soup.  I am still not over the moon about kale, and I would leave out the turkey next time in favor of more beans and carrots, but the hubs ate three bowls in one sitting, so it counts as a success.

Here are the recipes–or the closest things I can give you to recipes.  I don’t actually follow recipes myself, and I don’t measure anything, so take them as more of a guideline.  Be creative.  Be brave!  There’s one thing you can rely on when cooking with fresh veggies and a few, basic ingredients: it’s actually quite hard to screw stuff up.

Note: T = tablespoon; t = teaspoon.  I think everything else is self-explanatory.

Strawberry Salad with Poppyseed Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette:

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar (I used a strawberry balsamic, but regular balsamic would do just fine)

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (I used blood orange flavored, but again, use what you have; some finely grated orange zest in regular evoo would be great)

White part of a large green onion, grated (maybe 1 T total, but more wouldn’t hurt); chop green tops for salad

Scant handful of poppy seeds

1 t. (give or take) brown mustard (if you like more bite to your dressing, use more)

Mix all ingredients in a cruet/bowl/jar/vessel of your choice and serve over mixture of spring greens, sliced fresh strawberries, green onion tops and/or thinly sliced red onion, and toasted nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts or almonds would work, too).  Or just drink it straight outta the jar.  I won’t tell.

Personal Review:

Some folks might prefer a dressing with more herbs/salt/stuff, but I was going for simple and clean here and it was delicious.  It doesn’t hurt that I really could drink that strawberry balsamic out of the bottle.  Everything else was just gilding the lily.  I made enough salad for 3 or 4 people and I ate every bit by myself.

Turkey, Kale, and White Bean Soup

1 lb. ground turkey (omit for vegetarian version, obviously)

2 large green onions (because that’s what I got from the CSA) or one medium onion, diced.

2 cans Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 large bundle of kale, rinsed, ribs/stems removed, and torn into bite-size pieces (I probably had 8 cups or so of torn kale)

3 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

3-4 cans of chicken or vegetable broth (or 5-6 cups homemade broth if you have it)

Greek or Italian seasoning

Things I didn’t add, but probably will next time: mushrooms, zucchini or squash, and roasted red pepper, or some combination thereof.  Some lemon zest and flat leaf parsley wouldn’t come amiss, either.

In a bit of olive oil, brown the turkey with onion and a few generous dashes of seasoning (I used Greek, because I was out of Italian seasoning; either is fine).  Add carrots, beans, broth, and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and add kale, stirring until it wilts (it will look like a LOT of kale, but it shrinks quickly).  Simmer until carrots are tender, then it’s ready to eat.  But it’s better a day or two later.  Just let it cool, then store covered in the fridge.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m guessing it’ll freeze well, too.  Oh, and don’t eat the bay leaf (I have no idea what happens if one eats a bay leaf, but it’s apparently frowned upon).

Personal Review:

As I mentioned above, this recipe didn’t make me a kale disciple, but I liked it better in this dish than any others I’ve tried.  I’m also not a huge fan of ground turkey in most contexts, but my husband really likes it, and I though the soup might need meat for body, so in it went.  If I were making this again, though–and I plan to–I’d forego it in favor of more beans.  Or make turkey meatballs, which for whatever reason, have a more palatable texture to me (and are easier to fish out if one wants a meatless–though obviously not vegetarian–bowl).  It really is essentially Italian wedding soup, so if you like that, definitely give this a shot.  Especially if you need a quick way to use up a lot of kale!

That’s all I’ve got so far for the first batch of CSA goods.  We’ve yet to try the eggs, but I’ll be cracking into them very soon, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  We’re waiting with bated breath to see if that green egg has a similarly-hued yolk.  If so, I am so serving it with some green ham and a giant hat!!!

The Desperation Diet

The last several months, I’ve gotten increasingly tired and achy and frustrated.  In addition to my normal joint pain (courtesy of rheumatoid arthritis), I have in-between pain–I swear my bones hurt and my muscles feel watery and bruised to the touch.  I sometimes nap for four hours and still don’t feel rested.  I’m simply existing through my days, rather than actually living them.  It all just pisses me off.

Since I clearly can’t go on like this in perpetuity, I’m gonna try to try something different.  This Thursday, we pick up our first CSA share.  We’ll get a box of farm-fresh veggies and eggs each week and I’ll get to figure out how to cook things that I’ve never tried before and force my family to eat them regardless of the results!  Being the mom has it’s perks, you know.

