Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

It’s my birthday!

I have always been a kind of “it’s my birthday month!” kind of person. I have been known to remind people all year round, in fact, of the exciting day at any time of year. I used to post on FB items that might make a great birthday present, reminding people that it was only 6 months away and it was never too soon to buy. Not that I really expected to receive hundreds of gifts – nor did I. I considered it fun – or funny, even, to let the world know what I wanted.

Like this beauty I saw for the first time last year

Like these beauties I saw for the first time last year

This year, I’ve found myself flummoxed twice when someone asked me about a gift for my birthday. I couldn’t think of what to say and really, didn’t answer either person with a very direct response. I think part of the reason is because I’m really feeling the strain of the end of grad school (read: educational poverty) and I have many things on my “Wish List” which seem to me to be necessary items. Like shoes. Or car repair. Or glasses.

lems primal

Dude. They’re zero-drop and I can wear them to present!

I decided to set about making a wish list that I could share with people. It was really hard to do. It caused me a lot of brain energy, wondering what to put on the list, adding things and then deleting them over and over again (all this while I was studying, you understand). And then last night it came to me – I remembered/realized why making a list was so hard!

birthday list 0

While I used to laugh and joke about what people could buy me, in real life, telling someone what I want for a gift is actually the LAST think I want to do.

Here’s why:

In my family, my mother had a real thing about gifts. There is a long (probably apocryphal) story about my father’s first gift to my mother, which was disdained by my mother (for cultural reasons that my father could not have possibly guessed). Since that first, fateful gift, my mother made it a habit to tell my father, and even her children, what to buy for her. I remember gathering up my babysitting money at 12 years old to pay for a portion of a shoe and purse pair (sharing the cost with my sister and probably my father) that my mother requested.

Till the day he passed away, my father never bought a gift for her (as far as I know) without her direct (or indirect via one of us kids) approval.

The older I got, the less I liked this, although I surely understood his point of view. I remember my mother’s response when I brought something I’d made at school to give as a Mother’s Day gift – “What is that, anyway? Huh. Dust catcher.” Yeah, who wants to risk that kind of response?

Some mother’s like them, apparently...

Some mothers like them, apparently…

But I did, occasionally, give my father a hard time about it. I’d ask him how many years he had been buying gifts for her (40 years) and then run down a list of her strong likes/dislikes. Then I’d encourage him to choose something he thought she’d like. But he never did.

Even now, when she is “forced” to engage in Secret Santa or some such gift giving thing at work or church, she tells people to wrap a gift for a child for her, so that she can then give it, un-opened, to some child at her church.


After leaving home, though, I had a friend who bought me a book by an author I’d never even heard of, and I loved it. She knew my tastes well enough to find something for me that I didn’t even know existed yet was completely engaging to me. And other friends repeated that amazing feat, time and time again. A friend I haven’t seen in years has sent me fabulous gifts from Italy. One friend knows how to pick the perfect shirts for me. One far away friend has delighted me every year since I left MN with treats and surprises that quickly become parts of my every day life.

On the one hand, I can understand not wanting to receive things that you don’t want or like. I do. But when I compare that to the absolute DELIGHT that comes from receiving a gift that makes you feel like the other person really knows you…well, that just seems silly. Those are my favorite gifts. The ones that called out to you, when you saw them, that they would be perfect for me. They are things I would never buy for myself, and am delighted to own anyway. They are things that may or may not actually arrive on my birthday or any other holiday, which suddenly and immediately become irreplaceable. So there you go, that’s my wish list.



Study Prep aka Procrastination

Well, I didn’t get any studying done so far today, so I probably won’t be going to the Spanish Meetup tonight. But I see  cleaning today is a good sign. All the way through grad school, whenever I was working on a paper, the first thing I would do was clean house. I would clean literally top to bottom, moving stray dishes towards the kitchen, starting laundry and doing the kitchen last. Once everything felt orderly, I was better able to begin.

My little house in Minnesota

My little house in Minnesota

If for some reason I couldn’t do the cleaning (like there were other people in the house who did not want me cleaning, vacuuming, moving furniture etc) I could sit for hours at the computer and get very little done. So while some people may have deemed my cleaning merely a socially acceptable form of procrastination, I’ve come to see it as a way to gather myself, to clear out the cob webs in my brain, to cut loose the brain suckers (which I can tell you about in another post) and ready myself for business.

study central

Study Central

And, finally, the gratuitous cute dog picture. As usual, Bodhi gives up his bed to Max.

bodhi and max

Living in San Francisco (why I love Minneapolis)

I recently returned from a visit to Minneapolis and, as often happens, going some away taught me some things about where I live.

