Friday, November 30, 2012

Bah Humbug

If you know me personally, then it is no secret that the holidays make me crazy.  I know I get called a lot of things, and of those, one of the titles that can get repeated in mixed company is "control freak".  (Of course, that should have clued me in when Kelsey started down the road to ED, because I was told often that it is an individual's way of controlling their circumstances.  Like mother like daughter, with fatal results.)  But, anyway, given my need for controlling what I could in a hectic world of raising kids and working in a stressful industry, the holidays were like my Kryptonite.  Granted, the holidays have their own sort of routine, which we all call tradition, but they crowd in on all the other stuff that goes on in a life.  None of that stuff stops so you can savor the holidays.  Oh no, you're just supposed to be of good cheer and still work 12+ hours a day.  And, no one suddenly increases your income by 20% so you can afford all those gifts plus pay the electric bill, now higher because your home is literally lit up light a shopping mall.  I know, I know.  You've heard all this before.  But, I'm just setting the table for the main course.

Worst of all for me maybe is that I want to love it.  Every year I sit by the tree and try to recapture those long ago days when, as a little girl, I would curl up with a book and read by the light of our Christmas tree - maybe with a fire going in the fireplace nearby.  And every year I wanted that same sense of peace and comfort that I had as a kid for my children, all the while enduring my own nervous breakdowns.  It's a lot of pressure:  trying to make yourself happy when you're not actually.

Now enter our Empty Nester years.  Marissa is all but out of the house - busy with her own life, which is as it should be - but it is in the lull Before Grandchildren.  We live far away from Greg's siblings, so the holidays are a quiet, intimate affair.  My cousin will have her holiday party, and we, like last year, will make the drive down to where my mother's family all live toward the beginning of the month, but it is a relaxed event without pretension or expectation.  No stress there - just the welcome anticipation of hearing more colorful stories of a family I've been connected to for all my life, but don't know well.   There is still the issue of gift giving - which I'd like to say I do well, but that is not always the case.  That one probably never gets any better or less stressful.  I love giving gifts, but hate it horribly when they are not spot on, and it's like gambling.  A lot like gambling.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and always you spend money.  But, people who are control freaks are probably rarely compulsive gamblers.  Those two things do not go together.  Yet, still, in these quiet years - what one might call the Viagra Years (when we still want to act and feel young, but just quite aren't always up to the task) - this should be the time I could re-grab the magic.

Yet, what you realize is that, while you may move on with your life after a loss, the holidays never get better.  Or, I guess I should say, they haven't gotten better yet.  There is just too much emphasis on being with family.  As I set the Thanksgiving table last week, it was so obvious that it was lopsided.  There was a place setting missing.  I filled the void by putting most of the food dishes around that side of the table and kept myself upbeat on the surface so no one would see how bothered I was by that visual image, but the next day I had a migraine like I haven't had in years.  The pain was white hot and blanked out everything but the fact of it.  I told my mother-in-law that it was the change in the weather, which might actually be partially true, but I think it was my brain exploding from the stress of having to endure one more holiday without one daughter.

You realize you need to be thankful for the family remaining, but occasionally, in our infinite fragility as humans, we lose sight of that.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Mean Season

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends
We're so glad you could attend
Come inside!  Come inside!
- Karn Evil 9, Emerson Lake and Palmer

Welcome back to the Mean Season.  For anyone who may be new, that is the term our family therapist coined for the holidays and how it can be perceived to individuals suffering from eating disorders.  We are sold the concept that holidays are about connecting with family, having good times and making lasting memories.  And there is that.  Sometimes.  But, the holidays have a darker side for someone with an eating disorder.  The entire season beginning now through the end of the year focuses on food.  And lots of it.  Cookies and eggnog, rich dishes in an overwhelming number.  I wrote a piece last year about the holidays that, if you're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, I would encourage you to look back over.  It was on my mind last night as we were sitting around the restaurant table hashing out the Thanksgiving menu.  My mother-in-law is in town for the holiday and wants to stay in, rather than travel down to my cousin's.  That is fine, we anticipated as much, but between work, two blogs, an NHL lockout to protest as loudly and as frequently as possible, and a seriously injured quarterback to worry over, I had not given the actual menu much thought.  So, I petitioned everyone for their menu preferences.  Probably a large mistake.  Greg's mom is lobbying for green bean casserole as opposed to a simple fresh vegetable.  On top of mashed potatoes with a lot of butter and sour cream, stuffing, bread and dessert, even I was beginning to be triggered by the richness of the food choices.  The lesson I learned is that I probably should not have asked, I should have just fixed what I was comfortable with.  Likely that no one would have noticed, everyone would have found something they liked and the focus would have stayed where it should be:  on spending time with family.  Oh, and watching lots of football.

