Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hush Little Baby




My friend Dee and I are heading to Ireland for 5 weeks at the end of May. I’m going to do research for a book of poems I started over two years ago, poems about the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland (you can read about the project here: www.gofundme.com/magdalenes).

Tuam banner hung at NUI with all 796 babies' names
Briefly, the laundries were institutions run by four orders of Catholic sisters, with the cooperation and collusion of the Irish government and the Catholic church, which had tight-fisted control of Irish morality. Up to 30,000 girls as young as 10 and young women were incarcerated in the laundries, forced into unpaid labor (mostly commercial laundry contracts with government offices, hotels, and hospitals), and kept until they came of age (or died, which happened to many). There were partner institutions, too, run by the church—"mother and baby homes" for unwed mothers, and industrial schools for male and female “delinquents.” To find out more about the laundries, read this: http://jfmresearch.com/home/preserving-magdalene-history/about-the-magdalene-laundries/

Our “pilgrimage” will take us to all ten laundry sites (the buildings are mostly gone now), as well as the cemeteries where many of the Magdalenes who didn’t survive were buried, including High Park, where the bodies of 155 women were discovered when land was sold off by the sisters and excavated. Another place we’ll visit is the former site of a mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, where the bodies of 796 infants and children were discovered when the ground caved in above an old 20-chambered septic system, where the bodies had been dumped: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/03/mass-grave-of-babies-and-children-found-at-tuam-orphanage-in-ireland.

As a mother of three beautiful, beloved children, a step-mom to another well-loved son, and a doting grandma to eight, the Tuam story absolutely shatters me. So on this 2nd anniversary of the discovery at Tuam, I offer with love, remembrance, and (honest, I’m trying) forgiveness, one of the earliest poems from the project:


GARDEN OF SIN

            My frame was not hidden from you when I
was made in the secret place, when I was woven
together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:15

In the ungarden at Tuam, we are harvesting babies,
over 800 in all (how many bushels’ worth?), pale blue
as butterwort, tiny rib bones an undulating trellis.

The babies have taken root in buried septic chambers,
their mothers long since plucked and bitten. Baby legs,
some only twigs, some still fat-fruited, lie akimbo in early

spring loam. At High Park, old gardens still produce. Here,
in the Irish fog, our plot of young women push fragrant buds
through the green, where St. Fiacre left cuttings staked

to chain-link cribs with laundry twine. These flowering vines,
called not trace in the Sisters’ tongue of plotting and cataloguing,
grow wild. Their tendrils run everywhere, cling to us all.

We have left our gardens too long untended. Spring rain soaks
the dirt, plants push to the surface. We must hurry! Dig up
and burn these weeds, before they fruit and go to seed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

BOO (hoohoo)!


It’s Halloween. And something really scary happened this morning—I realized as NPR woke us up, that whenever I hear someone say “the president,” I knot up in a hard lump of seething anger. And if I hear Voldemort’s voice, my anxiety level jumps to “steaming fissure.” It occurred to me, again, that I need to focus on what's GOOD in the world.

In order to surround myself with a more positive vibe, I’ve given up all news except PBS News Hour (and I only watch that every couple of weeks). For the rest of my news, I watch Colbert, Oliver, and Bee. Still, putting a funny spin on the news isn’t enough to soothe my anxiety. So, in addition to my gratitude journal, meditation, extra Vitamin B and chamomile tea, lavender baths, Theta-wave music CD’s, and extended periods of total silence, I’ve compiled a list of things to remind me (us) that in spite of a relatively small number of GRUBS (Greedy Repulsive Unrepentant Bastards), we humans are pretty okay…

 
1. All but the most radical people of faith—of all major religions—are beautifully kind, peaceful, and generous people. For example, after the shooting by a white terrorist at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Muslim organizations instantly raised over $200,000 to help victims and their families. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/29/us/muslims-raise-money-pittsburgh-synagogue.html

2. I finished grading a stack of papers, and the next batch won’t come in for THREE. WHOLE. DAYS.

3. The Great Barrier Reef has been dying. Scientists have now successfully bred GBR coral in the lab and transplanted it back in the wild.