My first couple of days I had a horrible migraine, and my Rumi was under the weather too, so we spent them just hanging around, commiserating, talking, complaining together. It was great. I mean, I love my Rumi and I underestimated how much I missed her, as I have in the past. As you might have read, I’m eating in my own specialized way, so a trip to the store for my sweet potatoes was necessary in those first few days, too.

I discovered, to my dismay, that specialized, organic food, while always costly, seemed even more so in Minnesota. I realized how very lucky I’ve been to be living in San Francisco while on a limited income. I’ve relied heavily on CSA’s since 2008.

In Minnesota and later Massachusetts, this ensured that I could eat fresh, organic produce relatively inexpensively, for about 9 months out of the year (22 to 26 weeks of deliveries, and the rest frozen or canned – mostly frozen). When I went away for my internship, I knew I’d have a tiny stipend, so I bought my farm share (from Farmer Dave’s) in advance for most of the year (CSA’s in parts of the country where the growing season is, well, a season rather than year-round, members of CSA’s purchase all the weeks in advance, as a way to support the farm at the beginning of the season, before there is any actual produce).

One of my earliest CSA shares

One of my earliest CSA shares

When I moved to San Francisco, I quickly realized that my postdoc wages weren’t going to get me far with organic produce, so I went back to a farm share (in CA many farm shares are available to purchase by the week). I was thrilled to see artichokes, avocados and Romanesco in my boxes. Once I got to know the area a bit better, I started going to the farmer’s market and went down to just once a month on my farm share. Know what I spend on food each week? Most weeks, 20 bucks. That’s it. It’s true that I make a Costco run about every other month, but I buy the bulk of my food for about $80 a month.



And San Francisco feels good to me, I feel comfortable here. I love the way the sidewalks fill with people, and the variety of people where ever you look. I love that there is a street fair somewhere damn near every weekend (or so it seems). There are free concerts and parks and beautiful views. There are beaches and hills and dogs in the stores.

Just one beautiful vista

Just one beautiful vista

And in my neighborhood, it’s sunny. A lot of the time, it’s sunny. The weather is great for me (although co-workers who moved from L.A. think it’s too cold). It’s warm to cool all year round. I love my job and where I live. I’m making connections to community these days and that’s all great too. I’m singing in a community chorus, too.

And yet, coming home from Minneapolis, it’s hard not to notice what San Francisco is missing. It’s missing my very best friend and her family. It’s missing my kid. It’s missing the best women’s choir I’ve ever known (TCWC), and the many connections I have there. It’s missing the Ladies from Spades. It’s missing the camaraderie of ridiculously cold weather and potholes big enough to break your axle.

One last snow - for me!

One last snow – for me!

Living in San Francisco is great. And now, I love Minneapolis, too.


Scent and body butter day!


Barbarian Weekend

So, after hearing that I have never been camping, a friend from work invited me to Barbarian Weekend. She explained that she would find a tent and bedding for me, and that the food is all taken care of for the Barbarian Feast. There’s a trailer with the food in it, so that’s safe, and there will be plenty of drinks, water all that. There are outhouses, so it wouldn’t be seriously roughing it. She told me about all the people who would be there, lots of families, different groups of families, 20 something adults who were part of the Barbarian Weekend when they were kids, older adults who are starting to let those younger adults take on the jobs that keep Barbarian Weekend going.

I’ll tell you the truth. I said, “Sure, I’d do that” months ago, with very little actual interest in camping. I admit it. What most interested me in this event was the thought of all those families. I miss families. I grew up with just my mother, father, and sister. While my dad and mom both had large extended families, we grew up moving from country to country, state to state, far from other family members.

Even as a kid, I found ways to get myself included in other people’s family events. I hung out in friends’ living rooms, sometimes annoying my friends because I was hanging around with their parents and siblings. As an adult, I continue to join in with other people’s family events. Barbarian Weekend sounded like my kind of thing.

