Category: Uncategorized

On Being Susceptible and Plant Based Diets

On Being Susceptible and Plant Based Diets

I’ve become susceptible to marketing strategies. This disappoints me. Either I’m becoming a softie as I glide past the middle part of middle age or companies have gotten better at tugging my heartstrings/breaking down my walls/making me think I need stuff. I used to be made of sterner stuff, and staved off their tricks. I’d smile knowingly when an ad declared “#1 choice of Moms” for example. Really? Which moms? Did you ask a lot of moms, or just five moms and three of them when pushed to answer said it was kind of maybe better? Or when ads proclaimed things using words like bigger or better. Better or bigger than WHAT, I’d ask myself. What is the actual comparison?

Those days are gone. The other night I made the mistake of watching “The Gamechangers” on Netflix with my husband. We’d finished binging “The Crown” and needed something new. It had been recommended by several work colleagues. “The Gamechangers” is a well-made documentary that does a good job of exploring a myriad of reasons to go Vegan, and speaks from an athlete/recovery point of view. Recovery from sports injury (or any injury really) as I age holds my attention. My heating pad is becoming my new best friend and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with our relationship.

This documentary uses athletes, and environmentally minded folks, and some famous manly men, along with science to make the case for going Vegan. Oh, my apologies. It’s not called that anymore. You “go plant-based” now. Which does sound more fun than being Vegan. Vegan conjures up visions of waifs in saffron robes living on lotus roots and air, which isn’t necessarily inviting, or you know, athletic. Going on a plant-based diet on the other hand, sounds sustainable and cool. Like overnight my muscles would gain definition and I’d be described as willowy. I could then  pull off wearing hemp clothing, and using charcoal toothpaste wouldn’t weird me out.

I’ve been Vegan on and off before, once for a solid three years in my early 30s. I joke that all the chopping got to me, so I stopped. I do have a vivid memory of standing at the counter, knife in hand ready to chop yet another carrot, and not being able to do it for one more minute. What is more truthful is that one day I wanted a real cheese pizza more than a vegan its-trying-hard-to-be-cheese-but-failing pizza, and began the slide down the slippery slope. I have issues with vegan cheese, as it melts and looks like cheese but then utterly (udderly!) never tastes like it at all.

So I watched the documentary, got roped in, and have been on a plant-based diet for a week and a half. I’m facing fake cheese again. While I admit that I’m making the unhealthy choice of guac and chips and salsa as a perfectly acceptable vegan meal, I’m balancing that out with vegan recipes. I made a cashew cheese sauce (colored with chopped cooked carrots – it was probably what I was making when I threw in the towel last time) with the terribly-named Nutritional Yeast as the cheese imposter that actually does do a fair imitation of cheese sauce if you are craving comfort food. I also made a lentil-oatmeal “meatloaf” that tastes good if you put enough ketchup on it. Both of those recipes came from the “Gamechangers” website.

There are four good things that have happened since I got suckered have embraced a plant-based diet one more time. The first is that I discovered there’s a gadget that goes into my blender that chops up nuts in a jiffy. It’s fun to use. The second is that I’ve been to three parties (‘tis the season) and have had no difficulties enjoying myself or finding food to eat. Granted, I did bring along a salad (wild greens with raspberries, walnuts and pomegranates with a raspberry vinaigrette) just in case, but I was fine.

The third good thing is the smugness I feel walking into Sprouts and filling my reusable bags from large bins containing lentils and nuts and other Healthy Items. (I’ve also been cutting back on my plastic use. Single-use plastic was the thing I gave up for Lent this year. I’m not Catholic, but it always seems like a good idea.) The final good thing that has happened is that I dropped over two pounds and three inches in my first week of plant-based eating, and I wasn’t exercising. I know, it’s so horribly vain. Sure is a nice side effect though. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes, I’m committing to doing this for six months straight. There, I’ve said it. No going back now.

