Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vacationing is Hard Work


When our children were toddlers, I had a girlfriend describe vacationing with children as “parenting in a different place.” She was right. If you’ve gone on a trip with your partner before having children, you know that taking children, especially babies or toddlers, out of town, is not nearly as relaxing as it could be. The endless accommodations you have to anticipate for diapers or food or public tantrums are, quite simply, exhausting. Corralling your children in a familiar place like home is much easier.

- Let me be the first to say how grateful I am that my girls are eleven and nine.
- Let me be the first to say how grateful I am that we insisted on swimming lessons (and they took to them like guppies) when they were toddlers.
- Let me be the first to say that there is nothing like traveling with your in-laws to a lovely tropical location to inspire such gratitude as you watch them manage twin 2-year-olds who want to go in two different directions, both of them potentially dangerous. (All this after you’ve given your kids some cash and told them to stay within shouting distance of the pool or the shave ice stand.)

It turns out that the most difficult thing I had to manage on my recent vacation was myself.

Day 1-3: Guilt. Despite the fact that my girls were both blissfully flitting from pool to beach to cousins to snack shack and back, requiring little if any interaction from me, I found myself often sitting in a chair on the beach beating myself up mentally. “I ought to be swimming with them.” “I ought to be taking a romantic walk down the beach with Bubba.” “I probably look really lazy sitting here in the sun while my sister-in-law struggles with the twins. I should go help her.” “Some exercise would be good. I ought to go for a run or swim some laps.” I could go on, but I suspect you’ve got the message by now.

I wasn’t getting dirty looks or pleas for attention. Cash, yes. Attention, not so much. The simple fact is, the girls were having a ball with their cousins (five of them accompanied us on the trip), and Bubba was fully immersed in vacation-mode, doing what he loves best (boogie-boarding with the girls, staring at the ocean, and having a martini with his father by the pool). And yet I couldn’t turn off the part of my mind that was certain there were more important things I could be doing.

Day 4-10: Occasional guilt. But mostly, since I continually worked on reminding myself that I work really hard at home and THIS IS MY VACATION, TOO, I was able to stop and give myself permission to be lazy relax. See? I can’t even bring myself to call it lazy. I guess that word is too thick with negative connotation for me to be comfortable with.

I won’t say that I didn’t continue to struggle with that constant questioning voice asking “what should you be doing?” At some point I was reminded that someone once told me no matter how far you run, you are still stuck with yourself. So while vacationing with my kids is now a lot easier, one thing that will never change is that going away in any circumstances is “being with myself in a different place.” It was a stark reminder that working on self-acceptance is still the most important work I have to do – no matter where I am.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Reviews are Back!

I recently joined Book Pleasures as a reviewer and my first assignment was a long but rewarding book. I've posted the review in its entirety here, but I highly recommend you pop over to their site for any other book reviews you might wish to see. Their reviewers represent all different genres and the list of books there is staggering.



Book Review
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America
By John-Manuel Andriote
ISBN: 978-1-61364-678-6
University of Chicago Press

In this revised and updated version of his comprehensive book, the author takes a look at the AIDS epidemic in America from its explosive beginnings to present day. He traces the strange origins of what was first known as the “gay cancer” and, through exhaustive interviews and vast amounts of research, paints an extraordinary picture of the way gay culture was significantly altered because of it.

Andriote, himself a gay man who was present as AIDS made itself known, spreading like wildfire through the gay communities in cities like San Francisco and New York, has a unique perspective on what life was like for gay men before and after the epidemic hit. He watched as this population, actively discriminated against and almost completely disenfranchised, came together as a cohesive unit to address the issues that AIDS presented for them. The book is a fascinating history of the movement almost entirely started by the gay community to demand recognition and respect in the face of this deadly disease. It traces the roots of the comprehensive in-home care systems (known as the “San Francisco model”) that ensured that those afflicted with AIDS could receive effective, appropriate care based on their individual needs. Far from treating AIDS as a solely medical issue, the gay community quickly recognized the need for housing, food, and counseling as well as medical treatment.

The author looks at the drive for acceptance and acknowledgment by gay men and women and the monumental barriers put in their way by the political and cultural establishments of the 1980s and beyond. The reader quickly begins to understand how incredibly hard it is to navigate a bureaucracy like the United States government when you are part of a group so hated and stigmatized. Nonetheless, the early efforts of those determined to fight for funding and research and treatment for AIDS were tireless and passionate and served to change the gay community itself from a set of disparate individuals not prone to sharing struggles or finding commonality amongst themselves into a unified, organized force for change.

The book itself follows some of the most dynamic individuals in this struggle up to present day as well as the course of AIDS policy throughout the years and changes in political leadership in the US. The path taken by many of the organizations created in response to the AIDS crisis is a primer for any other service organization, as the author does a thorough job of exploring, through the lens of history, some of the mistakes and missteps as well as acknowledging the triumphs and lessons learned by these grassroots efforts.