This was something that was months out, and I kind of forgot about it. As it got closer M started talking about it and asking about my plans. I was nervous, but by then I really liked M and wanted to join in that family thing. So I confirmed. Two weeks before the event, she told me I needed a Barbarian costume. I wasn’t really surprised, nor was I very worried, as she told me that they have things there that I could use to make my costume. A few days later, I discovered she was going to make a new costume for herself, making last year’s available to me.

Another friend from work, C, who is also friends with M asked me, one week out, “What’s your talent?”

“My what?”

“Your talent…you have to perform something for the Barbarians.”

“I…what? What do I have to do?”

Conveniently, M walked into C’s office about that time.

“I have to perform something?”

M smiled broadly and told me that it was no big deal, that it could be some jokes, a story, a song – “you can do a dance,” she said.

Yeah, I was not going for the dance thing. This increased my nervousness, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me, you know? I went.

I won’t bore you with a story about my performance. I will say, though, that there were a number of fabulous performances and leave it at that for now. They were good enough that they deserve a post of their own.

What I will tell you is that I definitely found a wonderful family experience just like I was looking for. The people were warm and welcoming. There wasn’t just one family, there were several families – and not everyone was related. There were little kids and bigger kids and as mentioned before younger and older adults. It was amazing to listen to younger adults talk about their experiences growing up around Barbarians. It was great to see older adults talk about the way the younger adults were stepping up.

The creativity involved in the performances and Barbarian Idol was intense. I’m not talking about how good the performers and performances were – though they were great. What I’m talking about it is the freedom with which those performances were executed.

Robert Fulgham, wrote an essay about if you ask a room full of first graders, “Who here can dance?” all the kids will raise their hands. Likewise singing and drawing. He goes on to say that if you went into high school classes you would get very different results. Some have made the argument that that is because school “teaches” the artist out of people. I don’t think it’s just about school. I think it’s a cultural thing. I think people learn from all around them to “tone it down” and “fit in.” I think kids hear that it isn’t enough to love singing or dancing, but that they need to be “good” singers or dancers.

In this crowd, those messages were not evident. They got up to sing, dance, recite and tell jokes. I’m not saying no one was nervous – I’m just saying they got up. They got up and they smiled and laughed. They got up with original works and they demonstrated new abilities.

I was honored to be part of the tribe.

Four Hour Body – Mostly

If we are just counting straight time like a normal person would (or I think a normal person would – I am pretty sure I’m not normal), it has been nine weeks since I started eating a slow carb diet. The thing is, a visiting friend and a trip out to San Francisco means I’ve really only stayed strictly with the meal plan for five full weeks. I’d like to say that I don’t consider it “a diet,” like the South Beach Diet or Atkins or something like that. For me, it is a change in diet, a change in the way I eat.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you can see that I have, over the years, made a number of changes in the way I eat. I went to a strict vegetarian diet many years ago, which lasted until I moved to Italy. Living overseas, I was often confronted with meat in my food that I did not expect. So I loosened my strangle-hold on my vegetarian identity. I went back to being a bit more strict after coming back to the states, but by then I had learned to enjoy sushi (what? I said I loosened!). At that point I started calling myself a “mostly vegetarian.” I would eat sushi once or twice a year (not because of my ethics, just because I was too poor to afford it). And occasionally I’d eat fish and chips if I was out and the occasional salami from Italia.

From my fav place in Mpls

After being back in the states about a year I stopped taking in any dairy. I think I stayed off all dairy for about a year or maybe two. Then I became “mostly dairy free.” Do you see a pattern here? I found that I could manage to eat hard cheeses once in a while without ill effects. Even ice cream, if I was willing to suffer a bit after.

Around that time I got hitched and the family was not particularly interested in being vegetarian. I began buying turkey (from a happy turkey farm) and ate that once in a while with the family.

Ok, well, happier birds, anyway…

My sister got diagnosed with celiac and I went off gluten for about nine months. That was some trick. But I managed. And I didn’t really miss it – except for a nice, fresh loaf of Italian bread and cake. I did miss cake. The thing was, I did not really notice much difference in the way I felt the way I did when I changed my eating habits in the past. So I went back to some gluten, becoming, you guessed it, “mostly gluten free.” I don’t often eat bread, or wheat pasta. If I did eat a bunch, though, I would feel heavy and overly full. And the last time I ate some on a day off, my stomach got tight and I was all congested. So, yeah, I don’t eat much of that.

