Well, okay, two things at a time. I also just finished a tremendous book by an author I adore, Ursula Hegi. You may be familiar with her book "Stones From the River", but I picked this one up at the used book store last week and stayed up until 2AM reading it. I love that it takes place in parts of the world with which I'm familiar, but I was even more struck by the fullness of it all. It's rich in language and texture, emotion and reality. Ooh, check it out!This is going to have to hold you all for a while, though, because I'm off to have more fun with the girls. My daughters are reveling in all of the giggling and storytelling and grown-upedness they're getting to be a part of, but we're ditching them with the hubby tomorrow and going out to paint the town. Stories will come later.....
Friday, June 29, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
She is fun and funny. She is brash and bold and not afraid to speak her mind. No doubt she's found herself in a pickle (barrel) or two because of that, but it's something I can count on no matter what. We have a lot in common - our politics, our age (we are a mere 3 weeks apart and, if you must know, I am the older one), our love of books and music. We also are incredibly different. In high school, I almost always took the traditional path - aspiring to go to college and major in pre-medicine, dating the quarterback of the football team, running for student council, you know - goody two-shoes. Miss Devylish is very bright and, while she excelled in her studies as well, she was more willing to put herself out there and try out for the school play and introduce herself to the foreign exchange students. After we graduated, I went off to college and she went to Norway as an exchange program. We had taken French classes together and she had originally requested Paris as a destination, but was instead sent to Oslo. Hmmm, no faltering, she went and struggled her way through learning the language until things fell apart and she was sent home - but I'll let her tell that story someday... (sorry, dear).
She inspires and encourages me to do things I would not normally consider and I am always cheered up by her sunny disposition. We have the sort of relationship that allows us to insult each other ('shut up, bitch') and tease each other about our, shall I say, challenges without taking each other seriously. She is the auntie who introduced my girls to the existence of belly-button jewelry and nose rings and she was the one with whom they went to their first real concert. They adore her. My husband loves to tease her and cook for her in his manly outdoor kitchen and is constantly on the lookout for an older man to pair her with (good luck with that, honey!) She brightens my life in so many ways I cannot even begin to do it justice.
Because of her, I have renewed contact with another girlfriend from high school, Ammo Girl. AG is flying in tonight and the three of us will spend the next five days playing with my daughters, cooking, drinking some damn fine wine, eating chocolate, laughing and catching up. I am so excited I can barely stop vibrating and it's all thanks to Miss Devylish. Thanks, sweetie! I don't know what I'd do without you.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Summer is a time of strengthening. Flowers and plants that have begun to grow in the Spring spend the summer becoming - setting fruit, reaching for the sky, opening up to their full potential. I feel that push. Magazines offer 'bathing suit bodies', Target displays are full of bronzing products. Resolutions to learn Spanish and drop 20 pounds, finish my book and organize my house form a scrolling billboard playing in my mind's eye. I am committed to becoming better. Better wife. Better mother. Better friend. Better woman.
Cramming every minute full of potential, writing, cooking, cleaning, taking the girls swimming, visiting with friends and family I have neglected lately. I don't stop to realize I'm packing Pandora's Box. This morning Pandora came. Scratches at the lid as I lay in bed, 'I don't want to get up today.' Shhh, it's Saturday - nothing to do that I don't really want to do. Quiet, my dear. An orange flash at the bottom of the computer signals a dear friend wanting to Instant Message me. I summon my husband instead - I can't take the time for this right now. Instead, I retreat to my writing space. Pandora knocks at the lid, 'Let me out. There is no space to breathe in here.' Reluctantly I leave this comfortable room and follow her.
The lid opens. Stomach cramps, sweating, anxiety frizzles around in my brain, bouncing off my skull like lightning looking for a place to escape. I search for some linear explanation: too many cherries from yesterday's Farmer's Market, wine with dinner too many nights in a row... I know, though, that Pandora is manifested in my gut because I've not taken a cue from Mother Nature. Summer may be a time of strengthening, but what I'm doing is not that. The pea vines don't strive to become dahlias. They don't criticize their flowers because they're not showy enough, their mission is to take what they're given and use it to become the very best peas they can. Another lesson learned. Beauty is not in the do-ing so much as it is in the be-ing.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I have a treadmill in my bedroom. The only daily use it gets is when my kitten sharpens his claws on the belt. A couple of weeks ago, though, I was foolish enough to stand on my bathroom scale as I waited for the shower to warm up. Never, ever do that! I had been content to notice that my pants were getting tighter without registering anything other than, "Hmm, must be time to go shopping online!" Once the absurd number flashed up at me in red digits I was no longer able to deny that I am getting...well, more Rubenesque, shall we say?