We as a society have laden the holidays with so many expectations that any real meaning has been completely trampled by the trappings of excess.  Not just food, but gifts and their quantity and value.  Don't get me wrong, I like to buy gifts for people but I'm so scatterbrained that if you didn't put me on a set schedule, like Christmas, I wouldn't be disciplined enough to get them bought and sent with any regularity.  But, the expectation and the disappointment when those expectations aren't meant can be daunting.  I hate to disappoint people, it's crushing, but I certainly have.  And, I have to confess, I've been disappointed.  Last year for our anniversary, which is three days before Christmas, Greg presented me with a Troy Polamalu ornament.  I like it, but a friend had given me the exact ornament for Christmas the year before and it was very prominently hanging on the Sports Tree in the Sports Cave right at the foot of the stairs.  So, I knew it was a last minute gift that he ran down to the Hallmark store about a mile from the house and grabbed with little thought, and it upset me.  A lot.  Looking back on it, I'm not proud of that reaction, particularly since he had spent the months leading up to the holiday occasionally showing up with little surprises for no reason at all:  the Yoda mug I'm drinking my coffee out of now, a book about Rin Tin-Tin, the Super-8 DVD (love that movie), my fleece lined Pens hat, among other things.  So, I am a leading example of the things I seek to criticize.  And me, of all people, should know that the only thing that really matters about the holidays is being together as a family and loving one another.  But sometimes that can be the absolute meanest part of the holidays...

...more on that next time.

Charlie trying to serve himself up as Thanksgiving dinner


Friday, November 9, 2012

Post-Election Night

What a difference four years can make.  For the country, it has seen the death of Osama bin Laden, but the birth of the Tea Party, four years of rough economic times, held together by a bold stimulus package and the bailout of the auto industry.  We have seen healthcare reform and the coining of the phrase "Obamacare".  We have also added to our jargon words like "birthers".  But, the war in Iraq has ended and there is a set timeline for withdrawing from Afganistan.  And it goes on.  I actually tripped across a list of President Obama's 50 Top Accomplishments in his first term just in case you are not sure what has gone on over the last term.  It has been pretty jam packed.

For me personally, of course, it has been an equally raucous ride.  Much of it on a downhill trajectory, but not all of it.  I sat in my mother's living room watching the results come in four years ago with her and her night attendant whom I had just hired in an attempt to try and keep her at home.  She was a lovely young woman, raised by former hippies and therefore pretty liberal.  She and I were nearly giddy as the results rolled in.  Mother finally lost her temper with us and sternly reminded me this was her house and we were NOT to celebrate Barack Obama's election in front of her.  I am not sure if she was more offended by the fact that he was black or a Democrat, but my money is on the former just being aggravated by the latter.  She would never spend another night in that apartment, so I've often felt a bit guilty about ruining it for her, but of course some major history was being made in front of us, and it was hard not be excited by it.  And actually, it wasn't me that ruined it for her really, it was the American electorate, but boy was I glad about that.  I will always that remember the tug and pull of emotions that night.

I will likely always remember this election day as well, but it was a far different experience.  Tuesday night I watched the results from a basement 1,400 miles away from that north Austin apartment building.  I was with my husband, four fewer dogs, no mom to worry about and, of course, the big one:  one less daughter to celebrate or commiserate with.