So this is my “desperation diet,” and my pledge to anyone who cares to read about it:  Beginning this Thursday, I’m going to start chronicling my foray into seasonal eating with a daily blog.  I’ll include recipes.  I’ll even try to remember to take pictures.  I’ll also keep a pain journal, so we can all see whether free-range eggs and asparagus can replace hydrocodone, NSAIDs, and/or whisky in my typical pain-managment regimen.  Don’t worry, I’m kidding about that last part–nothing can replace whisky! ;)

13 Ways to 13 years: Building a Great Marriage By Doing It All Wrong

I recently read a blog by a woman celebrating her fifteenth wedding anniversary (I can’t remember what/who it was, or I’d totally give credit).  She offered some unexpectedly helpful, and humorous, advice on how to stay married for fifteen years (one tip: go to bed mad), which got me thinking about my own upcoming thirteen-year anniversary.  Every year for the past few years, I’ve tried to write something sweet for my husband on our anniversary, but this year, I thought I’d go a different way.  I’m pointing out all the stuff we’ve screwed up…and somehow turned to our advantage.  If you’re lucky, you can fumble your way to a happy marriage, too!

  1. We married young.

I wasn’t child-bride young when I married my husband, but I was pretty damned close.  I couldn’t even drink at my own wedding, and not only because it took place at a Baptist college in a then-dry-as-dust county.

I was nineteen when we started dating and still nineteen when he proposed.  When we married, I was twenty and he was twenty-three.  We were babies!  I’d tell anyone else under those circumstances that they were crazy; that one can’t possibly know herself at that age; that the whole world is an oyster, whatever that means.  But my husband and I aren’t normal people.  We kind of did know who we were at that age—and whatever growing we still had to do, we did together.

2.  We sleep in separate beds.  Separate rooms, even.

This is a big “wrong move” and almost everyone who hears this suddenly looks at me as though I’ve just admitted slaughtering baby pandas on a Justin Beiber altar.  But this is what happens when a light sleeper and an insomniac get married.  Well, this or sleep deprivation and frustration.  My husband and I both have enough trouble sleeping on our own (me getting to sleep, him staying that way) that we really don’t need one another’s idiosyncrasies tossed in the mix.

Whoever said that getting married suddenly meant an eternity of suffering snoring, stolen blankets, and getting awakened any time someone has to pee, roll over, or get up extra early was clearly a sadist.  And speaking of sadists:  Yes, we still have sex.  You don’t have to actually sleep in the same bed to do that.  Just pretend you’re still dating.

3.  We take our kid on dates.

Or, rather, we almost never go on dates, opting instead to save the $30-$40 for a sitter and just drag our kid along wherever we go.  Consequently, we have a kid who knows how to behave in almost any situation, which is a price above rubies, folks.  If you have a seven-year-old that can sit quietly during a movie and doesn’t interrupt adults when they’re talking, all is right with the world (don’t worry, he’s given plenty of time to run around like a hyperactive banshee and takes full advantage of it).

4.  Our idea of date night—even before we had a child—is a trip to the grocery store.

We might go to Target while we’re out, if we’re feeling fancy.  This of course makes it easier to drag the kid along.  We do other things on occasion, like actual grown-ups, but honestly our favorite Friday nights are usually spent at a cheap restaurant and rambling around a shopping center.  Then we get to go home, put the offspring to bed, and spend the evening with just one another and the DVR, which is really our idea of date night.

5.  We don’t like the same things.

I first met my husband in his college dorm room, where he displayed what had to be every book ever published about Harry S Truman.  I learned later that the Truman shrine was the result of his honors project, in which he analyzed the campaign speeches of the 1948 Presidential election (I have to say, that fact didn’t really help his case).  And recently he was reading a book on the stock market crash.  For fun.  This is when he isn’t reading one of a gajillion Star Trek books.  Sometimes I don’t know how I married this man.

As for me, I sing in three choirs and have a five-year plan that includes opening a yarn store and buying a hobby farm.  I’d probably live in a commune of Unitarian Universalist Musical Crafters if left to my own devices (Note to self: add the formation of this commune to five-year plan).

Honestly, I really don’t know how he married me, either.  My husband knows nothing about music or yarn, and he has as least as little desire to learn about them as I have to learn about the stock market.  But it works for us.  He listens to me sing, praises my latest crafty project, and I…let him read about boring stuff.