VEGAN OAT AND LENTIL “MEATLOAF”
15 minutes assembly, 55 minutes to cook, serves 6

Chop: 2 stalks celery, ½ onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Sautee in a little water until soft and set aside to cool.
Cook up some brown or green lentils (not red, they get mushy) in your instant pot – 2 parts water to 1 part lentils, 15 minutes on high and let it vent on its own. You’ll use about a cup cooked lentils.
Mush together: 10 oz of firm tofu drained, the lentils and sautéed veggies, and 1 ½ cups quick cooking oatmeal in a bowl.
Add 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, some chopped parsley, and a ½ teaspoon each of thyme, rosemary and sage (I didn’t have rosemary or sage, and it was fine) and mush together some more.
Pat firmly into a parchment-lined loaf pan or 8×8 square pan and top with a layer of ketchup. Bake at 375 for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick in center comes out clean.
#eatlikeagamechanger

On the Eating Season and Tootsie Pops

On the Eating Season and Tootsie Pops

The eating season is upon us. Eating season creates conundrums; pimento cheese balls coated with walnuts sound like a good idea. You want to try one of those newly fashionable “messy tables” where you just throw stuff out without plating it, artfully arranged in serpentine meat and cheese extravaganzas. I hear it’s actually a job people have now, coming to your house to create your messy table. I imagine pets love it too, so much easier to nip things off the table.

Eating season creates slippery slope for me every year. Despite sturdy mental preparation and “not this year” intentions, it always starts when I (thoughtfully) make sure the Halloween candy for the trick or treaters is “good.” I always get candy, despite the low odds of getting small children knocking on our 2nd floor apartment door. “Always be prepared” is one of the few things that stuck from my years as a Girl Scout. And a love of Thin Mints and Savannah cookies, but that’s material for another day.

We all know I was buying that bag of Tootsie Pops for myself. It generally takes about two weeks to get through the bag. No, I’m not throwing it away. Goodness gracious perish the thought. When you’re raised by depression-era parents, you get the message that throwing food away is right up there with adultery. As a member of the clean plate club it’s nigh on impossible for me to throw food out or “let it go to waste.” Instead I let it go to my waist. Oh dear, a pun.

From that gateway bag of sugary Tootsie Pops, the door is opened for “oh, I’ll just have one slice/taste/bite” eating that eventually crescendos into “oh, what the hell” debauchery. Thanksgiving brings on the pie. Because pie must be had at Thanksgiving. It is known. The eating season gains momentum as we slide into December and parties. This was particularly bad when we lived in Tennessee, because those folks can cook. Its culmination is a leftovers-heavy extravaganza that will likely feature that cheese ball on New Year’s Day before we slam into the day after and the reality of “Must Begin That Diet” January.

Despite the fact that the slide has already begun, there’s a bit of hope that the damage won’t be quite as bad this year, as we’ve introduced lifestyle changes that may be sticking. A vegan protein shake for breakfast, drinking lemon water upon rising, and using digestive enzymes. Different choices on our shopping trips. My husband emerged from the kitchen the other day, cereal bowl in hand. He paused for a moment, staring down into the bowl, a look of pure bemusement on his face.

“When did it come to this?” he asked. “I’m eating quinoa cereal with oat milk.”

We are not alone in our enforced shift. A similar conversation turned up in the locker room of the pool. My friend Phyllis who is of retirement age said, “I’ve grown to like kale.” The rest of us stared at her, surprised. She grinned, and then continued, “If it’s chopped up small, and with lots of fatty blue cheese dressing on it.” We all agreed that sometime in the past few years some forward-thinking heads of kale bonded together and got themselves a publicist. Because you do have to do quite a bit to it to make it palatable.

My personal problem with shifting my diet to healthier options is that I hate most vegetables. I know I am supposed to like them. I just don’t. I particularly dislike the very-good-for-you ones like brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Luckily for me there are ways to disguise vegetables, like putting baby spinach in my morning shakes, where they blend up and you don’t taste it. Its great unless you put it in a shake with strawberries, then you get a dirt-colored shake, due to the opposites on the color wheel thing we learned about in art class, when we had such things in school. Brown shakes still taste fine, but are visually unappealing. Can’t put those in an Insta post.