Oh, and then I heard that brown rice might be leaching iron from my blood! I’ve had anemia a couple of times in the last three years. Guess how long I’ve been eating a lot of brown rice? Yeah, about four years. So then I had to stop eating brown rice, which had become my staple carb.

So when I started reading the Four Hour Body, I was very interested in this diet change. I loved the idea of using beans for my carbs. And I already love beans. I also already knew that eating on a more regular schedule worked well for me. However, the big thing was how to get in enough protein. Given my many food rules (I now try to stick to just three from Michael Pollen – Eat food, Not too much, Mostly plants), I did not want to have to ingest lots of processed proteins, so I went with the whole foodiest option I could think of. I added meat back into my diet on a regular basis. My plan was to eat meat until I move from here, just to get my body going, then go back to my vegetarian diet.

I have four weeks left in Massachusetts. My current food goals are not to buy any new food (besides picking up my CSA shares) and to start to find ways to get the protein I need from other sources. And I’m ok with losing a few pounds, too. Nine weeks out of thirteen counts as mostly, don’t you think?

Bad break-up, anyone?

I don’t “get” the gut-wrenching break-up. I really, really don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I have never suffered before, during and after a break-up. I’m not saying I haven’t been mad, or hurt or even bitter about a break-up. I have. All those things. And I have been mad about what some ex said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. All that. Breaking up is sad, painful and difficult. I’m not talking about that at all. What I am talking about is the kind of break-up where your gut is actually wrenched (is that a word?) – where you feel your stomach tied in knots, where every contact is painful, where people feel the need to vilify their ex’s.

…or worse…

I have heard about this phenomenon many times. From family, friends and clients. I have heard stories of ex’s who fight over golf clubs and/or parenting schedules with equal ferocity. I have heard of ex’s purposely disagreeing with the other merely for the effect of watching them squirm (I mean I’ve heard it from the one’s doing it, not just the one squirming). I’ve heard of ex’s who make visitation schedules ridiculous to the point of making it almost impossible to keep up with.

I’ve heard from people in the throes of these situations about the effect it has on their physical and mental health. Stomachs tight with worry and anticipation of the next shoe (to drop), ulcers and compulsive nail biting. Deep depressions or high anxiety (sometimes both!), difficulty concentrating, sleeping, eating, even driving.

I think the toughest part that I’ve heard about is they way people feel when they are in the middle of this kind of break-up. I’ve heard that people start to question themselves in the middle of all this, they start to genuinely feel as if they are going crazy – as if one should somehow be able to handle all of this insanity. In sitting with my friends over the years, I offered a supportive shoulder. With clients, I listened and did my best to help them to manage their own out-of-control emotions.

But all along, I had never had one of my own. And let me tell you, I have had a good number of break-ups in my time. For lots of different reasons. I mean, I’ve been dating since I was 15 years old. And I’m single today. Lots of break-ups. But none that sounded remotely like the ones people tell me about.

I’ve heard it said before that you can’t take someone where you’ve never been (often in reference to therapy and addiction counseling). In some ways over the years, I have agreed with this idea, knowing that some of the time I am able to be helpful because I have “been there.” However, I also know that I have helped people (by their account) who’s experiences were radically different from my own.

Now that I’ve had my very own experience, I gotta tell you, I don’t know how this will help me help anyone at all. I don’t even think that my own experience of a deeply disturbing gut-wrenching break-up will make me more empathetic. In fact, it might just trigger some kind of horrible PTSD-type reaction! I certainly never want to experience anything like that ever again.

And it’s so useless! The first line of this post is still true, even though I’ve experienced it first hand. I still don’t get it. Because guess what? The whole gut-wrenching, name-calling, angry emails, texts and phone calls did not make anything better. The relationship was over, and it’s still over. Only now it’s over with lots of extra bad feelings, with no chance of friendship or trust. Now it’s over and there’s a hole, a piece missing from my life that I don’t even want to think about. Now it’s over and instead of being able to look back at the parts that were good, they’re all colored over by this horrible coating of ick.

When it’s over, it’s over. Cut your losses and go. Say goodbye and go gracefully. Or say fuck you if you feel like you need to, then drive away. That way when you look back you can really what’s back there, rather than just seeing that wall of ick. You can pick out the good things and put the not-so-great ones in perspective. Can we just make a pact to give up the gut wrenching break-up?

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