Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grandma's Manifesto

My baby daughter.
Ray and I have four kids—his oldest son, my son and daughter, and our youngest son. Ray’s oldest claims to be a confirmed bachelor, though I’m not giving up yet. I’m trusting the Universe to blindside him with his true love, though it will be just fine if he ultimately chooses bachelorhood. My oldest son gave us grandkids #1 and #2, 15-year-old granddaughter and 13-year-old grandson. My daughter gave us #3, 3-year-old grandson. Our #4 (our daughter’s) is due any second, and #5 (our youngest son’s first) is due next week. Both new babies are supposedly girls, though I won’t be completely convinced till they’re here. (Clearly, the children weren’t thinking of ME when they timed these births to coincide with the start of Semester’s rampage.)

I don’t know if I was distracted, or blinked, or turned my head for a moment, but suddenly, my babies started having babies. It’s the greatest gift I can imagine to watch our children turn into wise and loving parents. But they’re still my kids, by gum, and they don’t know EVERYTHING yet. So, I’m offering a few things passed down to me by my mother, that I tried (and still try) to pass along to them, and that I’d like them to pass along to our grandchildren:

My baby daughter's newest baby.
1.     As long as you’re not cooking meth, turning tricks, running guns, selling stuffed jackalopes at Wall Drug, or otherwise bringing harm to yourself or others, it doesn’t matter what you do to make a living. It only matters who you are.
2.     Only fresh-ground organic Sumatran beans brewed in a Chemex pot qualify as real coffee.
3.     Sarcasm is NOT the same as humor. Learn the difference. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism that often just makes you mean. But a sense of humor will save your life, over and over and over.
4.     Money does NOT “make the world go ‘round.” Angular momentum does.
5.     Of all the desirable human traits you can develop—intelligence, sincerity, integrity, honesty, etc.—COMPASSION (empathy for the suffering of others) is the most important. In fact, none of the rest matters without compassion.
6.     Folks will try to tell you about “sin” or money being the root of all evil, but in truth, the only devil is SUGAR.
7.     If I die today, not a soul will remember how well I taught restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. They will only remember what kind of human being I am. Don’t get stuck thinking you ARE what you DO (see #1).
Our baby son, with his oldest brother.
8.     Sometimes, your heart will feel like it’s breaking. This is not the end. Sadness can be beautiful, too. Broken hearts remind you that you’re a good and decent human being. If your heart never breaks, THEN you should worry.
9.     Sing every day. Dance often. Always have at least two books going. Write letters and mail them. Stop texting and TALK to people. Learn to make a good pie crust.
10.   Love whomever you want. As long as they’re of consenting age and not your immediate family (we want MOVING water in the gene pool), don’t worry about what others think. And don’t be a doormat—you deserve to be loved back and treated well.
11.   Be nice to your parents. They’re humans, too. They’ve been through a lot.
12.   There are a few things in life you should NEVER skimp on: socks, shoes, coffee, cheese, and toilet paper.
13.   FAMILY comes first. Before boyfriends. Before girlfriends. Before parties or concerts or sleepovers or shopping. FAMILY comes first.
14.   TV and videogames probably won’t hurt you. But they won’t help you, either.
15.   This planet is a wondrous, miraculous, generous, fierce, gently rocking cradle. It can bring you to your knees. It can make you weep with joy. It can take your breath away. See as much of it as you can. And PLEASE take good care of it.

Our baby son and his new baby.
And finally, if you hear conflicting advice (even from your parents, because I’m still their mother, dangit), remember: always trust Grandma.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Paleo Procrastinator

Semester turns my dining room table into an office.
I cannot believe Semester is already circling me like the rabid hyena he is. Classes start Monday, and not only am I not ready, I’m already way behind. This will be my first semester back full time since BS, and while I had good intentions of prepping non-stop over the summer, I mostly recuperated from last spring’s half-time semester and continued my post-stroke recovery. 

I’m headed back to class with a sharp mind (though my brain’s processing speed is definitely slower and has occasional momentary “brown-outs”), impaired short-term memory (I now make notes for everything), some vocal damage that gives me a hushed, breathy, sometimes croaky voice, and a body that is clumsier, slightly off-balance, and easily fatigued. I will sit down to teach this semester, though I am, by nature, a pacer.
Parmesan "crackers" with tuna.

Mini cheesecakes are saving my life.
I’ll be teaching one combined composition/remedial writing class and two intro to literature classes, and I’ll serve as the fearless leader for the U’s literary & creative writing student organization, the Vermillion Literary Project (VLP - In all-day meetings yesterday, I was introduced to two more (as-yet non-functional) crumpled wads of confusing technology I’ll be required to use, which doesn’t do a thing for my ballooning pre-semester anxiety, and which will probably leave me no time to actually TEACH.

Tuna salad lettuce wraps.
So am I madly prepping today? Yes and no. Because just in case I’m not torturing myself quite enough with pre-semester jitters, I’ve also been on a no-carb diet for almost three weeks. I’m eating so much meat, poultry and fish, I’m developing fangs & fur. I’d rather starve than eat one more Brussels sprout (which I used to love). I love, follow, and admire every low-carb blogger out there, like they were my children. I eat things called “fat bombs.” I’ve nixed bread, pasta, rice, noodles, potatoes, and anything sweet that isn’t made with stevia. I hope I don’t accidentally eat my students.

