Twin Daughters of Different Fathers

I’m (finally) putting together a book compiled of my favorite columns and blogs that I’ve written over the past 20 years. The process has been like looking at photo albums with commentary.

I wanted to share this particular column I wrote in 2004 because I am stunned/happy/laughing at how, 14 years later, what I wrote about my daughters still holds true. Carlene and Cassie, you still are the lights of my life, and I love you both so much. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Twin Daughters of Different Fathers 

Sometime in 2004 

Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisburg collaborated on an album in 1979 called Twin Sons of Different Mothers. It was my favorite nighttime music, and a welcome change from disco. Fogelberg’s words and Weisburg’s flute fed both the angst and peace of my typical 16-year-old self. I knew every note, every crescendo, every run. I even taught myself the flute part from the first track, “Twins Theme.” Life was full of possibilities. I was going to be either a veterinarian or a roadie for the Eagles. I’d have died laughing if someone told me that instead, within 5 years, I would produce my own “album”: Twin daughters of different fathers. 

Never one to do things the conventional way, I turned the old saying “The first child can take any time, the second one takes nine months” on its ear. 

Everyone assumed daughter number one was a guest at her father’s and my wedding. Otherwise, why would a 23-year-old farmer marry an 18-year-old city girl? When Carlene made her appearance, reluctantly, three weeks shy of our one-year anniversary, the finger counting had ended and people realized she took the “morally correct” nine months to come into being. 

We were a happy little family unit of three, making plans to expand. But just as life requires birth, it requires death. My farmer boy died, leaving me and our little daughter a family of two. We moved to the city, where I went through the motions of life, feeling very little and making choices I wouldn’t otherwise make if not for the constant numbness. It was within this almost hypnotic state that daughter number two came into being. 

Cassandre was an actual guest at my second wedding. She was 9 months old, teething and crawling, and unaware of the way she turned my world right side up again. Carlene had nicknamed her Cassie Bear in the hospital, and liked to hold her like her favorite Cabbage Patch Doll, which in so many ways Cassie was. They became like the Chinese symbol yin-yang: two opposite energies that could not exist without each other. So it was no surprise to me when Carlene moved to Pittsburgh recently, living as close to Cassie as she could without actually having to share a bathroom. 

When Carlene was born, her burgeoning personality was not like anything she’d exhibited in utero. A constant kicker and puncher inside, there was no child as quiet and modest as Carlene. Cassie, on the other hand, moved very little, which kept me anxious nearly the entire pregnancy. If not for the hiccups she got nightly, I’d have been a constant basket case. Once she was out, she hit the ground running, and made sure everyone knew she was alive. 

Carlene loved to nap. I had to wean her from them a few weeks before she started kindergarten. She still likes to get 10 hours of sleep when she can. Cassie, of course, liked being awake, and stopped taking naps at age 2 simply because, like Bartleby the Scrivener, she preferred not to. She still thrives on motion, and I usually need a nap after spending a day with her. 

Everyone has a ratio of book smarts to street smarts. Our ability to think more than feel or feel more than think parlays into our daily lives and influences everything, from the choices we make about which car to buy or clothes to wear, to the jobs we take, the people we choose as friends and lovers, the movies we watch, or the games we play. Mothering two such opposite children gives me a front seat to this psychology. Carlene thinks deeply and methodically. Cassie feels deeply and passionately. Carlene carefully plans. Cassie makes decisions on the fly. Carlene follows directions. Cassie makes up the rules as she goes. Both are independent in very different ways: Carlene stubbornly so and Cassie instinctively so. 

Cassie is a defender of the underdog. Carlene prefers justice. 

Carlene got As in calculus, but it took her weeks to learn how to check the oil and fill the windshield wiper fluid tank in our car. Cassie couldn’t see what the Pythagorean theorem had to do with her, but she earned enough money from dog sitting, cat sitting and a paper route to buy a stereo, computer and television. Cassie instinctively knows things most of us have to learn. The world outside of books makes sense to her, where Carlene would be lost without books. 

The girls often flew to Minnesota, Seattle, and Los Angeles to see family. As you might guess, Carlene was an aisle-seat girl and Cassie loved the window. Yet for all her adventurousness, it was Cassie I put in charge of the money and calling card (and her sister, too, for that matter). 