4. Young people are expected to turn out in record numbers for the November 6 midterm elections.

5. The hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica is recovering, according to NASA: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/2017GL074830

6. My 82-year-old mother fell twice last week. Hard. On a hardwood floor. She didn’t break a bone, and her spectacular shiner only adds to her Halloween witchery.

7. Honeybee populations are on the rise.

8. Our kids, their partners, and our grandkids are compassionate, funny, smart, dear human beings all.

9. This barber gives homeless folks haircuts for a hug: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/homeless-pay-for-haircuts-with-hugs-in-conn-town/.

10. The Women’s March of 2017 drew over 3 million people. 3 MILLION.

11. Ezri lost another tooth, this time at school so she could show everyone, and she brought to dinner, so she could show everyone at the restaurant, too.

12. Our bathroom remodel, to make our main floor more mom-friendly, is finally done. And it turned out sweet as can be.

13. Babies were born to two of my online students (in the same class) in the last month. Both students kept right on with their school work and let me post pics of the babies on our course website.

14. Coffee prices have been decreasing (so stock up the freezer—they’re expected to go up up up starting in 2019).

15. Trick-or-Treaters. C’MON! Could these kids BE any more adorable and full of promise?!?

16. A record 256 women are running for the House and Senate in November. SO PLEASE VOTE.





Wednesday, October 3, 2018

KETO rhymes with NEATO


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I’m weary to my bones from current events and American polidicks, so this blog is about food. Food fixes everything, right? Three-fourths of Americans (the number that will be considered overweight by 2020, according to the CDC) can’t be wrong, right?

As a person who’s struggled with weight since my uber-hormonal childbirthing days, I’ve finally settled on a keto lifestyle, which is the only sustainable plan that helps me shed lbs and puffballness, feel less joint pain, and have a workable amount of energy. In addition, my blood work is holding steady at “amazing,” in spite of my tendency toward high (sometimes skyrocketing) blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

I’m not here to promote the diet. Eat whatever you want, and leave my diet alone. But if you’re already keto-ing, or if you decide to give it a try, I’ll tell you about a few things that make sticking to the plan possible for this hard-core Dorito-binging, I’ll-have-a-Butterfinger-with-my-ice cream, reformed KetoNerd. And if you need the basics, you can look up KETO stuff all over the interwebs. It’s basically protein, non-starchy veggies, and good fat (https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a19434332/what-is-the-keto-diet/). Anyway, here are my tips:

1. Coffee – Morning coffee with 1 tsp organic virgin coconut oil and a “glug” of organic heavy whipping cream. Good fats, no carbs.
2. Tuna salad and egg salad – protein, sugar-free mayo, negative-calorie celery, a few onion flakes, parsley. A great breakfast/lunch, and a nice change from slabs of meat.
3. Monk fruit sweetener – If I must have it sweet (a bit in vinaigrettes, fat bombs, mini cheesecakes, etc.), this is a good tasting, 1:1 substitution, no net carb alternative to sugar. which I no longer eat (except on rare occasions in my daughter’s amazing cakes).
4. Thick-it-Up – a carb-free thickener for sauces, gravies, and soups.
5. Paleo Protein powder – protein powder, water, a spoonful of full-fat plain yogurt, a spoonful of coconut oil, and a few blueberries = breakfast smoothie.
6. Whisps – these things have SAVED. MY. CARBAHOLIC. LIFE. It’s cheese, baked crispy and shaped like a chip. Dip in egg salad, tuna salad, cashew or almond butter (unsweetened), eat out of the bag. They come in several flavors.
7. Atkins Meal Replacement Bars – I keep these on hand for a quick go-to meal replacement, or when I have to have something sweet.
8. Coconut Aminos – good sugar-free substitutes for teriyaki and soy sauce.
9. Joseph’s Lavash Bread – when I absolutely MUST have bread. ½ of a giant piece has 5 gms carbs (I keep it under 25 gms/day), and ¼ piece, or 2.5 gms carbs, is just right for a BLT, hotdog, tuna/egg salad rollup. But mostly, BLT.