Of course, aside from the jarring difference in circumstance and locale, I'll remember it because it was a challenge just to participate.  I have been battling a stomach bug all week, and it was wicked that morning.  Getting dressed to go to the polls was a challenge, but we timed it right and there were no lines or I would not have made it - without some grave personal embarrassment anyway.  As it was, I barely made it home without a major issue.  There is no early voting in Pennsylvania, or I would have voted long ago.  And, the whole drama that most of the nation knew a little about with the voter ID did raise its ugly head.  While it had been struck down by the courts for this particular election, it will be in force for future ones, and the volunteers at the polls were instructed to make sure people had ID's.  That caused confusion in other areas.  At our particular polling place, they just reminded us that it would take effect going forward.  Other places were asking to see it.  There were long lines in many places.  Marissa had to wait a half hour to vote.  She was lucky.  Some places across the country waited for hours.  If you look at where the main issues were, it impacted minority and young voters in particular.  Ask me, there was a definite push to suppress voting in areas likely to support the President.  News flash:  he won anyway.  In both the electoral college and popular vote.  For those of us who support him, we can breathe a sigh of relief and take some satisfaction in a battle well fought.  But, we cannot rest on those laurels very long because those same antics will impact the values we fought for in future elections.

Which brings me to the main point really.  This was a hard fought election, with a lot of bitterness probably on both sides, but from my perspective the social conservatives seemed to be the ones throwing the big barbs.  That is likely not fair, but, like I said, that's my view of the world.  We all have our unique view of things.  Doesn't make us always right, and it certainly doesn't mean the other guy is always wrong.  I think in an election cycle now complicated with the speed of communication through social media, that is easier to lose sight of than ever before.  So, for one last time, this is my appeal for all of us to remember who we really are at the core:  Americans.  Our ancestors built this country on the foundation that we have the right to express our personal beliefs.  I don't remember ever seeing anything about suppressing our neighbor's beliefs if they don't agree with us.  To my conservative friends, particularly the ones who were getting a little feisty on Facebook or Twitter on Tuesday night, I say this:  for now, my political leanings have won the day.  Four years from now you have another chance at it.  I hope we will be ushering in maybe the first female President next and her name could well be Hillary, but if that sounds like a bad idea to you, then back the other candidate, and accept that this is the beauty of the process.  In the meantime, you have the right to continue to work for candidates locally and in the mid-term elections that you feel will represent you.  More importantly, you have the right to live your personal beliefs.  You are against abortion?  I do not have a beef with you over that.  I simply do not believe my government should impose that belief system on others.  End of story.  I believe that my friends who are gays and lesbians should have the same rights as you and I do.  That does not make me a bad person, I'm sorry, but it doesn't.  But somehow so many people personalized all of this and demonized individuals who don't share their views.  It is time to put it aside and get back to living our lives together as one nation.  I hope we can do that, because we do have a lot of work to do.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mother Nature Sends a Message

And that message is that she's pissed.
Satellite image of Super Storm Sandy

Last night Lawrence O'Donnell was showing footage of residents of Staten Island more or less losing it because they felt they were being ignored, left isolated in their desolation in the wake of super storm Sandy.  At first I sat listening with my head half cocked, trying to decide if my primary emotion was sympathy or derision because, after all, exactly what they did they expect to happen only days after a storm of such enormity swept through 13 states (perhaps there is something to note here - that the storm hammered essentially the original colonies - but I'm not sure what it would be)?  Surely they didn't think someone was going to come snap some fingers and make it all go away.  But, at the same time, I could be empathetic to the swirl of emotion and fear that they had been living in for the last few days.  They were cold, dirty, scared, probably hungry, and cut off from all the things they normally rely on to get information.  The calendar just turned back to the wild, wild west days for these guys, so used to cell phones, television and internet.  Finally people show up with cameras in their faces, but no real help, and I think it boiled over.  I probably have a tad more insight than I would have at any other point in my life because of where we were during the storm.  Just the slightest hint of Sandy was plenty enough for me.  So, in the end analysis, I thought they were snapping under the pressure of an untenable situation which didn't help them get any warmer or their houses any less damaged, but I knew that it was a collective expulsion of the extreme pressure all these poor people had felt for what probably felt like forever.