Sighing “I’ll do it” accompanied by an eye roll was a common occurrence for Cassie, killer of spiders and plunger of toilets. Yet it was Carlene who risked bodily injury to clean Cassie’s room while she was away so that Cass had a path to her bed. 

Cassie takes pride in her physical strength. I often wonder if it wasn’t Cassie’s example that convinced Carlene to join the track team in high school. We’d always said Carlene was smart as a whip, but ran like a girl. Challenging herself physically that way uncovered a new side of her, one she still embraces today. 

Their similarities are what we all want children to be: hard working and kind. They were courteous to my friends and co-workers and, except when Cassie would crawl under the table in restaurants to pull out a loose tooth when she was little, I was never embarrassed to take them out in public. 

Carlene never left home easily. Cassie was out the door almost as soon as she got her diploma. That they live in close proximity again makes me happy. I worry less that Carlene will get lost (she has a lousy sense of direction) or that Cassie will be sad (that dominant “feeling” side of her has its downside sometimes). 

I found my copy of Twin Sons of Different Mothers while writing this column. “Paris Nocturne” is still a lovely song, and it reminds me that the 16-year-old I was still lives inside this 42-year-old body. At 16, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, a groupie, a poet, and a pilot, but becoming a mother in a circuitous fashion to two engagingly polar opposites was more heady and humbling than anything I could have ever imagined sitting in my room in the dark, listening to music. 

 

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Don’t Let the Anger Eat You. Please.

20171227_120043Around 2 a.m. this morning, Zuzu the Wonder Dog needed to go outside. Most nights, in a sleepy stupor, I open the door, she does her thing, and she trots back in. This morning, though, before I opened the door, I saw standing under the neighbor’s yard light the silhouette of a large buck. He was looking in our direction and Zuzu was looking in his. God knows she loves to bark at and chase wildlife (just ask our cats and the bear she chased away from the garbage last week), and so I snapped on her collar and leash and took her out manually. I thought the buck would run away, but he just looked at us. He was quite amazing.

After heading back to bed, I laid awake for 30 minutes before I gave up sleep and went to the spare room. The windows were open and I listened to the crickets, and heard the faint call of an owl. It warmed me inside. Melted some of that ice cold anger I’ve felt since Dr. Ford said #MeToo.

#MeToo is so big that it can be overwhelmingly draining without self-care. It’s as important to make space to listen to stories of sexual assault as it is to honor our own emotions and reactive feelings. For me, the good that’s come out of the last few weeks is that I’ve strengthened my meditation practice, heightened my awareness, and deepened my compassion. Have I been a perfect practitioner? Just look at my Facebook posts. But I won’t turn away from the anger – it has an important place in our emotional lives – but I won’t let it swallow me whole.

In these times, I’ve found the practice of inquiry to be the most useful. Rather than try to fix anything, I sit with my feelings of anger, disappointment, and downright despair, and I name them. Examine them. Allow them to wash through me without doing anything except being fully aware of their power. My mantra is “I don’t understand why this is happening,” rather than a question such as, “Why do people knowingly inflict harm?” I’ve found that sitting with a statement gives me strength to contemplate a question. As Tara Brach explains, “The intention of inquiry is to awaken to our experience exactly as it is in this present moment. While inquiry may expose judgments and thoughts about what we feel is wrong, it focuses on our immediate feelings and sensations.”

Sexual power and religious absolutism are the gods de jure, and they need to be brought to justice one story, one protest, one vote at a time. But please, take care of yourselves and your emotional lives as you journey on. Use inquiry to identify what’s good in your life, too. Breathe. And then breathe again. And again. Listen to crickets or children laughing or even the hum of a fan. Before you act, do nothing more than focus your attention on a tree, a house, a piece of artwork, or a deer standing in a yard light in the middle of the night. Inquiry builds the emotional muscle we need to carry on.

Namaste, my friends. Have faith that in the long run, justice and goodness – and not paranoia and fear – will prevail.

Grief Really Shouldn’t End. Here’s Why.

