A small reminder

I found this over on Zombie Mom’s site (fondly called Purses and Poop) where she admits she probably stole it from another blogger. Naturally, I’ve purloined it for my own purposes. That’s what blogging is all about, right?

Besides, it’s been a challenging week. This inspirational poster absolutely shouted at me when I found it: Count your blessings with all ten working fingers why don’t you?

I watched this week as the last of my life savings, all that I worked and saved for my adult life, disappeared with one phone call to the broker. Do I feel free? Didn’t Janis Joplin sing: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose? I’m glad we had it to survive. I wonder how long it will take to rebuild?

Sometimes I just want to live in a shack in the woods with nothing but a cot and a beautiful view. Other times, I wish I had the money to trace my family’s roots around Europe, or go back to Asia and explore on my own terms. Then, I talked to  a young father who was preparing for his first vacation in a decade. Ten years. No vacation.  That means it’s the first family trip for his children. His son wept, he said, when he broke the news. Wept.

It put in perspective my whining about having to wait 16 months to take a vacation anywhere.

A small reminder.

Post Father's Day post

Photo from MZ archives

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It’s an easy day for us as there is only one father on which to heap all the attention. (Father-in-law lives out of town; father is deceased.) My husband is a lucky man, getting yesterday all to himself. Mother’s Day is tougher, what with all those mothers elbowing for the spotlight. I need to claim a super-secret Mother’s Day all to myself.

In honor of my late father, I composed the following list:

Things I learned from my father:

  • Know how to read a map.
  • Plan your route before you leave.
  • Have a back-up plan.
  • Deviate from the main road and enjoy.
  • Develop an intimate relationship with nature and respect its rules. (Dad regularly took us on vacation to a private cabin in northern Michigan where we lived a week or longer without electricity, running water or heating/cooling.)
  • Don’t be over-reliant on technology or modern conveniences. (See above. My father was a major technophobe. I don’t know how he would regard today’s 24/7 connectivity. He didn’t much like it when cordless phones came around.)
  • You can’t have too many good books or good records.
  • Don’t underestimate the healing power of a Sunday drive to somewhere interesting.
  • Fill idle hands with books, brooms, rakes, paint scrapers and brushes. My father had an amazing work ethic. The only time he rested was either to admire his work or to assess the damages. (He was suspicious of idle TV viewing, sunbathing and other mindless pursuits.)

Things I learned indirectly through my father:

  • Humor is an essential ingredient in almost every situation, but particularly in those that challenge your patience and sanity.
  • Humor has both healing and hurting power. Use with care.
  • Never part ways in anger.

Things I wish I’d taken the time to learn from my father:

  • Our family history
  • How to plant and maintain a perennial garden
  • How to grow organic fruits and vegetables
  • How to read the stars
  • Don’t believe everything your parents tell you.
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The pill

Photo via Birth Control Buzz

I dropped off a prescription at the pharmacy today.

I dropped off a little piece of paper in exchange for birth control pills.

They were not for me. I am waaaaaay past the pill age. Way.

The are for my daughter. My teenaged daughter.

It was surreal.

As far as I know (and do we ever really know?) it’s not for controlling a potential birth. It’s to regulate out-of-control female hormones and hopefully alleviate the crushing pain and disabling headaches that have messed up my Girl from the West’s sophomore year of high school.

Still … it’s kind of crazy. I cannot imagine  my mother paying for a ‘script for the pill for me in high school. No way. No how. Hormones be damned. I’m sure I was told to “pray away the pain” or to “lay off the potato chips” or to suffer through “the woman’s curse.”

There is a part of me that feels this is somehow inappropriate? Premature? Asking for trouble? Yet, her friends (with conservative parents!) are also on birth control pills for hormonal reasons. I don’t know. It does open the door for … the possibility of … my Girl from the West becoming my Woman from the West, which just doesn’t sound right at all.  It sounds like a torrid lesbian tumble in the sage.

Her father and I discussed it. We mulled it over. In the end we let a doctor make the final call. I know, I know, doctors and their lucrative relationships with pharmaceutical companies and all that. I hear ya.