My friend, sister-in-law, and niece are also doing no-carb, so we commiserate and trade recipes. My favorites so far are these:

My new hangout.
As if to thumb his nose at me even more, Semester is arriving with 92-degree temps, after a long stretch of too-cold-for-the-beach days, as if to say, “Here’s your summer at last. Now get to work.” Okay, fine. I’ll whip up a little tuna salad on a lettuce leaf wraps, then I promise I’ll finish that homework schedule and update the VLP promo materials. Or I’ll take a nap. Or I’ll knit. Or I'll blog. Or I’ll write a poem…about sugar & Doritos.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


It begins: digging the hole
What really makes us one big human family? We come from different ethnic, economic, social, religious, and political backgrounds. Except for multiple identical siblings, we don’t look alike. Our voices, finger/footprints, irises are distinctive. We each react, respond, and feel differently. We know different stuff. We like/dislike different stuff. We each have our own pesky baggage. But I’ll tell you what makes us all the same: Shit, that’s what.

Almost deep enough
Pardon my potty-mouth (hehehe...I crack myself up), but Ray and I have just been on a week-long adventure stemming from this most basic—nay, elemental—activity. We just put in a new septic system.

For you urbanites who still believe your non-smelly poo-poo is carried away by the “magic river” to Perfectland, where it’s purified, crystalized, and eventually becomes the dew or the sparkle in newfallen snow, stop reading now. Who am I to burst your sanitized bubble?

The tank is in!
For the rest of us, a septic system is like a tiny, self-contained, home version of a city sewer system. I’ll spare you the goriest details, but let’s just say it was a week of de/construction—digging up most of our yard, tearing down a garden fence, plowing through two gardens, pulling out pasture fence rails, caving in and filling with dirt the old 500 gal non-functioning septic tank, dropping in a new 1500-gallon tank (thanks to a giant crane and a guy with a joystick, like he was playing a videogame), and digging in two new 65-foot lines of drainfield pipe—just so we can, as my grandson says, do our "doodie."
65' drain field trenches

Now that it’s almost done, we can honestly say that we have SEEN our humanity, and it isn’t pretty. And seeing close up (too, too close up) the stuff of which we’re made, we will now humbly OWN our humanity (in seven years when the loan’s paid off). We have a new, healthy (ahem) respect for the lengths humans will go just to…well…go.

This "road" used to be an antique wire fence and two gardens.
I try hard not to freak out or take to my bed over the major fence repair, re-seeding and re-gardening ahead. I try not to cry when I see the 40-year-old iris and daylilies shredded in the new dirt pile out back. And I offer the poem below by Maxine Kumin as a way to remind us all that the “bowels” of humanity (or at least poems about them) can also be beautiful:
This sandlot used to be my back yard.
The Excrement Poem

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinous mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today’s last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Song in My Heart

There’s a song in my heart. Unfortunately, it’s stuck there.

Me and my boyfriend,  pre-BS
One of the most infuriating aftereffects of last October's brainstem stroke (BS for short. And I’m no longer saying “my” stroke, like it was some lovely, autumnal gift) is a wacked-out larynx (voice box). Inflammation behind the larynx, probably from reflux caused by a weakened esophagus, gives me perpetual hoarseness that gets more pronounced as the day goes on and fatigue sets in. 

Within the larynx, my vocal cords—those miraculous paired harp strings that vibrate together to produce music—are not cooperating. For most folks, speech and singing cause the vocal cords to move toward each other, meet in the center, and vibrate. My right cord, however, just doesn’t want to come out and play: It vibrates okay, but it doesn’t feel like moving, thank you very much. The result is a breathy voice without much fine control or even tone. I sound like a tone-deaf chain smoker.

I’ve been singing all my life—20+ years in bar bands—so losing my singing voice is a lot like losing an arm. I’m pretty sure I’ve gone through the five stages of grief over it, although I’ve only accepted it FOR NOW.  Yes, I know my singing voice may never come back (one oddity of stroke is that not even the “experts” can say which aftereffects will be temporary and which will be permanent). But the fat lady is not singing yet. 

My friend from junior high, Cindy Kessinger (, a voice teacher in Colorado, consulted her voice association friends. Then she came up with adduction exercises, recorded them in her own sweet voice, and emailed them to me to help strengthen my right vocal cord. Who’d a thunk when we were singing “Our Day Will Come” together in the 7th-grade talent contest, she’d be helping me heal up from BS today? Bless her heart.

Grow up...these are vocal cords.
In the mornings, when no one’s around, I do the exercises. Then I play my geetar and sing with wild abandon (good therapy for my clunky left hand, too). Then I crank up my house surround system and Joan Armatrading, my personal vocal therapist, works her magic. While I cook or do laundry & dishes, Joan and her playlist waft through the bacon-scented house (day 5 of a no-carb diet), and we sing our hearts out. Well, Joan sings (she’s the world’s most underappreciated musical genius). I croak out harmonies. And by gum, I think all the therapy is working…

Last night, I dreamed I was hanging out with friends in the storage room of a hospital (as you do). Ray played “Cajun Moon” on a geetar that appeared from nowhere, and I couldn’t help it—I started singing. To everyone’s surprise (including me), it was beautiful. I could still FEEL it when I woke up. So I’m declaring this a prophetic dream that my voice will come back. But I’m a realist, too, so I have a plan B: I’ll backcomb my hair into a giant red bouffant, get some sailor tattoos, put on my bustier, satin stretch pants, and steel-toed boots, and croak away in back-alley sleazy, smoky dives. My heart WILL let loose its songs. You may want to bring your earplugs. And some hand sanitizer.