The saving grace for this is vegetable soup, which I do like, especially when I pair it with home-made cornbread. And a cheese ball.

***

A note on a word I used last week. My pal Jeff from Wichita, KS caught it. I used “defenestration” for what a squirrel did to one of our squashes by pushing it off our 2nd story porch. Jeff is right I was stretching the usage a bit — it’s a word that has a very specific definition and a colorful starting point, which Wikipedia puts rather delicately thus: Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618 which became the spark that started the Thirty Year’s War.

I’m pretty sure it was a person that got chucked out of that window – and am reminded that Mel Gibson stole this and put it to good use in “Braveheart.” At any rate, it really should be limited to something falling or being tossed out of a window, not the edge of a balcony.

 

On Acorns and Tornadoes

On Acorns and Tornadoes

It’s finally Fall here in Dallas. The trees were green one day, and the next they were not. A few stalwart sweetgum trees changed colors, but most just went yellow then brown, their leaves fluttering down as if the trees couldn’t wait to be shed of them. The live oaks are a different story. They keep their leaves but aggressively hurl their nuts to the ground. They land like miniature grenades with great POWS, slamming earthward in a final statement of intention. These are not the adorable little acorns that come off of regular oak trees, with cunning little caps and round cheeks. No, the live oaks mean business. They sport huge, pointy lethal weapons meant to carry on the line. They are survivalist trees that endure scorching hot summers, no rain, and then bitterly cold winters. They have no reservations about bombing you with their fusillade of ground-penetrating nuts. The squirrels busily dodge about collecting them and then bury them to eat later. It occurs to me that whole forests have been grown by squirrels forgetting where they buried their nuts. At any rate, if squirrel activity is anything to go by, it’s going to be a cold winter this year.

In East Tennessee where we lived for 10 years, you could ostensibly tell if it was going to be a cold winter by looking at wooly caterpillars. The wider the band in the middle of the “wooly bear” – not to be confused with the actual bears that live in the forested mountains nearby – the harsher the winter. Texas is altogether different state, and doesn’t seem to have any decent animal prognosticators, four-legged or no-legged, squirrel activity notwithstanding. We rely on the weatherman. I don’t envy him his job. It’s just brutally hot for months on end, then you get to mid-November and its blazing hot one day and then cold for the next three months, with perhaps two nice fall days as a placeholder between.

The squirrels don’t want to be bothered as they stock in their winter food supply. They taunt my dog as we walk, letting her get thisclose before scurrying up a tree. They’ve been going the extra mile this year. One intrepid squirrel took advantage of my October squash display outside our door which I’d left out for another month since they are equally good as Thanksgiving decorations. The squirrel latched onto an ugly, nobby squash and dragged it to the edge of our porch and allowed it to defenestrate itself to the sidewalk below and, well, squash open. It left a tell-tail trail of weeping squashy insides to the bushes where the little rodent had its feast. I don’t mind actually. I like creatures in general, even if they are rats in disguise just squirrels, and can certainly share my porch decorations.

While discussing the weather here in Dallas, I cannot leave out the sudden arrival of not one but ten tornadoes here one evening a few weeks ago. The largest of them skipped along quite close to us, about a half mile north, leaving behind a swath of destruction. It came on quite suddenly, which seems to be a theme with the weather here in Texas. Fifteen minutes prior to the tornado warning sirens going off, the dog and I had been enjoying a balmy evening walk. There was a bit of sheet lightning way off to the east, but nothing that said a tornado was coming, let alone ten of them. Having grown up in Kansas, which is a whole ‘nuther kind of weather place that has notable and dramatic storms, I’m knowledgeable about what to do when a tornado siren goes off. I’m also the generation that learned how to hide under our desks with our arms over our heads to protect us from the nuclear bombs about to drop when these same sirens sound, so, you know, I respond with alacrity when one goes off.