I remember what it was like to be 16. I had a steady boyfriend at 16. I know what goes on, what can happen, how you think you own the world at 16. Stuff like pregnancy and STDs and abortion all are things that happen on ABC After School Specials not to you or your friends. Yet it did happen to some friends. Most were whisked away to “boarding school” for a year or maybe missed a day or two of school for an “appointment.”  I do remember one girl in our class went through senior year pregnant. As she waddled across the stage to accept her diploma her full belly stretched against her navy blue gown. She gave birth shortly afterward to a child who is now 28 years old.

All I know is I have a child old enough to be on birth control pills.

That is a big pill for me to swallow.


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Cleaning house

Photo by Kaiton via Creative Commons

Three simple suggestions:

Trust in yourself.

You have all the tools you need to handle everything life sends your way.

Clear away the clutter in your life.

Three suggestions offered gently and pragmatically by Geri Larkin, author and Zen Buddhist teacher.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing a talk by Larkin. She is the founder of Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple in the heart of Detroit. She also has written at least seven inspirational books. She is also indirectly responsible for guiding me away from becoming a raving lunatic or a raging alcoholic or both. She couldn’t take credit. She doesn’t even know. But it’s true.

Larkin left Detroit five years ago and now lives a quieter  life in Oregon. She returned in May to help Still Point celebrate its 10th anniversary.  In telling her story to those gathered, she pointed out that — surprise — nothing turned out as she had planned. Larkin once lived a life of privilege. She once was a highly successful, albeit stressed to the limit, mover and shaker in corporate America. She had it all. Or, did she? A search for stress relief led her to the path that ultimately changed her life.

Trust in yourself.

She told those of us gathered that one of her goals in Michigan was to build a beautiful retreat center. She envisioned something serene and inviting tucked away on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Despite numerous efforts to get her plan going, bureaucracy and karma got in the way. Instead, all her money spent, she found herself standing in front of a Victorian-era duplex in the inner city of Detroit. Hardly an enticing destination.

You have all the tools you need.

Turns out, the old building was not what she envisioned, but it was where she needed to do her work. During her tenure, Larkin and temple members transformed the building and grounds into a center of peace and learning. Today, the temple stands as a quiet refuge in a noisy, troubled city.

Clear away the clutter in your life.

Larkin suggested that we just might be happier with less rather than more. She challenged us to clean house, literally and spiritually. She asked us to be less attached to our “stuff” and more generous with the world.

After reading about Still Point, her students, and the many visitors to the temple, I had to see for myself if the in-the-flesh Larkin would radiate as much energy  and wisdom as her prose does on the page. Oh, yes she does. Larkin has an energy about her, an optimism tempered with realism, that makes you believe anything is possible. She’s all at once funny, witty, self-deprecating and tough as nails. She doesn’t even want you to take her word for it. She offers suggestions but asks that you see for yourself. If it doesn’t work, find something else that does.

Although she swears she gets crabby like the rest of us, has her bad hair days, I see a woman who strives to live each moment as if it  were a slice of the sweetest, richest piece of chocolate cake ever baked.

She likes her chocolate.

Check out The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life or many of Larkin's other books on Amazon.com.

Speaking of cleaning and simplifying, Hand Wash Cold by Karen Maezen Miller is on my must-read list for the summer. I have yet to get my hands on a copy, although I've read excerpts online.

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Gran Torino, belatedly

Gran Torino opens inside a shadowy church. It’s the kind of place inspired by the soaring gothic cathedrals of Europe. It has vaulted ceilings, niches, an endless symmetry of archways, and stained glass windows depicting scenes of sainthood and martyrdom. Inside, every tentative footstep or stray whisper bounces off the high ceilings and amplifies to a thunder-clap of Catholic guilt.

Well, that’s how it was for me anyhow. I know that church. The one in which Clint Eastwood’s character stands next to his wife’s casket as he scowls at his family.

Photo via Movie-locations.com

Fifteen years ago I was the one sitting on those punishing wooden pews, alongside my family, facing my father’s casket.

