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.

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:

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:

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

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 ( 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


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.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Be Here (Knitting) Now.

I used to crochet until a bit of arthritis in my thumb joints made it unpleasant. So I took up knitting. I’m now SO into knitting that my daughter and I decided to make and sell handmade, adorable knitting needles:

And here’s my obligatory Ravelry scrapbook of projects:

But this post isn’t about tools, stitches, projects, patterns, etc. etc. etc. Rather, it’s a meditation, a philosophical exploration, a self-reflective hypothesis sounding board, on WHY I knit.

Prairie folk often attribute their craftiness to pragmatism: we make things because we need them. But trust me, NO ONE I KNOW NEEDS ANOTHER KNIT HAT. EVER. Admit it…you’ve got a Rubbermaid tub in your hall closet overflowing with hats, mittens, and scarves. Your drawer is stuffed with untouched handknit socks you’ll re-gift as soon as the knitter has forgotten she/he gave them to you. So no, it isn’t about need. It’s something more…

1. “Idle Hands” Knitting. My grandma, a fairly stoic Presbyterian, reminded me often that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” When she sat to watch TV, she was also knitting an afghan, mending (including socks…people used to mend and keep wearing holey socks!!), folding laundry, or writing letters. I’m not religious myself and don’t believe in devils, but I have to admit that when my hands aren’t busy, I’m twitchy, and I watch around corners.

2. Knitting as Mindfulness Practice. Though I’ve been practicing for years, I admit to having a hard time with meditation ( I’ve heard the mind compared to a willful horse that’s always distracted by sounds & sights, and that constantly wants to turn back to the barn. So for me, mindful knitting helps me rein in the horse, instead of letting the horse take me astray. It’s a chance to PAY ATTENTION to each stitch, to the feel of the yarn, to the sound of the needles, to the rhythm of the rows. It’s a chance to stay in the present moment. I’m pretty much Type A+++, so knitting helps me slow my breathing & heart, lower my BP, and let go of the day/plans/regrets/schedule/lists for a time.

3. Cheap Gift Knitting. I’m a perpetually poor teacher. Ray is a printer (he runs a Heidelberg press). We live in South Dakota, where K-12 teachers are the lowest paid in the nation. IN THE NATION. And where post-secondary teachers don’t do much better and sometimes do much worse. And where wages in general are woeful. So yes, kids & siblings, you’re getting another funky knit hat and more fingerless gloves for Christmas.

4. Social Anxiety Knitting. You might not know this about me, but I’m an introvert. I do well in small groups of intimate friends, but put me in a large group, or any group of folks I don’t know, and the outer me will be charming and all smiles. But inner me might be bug-eyed, quaking, and hanging by her fingernails from a wall sconce. I’ve discovered that taking knitting everywhere I go can help in several ways: (a) some people will stay away because they think I’m “busy”; (2) some people will approach and ask about the knitting, which breaks the ice; and (III) I can effectively “time out” when I need to by concentrating on the knitting for a bit.

5. “Ignorance is Bliss” Knitting. I have a LOT of responsibilities and stress. A lot. A shit-ton, as the kids say. Knitting can sometimes signal others to steer clear because, dangit, I’m “busy” doing something constructive and important. And trust me, EVERYONE I KNOW NEEDS ANOTHER KNIT HAT. RIGHT NOW.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

At Last!

In October, I’ll celebrate my 6th re-birthday. It will be 6 years since an ischemic right pontine stroke blasted me in my sleep, a stroke I’ve affectionately nicknamed BS (Bastard Stroke). I won’t go into the gory details here, but if you want them, they’re here:

Anyhoo, this is about a recent milestone. I am SO AMAZINGLY LUCKY for many reasons, but one of them is that I’m surrounded by a community of world-class musicians and music lovers. And once every week or two, I get to sit in with the band and sing. One of my most memorable moments singing was at the wedding of a friend’s daughter. I got to sing “At Last” with a stellar band. It was one of those moments for me when all the stars align—band is hot, voice is in fine form, you’re feeling it down to your bones, not just singing it—and I almost cried, it all felt so good. Then along came BS. 

On the day before BS, I was sitting at a singing & healing workshop offered by a friend and former Little Town’er, and one of the things she said was that it doesn’t matter if you sing offkey, if your voice is shaky, if you think you can’t sing, etc. What matters is just to open up and sing. I had already had three or four TIA’s (mini strokes) in the previous two days (which I wrote off to stress and grading fatigue), so I was crabby and just feeling off. Right, I thought, whatEVER. It would take me six stubborn years to understand how right she was.

Among the “deficits” (seriously, that’s what the med/pharma complex calls the aftershocks of stroke) I was left with after BS, was a mucked-up throat: right stroke means left vocal cord can be “sluggish,” post-stroke BP drugs and CPAP mean that my throat is perpetually dry, which can cause some swelling, which means my tone can be pinched, and, worst of all, I don’t have the vocal control I had pre-BS; my voice can sometimes be…well…wobbly and willfully independent.

It took me about two years of checking things out with a vocal rehab ENT, rehab exercises put together for me by my friend C, a vocal teacher, and practicepracticepainfulpractice before I felt comfortable singing in public again. Even then, I stuck to “safe” songs—limited range, no challenging vocal frills, so familiar I could sing them in my sleep.

Then this week, I screwed up my courage and ASKED the band if I could sing “At Last.” I hadn’t tried it since BS, except by myself, shut in my home office, when no one was home. And I did it. It wasn’t great, I missed a few notes here and there, it didn’t come out quite as good as it had when I practiced it, but DAMN, it felt FINE! I can’t quite put this in words, but for me, singing that song was some sort of threshold I’d been terrified to cross.