I can't even begin to understand their devastation, but it was a few tense days even in Pittsburgh, so I can only speak to my own experience as the largest storm this area has ever seen passed through.  Maybe it'll give you some insight to those angry people on Staten Island if you, like me, wondered what they were thinking.

When I woke up this morning and peeked outside to gauge what to don to walk the dogs around the block, I saw the first hint of actual sky I've seen in days.  I could make out a small shining speck moving slowly across the sky - some plane well above us making an early morning haul to some unknown location.  It was a heavenly sight.  The clouds pressing down over the area for a solid week have been oppressive, even for someone like me who loves rainy weather.  There was even a little sunshine - maybe five minutes of sort of weak light and bluish skies before the clouds settled back in and the rain returned.  Maybe it's what made the week seem so very slow and long, but I think it's more complicated than that.

Tensions had begun to grow beginning on Monday.  We all knew the storm was coming, and we were all being told that it would be on a scale like the area had never seen, but of course that means no one can really envision it and therefore two camps develop:  those who freak out and those who underestimate it.  Greg certainly was in the latter, at least in terms of what he expected to hit here.  A lifelong Texan, he had been hearing dire warnings of hurricane impacts all the way up to Austin off and on for years.  It never happened.  Therefore, he was convinced that we were too far inland to really feel the impact.  I was leaning more toward the former, probably because I watch way too much post-apocalyptic television.  We were being told to prepare for high winds, likely to damage trees and threaten power.  I believed that part, since the power goes out around here with an amazing ease.  Of course, we had friends near Philadelphia, so that was worrying me too.  But, still, no matter what camp you fell into, it was still something in the future, a nebulous worry. Come Monday it became a little more real as Sandy neared landfall.  The skies became leaden, the shorts-wearing weather of the week before gave way to cold rain and the trees began to sway.  Local news reported that there were no generators to be had and batteries were flying off the shelves along with bottled water.  We were being advised to make sure our cell phones were charged.  Schools were closed for the following day and the state closed the liquor stores.  Generators?  Why, I wondered, would anyone need a generator?  I grew up in Montana during the 60's.  The power went out with great regularity and none of us had generators.  Of course, we all had fireplaces.  But, I definitely knew why people would want alcohol, and I figured closing the stores just would drive them out in the wind to the bars, which did not close.  But, they stayed closed for two days, so someone was pretty set on that being a good idea.

At any rate,  as the storm made landfall, its mighty reach began to extend inland towards us late on Monday.  There we sat, the skeptic and the believer on the couch together when the power flickered off, then back off again, and we looked at one another, illuminated by the light of my computer screen, suddenly cut off from my internet connection in mid keystroke.  I can't say what Greg was thinking, but I was wondering exactly how long it would take before our nice warm house got cold.  A few minutes later the power came back on and stayed on eventually, but I can tell you that I will be buying a generator as soon as I can.

As the week went on, the winds weren't nearly what they were predicted to be and the rain kept falling, but even the river levels didn't rise like we thought they might.  But all around us, nature was turning on its inhabitants as though it was intent to dispatch us back to wherever it was we came from.  The death toll in this state alone is standing at 14.  Fourteen souls who drew breath and had family who loved them.  It seemed incredible that we were being spared so completely.  So, come about Wednesday when it was clear that any real danger was past, there was a collective sigh of relief and only then could I really realize how tense I had been in the days before.  Then I could step back and realize all the normal crap that one faces in a workday (as I've always said, that's why they call it work instead of fun) seemed so heightened, and why the days seemed to be dragging.  It was a constant waiting game of wondering when the other shoe was going to drop, because it seemed almost impossible that it wasn't going to when there was so much destruction all around us.

Thus, at some point last night, as I watched those poor people on Staten Island, cold, hungry and scared, I realized that whatever we had worried over during the week was nothing compared to what others in our neighbor states are feeling at the moment.  So, long way around to saying to all of those people who are stranded now because of Sandy, it's cold, it's dark and it's frightening.  If you want to throw a little temper tantrum, you just go right ahead and do it.  Help is on its way.

From NBC News