My alacrity in this case was in the form of dragging my college-aged son outside to prove to him that, yes the sky does turn green when there is a tornado nearby. This no doubt earns me a nomination to the Darwin Awards of parenting (however I shall lose to the man who put honey on his child’s hand so the bear would come closer for the photograph. There are degrees of dumb). In my defense, I’d been politely eye-rolled and mmm-hmmm’d about this green-sky thing for years, and the ability to prove myself right was irresistible. I carpe diem’d and grabbed a teachable moment. We stood outside on our balcony as the wind gathered steam with enthusiastic whirling gusts. A good burst of lightning revealed an emerald green sky laced with towering black clouds. Truly emerald green, not just the muddy bruised green the sky turns when there is still time to get to the cellar. This was an alarming green, a this-sucker-is-right-on-top-of-us sort of green. We dashed inside and hustled into the bathroom (no basements in Texas) to ride out the storm with my husband and our dog.

Later, seeing the damage the storm had inflicted, I felt chastened. It’s dumb to go outside during a tornado warning, as the things are so unpredictable and can level buildings in just moments. The whirl could have easily sucked us up into the vortex like Dorothy or chucked a roof at us. Acorns slammed down like good poetry are dangerous, but nothing to the full-on unpredictable rage of a tornado. Maybe I should re-think my idea that fall is my favorite time of year. Or invest in a helmet.

 

Photo by me shows the lovely little capped acorn surrounded by the lethal ones.

 

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

On Self-Publishing a Book and Gigging on Fiverr

Being able to claim “published author” feels great. I’m over the moon about having my book up on Kindle and in a “real” paperback version. I keep going into Amazon and staring at the page they’re on. I even bought a copy to put on my own Kindle and am burbly (yes I know that isn’t a word, but it describes exactly what it feels like: half bubbly, half incomprehensible babbling) when flipping to it and reading my very own words in justified Garamond font flowing along.

Choosing to self-publish came with the understanding that there’s a certain amount of accompanying tarnish. That perhaps it’s a lesser  form of publishing. After all, there was no querying or submitting to agents and publishing houses involved. Amazon is happy to publish anything you want to write, as long as you meet their guidelines. They even give you a sixteen-page manual about how to format your book so it can become a paperback as well as an eBook. More about that terrifying manual in a bit.

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to publish my book. The rule-follower part of me wanted to go the old-fashioned traditional way of being rejected 47 times and use up three years of my life to perhaps find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unconventional author starting their authoring career at the ripe (some might even say stinky) old age of nearly-58. I even imagined boxing up manuscripts with string and brown wrappers the really old-fashioned way. No one does it like that anymore. You could make the case that I was making this choice even harder to justify my eventual course of action.

Truth is, I just wanted to have the book out there in the world. Since I’m donating half my proceeds to animal rescue and no-kill shelters, the hope is that it sells jillions of copies. I also hope to get to go do a book signing tour and hug people and let them know they too can get through the thing they are going through and no you don’t have to be graceful or smart to do it, you just have to keep trying and after a while the tries end up looking something like forward movement. So hey, book me. (Ha, no pun intended.)

There are some things I recommend you do if you’re thinking about self-publishing. First is that yes, you need an editor who can point out not only grammar errors and where commas don’t belong, but will also ask you things like, “Will your readers want to keep going after they read this part?” Pam my wonderful editor asked me that one, and my initial toad-like response was to puff out my cheeks and think, “well of course they will, don’t you know who I am?” Not out loud of course, I kept my snarky to myself. Irritated, I put the manuscript with the offending question in a drawer and stewed about it for a month. My excuse was that it was the holidays and I had to focus on baking and having my kids home. Pam was right – your editor is nearly always going to be right. In January I did a re-write specifically with the reader in mind. That was great advice. The other great thing about booking Pam was she had only a narrow editing slot she could fit me into, so it gave me deadlines. I recommend deadlines too.

Once you’ve written “The End,” the fun part begins for a self-publisher. You go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and stare at their exuberant “how to” content for a week or so. Uploading the manuscript for the eBook was simple, even though I had lots of photos to insert. The paperback version was much harder. Lots of steps and requirements. If you’ve ever put together a serious piece of Ikea furniture with lots of fiddly bits and instructions that seem simple until you try to do them, you’ll know what prepping a manuscript for paperback publication is like. It took me 7 hours. I did it wrong three and a half times and nearly erased my whole document once. Word backups are key. You can’t fix a PDF, so be sure you have your trusty malleable Word .doc version so you can go back and try again. And again.