6.  We don’t do everything together.

Given what I’ve just told you, can you blame us?  In addition to the fact that my husband is a political-junkie-Trekkie-business geek and I am a…whatever the hell I am…we rarely see each other during the week.  He works full time and has evening classes for a Ph.D. program.  I’m home during the day, but have choir rehearsal three nights a week, plus the kiddo’s piano lessons and the occasional client meeting.  During the school year, we only get Friday evenings, Saturdays, and some Sunday afternoons together.  We don’t have time to get bored with one another!

I’m not advocating that everyone spend as little time as possible with their significant others.  All relationships need face time.  But there’s something to be said for having one’s own life, too.  No one person should be expected to fulfill someone else’s every need.  Would you want that kind of pressure?  Of course not, and neither does your better half.  Go out into the world and find your bliss all by yourself.  I promise it’ll follow you home.

7.  We don’t fight.  Ever.

Okay, we’ve fought maybe two or three times, but we’ve been together for 14 years, so that’s basically never.  And on those occasions, it was due either to a literal misunderstanding or someone (cough, HIM, cough) getting bent out of shape over something silly (cough, DOG, cough, cough).  The rest of the time, on the rare occasions that we get put out with each other, we just brood until we’re over it.  Or, if it’s something that actually needs to be discussed, we discuss it.  No muss, no fuss.  Communication’s not that hard, people.  Incidentally, neither is silent brooding.

8.  We don’t have the same friends.

That whole “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends” thing?  Are you effing kidding me?!?  Those are the last people I want my husband “getting with.”  First of all, ewww.  Second of all, those are the people who know that deep down I’m actually a neurotic, self-important, hippy-dippy, barely-functional, tortured-artist psycho.  I don’t want those folks anywhere near my husband, whose illusions about me have to be wearing pretty thin on their own after thirteen years of marriage.

9. We’re VERY different people.

My husband and I are literally at opposite ends of the personality-type spectrum.  On the Myers-Briggs chart, my husband is an INTJ.  I’m an ENFP (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can check out http://www.myersbriggs.org).  The only trait we share—the N, for intuitive—is our tendency to extrapolate rather than simply content ourselves with whatever’s put in front of us.  I think of it as a shared disposition to see the forest rather than the trees.  But in every other respect?  We’re Paula-Abdul-style opposites.

My husband is introverted and analytical.  I’m social and impulsive.  He is highly structured and punctual.  Structure gives me hives and I’m always scooting in at the last minute.  Often several minutes past the last minute.  We ought to drive each other crazy, but instead we each seem to exert a needful pull, keeping the other from getting stuck on the outer fringes of acceptable behavior.

10. We talk politics and religion.  A lot.

They’re the only two conversational taboos left: religion and politics.   Polite folk should never engage in these topics, so goes prevailing etiquette.  Though I don’t suppose prevailing etiquette really applies to one’s spouse.  We discuss all manner of things with our better half that we wouldn’t dream of broaching with a mere acquaintance.  At least, I hope we do.

That being said, most people don’t discuss matters of social and spiritual importance with any regularity, even with their spouses.  And if we’re talking ways to build a better marriage, current religious trends and political news would hardly top the come-hither list of conversation starters.  Rather, these topics enrage us, make us sad, and trigger our altruistic and activistic tendencies.  They do not make us romantic or sentimental or, god forbid, libidinous.  And yet, my husband and I tend to get the most juice out of conversations that involve either elected officials, or the impact of religion on social justice.  We’re weird that way.

11. I got sick.

I don’t suppose it was precisely wrong of me to get sick, since I couldn’t help it, but illness and disability don’t exactly lend themselves to great and happy relationships.  Especially when that illness involves chronic pain and fatigue and some of the least sexy physical manifestations imaginable.  Add to that the stress created by the fact that I can no longer work enough to cover our son’s lunch money, and it becomes a seriously daunting roadblock.

But over the years we’ve learned that roadblocks are just opportunities for unexpected adventures.  Stressful, yes.  Always pleasant or exciting? No.  But obstacles force you to alter your plans and adapt to what lies in front of you, whether or not it’s what you thought you were signing up for.  And that, my friends, is the only real key to a lasting relationship.

12. We dropped the mystery.

And the vanity.  Major illness helps in this regard.  So does pregnancy, as well as simple time.  It’s hard to live with someone for a span and keep up any charade of perfection and natural, untarnishable beauty.  Harder still when one’s body is constantly endeavoring to make everyone’s life more difficult and messy.