Victory Deferred is a testament to the passion and spirit of the gay community when faced with a catastrophe within their ranks. He shows that the fight is far from over and, indeed, has gone a bit off-course in the last two decades, but his even-handed and painstakingly complete account of this crisis serves to enlighten and educate the reader to a degree I would not have thought possible.

If you're interested in buying this book click here.

Review by Kari O’Driscoll for BookPleasures.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BlogHer's "Life Well-Lived" Series

What do you do to get your day going on an upbeat, positive note?

That was the question posed to me as a blogger featured on BlogHer. I signed up to answer questions as part of a series exploring how women can live better lives. Not change themselves or their life circumstances, but live in the lives they already have in a happier, more grounded way.

I will admit, when the question appeared in my inbox, my first thought was, "What makes them think I start my day on an upbeat, positive note?"

Joking aside, however, I do actually strive to ground myself before my eyes even open for the day by shoving aside the conveyor-belt to-do list that wants to muscle its way to forefront of my brain and imagining the day stretching out before me in the most positive way possible.

Upon hitting the kitchen (the nerve-center of our household), my routine is set and everyone in the house knows it. Other than letting the dog out to empty his bladder, the first needs that are met are mine. Over the years, I have discovered that using the espresso machine to make my latte is a ritual that is as soothing to complete as the final product is - my own "Japanese tea ceremony," if you will. The familiar process of priming the machine and steaming the milk until it makes just the right squeal somehow centers me. I never use a thermometer to check the temperature - on my machine I know the precise pitch of perfectly hot milk. I never get tired of watching the thick, dark espresso run into the shot glass, swirling as the foam rises to the top. I head to the kitchen table and gaze out at the fountain burbling away in the backyard. Many mornings, there is a chickadee or blue jay drinking or bathing in the fountain and this quick re-connection with nature, coupled with the warmth of my drink and a few moments to myself set the tone for my day.

What are your rituals for starting your day? Pop over to BlogHer's Life Well Lived site to add your two cents and read others' tips for starting your day off happy. You can also enter to win a $250.00 Visa gift card if you share your ideas.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not the Post I Wanted to Write


I had planned another blog post for today - one I've been ruminating about for the last couple of days. Often, ideas for posts come to me as I walk or read or find quiet moments throughout my day, and this one was no exception. But I was derailed by the issue that has screamed its way in to my email inbox and plastered itself across my Facebook page every day this week - HR 358.

[H.R.358 would allow hospitals to refuse to provide a woman emergency, lifesaving abortion care, even if she will die without it.]

Anyone who reads my blog can easily peg me as someone who ardently supports a woman's right to make her own health care decisions - proudly "pro-choice." And despite having grown up with that right in place (I won't say firmly), I have never considered myself as someone who takes abortion rights for granted. That said, I didn't truly believe it was possible for the House of Representatives to pass this bill today. I live in an area where my state representative shares my conviction on this issue, relieving me from any email efforts to remind him where I stand. He voted against the bill just like I knew he would. But that didn't mitigate my complete and utter shock at the news that the bill passed anyway.

I'm not sure what I find more perplexing about this.

1. That politicians would presume to tell physicians - professionals who have undergone years of specialized training in healthcare issues - how to do their jobs. Physicians do take an oath to "first do no harm" upon passing the bar and beginning their practice. It seems to me that letting a woman die when there is a life-saving procedure available to her violates that oath. Egregiously.

2. That despite the much more pressing issues facing our country (recession, wars, a broken healthcare system), and the certain knowledge that should this bill find its way on to President Obama's desk, he will veto it, they insisted on spending time and energy and money putting it to a vote. For what? To send a message? Believe me, the public is clear about Boehner's intentions to end legalized abortion in the United States. We don't need the message in any other terms. We get it. This is the seventh time a bill attempting to restrict abortions in the U.S. has been up for a vote this year.

I must say, I'm past being disgusted and fully immersed in confusion at this point. Are politicians so completely out of touch with what is going on in the country that they think this is pressing work? Have they become such automatons in their belief that it is important for them to wield their power to make laws and push specific agendas that they have lost the ability to be flexible and respond to what the people of our country are dealing with on a daily basis?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Get Lost!


I like maps. And my GPS. Even when I think I know where I'm going, I like to plug the address in to my iPhone and get directions as a back up.

When we were in Tuscany with the girls in 2004, I found the Italian approach to road maps a tad frustrating, to say the least. Not only do they seem to lack accuracy in scale, they don't note the toll plazas and when you're faced with the prospect of changing lanes to exit when you don't have any change and there are locals whizzing by you at 125 mph, it often seems easier to just stay on the motorway. Except that the next opportunity to get off might be miles and miles down the road. And it is probably getting dark. And the two- and four-year-olds in the back seat are most likely getting hungry.

I decided that the Italians, who truly enjoy their hours-long lunches, complete with wine, might be better off outsourcing their mapping jobs to the Germans. They were the only ones who seemed more perturbed about the lack of accuracy than I was.

So I like to know where I'm going. And how long it will take me to get there. And I hate being late. So sue me. I get that it's a control thing. And I'm working on that - the being comfortable not being in control part, I mean. But I still need a knock on the head every once in a while.