And that’s the real milestone…not that I sang the song, but that I remembered what a loving, forgiving, accepting, supportive community I get to live in, and that I don’t need to be afraid. I just need to open up and sing. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A marriage made in ???

The back of the monastery, outside of the chapel
 NOTE: You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.

A friend and I made a “retreat” trip last year to Our Lady of the Mississippi Benedictine monastery, a cloistered (little contact with the outside world) convent in Iowa, and we decided to do it again this year. So we recently returned from a few days at the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration monastery in Missouri. There are 24 sisters at the monastery, down from about 200 at its most active point (attracting young people to the “vocation” is increasingly hard). Most monasteries try to be as self-sustaining as possible, so the Missouri sisters have businesses making and selling altar bread, soap, and candles. They produce much of their own food, and they receive donations from guests and others.

Part of the Benedictine mission is hospitality, so both places provide apartments in guest houses. When we arrived, we were greeted by a sister in charge of guests. We were given simple staple food for our stay—bread, cheese, milk, fruit, etc.—and towels, bedding; really, everything we needed. In Iowa, we remained “apart” from the sisters, though we could attend offices (times of prayer) with a wall separating us from seeing, but not from hearing, the sisters. In Missouri, we could join the sisters for offices, and even for a meal or two during their daily routine. Our lodging and provisions at both monasteries were simple, but we were definitely NOT roughing it.

Back of monastery, one of the sisters' gardens.
Our guest kitchen

Our living room...never turned that TV on.

Inside the chapel. We sat in the stalls with the sisters for Vespers.
Statue of Mary inside the chapel.
Monastery cemetery.
Cemetery centerpiece.
The Relic Chapel. Each cubby along the walls holds relics (bone, fabric, hair) of saints.
That dot in the middle is bone, size of the head of a pin. I wrote a poem about St. Dymphna, and now I got to meet her.

My friend, a retired Methodist pastor who makes frequent retreats, likes to visit and eat with the sisters, walk and photograph the picturesque settings, architecture, and art. The silence and solitude provides time and space for contemplation and prayer. I do some of those things too, but I also spend a lot of time alone, writing. This year, we went to Vespers (evening prayer, which is sung verses from Psalms and a canticle to Mary) every day. There’s something about the singing/chanting voices of 24 women in a giant echo chamber (the chapel) that moves me beyond words.

I’ve always had a strange sort of marriage to the Catholic Church. We love each other, fight, make up, fight some more, make up again, and go on vacation. Like any fraught marriage, it’s a mystery why we stay/split/come back together.

I should have said up front that I’m not Catholic. I was raised (loosely) Presbyterian, though I no longer consider myself a Christian. I do consider myself a spiritual person, much to the chagrin of my atheist friends, who would like me to be yea/nay, just as my “religious” friends would. 
My odd relationship with the Catholic church goes waaaaay back. When I was growing up, our neighborhood Catholic church and Presbyterian church were ½-block apart. My best friend was Catholic. So I would often go to mass with her then go to the Presbyterian service (and sing in the choir) with my grandma, who lived with us, and who was the only “religious” member of our family. I did this so often that I learned to be a good Catholic: to genuflect & kneel, bless myself with holy water, recite the mass, make my friend go to confession when she picked flowers in the cemetery (the sign clearly said DO NOT PICK THE FLOWERS), etc. I even took communion until I was finally “caught”—I didn't understand catechism and the “rules” about who could and couldn’t take communion, and at that age, I was sure God would be happy I did it.

Neighboring Conception Abbey chapel.
For my junior year of high school, due to racial tensions and upheaval in my public school in those days (we had armed police stationed outside the bathrooms in my sophomore year), I transferred to a Catholic girls’ school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. I felt right at home with the sisters, the religion classes, the uniforms, the prayer services. My senior year of high school was one religion class and five literature classes at a Jesuit high school.

Conception Abbey pipe organ. The big pipes were 10" across and 17' tall.
Conception Abbey 15th-century Italian marble Madonna with child.
It’s a chicken-egg conundrum: Do I love the Catholic church because of my youthful introductions, or did I gravitate toward those youthful experiences because of some innate love of the church or some need it fulfilled? Pretty sure I’ll never know which. But I do know I love the ritual of Catholicism, which I find soothing, comforting. The smell of frankincense and myrrh can still make me swoon. A shadowy, echo-y chapel, with its smells, its silence, its vaulted ceilings, dark woods and stone, and breathy, haunting pipe organs, can bring me to tears and make my heart ache. And I’m both fascinated and inspired by a group of sisters or brothers completely devoting their lives to a common cause.

HOWEVER...the church and I occasionally hit the skids when I think about the amassed wealth of a church whose sisters and brothers take as one of their most sacred vows the vow of poverty. Or when I think about the poor—a primary focus of most monastic orders—and how much less poor they could be if the church cashed in some of their hidden and not-so-hidden cache. Or when I think about the Inquisition. Or the “conversion” of indigenous people around the world. Or the church’s historical and continuing suppression of women. Or the sexual abuse of children. Or what happened (and is still happening, if one includes the church's refusal to contribute to a reparations fund) to the Magdelene girls under the sisters’ “care” ( Or so many other hypocrisies. Gha.

As Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” So yeah, I’ll continue to examine my strange relationship with the Catholic church, because I know somehow we’re stuck together for life. Maybe we need a good (non-Catholic) marriage counselor...