My husband has had to help me through two major surgeries.  The doctor who delivered our son, via caesarian, actually held my uterus up for him to see during the procedure (in case you’re wondering, it is heart-shaped and apparently terribly interesting).  Once your spouse has an unexpected encounter with an erstwhile internal organ, the magic is gone, folks.  And that’s okay.

13. We don’t make plans (five year plan involving alpacas and hippy communes notwithstanding).

In the film “Leap Year” (one of the very few rom-coms I actually enjoyed, mostly for the adorable Irish guy-next-door and gorgeous scenery), Amy Adams, once she finally realizes she’s in love with the aforementioned adorable Irish guy, proposes that they get together and NOT make plans.  (Spoiler Alert!) He says no, then proposes for real, saying, in an equally adorable Irish accent, “I don’t want to not make plans witcha.  I want to make plans witcha.”  This, implying that marriage and real relationships involve having a map of some sort.  To that I say, “Pshaw!  Plans are for pansies and the criminally unimaginative.  We’ll wing it.”

Is this good advice for everyone?  Probably not.  Hell, almost certainly not.  In fact, if anyone tries any of this and it doesn’t work, I’m going to point out that this was a list of doing it all wrong!  But it has worked for us, and I suspect will keep working for another 13 years, and hopefully a couple after that.

I’ve decided that happiness never lies in perfection.  It doesn’t even lie in mostly-right-most-of-the-time.  It lies in the surprises we’re forced to find after encountering yet another road block.  In the quiet spaces between storms.  In the knowledge that you’ve got a let’s-hold-hands-and-count-to-three-and-jump-together partner in life.  That someone loves you to madness and he’s got your back, even though you drive him insane sometimes and he doesn’t understand half of what you do or say.

By any acceptable standards, we’ve screwed up a lot.  But as a lovely woman recently said to me, “It’s the screws that hold everything together.”

Happy Thirteenth Anniversary, Sweetheart.  Here’s to another baker’s dozen of doing it all wrong.  And spectacularly. xoxo

We’re All in a Barrel (Please don’t shoot!)

The tragic irony of human existence is that, after a life spent in search of ourselves, it is what we leave behind that says the most about us.  It is also an unfortunate truth that we are never more appreciated than in the years after our deaths.

I miss my dad.  We didn’t see each other often while he was alive (for all sorts of complicated reasons), but it was enough to know he was there if I had a question or wanted to talk to him.    As long as that potential was there, I didn’t think to miss him.  That is one of the greatest regrets of my life so far.  He deserved at least to be missed while one of us could still do something about it.  But I’m old and experienced enough to know that regret is a useless emotion—God, grant me the serenity, and all that—and so I do the only thing I can now that he’s gone: I miss him.

I hope that he can see me from wherever he spends his time these days.  I have no idea what I believe with respect to the afterlife, but just because I doubt something doesn’t mean I can’t hope for it.  Unlike regret, hope is never a useless emotion.  And if Dad can see me from that great park-bench-chained-to-a-tree in the sky, I at least hope I’ve given him a few reasons to be pleased.

First, thanks to social media, I’m finally getting to know all the Larkeys.  Well, probably not ALL of them—there are an awful lot of Larkeys—but several of them, at least.  Dad loved his family and always wanted me to be a bigger part of it.  I (for all sorts of complicated reasons) never quite felt a part of it.  That I’m heading down this weekend for an impromptu reunion of the cousins would make him inordinately happy.

Second, I am SO my father’s daughter.  Yes, yes, I look just like my mother, and I got a lot of my traits from her (my voice, the irrepressible compunction to question everything, and my sailor’s tongue, to name a few), but my personality is pure Jerry Lynn.  I’m a dreamer.  I don’t sleep and I loathe mornings.  I’m horrifically disorganized.  For Christmas, I’ve been known to ask for—and receive—things like a compound miter saw and router.  I don’t know the meaning of the words “I can’t do that” when considering a project (I might not actually pull it off, but I’m sure as shit gonna try…and, secretly, I totally expect to pull it off).

Third—and what I mostly wanted to write about here—I’m proud of my roots.  This one took me a while.  You see, growing up in a small, lily-white, mostly-Republican-and-nearly-all-Baptist Southeastern Kentucky town, I somehow ended up a liberal.  And not the typical Kentucky brand of liberal, which is really more Republican-before-Sarah-Palin (case in point: any elected Democratic official in the state).  I mean a f’real left-wing liberal, with card-carrying membership in the Sierra Club, the LGBT-themed Human Rights Campaign, and the Unitarian Universalist Church.