Recently, the husband of a dear friend of mine was killed when a tree limb fell on him while he was working in his yard. A freak and random accident, it has left my friend stunned and so very, very sad.

I’ve written many times in this blog about grief, and how it bounces in and out and around our lives and lands sometimes in the most unexpected places at the most inopportune times (like there’s ever a good time for loss). But you know grief. It doesn’t wait for an appointment.

Sudden loss can feel like an ambush. It barges in and takes over everything, and the accompanying emotions crawl inside us, infiltrate and define our most tender feelings, and they never really leave, even when we don’t feel them as acutely anymore. Time goes by and we go about our lives, not thinking about grief, perhaps even (foolishly) thinking we’ve conquered it, feeling like we’re so over ____________ (fill in your loss), and then WHAM! We find ourselves in a friend’s kitchen, helplessly hugging her as she cries desperately in her own mourning, grieving a loss that, while uniquely hers, feels very, very familiar. The emotions from our own day of loss flood back, perhaps not as strong, but it is grief’s way of reminding us that it never, ever goes away.

There are times, too, when grief is more subtle. It refuses to readily identify itself. Your life, by all accounts, is fine, you’re holding it together, and you even dared to be happy and smile again. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you wake up one morning with an overwhelming sense of dread and sadness, feeling like you can’t pull the blanket off from around your head. You wander around dazed for a while – a day, a week, a month, longer – unable to put your finger on the culprit because, you know, that death/loss was so long ago and you’re, like, totally over it, so it must be something else.

But it’s not.

I write this to remind us that grief is not something we ever finish. And honestly, I don’t think it’s supposed to end.

I’m not saying we should feel miserable all the time or constantly remind ourselves of what we’ve lost in our lives. But loss and grief are inevitable for each one of us, and instead of trying to drink it away, drug it away, fuck it away, eat it away, or work it away, why not we use the hell out of it and grow empathy where perhaps there wasn’t any? Even if someone’s loss isn’t exactly the same as ours, understanding that the experience of loss is overarching and universal can train us to be more understanding, kind, helpful, and – when warranted – involved in bringing change to what is wrong.

Grief can strengthen us and, sadly, destroy us, but there’s no in between. The thing is, though, that even when we think it’s destroying us, it just might be strengthening us, teaching us more about ourselves than we ever wanted to know. This is not to say that what brought us to grieve is somehow a good thing. Personally, I’d rather my (and my friend’s) husband was alive, or the baby I miscarried had been born, or that the things I lost in the fire hadn’t burned, or that my brother’s memory was intact, or that any of the other losses I’ve experienced in my life hadn’t happened. But all of these losses make up my real life. Subsequently, grief, too, is a part of my real life, and I want grief to have meaning and a purpose, even if that purpose is simply to listen to a friend who is hurting.

P.S. We witnessed a simple and bittersweet lesson in grief recently when a female orca whale carried her dead baby on her back for 17 days before finally letting it go. She didn’t adhere to some cultural agenda that said you get a few days to grieve and then you’re supposed to get on with your life. She grieved in her own way, and so should we.

 

 

Weren’t You 18 Just a Few Years Ago?

My oldest daughter is 35 years old today, which is surprising considering I’m 39, or at least I still think like I’m 39 and not what I thought 54 would be like when I was 39. Anyway, I wrote this column in 2001 when Carlene was 18 (and I was 37) when she was a senior in high school and wondering where she should go to college. I love this girl to pieces, and I wish for her the same things now as I did then.

Blackbird Fly (published in The Clarion News, May 2001)

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

You asked me, “What do you want, Mom? What do you think I should do?” And it was clear by the tone of your voice that you expected me to say something customary like, “I just want you to be happy,” but with a choked-up guilt-ridden undertone that said “…but keep in mind I’d be happy if you stayed here in Clarion.”

Weren’t you surprised when I didn’t?

I don’t have eyes in the back of my head for nothing, my daughter. Yes I want you to be happy, but I’ve learned a thing or two about you in these 18 years and I know the life you’ve secretly dreamed about for years will die if you don’t leave this town, your home, and see for yourself what lies beyond these hills.