During the process, I learned that my Word program does all sorts of things besides be a glorified typewriter. That Styles scroll does a lot and ends up giving you a TOC (Table of Contents) automatically. That was cool. Layout and Inserting are very handy. Still, making sure my ‘front material” was correctly formatted was tough, as was figuring out page mirroring and how big my gutter should be. (I know, I’m chucking around all these terms, it may be just a teeny bit of showing off. I’ll stop now.) I wanted to get fancy and put in “drop caps” where the first letter of each chapter is bigger than the rest of them, but it eluded me. At 2am I pushed the glorious “Publish” button. And so, just shy of two years post-trauma, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” became a real book.

The other fun thing I’ve been doing on the sly besides finishing the book is gigging on Fiverr. I love that word, gigging. Makes me feel all Millennial with aspirations of hip-ness. What’s Fiverr, you ask? It’s an online clearing house for getting things done by freelancers. You can find people to do graphic design, build your website, do illustrations, edit your paper, heck even do research for you. The term “Fiverr” comes from the idea that most of these gigs are offered at prices starting as low as $5. The site is the safe connector between buyer and seller. I have a seller “gig.” I will read and do coverage and/or coverage and notes for your screenplay. It’s been up since November, and it’s fun. The writers I’ve helped have been creative and passionate. I love being of service, and consider the gig to be a way to give back. No, I don’t make anywhere near the $$ I made doing the same work in Hollywood, but I get to help people develop their dreams, and that feels really good. Part of my healing process.

I had my book cover done by another seller on Fiverr. I’m happy with the result that arrived about 48 hours after I asked for it, and made sure to give the designer full credit in my “thank you” section. Now to be fair, there is a valid “Fiverr is bad” argument. That people on there are usually undervaluing their work (true). That there is a cut-throat atmosphere of low-balling offers to get people to buy (not that I’ve noticed, but then I’m doing an odd service). The site does take 20% as its cut, which is steep. Up side is that if you want to make a little extra money, don’t mind waiting a couple of weeks to get paid, and are good at something, you can earn a bit of cash and maybe help someone too. And you get to sound hip because you are gigging.

You can find my eBook or Paperback here

For coverage/notes on script click here

On Bridges and Reunions

On Bridges and Reunions

A graceful bridge connected the Art Institute and the Children’s Theatre to the parking lot where our parents would wait for us, car engines running to keep either cool or warm, depending on the season. The bridge was artfully shaped, its high arch over the stream below reminiscent of something you’d find in a Japanese garden. It was lovely, but in cold weather during the space between drop off and pick up, that bridge would ice over to a black glossy finish that promised broken limbs if not navigated with care.

Those of us getting out of classes or rehearsals would gather our courage, grasp the wooden rails on the side of the bridge and haul ourselves up one side, slipping every step of the way, hoping that our little grade-school arms would hold up to the task. At the apex, we’d turn backwards and lower ourselves down the other side, sliding from rail-grasp to rail-grasp. There was always that show-off kid who’d Kamikaze it, running up the middle and if they made it intact to the top, shoot down the other side like a snowboarder before that sport was invented. The sides of the bridge were open so the opportunity to fall into the stream below was always present. No one got injured beyond a bruised hip or rear-end as a result of that passage, but it always took a burst of courage to make the crossing.

I was reminded of that process a few weeks ago when I attended my reunion at Northwestern University outside of Chicago. It’s the second college reunion I’ve been to. I haven’t been to any of my high school ones yet, but am contemplating going to the big one coming up next year. It doesn’t seem like forty years since I graduated from high school but hey, time flies when you’re having fun. Or when you’re living life. I’ve moved through the weird time when teen anthems graduate to “oldies” stations, become nostalgic movies, or get remastered into elevator music. If you haven’t had that particular jarring experience, just wait. Winter is coming.