I haven’t been back to the church of my baptism, of my youth, of my own departure from my family’s faith since that sweltering August morning in 1995. So it came as a shock to rent this movie, which I knew was made in Detroit, and to see this opening scene, which brought forth a strong physical memory of that day.

This movie robbed me of a good night’s sleep. I didn’t even think I’d like it.

“Mom, did you see ‘Gran Torino’ when it came out?” I blurt over the phone the next day.

“Oh, it was violent.”

Yeah. Do you remember the funeral scene? At your church? Wasn’t that weird?”

I don’t know about weird,” she says.

Well, you know, dad’s funeral. It was eerie to see it replayed in a movie.”

“It wasn’t his funeral.”

“I know, but still …”

“Oh,” she says, her voice trailing off. Conversation over.

Am I just morbid? How could she NOT make the connection?

I felt bad then, digging up a long-buried memory. She goes there every Sunday. A decade and a half of memories have wiped away that morning awash in the blues, purples and reds of  filtered sunlight and propelled by thunderous organ hymns. That morning is the only recent memory I have of the place.

This movie stirred a long-buried pot of memories.

Walt Kowalski reminds me of my grandparents, who often spewed bigoted slurs and who were pulled kicking and screaming from their spotless Detroit homes long after the neighborhood deteriorated.

Kowalski’s disconnect from his children and their offspring also sounded familiar notes in my extended family.

There is a divide between the orderly grid of the old city center, the reach-across-the-driveway-to-knock-on-your -neighbor’s-window closeness, and the labyrinthine subdivisions of suburban McMansions. It goes beyond economics. I understand those neighborhoods. I cannot fathom the sterility of some suburbs.

As the mother of an Asian daughter, it pained me to see such hateful racism in this movie, although I’ve been watching the black/white one play out all my life. I’d almost forgotten the horror of what happened to  Vincent Chin. It saddened me at the time but not in the way it would today. I look into almond-shaped eyes and see family.

As a Detroiter who has dreamed of leaving this Rustbelt Utopia for years, Gran Torino made me realize that no matter where I bury new roots, I’ll have the grit of Detroit in my soul. No matter how free thinking I think I am, how open-minded, how much of a tabula rasa I think I can create for myself, after 45 years, some things are engrained.

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Hell on wheels

Photo by Infomatique via Creative Commons

I hit a guy on a bike today.  Just a little bit, like a nudge.

The front bumper of my car tapped him as he pedaled into my path. I was stopped at a corner. I wasn’t looking forward when I lifted my foot off the brake. I was looking to my left, gauging oncoming traffic and how I could gun it to merge into the flow. I was tired and I was in a hurry.

Traffic opened.  I lifted my foot off the brake.

In a split second I turned to see this man on a bike at the front end of my car, pinwheeling his arms and mouthing obscenities. In a split second my foot jumped back on the brake.  My hands flew up to my mouth.


I sat there, hands held palm-to-palm in prayer, pleading his forgiveness. I watched as he jumped back on his bike, leaned forward, grabbed the handlebars, locked eyes with me and shouted words that rhyme with hunt and witch.

It could have been oh-so-much worse, I thought, as he rode away. He seemed OK.

He appeared to be homeless, a street person, with his tattered clothing, salt and pepper wild beard and skull cap. Several stuffed-to-the-brim bags dangled from the bike’s handlebars.  I didn’t ask him if he was OK. I said it aloud inside the car but not to him so that he could hear me. I didn’t pull over to verify anything. I just went on my way, shaking and feeling like dirt.

My Girl from the East was strapped in her car seat in the back. We were on our way to a group playdate.

“Mama, he needed to be more careful,” Girl from the East said in her matter-of-fact way. Of course, she assumed this near-accident was his doing.

It occurred to me that she had no idea what almost happened. She has no idea how her entire life and safety were in my hands. It occurred to me that I have no idea how dangerous I am when I am tired.