You have an adventurous spirit and a cautious heart. The combination has served you well so far and you must trust it won’t let you down in the future. You’ve learned there is no monster under the bed, no boogey man in the closet, no sandman, and no such thing as ghosts, yet you know there are bigger mysteries to solve, other truths to uncover, out there somewhere all your own. To not live where your heart and head can be free or to deny yourself that place of self-discovery would be placing yourself on a certain and predictable course, and God knows after years of listening to me tell you what the world is like you’re entitled to discover the world for yourself.

So…what do I want? That’s a question I’ve been thinking about and trying to answer since you were born. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

I want you to be happy in your own skin, to be at peace with your decisions, to love God, and to visit the Rocky Mountains in the winter.

I want you to drink good wine and see the midnight sun and walk along the Champs-Elysées with your best friend.

I want you to have babies when you’re ready and visit your grandparents once a year. I want you to never forget your sister’s birthday and to go to Jasper once in awhile and place flowers on your dad’s grave.

I want you to never know an overdue bill, an IRS audit, or a broken tailpipe you can’t afford to fix. I want you to concentrate on what you do that makes you successful and to not dwell on failures.

I want you to come home from wherever you are when you’re homesick and to go back again feeling stronger for having been home again, because I’ll always be here for you and you can wash your clothes while I make you manicotti and chocolate cake. Your room will still be purple and I won’t rent it out or turn it into the hot tub room like I threatened.

You see, I don’t care where you go to college as long as you get the education you need to be what you want to be.

I don’t care where you lay your head at night as long as it’s warm and safe and, when it’s right, with the person who loves you more than life.

I don’t care what you do for a living as long as it doesn’t hurt other people, that it envelops your God-given talents and gifts, and that it gives you satisfaction and affords you the kind of home you can relax in at the end of the day.

I trust you. I have faith in you. But mostly I love you, and love is the reason I can let go. I’m going to hurt for awhile and I’ll probably cry all the way home after helping you move into your dorm, but I don’t want you to feel you’ve caused me pain because you will not have. Love is just like that sometimes.

I’ll miss the smell of your perfume floating up the stairs after you leave for school. I’ll miss hearing you tell me good night and feeling your kiss on my cheek before you go to bed. I’ll miss seeing your face every day, our spontaneous talks in the kitchen and the way you play with the dogs.

But while I’ll miss you very much, I know I’ll still be your mother when you’re frustrated, your mom when you need advice and your mommy when you need money or just a hug.

Your moment is here, my girl, and you’re ready to fly. And that is truly what I think you should do.

 

In 2018, Maybe Poetry Can Help

The Internet can be a brain suck, for sure. Then there are sites like Dictionary.com that can inflate the brain, sort of. For instance, the word “pajamas” comes from the Persian words pah, meaning “leg,” and jammas, meaning “clothing”. The British spell it as “pyjamas.” If I were in London, I’d still be in my “pyjamas”. But sadly I’m not. In London, that is. Here in the U.S., I most certainly am still in my “pajamas”. Happy New Year to me.

And Happy New Year to you! Have you made any resolutions? Established any goals for 2018? Still in your jams? I made no resolutions, but I do have a goal: to see The Moody Blues inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April!! I’ll stand in the parking lot if I have to, but I need to be there. IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME THEY WERE INDUCTED! Whoever thought inducting Dusty Springfield, Kiss, and The Animals before The Moody Blues needs some serious musical educating.

Looking back over 2017, there are several more things in my Best Of grab bag than I thought there would be, given how discomfited so many of us felt last year at this time. I had little hope for 2017, but a lot of good things happened. Jim and I had fun growing our on-the-side antiques business at a local antique mall. Zuzu the Wonder Dog moved in. I completed the fifth of six semesters of my master’s program (Graduation: May!).

And I solidly fell in love…

… with poetry.

I had the great fortune of teaching a poetry workshop this summer at the Indiana County jail. I’d taught a few classes in the women’s block, but this was the first time that my students were from two men’s blocks, and the first time the topic was all poetry.