What I loved about this particular reunion was that everyone I reconnected with could not have been nicer. It was such a good time. Part of it was good housing planning. Two of my best gal pals and I stayed at a VRBO down in Andersonville instead of jamming into an overpriced hotel. The Andersonville area was dicey when I lived in Chicago in the early eighties, but it’s great now. We each had our own room and bathroom, which is important as you age up. We ordered in deep dish spinach pizza from Giordano’s like you’re supposed to when in Chicago. I didn’t care that my one-time best friend cheese has declared war on my innards now that I am of an age to attend reunions in the double digits; that was some damn fine pizza. We invited local friends over to join us, and later met other friends for brunch at a funky little breakfast place. We laughed a lot, and if you were observing us you’d want to be at our table.

I’d been nervous about seeing people again at the soiree for just our class. You know, comparing myself and finding myself lacking in some arena. It was unfounded fear. No one had anything to prove. Life had sanded off our edges. We were who we were. It’s relaxing about being around people who’ve become comfortable in their own skin. We traded stories about life and kids, ex-spouses, and favorite vacation spots. We relived moments from our college years. All of us were glad there was no social media back then recording the crazy things we thought were good ideas at the time.

A couple of universal truths emerged in those chats. The first was that without exception, terrible loss, a shock to our world view, or a bad health scare had taken our lives sideways at some point. We’d muddled through with varying degrees of grace, and now shared a wow-you-too? bonhomie. The second was that everyone had experienced at least one major career change. Very few saw it coming. A surprise ‘third act’, one substantively different from the vision we had traipsing the hallowed halls of NU all those years ago. For me, it’s writing books. Another friend became a hypnotherapist. One was voted president of a huge condo association in NYC. A poly-sci major turned into an urban engineer. A journalist turned psychologist. Story after story told without rancor or bitterness, of forging new paths and learning new skills, embracing the idea that there’s MORE to be explored even if we are past the half-way point in life.

 

I came away so impressed with my college friends — who they are willing to transform themselves to be. I don’t think this is limited to our particular university. It occurs to me that ours was the last generation who had music and art and gym hard-wired into our school schedules from kindergarten through high school. We had lots of recess and plenty of free time to play outside, mostly unsupervised. We pulled ourselves over icy bridges with nary a parent jumping from their warm cars to help out. I wonder if our third-act resilience, the ability to get up after a serious upper cut to the chin and head in a new direction was made possible as a result of those non-STEM classes building an out-of-the-box thinking ability. That the courage we found at ten to get over the icy bridge led to having the fortitude to embrace a third act with tenacity and confidence. Something to think about.

 

On Jolts and Strengthening the Core

On Jolts and Strengthening the Core

Tragedy comes jaggedly. It jolts you into a new awareness of the life around you. Just minutes before you were bumbling along in the usual manner, easily disturbed by trivialities – a cart in the checkout at the grocery store with more than fifteen items in it, a driver who didn’t signal to move in front of you. An unkind word. An unexpected bill. Then the jolt of tragedy, and new perspective is forced on you.

It’s a kindness that tragedy is nearly always unexpected. It would be impossible to live in the moment if you knew tomorrow your loved one was going to die. Your grief would be extended and the time remaining would be tainted.  I guess I’m grateful you can’t see that shit coming. It’s like falling down when you get older. Falling is no big deal when you are under the age of 40, but after that, shew-eee. It’s alarming as all get-out. Personal history tells me that at least once a year, gravity is going to win and I’m going to take a tumble. It’s always a shocker though. I tend to fall up stairs while distracted, which is not so bad, not a lot of distance to drop. My eighty-eight-year-old Mom falls with monthly regularity and breaks her bones in the process. The latest topple featured three of her ribs losing an argument with the bathtub. She gets angry with herself for the mishap, then stoically bears the indignities of strangers picking her up and other strangers mending her. She’s from another era, lived through people bombing her house in WW2 and travelled the world, but none of that helps her now, none of it stops the jolt of falling. Makes me want to take up yoga and strengthen my core.