As I continued on my way, I felt my heart beating in my chest, beads of sweat gathering on my temples and under my arms. I looked in the rear view mirror at Girl from the East. I thought again of the man in tattered clothing. One means everything to me; the other is a stranger. Yet both lives are so fragile, both hold equal value.

Whenever I’m on the road with children in the car, I worry for their safety. I think of the dangers as being outside of the car.

I need to be awake. I need to get some sleep.

It’s all a vicious cycle. I was distracted and careless because I was tired.

I was tired because I stayed up well past 1 a.m. getting caught up on things I didn’t get done the day before.

I was tired that day and behind because of lack of sleep the night before that.

On and on and  on.

I need sleep.

Sort-of hitting someone on a bike is a big two-by-four across the temple.

Sure, I could argue the guy looked homeless and maybe a little drunk or high.

So what?

Sure, I could defend myself and say I was at a busy intersection, trying to merge into traffic, and he pedaled right in front of me. Doesn’t he know to make sure the driver sees him before going in front of a car?

So what?

If someone else was the driver and the bike rider was one of my children, would I accept those lame-ass excuses?


I need to get some sleep.

I need to be awake.

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Summertime and the livin' is queasy

Warning: This post is not funny.

If you want funny, watch Bossy’s latest theatrical production.

This post borders on whiney. If you want something moving and sad and funny all at the same time, read this (maybe) swan song post by Bejewell.

If you must wallow in misery, well, come on in then.

So how was your Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial starting gun of summer?

While most people celebrated by hosting or attending barbecues, going to outdoor festivals or heading away to a lakefront cottage or a camping spot in the woods, we stayed home.

I could say it’s because we have so much yard work to do, it takes an entire holiday weekend and then some to get it going for the season. That would be true.  But it wouldn’t be the whole truth.

I could talk about how Girl from the East and I made a commitment  to march in our city’s Memorial Day parade, but that wouldn’t paint the whole picture, either.  I could go on about how Girl from the West spent the majority of the weekend sequestered in the basement office finishing her semester-long project, how this could not have been accomplished in a deep-woods cabin without electricity.

The missing pieces, the untold chapter in part is realizing it may be another season of restraint. See,  we are not out of the woods yet. We are not out of the hole, not by a long shot. School is over today for one child and soon will be for the other. Volunteer commitments are grinding to a slow churn for the season. Summer programs, sports and activities are not in the budget at all.

We had a big road trip planned but that is now on hold.

Things were supposed to be better this year. In small ways, they are. In bigger ways that involve dreams and fantasies and wish lists, it’s very much like last year.  We’ve had a good run of it these last few months, almost enough to pretend like everything is OK. But underneath the denial is the truth: Eighteen months ago the bottom dropped out and we free fell to the basement. We survived the fall with deep cuts. We’ve gotten this far because we say to ourselves: This is temporary; this is not our lives.

I watched the “Hoarders” marathon on A&E yesterday afternoon because a band of storms blew through the area and ended my weekend of yard work. The takeaway: after while these people get so used to their reality  they no longer realize it’s offensive to outsiders. Their extreme dysfunction becomes normal.

Now I’m not saying my life is any of those things, but it made me think: You get used to something and  before you know it IT IS YOUR LIFE. You realize you are responsible for some of the mess you are in. Maybe you are responsible for the whole damned mess. Maybe you didn’t manage your money wisely. Maybe you took some miscalculated risks with your career. And then you say: Is this the life I want? If not, can I make it OK for me? Are there aspects to this that I can view in a positive way?

I realize everyone has something big that knocks them down and from this they must learn to stand again. For some it’s the dissolution of a marriage, a devastating illness, or an early unexpected death of a loved one. For others, like us, it’s job loss and a long road to financial recovery.

I’m trying to remain positive that Girl from the West will find a part-time job to pay for some of the things she wants and to save for a car. I’m trying to remain strong that I can get through another year before Girl from the East is in school full-time and I can seek something realistic in the employment front that doesn’t require 40 hours of daycare. I’m holding out hope that the economy  will lighten up here so we both can be fully employed and rise up a few more rungs toward the light.

Sorry, were you expecting something about a cookout?

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