Cue David Whyte and his amazing book, "The Three Marriages." I have written about it before, but I am reading the book again, having decided that I would get more out of it if I read it with some friends. So we have a mini-book-club thing going and I am much more mindful and deliberate about reading it this time and am able to go another layer deeper in to the subject matter.

It came as no surprise to me that, after a day of pinging around the house, lost to purpose and wondering when I might get some inkling of energy back to begin to engage in writing and creating, I read these words:

"Eventually we realize that not knowing what to do is just as real and just as useful as knowing what to do. Not knowing stops us from taking false directions. Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention. Just as people lost in the wilderness, on a cliff face or in a blizzard pay attention with a kind of acuity they would not have if they thought they knew where they were. Why? Because for those who are really lost, their life depends on paying real attention. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking."

It was the last line that really stopped me in my tracks. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking.

And sometimes, when I am desperately seeking a path TO somewhere (home, the dentist, Eve's friend's house), my vision hones in so tightly as I look for clues that I fail to notice the breadth of the world around me. I am so focused on the end point, the goal, and what I imagine it to look like, that I might drive right past it because it doesn't seem to fit my expectations.

In the case of my writing goals, I am reminded that it is more fruitful to pay attention to where I am right now and simply take the next step than it might be to fantasize about what the final product will look like or how it will be received. I may well discover an entirely new path that contains delightful surprises or challenges me beyond what I thought I could do or leads me on the journey of a lifetime.

I need to get lost more often so that I can pay more attention.

Monday, October 03, 2011

You Make a Mess...


you clean it up. That's the rule in our house. It's the rule at Eve and Lola's school, and the rule at most workplaces I know. You dirty up some dishes in the lunchroom? Wash them, dry them and put them away. No reason anyone else ought to be doing your dishes. It's a respect thing.

I get that sometimes accidents happen. I've seen Lola trying to maneuver a container of yogurt out of the fridge from behind that enormous jar of pickles, only to bump the jar and have the pickles and pickle juice cascade all down the front of the refrigerator shelves and onto the floor. What generally happens in that instance is that someone comes to help her clean it up. But nobody does it for her.

More importantly, though, when it is a purposeful activity that leads to a mess - say Eve's got a hankering to bake cookies on a rainy Sunday afternoon - she's responsible for cleaning it up. If she needs help she can always ask.

If Lola gets aggravated at her sister for calling her a name or treating her disrespectfully and decides to dump her entire load of clean, folded laundry over the railing onto the hardwood floor below it is Lola's job to pick up the clothes, refold them and put the basket back in front of Eve's door.

Why is it that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold our world leaders? It's a basic premise: You make a mess, you clean it up.

Last Thursday I was listening to NPR as they featured an interview with the man responsible for starting and maintaining the landmine museum in Afghanistan. Seems like an odd theme for a museum, I know, but his purpose is to bring awareness to the enormity of the problem with landmines in this war-fatigued country. I was astonished to learn that there are an estimated TEN MILLION LAND MINES IN AFGHANISTAN. Yes, you read that correctly. And I looked it up again to make sure I heard it correctly.

A huge majority of these mines are left over from the war between the former USSR and Afghanistan. You know, the one that ended in 1988. The mine of choice for this particular ten-year war is very benignly known as a "butterfly" mine. Turns out they actually look like butterflies and were designed this way so that they could be dropped via air and gently flutter to the ground without exploding. They only explode on contact with an animal or human being. Now, can you think of a human being that might be intrigued by a hand-sized object that resembles a butterfly? A child, perhaps? And can you imagine how many children have lost limbs and eyes and THEIR LIVES by picking up these land mines that have been in Afghanistan for the last 30 years or so?

Land mines litter the landscape of Afghanistan. They are on the land that is used to graze animals, paths to and from towns, and on school property. The incidence of land mines in Afghanistan has resulted in the depopulation of entire swaths of the country because people are unwilling to take the chance that they might come across one in their daily lives. And yet, the proprietor of this land mine museum still encounters children who actively seek out these mines in order to gather the scrap metal to make a little money for their families. Because their families have lost livestock to mines or they have been forced to give up growing crops that could sustain them because their land is too dangerous to work.

Ignoring the larger question of whether or not it is even morally defensible to use land mines as an offensive tactic, when a war is over, I think it is not unreasonable to expect the country that placed them to go in and clean up the land mines. Finding and disarming these deadly weapons is expensive and time consuming, but I think if you're willing to use them to target civilians (and don't tell me that this isn't what the the USSR and the Taliban were/are doing by placing mines in these particular areas), you ought to be willing to go pick up your mess when you've made your point. The fact that you can declare that a war is over and walk away knowing that generations of innocent civilians continue to be placed in harm's way as a direct result of your actions during wartime seems a little too easy.

It would seem to me that the countries who use land mines as a way to wage war ought to know in advance that they will be held responsible for all of the fallout from that decision. Not all is fair in war, and I believe that leaving a country riddled with land mines constitutes a war crime.
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