The jolts come from other places too. There seems to be a lot more tragedy these days than there used to be. I’m becoming immune to being shocked, it comes from so many places. It’s losing its jolty-ness. I’ve hardened my heart and my core for the most part. Globally, there’s always a natural or ego-driven disaster somewhere in the world. Nationally, the insanity stemming from Washington, DC is a constant barrage. My old home state of California is on fire. Again. Locally, we live in a big city so I pass by car wrecks daily and move aside for fire engines. We live near a hospital, so I hear ambulances and helicopters hurrying there with their precious cargo at all hours. It wears on me, even if the news of tragedy is no longer very shocking. I yearn for a cottage in Northern Maine with a view of Canada from my front door, the sea shushing over black rocks, the cry of gulls above replacing the sirens. Away from all the fear and pain represented by those wailing sirens.

Sometimes, though the jolts hit close to home. You’re never ready for them. No amount of training can strengthen your core for them. This weekend contained one of those. The dearly beloved son of a friend was killed in an accident. He was just a little older than my oldest boy and was a brilliant saxophonist. This was the friend I talked to when my older son thought buying a motorcycle was a good idea and I wanted good arguments to throw down when I went to talk him out of it. She shared that her son rode a motorcycle, and that she was always a little worried about him on it, all the time. And then the news this weekend. Her son lost his life in a motorcycle accident.

I read once that a grief shared is a grief halved. I don’t think that applies to your kids though. When I read this terrible news via my friend’s beautiful, graceful post on Facebook, and understood that she had just lost her oldest boy, I flashed on my boys when they were young. Their gaze as newborns taking in the world for the first time, their joy at eating cake on their first birthday. Swing sets and waterslides. Parks, looking at dappled summer skies through the leaves. First days of school. That fraught process of growing your child that requires trust that they will come home intact from the first day of school, the first sleepover, the first road trip, the first trip to another country. There are so many goodbyes, and then – one of them – unfairly, unbearably – one of them becomes the unexpected final one. My heart ripped for my friend as what had happened sunk in. My next thought was incredibly selfish. Fear that my child might be next. Followed by a desire to help, to fix, to make it better for her, and then gut-wrenching inadequacy realizing there is literally nothing you can do for a parent who has lost their child. Too soon, too young.

How do you survive something like that, after raising your child past fevers and disappointments and joys and showing him there are no monsters in the closet or under the bed? I can see my way through the pain of losing a pet, a relative, or a friend. I’ve done all those many times in my 57 years. I can even see how you get through losing your spouse. But not my child. It’s just not right, outliving your children. Yet it happens all the time. In African villages of disease and hunger, at Sandy Hook, on a drunken Friday night after a football game, on a team bus trip, on the battlefield, in a hospital room after a valiant fight.

The price of love is pain. My instinct is to lean in to my friend, yet simultaneously I don’t want to intrude. Ungraceful, without the proper words, silently for now, I share her pain. I share it as a parent who loves her children fiercely, knowing the gutted hollowness I feel is less than an eyelash worth of what she feels. I will go to the memorial, I will let her know I love her. And I will hug my boys a little tighter tonight, even if they are too big for it now. And call myself blessed.

photo credit: mcGill.ca

On Having Good Teeth, Bad Gums

On Having Good Teeth, Bad Gums

A few months ago, a loose tooth that I had been ignoring for oh… ten years or so made it clear that it was DONE. That side of my face blew up as if Severus Snape had cast a spell on it. After a few days of downing Tylenol and trying to tame the beast with garlic, salt water rinses, and turmeric, it became apparent that this proverbial can could no longer be kicked down the road.

I’m lucky in terms of health. No chronic aches, not on medication for anything. The one trouble maker is my gums. “Good teeth, bad gums” was the pronouncement of my childhood dentist Dr. Mills. He was kind and gentle, and I was friends with his daughter. I’ve never had a cavity. I did get my wisdom teeth out when I was 17. After that surgery I had jowls like Richard Nixon for days, but you know, ice cream.  So overall, I don’t hate dentists.