I’ve always liked poetry, even though I have zero patience for epic poems like “The Faerie Queene” or the Sylvia Plath-ish ones that make me want to bang my head against a brick wall. But poetry asks us to pay attention to a moment for a moment. It gets in your face and says, “Look at me! What do you see?” It turned out that reading poetry with a group of men in jail was not a bad way to spend summer vacation.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and I wake up to a poem every morning in my email, thanks to Poem-A-Day from poets.org – another non-brain-suck website. While not every poem is a wake-up call or invites contemplation, each one is someone’s attempt to make sense of some part of their world. What speaks to you might not speak to me, but that’s the whole point!

I really like this book: Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. It’s a collection of poetry selected by Billy Collins when he was poet laureate (2001-03). Collins’ own poetry is accessible (meaning it shouldn’t usually make you want to bang your head against a brick wall). I use his work in my classes, and his Ted Talk is a lot of fun. It’s not a brain suck, I promise.

Suffice to say, poetry will help get me through 2018. I hope it lends you some comfort, solace, and contemplation, too.

Below are a few of my favorites. Please send me some of yours! Add them to the comments.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World by Sherman Alexie

Losing the Narrative

A shattered bottle tore through my hand last month and split 
a vein until every finger was purple and I couldn’t
make even a tentative fist. I used the other hand to indicate
I’m okay. 
How unwise I am, how polite in a crisis.
In triage, an overheard photo of someone’s lover 
almost 3000 miles west made me seize with longing 
when I spied a palm tree in the background.
I understand what it says about me 
that my body lustfully wishes to place itself where it was never safe.
I have put enormous energy into trying to convince you I’m fine and
I’m just about there, no? 
Besides, decades on, poorly healed bones help me to predict rain!
though it’s true I like to verify weather
with another source because I tend not to believe myself.
I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t understand plot but
it would be a clever twist, wouldn’t it, if in the end 
I realize it’s me who does me in.
Credit:

Copyright © 2017 by Lynn Melnick. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem:
“I injured my hand rather gruesomely last spring and it took a longer than expected time to heal. That injury triggered memories of earlier, more traumatic injuries, which got me thinking about how my instinct is to always reassure everyone I’m okay, whether I am or not.”
—Lynn Melnick

I’m baaaack! At least I think so. Maybe. We’ll see.

For more than nine years (2006 to 2015), Zen Bag Lady and Lynn’s Weigh were spaces for me to talk out loud, contemplate, negotiate, vent, and convince (mostly myself), and they acted as dressing rooms in which to try on different perspectives and attitudes that may or may not have always fit. I morphed Lynn’s Weigh with Zen Bag Lady (see my About page), because I realized that they are and always will be one and the same. They are timelines of change, both within and outside my control.

I’ve wanted many times during this 888-day hiatus to post a new blog, and to do that I thought I would have to explain the spiral of changes that have transpired, changes which still leave me a bit breathless. Revisiting some old posts recently, I see that explaining stuff isn’t why I blogged. I blogged because I had something to contemplate, negotiate, vent about, and try on. Putting myself out here again isn’t comfortable, god knows, but maybe no one will notice.

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I recently heard someone quote Benjamin Franklin: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d heard that quote before, many times, and I certainly can’t argue with it. But old Ben was wrong. There are way more certainties in this life. Emotional and physical spaces will always be in flux, and our bodies and perspectives will change, even if we desperately hang on to dogmas and calorie counters. Even when we think we’re stagnant, we change. That is for certain.

And so here I go again… (you’re welcome).

New blog tomorrow.

Swinging the Bat (a guest post by my brother)


Marty and me in 2011



It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since my brother, Marty, suffered a 12-hour seizure that left him with permanent brain damage and short-term memory loss. He’s endured frustration and great sadness, but what’s gotten him through it all and helps him continue to accept and adjust to his new reality is his optimism and glass-half-full spirit, an unwaivering commitment to helping others, and his unyielding faith in the god he’s trusted all his life.