During my transition to this godless, granola state, I looked back at my forebears and relations—not specific folk, just the general people and place—and thought simply “How?”  How could we be so different?  How could my very square peg have ever sprung forth from such a round hole?  And how could I possibly cram it back in again without doing serious damage to both?  For a long time, the only answer I could come up with to that last question was “I can’t,” and so for a long time, I didn’t even try.

I removed myself from where I came from.  I went away to school.  All the way to Oregon at one point, which is just about as far as one can get from Southeastern Kentucky without a passport (and not just geographically-speaking).  I tried to minimize my Appalachian accent.  I preened when, one day, a young man working at the grocery store I’d frequented as a child took one look at me on my way in and said, “You ain’t from ‘round here, are you?”

For years, I had seen myself as a thing apart.  I was the Other, the square peg in a sea of round holes.  Eventually though, that sea—and all the perfectly round little fish that swam in it—became the Other.  The maligned and marginalized.  The less-than.  I was better than all those round folk, I thought in my worst moments.  I certainly wasn’t one of them!

Oh, but I was.  I am.  I’m still as square as I ever was—and there are doubtless some round peg folk who’d rather I kept my sharp edges to myself—but I can appreciate my roots now.  Because no one–no one–is Other.  Because somehow, where I’m from did make me who I am today, and damn it, I’m awfully fond of both of us.

When it comes to family and community, there aren’t holes at all: we’re all just a bunch of pegs—round, square, and otherwise—tossed into a giant barrel and shaken up every now and then.  In the process, we rub each other the wrong way.  We poke somebody in the eye, or knock some paint off.  We make a few scars and we get a few in return.

Sometimes, we find ourselves outside the barrel and we breath a sigh of relief.  We might venture off to see where else our peg will fit, and if we’re lucky, we’ll find a place that doesn’t bang us around so much.  But it is our time in the first barrel that shapes us the most.  It is where we begin that we become a permanent and irreplaceable part of something greater than ourselves.  I might be a square peg, but I don’t need a square hole to go home again.  I just need the barrel.

A Lesson in Anatomy

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I come in tonight from my walk, sweating and breathless, plagued by an unmet need. I am hungry.

Not for food. Whatever trials my life might include, I have never faced physical hunger of any significance. And, barring circumstances most unforeseen, I am not likely to know such hunger in the future. I will almost certainly always have a solid roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my plate.

Nor do I hunger for love. I’ve that in plenty. It is this, the affection of family and friends in abundance, which assures me that I’ll never starve or want for a place to lay my head.

And I certainly do not hunger for money. That isn’t to say that an extra dollar would come amiss—like most everyone else, we’ve loans to repay and future college tuition and orthodontics to fund—but ours are distinctly “first world problems.” If one is fed and sheltered and has a family in good health, then worry over money seems to me a touch obscene.

No, I hunger instead for something else. Something soul-deep and eternal. Not The Divine, though I suspect it’s most likely there if anywhere. To call it nature is trite and insufficient, and yet it is, I think, the best I’ve got. I hunger for places and things untouched. For the ancient and sustaining. For a breath of air and space that knows not the whir of machines or the stain of civilization. For the sense that I am not merely in a space, but of it.

I get a shadow of this on my walks. Though I move through a suburban neighborhood, on streets paved by machines, under electric lights and wiring, wearing shoes made of colorful plastics and foams, I am a part of the earth. I can almost imagine that this virgin space for which I hunger is only just out of reach, another realm layered over this one like a fine mist.

This mist hung cold and almost corporeal as I walked tonight. The moon was full, or very near, and it cast everything around me in crisp, blue twilight. I dissolved into the landscape, no more substantial than the mist that filled my lungs and chilled the sweat on my skin. I ceased to breathe and merely expanded, unbound for a time by either flesh or gravity. I simply was.

Thoreau set out to strip life to its bones, to remove not only the window dressing but the panes themselves, and lay bare the human experience. His is an exercise that bears repeating. It is only when we remove the countless layers of excess and worry and obligation that separate us from the marrow of life that we might find our place in it.

As I walk in the dark, the world mostly silent and sleeping around me, I am able to tune out enough, to strip away just enough of these layers to see the promise of whatever lay at life’s core. I am not close enough yet to suck the marrow, but in the blue light of the moon, I can see glimpses of bone. And I am determined.