As a general rule, I am opposed to curbing my eating habits. I love to cook and I love to eat my husband's fabulous cooking and chocolate is a staple in my diet like tortillas in Mexico, so I decided to get back on the treadmill. The only problem, I remembered 10 minutes into my exercise routine, is that I find working out excruciatingly BO-RING! No TV in my room. No CD player. Just me and those other red digits ticking away s l o w l y. I did manage to make it through 30 minutes, encouraging myself by visualizing the lines my favorite underwear have begun to carve into my flesh as I expand.
Another plan would have to present itself, though, because this vision cannot sustain me for long. Today, I came up with the brilliant idea to multitask. I adore multitasking, especially when it entails doing two things I'm not especially excited about simultaneously. I borrowed my eldest daughter's CD player and popped in a 'Living Language Spanish Series' disc. I really want to know Spanish. I just don't want to have to learn it. I also really want to be in shape, healthy, not at risk for a heart attack or high blood pressure. I just don't want to have to stop eating chocolate or pasta or bread or drinking wine to do it. Viola! Listening to the CD and repeating the inane sentences after Maria (what else would her name be, after all? Ursula?) distracted me just enough to not notice the time literally flying by. I was so inspired that I even raised the incline and sped up a bit and at the end of 30 minutes I was dripping with sweat.
I have dieted (hate that word) enough in my life to realize that the first several pounds I will lose will be what is known as 'water weight.' I'm okay with that. In fact, if I can sweat like a pig while learning to say, "yo necesito ir al heladeria" a few times a week, I'm all for it. Purge the sweat, er, 'water'!
Unfortunately, within minutes after disembarking from the evil machine of doom I was reminded of something unpleasant: working out gives me hives. No, really. That's not just some lame excuse to avoid exercise altogether - it's actually true. Despite standing in a cool shower for ten minutes and dressing in a tank top and shorts, I found myself blooming. The most obnoxious one sprouted at the base of my neck so that I had to contort my arms to reach it and scratch. Another presented on my upper lip - still more behind my knees and on my lower back. Flapping my still-wet hair and spraying droplets of water on them made no impression.
I cannot sit in a sauna. I do not enjoy lounging in a hot tub. No matter how cold it is outside, taking a long, hot shower is not for me. Heat = itchy, mosquito-bite-like bumps that stay for hours on my skin. This is why I like Pilates and yoga and going for walks outside with my dog. Ben & Jerry's Caramel Sutra does not give me hives. I don't itch when I eat Belgian chocolate. Red wine = no scratching.
WebMD provides all sorts of helpful information on hives, also known as urticaria. Descriptions, possible causes, and treatments. I then went searching for photos to post and realized what a wimp I am. I may get hives from overheating, but I have never experienced anything like the poor people in these photos.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I was working as a surgical assistant for a group of plastic surgeons. I had assisted on cosmetic surgeries like face lifts, tummy tucks, eye lifts, liposuction (eww, the grossest of all), nose jobs. I witnessed amazing reconstructive surgeries to remove burn scars and skin cancers. I had sat for hours helping to reattach nerves and blood vessels in hands and even assisted on a surgery to remove a man's big toe and put it on his hand as a 'new' thumb after he lost his in an industrial accident. Our surgeries ranged from 30 minutes for a carpal tunnel surgery to eight hours for microsurgery or complicated reconstructions. I was pretty sure I had seen it all, but I wasn't ready for James (not his real name).
James was a 15 year old African American boy whose parents had chosen not to have him circumcised at birth. His parents emigrated from Uganda where it was unusual, if not downright strange, for male children to be circumcised (the stories of female circumcision are another issue altogether and one I'm not ready to address here). They hadn't even considered the possibility although the doctors at the American hospital where James was born encouraged them strongly in that direction. James was born in the 1980s when most American physicians were of the opinion that circumcision was 'cleaner' and 'more hygeinic'. They were also convinced that it was painless since the babies couldn't express their discomfort in actual words.
Unfortunately for James, high school is a time fraught with conformist tendencies and, although he was a handsome, athletic young man, showering after gym class had become torturous. Not only was he in the minority because of his skin color, he was the only boy who was not circumcised. His peers had never seen an uncircumcised penis and were convinced he was deformed. Word spread like wildfire in August and soon this young man was ostracized because of a decision his parents had made upon his birth. He begged his parents to let him get circumcised.
I was assigned to assist with the surgery and, although I felt sorry for James that he would have to suffer through having a female in the room while he was naked, I was intrigued. At the age of 26, I had never seen an uncircumcised penis either, and I was curious. We agreed that the doctor, a black man of Nigerian descent, would do all the pre-surgical counseling so as not to further embarrass James, and I would only enter the operating room after he was asleep. They discussed the option of local anesthesia, but the thought of someone poking a needle into his penis was nearly enough to stop James' breathing right then and there.