In addition to these pantry staples, I try to do production-line cooking on weekends, then freeze or fridge smaller portions for the coming week: I sauté/bake beef chunks, chicken thighs and/or chicken breast chunks, and lamb chops/cubes (my favorite), I make my tuna/egg salads, and I boil eggs for quick grab-n-go protein/fat. The good fats I use are coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, heavy whipping cream (for coffee and sauces/soups), and occasionally, butter. Lots of salads, green beans, broccoli, and celery (which I dip in nut butters, cream cheese, egg/tuna salads). I try to buy as much organic, grassfed, and minimally processed food as I can. When I eat out, I eat meat and a salad. I avoid fast food, but if I’m stuck on the road, I’ll go for a fast food salad with protein.

So there you go. Keto 101. Hey, maybe that’s Donald’s problem…his diet…yeah, that’s it…


Thursday, September 20, 2018

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault

Over the past, year or so, I've started giving MYSELF trigger warnings. You know, those warnings everyone's using now to signal that something disturbing is about to be shown/heard/discussed/written about. Since the last presidential election, I've actually stopped watching almost ALL news broadcasts, as I realized they were doing serious damage to my psyche. TRIGGER WARNING, Self: You're about to hear Voldemort's voice. You're about to hear another lie. You're about to hear the POTUS make another sexist/racist/inflammatory/idiotic remark/gesture/joke. STOP NOW.

I do listen to a little NPR and watch a bit of John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, just to keep abreast of headlines, and that's how I know what's going on with Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and the accusations of Christine Blasey Ford. The story TRIGGERED a memory from my youth that put the Kavanaugh fiasco in perspective and made me instantly want to be braid Ford's hair and be her BFF.
 
Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh
When I was 13, I was invited to a "Hi-Y" girls' sleepover at our local Omaha YMCA. Hi-Y was the Y's community outreach program for young teens. I had permission from my mom to attend (my working single mom was probably thrilled to have one of her four kids safe and cared for somewhere else, for one blessed night). The sleepover would be chaperoned by an adult Y employee. We would be in lockdown starting at 8 p.m. There would be games, pizza, pop...a Petticoat Junction pajama party, right? Wrong. SO wrong.

I was a little surprised, when I showed up with my sleeping bag and duffel, to learn that the chaperone was a 21-year-old guy, Mark. All was well until dark. As soon as the sun set, Mark unlocked the door long enough to let in the guys and the beer. At first, it was kinda cool. I didn't drink, but we played Twister, listened to music, and danced. Then, as the alcohol kicked in, things got weird. Guys started coaxing, insisting, and trying to take girls off to darker corners of the Y. Some girls went along; some, like me, turned into trapped rabbits. No sign of Mark.

At one point, I found my way to the basement and hid, hunkered down in the corner of a big shower room. My plan was to hide there until morning, when Mark would unlock the front door. But some wandering teen boy I didn't know found me. There was only one way out of the shower room, and he blocked it. I tried to get past. He grabbed me, groped me, tried to shove me down onto the concrete floor. His hands went everywhere, and I was desperately trying to pull down my shirt, keep my pants up, push him off me, keep his slimy mouth away from my body, and get past him, all at the same time. I was screaming, panicked, convinced I'd be raped. I was 13, and I WAS TERRIFIED. Finally, thanks to the beer, I managed to swing around him and get out the door. I ran upstairs, went in the office, and called my mom to come and get me (TOTAL humiliation!). Then I CLIMBED THE PEPSI MACHINE and perched on top. I made myself stop crying and even tried to muffle my breathing, so I wouldn't be discovered. I backed against the wall and made myself as small as I could, until my mom showed up.

And here's my point: It was sexual assault because I was not a willing participant.  

It doesn't matter what I was wearing, how I looked, walked, or tilted my pretty head. It doesn't matter that alcohol was involved, or that no actual intercourse happened. It doesn't matter that boys are different from girls. It doesn't matter that the kid turned out to be 16, or that we all know 16-year-old boys are walking T-bombs (testosterone), or that he came from a troubled home, or that he didn't have any strong male role models, or or or or.


This issue is way bigger than my little lower middle-class white girl bad memories. If Brett Kavanaugh turns out to have done this and then lied about doing it, and if he doesn't get that it's sexual assault and not "a little harmless fun," as some have suggested, and if he gets appointed to our highest judicial body in spite of having done this (if he did), then TRIGGER WARNING: The Supreme Court can no longer protect us.