Gums and their specialist periodontal docs are a different matter. I’ve had minor surgery on all four quadrants multiple times. This involves prodding tender areas, gadgets holding your jaw open, scraping and digging and needles jabbed in your gums. It’s one quadrant at a time, so you get to look forward to the invasion four months in a row when you have bad gums, good teeth. Thus, you’ll understand why upon arriving at the periodontal office, I couldn’t stop shaking. The Tylenol was wearing off too.

The hygienists eyeballed me from the back office and had a heated conversation over who was going to have to take me on. They foisted me onto the new girl.  She had to call in an experienced nurse to hold me still while they took x-rays of ‘the affected area’.  I did natural childbirth with no drugs whatsoever so don’t go thinking I’m a pain wuss, this was out of the park, a 12 on a scale of 10. The nurses spoke in very soft voices and patted the air near my arm, as if my pain were contagious. The doctor, when he finally came in also adopted sotto voice mode with me. “It looks,” he said in muted tones, “like you need to have this out.”  No kidding, I wanted to retort but didn’t.  Not good to goad or piss off your periodontist in any way.

The doctor went over my options. The tooth was coming out, he was going to need to do some extensive jaw reconstruction and while he was in there, scrape out all four quadrants too. He then continued. “Would you like a local anesthetic or to be put under“?  “BY ALL THAT’S HOLY, PUT ME OUT,” I shouted with the half of my mouth that was still functional. Maybe it just felt like shouting in contrast to the murmur maintained by the doctor and his staff. “It will be a three-and-a-half-hour surgery,” he said, and asked if I had any other questions, clearly expecting me to have none. “Where’s the bone coming from that you use to reconstruct my jaw?” I expected him to admit they were slicing open my leg to get fresh bone for the job, because all of this really couldn’t get any more horrible.  His eyes widened slightly, then the Doctor leaned forward for emphasis. “Cadavers.” It was extra creepy coming in the whispery voice. I paused, then had to ask.  “Is there a donor name?” He looked surprised, and said he thought maybe at some point there was, but by the time he got it, it was a number and it came in vials. My brain, being my brain, thought of the “Skele-Grow” that Mdm. Pomfrey uses on Harry Potter to grow his arm back. I was relieved by that idea.

I was given three prescriptions to fill prior to them rummaging about in my mouth. One was for extra-strength Advil, the second to get rid of the raging infection that my little tooth had imparted as its farewell hurrah, and the third was for an opiate.  I didn’t want to fill the opiate, but I’m a rule-follower. After applying my insurance, those 12 opioid pills cost me a grand total of eighty cents. Jeez. No wonder there’s an epidemic. Did I immediately realize that I could sell them on the street for a profit?  Yes, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t have thought of it too. I promptly squashed the idea, as I have a fondness for personal freedom.

On the day of the surgery, I warned the softly speaking nurses that anesthesia and I were not on good terms. That I would need more of it than they thought I would. They smiled benignly at me and nodded.  Maybe an eye roll. They didn’t LISTEN though, so it’s not my fault that I kicked one of the whisperers in the face when they started drilling. I wasn’t out yet. There may have been screaming as well as the reactionary kick, not sure if it was me or the unfortunate nurse. The doctor remained calm. “Looks like we need to up her meds, is your nose broken?” That’s the last thing I remember.

They woke me up and I saw my strong-looking tooth sitting forlornly on a wad of cotton. Evidence of successful extraction, and how bad gums beat good teeth. I felt sorry to leave it there, but I’m not enough of a packrat to want it rattling around in my sock drawer. They sent me home with instructions that I promptly forgot. Don’t remember any of the episodes of “Sneaky Pete” I watched either. I spent the next three days on the couch taking Advil (not the opioid) and applying ice packs and waiting for the weird-feeling stitches to dissolve.

It’s mostly healed up now. I poke my tongue in the surprising large gap my tooth used to live in and wonder about who my bone donor for the jaw reconstruction was, and if perhaps due to their DNA influence I will suddenly develop a new skill, like becoming a harmonica player. It could happen. Years ago, I had an emergency C-section that resulted in nearly all my blood being replaced, and for seven years afterwards craved fried chicken weekly. But that’s another story. Moral of this one is: floss.

photo courtesy of mentalfloss.com