Marty began writing essays years ago and self-published a collection of 100 of them prior to his seizure. It took him awhile to “pick up his pen” again after that fateful day in June 2011, but he’s been honing his skills, and I felt the one I’m posting below is his most thoughtful to-date. His words really kicked me in the pants since I feel lately some of my “at-bats” have been wasted. Read on and see if anything he says resonates with you, too.
Swinging The Bat
Like many fans of professional baseball, I enjoy sitting on my patio on a nice summer evening listening to my favorite team on the radio. I also enjoy watching my favorite team on television, too. Whether my team wins or loses really doesn’t matter. Where they are in the standings doesn’t matter either. I still turn on the radio or the TV to catch the game when it is on. I guess you can say, “Hope springs eternal” among true baseball fans.
There is one thing I cannot tolerate in baseball. That one thing is lackluster effort. It annoys me to no end when a player goes up to bat and then strikes out without even swinging the bat. They simply stand there with a zombie…like stare and watch the pitches go by until the umpire calls them out. These are not wildly thrown pitches out of the strike zone, but perfectly hittable balls. Then they simply turn and head back to the dugout. What a wasted at-bat.
I’ve always felt that you go to the plate with a bat in your hands to swing at pitches to try to get a hit. Standing there and watching as the ball goes by is unacceptable. You only get three or four chances to hit during a ball game. Why waste those opportunities with the bat resting on your shoulder without at least giving it a go? You can’t get a hit or a home run without swinging the bat. I have no time for people who do not try.
Now, I don’t mind it when a hitter goes down swinging at the plate. There are times when a particular pitcher is good and he is “on his game,” so to speak. That pitcher is throwing good stuff that is tough to hit. It happens. He may be throwing some nasty curveballs or sinkerballs that would test even the best of hitters. But as long as you are trying your best to hit his best pitches and you still strike out, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You gave it your best. Who knows? You may get the best of the situation next time you meet him again. The point is you tried.
I find this to be like life. We are faced with challenges all the time. Life has a way of throwing fastballs, curveballs, and screwballs at us. What we do about these pitches determines what kind of people we are or will be. Do we just give up as we approach the batter’s box and determine beforehand to not even swing our bats, to not even try our best, as we watch those pitches go by? Or, do we resolve to try our best to grip the bat a bit differently or stand in the box a bit differently and take a hack at the tough pitches?   
   
Ever since going on disability two years ago after losing much of my memory capabilities, I found it easy to get discouraged and even angry because of what I lost. It was also easy to just stand there at the plate and watch as those pitches went by. But, there are people and organizations that will not allow me to fall into that trap. They know that people like myself still have much to contribute and they are very good at helping people like myself to realize that and to…well…contribute.
Thanks to these people, I am swinging the bat. I volunteer twice a week at a local food shelf warehouse where I am very much needed and very much appreciated. I participate in a golf league and a bowling league for disabled people. I am not languishing around thinking about what I cannot do. I may strike out occasionally, but that’s OK. I may not be quite the person I once was, but that, too, is okay. As long as I am swinging the bat, my chances are much better that I’ll hit a double or a single.
What kind of person are you? Are you content to watch pitches go by as the umpire calls you out? Are you satisfied with lackluster and mediocre effort? Do you want to swing the bat and give it your best shot? We don’t have many opportunities or much time in life to turn things around. We need to start swinging our bats now! We need to give our best to life now! Tomorrow may be too late. We never know what might happen tomorrow. Ask me. I know about that. 

A 5-Year-Old’s Marathon…In Pictures


I was one proud Grammy this morning as I watched my granddaughter, Claire, complete the Pittsburgh Marathon’s Kids Of Steel program, in which she not only ran 26.2 miles over the course of the last two months, but she raised $2,505 for the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh.

Claire ran 1 mile on 25 days and ran the final 1.2 miles with her dad, the day before the Pittsburgh Marathon, in which he and my daughter are going to run the half. (Daughter as in the one who had her fourth baby just two months ago. She rocks really hard!)
Here’s what the morning looked like:
We arrived downtown and put Luca and Mae in one stroller, while baby Audrey slept in another stroller (they’re saying, “Cheese!”):
The finish line:
The medals:
The bananas:
Auntie Carly and Papa Larry making signs:
Audrey with her sign:
Luca on Uncle Ben’s shoulders with his sign:
Mae on my shoulders with her sign:
Claire running for the finish line. She ran in the tutu my awesome running Diva friend, Sondra, made for her. Claire’s all about the high fives:
Claire with her medal:

More of the tutu:

Claire with her mom:
Claire with her certificate and her dad:
It was so encouraging to see so many kids and their parents participating in the Kids of Steel program. Kids of all sizes and economic backgrounds ran their hearts out today, and the crowd didn’t let them down. They were cheered on by thousands of people, and the looks on the kids’ faces as they crossed the finish line was of pure joy. I have no doubt this experience will encourage them to continue running, or at the very least, stay active. They may not understand the physical benefits of exercise, but they certainly got a huge dose of the emotional aspect. 