In contrast to the atmosphere in the OR during most of our surgeries, this was a quiet affair. The CD player broadcast a Seal album and there was no joking or discussion of our weekend activities. Dr. M meticulously explained the anatomy and talked about how this procedure wasn't even taught in many of the world's medical programs because it was unheard of outside the U.S. The reverence in the room was thick as we thought about the clash of conformity and culture. The surgery was simple and took no more than 15 minutes and I left the recovery room before James awoke. The physician gave him the follow-up instructions: ice, pain relievers and minimal activity for a few days.
The next morning I listened to the messages that had come in overnight. James' mother's voice was shaky and brittle - he was in a great deal of pain. Was there some prescription we could give him? Another message an hour later was slightly more concerning: there was some redness and a great deal of tenderness. Could we please call back first thing in the morning? I checked with the doctor and called to reassure his mother. Had he been moving around a lot? Being careful to wipe after urinating? Had he continued to ice the affected area? She was mortified to ask, but not nearly so embarassed as he was to answer her.
Three days later James returned for a post-op check. He came in wearing baggy grey sweatpants and a t-shirt whose slogan was obscured by the slump of his broad shoulders. He shuffled across the waiting room refusing to meet my eyes. It took all of my restraint to keep my mouth shut and my hand from rubbing his shoulder as I would do for any other patient of mine. I opted to stay out of the exam room but the doctor came out with a furrowed brow and some concern about the amount of swelling.
It took about 10 days for James' surgical site to fully heal and the swelling to subside, but I wonder if he'll ever be able to shed the sharp pain of embarassment from the entire ordeal. I also wonder what he'll decide to do if he has a son...
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I was always fearless in the beginning. I chose the path that I most certainly would have avoided in real life, knowing that I could have as many do-overs as I wanted to. I lived vicariously through myself, trying to be brave and avoid an abrupt ending simultaneously. I hated it when I turned to a page that marked the ending of that path. No choices set forth at the bottom of the page, just 'The End' stamped below the final paragraph. If I were reading in the car, I would turn the page away from my brother so as not to let him know I'd made a choice that ended my journey before I could go back and start it over.
My eldest daughter has discovered these books at the library and wants me to sit with her while she reads. She is intimidated by choices and asks me to make the decisions for her - living vicariously through my adventurous spirit and knowing that if we die, she can blame me. These days I choose the path I deem most risky for her benefit, hoping that she will become increasingly comfortable with the notion that it is just a story and we can go back at any time.
Although I know it is important to take into account the consequences of our decisions, for ourselves and those who surround us, experiencing these books as an adult has reminded me that I can be more courageous with my choices. I can opt to do something I'm afraid of, take a path whose end I can't be sure of, and enjoy the sights along the way. If I hit a dead end, I'll just come back and see where the other path leads me. Of course, I'm not exactly desperate to avoid the abominable snowman in my daily life, but I do tend to take the safe route, the predictable route, the habitual route. Maybe I'm up for an adventure today instead...
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Sunday, June 03, 2007
builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In
the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled
acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become
I know that I have learned this over and over again in my life. I have watched my children learn to do things (and say other things I wish they wouldn't) simply by observing me and testing the waters. When I first started working as a surgical assistant I was alternately horrified and excited by the oft-used phrase, "see one, do one, teach one". Horrified because I worried about those unsuspecting patients who were paying their physician to perform a surgical procedure on them, not to stand by and watch while a resident or intern or medical assistant did the procedure instead. Excited because I was lucky enough to be that trusted assistant. Over several years I was allowed to suture wounds, reduce fractured bones, and remove benign skin growths under the hawklike gaze of my mentors.
As nervous as I was to wield a scalpel on another human being, it becomes addictive. For a self-described control freak, the simple act of fixing something compares to nothing else. The clients who came into our clinic had made their way there via the Emergency Room in most cases. It was our job to reattach blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and, often, fingers. Other times, there were great gaping holes in faces or horrific burn scars on limbs that would need extensive repair. The physicians I worked with were equal parts scientists and artists, capable of sizing up both medical and aesthetic needs in mere minutes. They were egotistical and self-important, completely sure of their abilities, and while that grated on my nerves on a daily basis, it was a special kind of balm to a frightened patient who just wanted to look and feel human again.
None of these surgeons were infallible and, while it was difficult to imagine them as scared med students, they had to start somewhere. At some point, they each had to decide to lift the scalpel and make that first cut. At some point they put aside their doubts and fears and began to practice the work they had chosen to be theirs. We learn by doing. Practice what is important to you in order to become proficient. In order to accomplish the goals we set out to achieve, we must take that first step and be consistent in our forward motion. Something for me to revisit every day, I think.