Tag, I’m It! My “Next Big Thing”


The Next Big Thingis a blog meme going around in the blog-o-sphere, and Cammy at Tippy Toe Diet asked if she could tag me to keep it going, sort of like Friendship Bread only carb-free!

Cammy’s Next Big Thingis a gathering of goals she’s put under the umbrella of “daring greatly.” She was tagged to continue the meme by Sharon at Midlife Moments, whose Next Big Thing is menopause.
My Next Big Thingwill make noise. Literally. And I hope to god my mother isn’t reading this.
I’m going to learn to drive ride this (A reader corrected me saying you ride a bike, both as the person who is in charge of it and the person riding on the back. It seems confusing, but if that’s the rule, that’s the rule!):
This is the Irishman’s Harley, a 1999 Sportster 883, that I’ve had the pleasure of riding on the back of only once and only briefly because spring didn’t get the groundhog’s memo that it’s supposed to start warming up.  
I rode on the back of a motorcycle for the first time two years ago (see “A Mental Miracle”) and went from scared-to-death to badass-in-love in zero to 60. Motorcycle Owner and I only dated for a few more months, so I didn’t get too much additional riding time, but the thrill of the ride never left me.
Knowing this, a friend suggested I take the a Motorcycle Safety Training class after he took it and bought a used Honda Sportster last year. It seemed absurd at the time. Learn to drive ride a motorcycle? Such a foreign concept. As liberated as I am, driving  riding a bike seemed like a guy thing. Women rode on the back. But a seed was planted, and like the crocuses in my yard – despite the wicked weather – it will bloom.
One in 10 motorcycle owners are women. Not great stats, but those women are out there, and I am determined to join their ranks. I just have to learn how to drive ride one first, something I know almost nothing about. But, hey, I didn’t know anything about driving a stick shift when my dad took me with him to test drive a 1974 Mustang in 1980 when I was a junior in high school. He drove us to a parking lot, got out of the car, and said, “If you drive this back to the dealership, I’ll buy it for you.” Believe me, I learned REAL fast how to drive a stick.
When I married farmer Bruce, he taught me to drive a skid loader, an old Ford pickup with the stick on the column (the 3-speed “H” pattern), a tractor, and a 10-speed Mack truck. Getting behind the wheel of an enclosed vehicle is always fun. But there are no steering wheels on motorcycles. Or doors or windows or anything holding you in. You shift with your left foot, including your toes, and you brake with your right hand as well as your foot, and people warn you about how dangerous they are and they call people who love motorcycles “organ donors” and you’d think that would be enough to scare me away.
But it doesn’t. This is just the kind of challenge I’ve been looking for. Something so outside my comfort zone that I need field glasses to see it. It also gives me something more fun than my 2013 taxes to save for.
I’ll start small (and used), perhaps a Suzuki Marauder GZ125. It weighs what I did at my heaviest!
Or a Honda Rebel 250
Or a Star Motorcycles V Star 250. Look how awesome she looks driving that!
Or a Yamaha Virago 250. Not sure I can pull off leather pants, but I’ll definitely get chaps.
So there you have it. My Next Big Thing. I promise I’ll do everything within my power to stay safe. In the meantime, I’m hoping for warmer weather very soon so I can start riding on the back of that Harley and begin learning all I can about driving it one day.
I’ve tagged Sharon from Gains and Losses: Life ThroughSharon’s Eyes to keep this Next Big Thing chain going. I just know she’ll come up with her own uber cool challenge!

A New Dog And An Old Knee


I wish I could say I did it dancing an Irish jig in a fine pub with a handsome Irishman after putting back a pint of Guinness. But alas, there was no dancing, no fine pub, and no pint. (But there was a handsome Irishman *grin*)

I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon in the ER learning what I might have done to my already horrific right knee on Saturday night. I’d felt it twist a bit when I stood up from my office chair and turned slightly to put my computer to sleep. (My computer being a rebuilt ProBook laptop, sent to me via my accidental damage warranty, to replace the ProBook that couldn’t handle its liquor. One glass of wine and it was toast. See “Armed and Less Dangerous”) It was nothing too noticeable, nothing painful, until I tried to walk and my knee buckled like an asphalt driveway on a 100-degree day. My kneecap moved all over the place, like a silver ball in a plastic-domed cardboard puzzle. I could NOT get that sucker back in place.
When I awoke the next morning, my knee had swollen to the size of a small cantaloupe. To get downstairs, I had to sit and slide. My toes were numb and my foot was cold. It was time to hit the ER.
The doctor said I most likely sprained it and tore some ligaments, but without an MRI, he couldn’t know exactly what was wrong. One look at my knee on a good day and you know it’s toast. It’s been living on borrowed time since I was 18 and I’ll be 50 in five months. It’s accrued a lot of interest in 32 years. But like an old car you can’t afford to replace, I just keep changing the oil, hoping she’ll give me a few more miles.
We nixed the MRI idea because it would be a waste of time and money. I assumed the doctor would suggest draining the fluid, as I’ve had done many times before, but he said the arthritis and the bone spurs would make draining more difficult and he didn’t want to risk aggravating my knee any further or cause infection. He said I needed to wear a knee stabilizer and follow the RICE principal – rest, ice, compression, elevation.
I waited until he left my room to shed a few tears. This knee dealio couldn’t have come at a worse time. I just adopted a beautiful 18-month-old coon hound/lab mix on Friday. Her original name was Whitney, but she doesn’t look like or act like a Whitney. I thought about Sid, but g-baby Claire said she already has too many Sidney’s in her life (Sidney her best friend and Sidney Crosby, her favorite hockey player). So I named her Alice because I like “White Rabbit” and because her back legs reminded me a little of my great-grandmother Alice’s legs: skinny and slightly bowed.
Except for the three hours I spent out with the Irishman Saturday night, I’ve been with Alice constantly since Friday morning. We’re attached like flies on stink (and she does sometimes stink as her body adjusts to new food…yikes!). Underweight, my job is to help Alice gain 8 pounds, which I’d happily give her if liposuction transfer was possible. Alice’s job is to get me out of the house and be more active. That’s going to be a challenge with a bum knee.
A nurse came in with the brace and she saw me wiping my eyes.
“I want to tell you something…” she began, and I thought, ‘Here we go. Another well-intentioned person who has a friend who has a friend who had her knee replaced when she was 79 and she wondered why she didn’t do it sooner.’ I hear that story all the time.
“I’m 56 and have been an ER nurse for 30 years,” she said. “I’m on my feet for long hours at a time. Several years ago, my right knee started hurting. It kept getting worse until two years ago, I decided to see an orthopedic surgeon. He told me, ‘How in the hell do you expect me to fix something like that when you’re so damn fat?’”
I gasped.
“Yup, that’s what he said. But he replaced my knee and it was the best thing I’d ever done for myself,” she said.  
“Wait,” I said, still reeling from her doctor’s comment. “He spoke to you like that and you let him operate?”
She laughed. “He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I know I’m fat. I have been all my life. I’ve never been thin like you.”
As she wrapped my knee in the brace, I thought about all the assumptions floating around the room – hers and mine – and about how much easier it is to assume than it is to remain curious and open-minded. 

The older I get, the more I think I know, when the truth is – to quote Smash Mouth – my brain gets smart but my head gets dumb. This is particularly true when it comes to things I fear, like knee replacement. I recycle old, unexamined thoughts or turn a blind eye to the truth.

Isn’t she a beaut? I might be able to get a few more miles out of her (Is there anything a hot bath won’t cure?), but I will give knee replacement a little less resistance and a little more thought, especially now that Alice will be needing my knees to keep up with her for the next 13 years or so.