Wednesday, November 28, 2012


You know how it is when you’ve just finished up a nice Thanksgiving break, you’re looking forward to Christmas, but you’ve got to go back to work or school. If you don’t, pretend you are seven years old for a moment. My poor kid has been dreading getting out of bed and going to school these past couple of days. And I wish so badly I could let her stay home just one day and help me decorate the house, the tree, wrap presents, make cookies and all that stuff. Unfortunately when I look at our schedule, we have so little time to do any of that together, and it’s sad. Things really came to a head in my mind when I considered wrapping up some of last year’s Christmas and birthday gifts that she never took the shrink-wrap off of and giving to her again for Christmas. I mean, she never had time or inclination to play with these things and probably forgot about them, so…isn’t that pathetic?

I never planned to have an overscheduled kid. It happened without my realizing it, and now that we’re stuck – piano lessons aren’t over till June, Mandarin Chinese class goes till February, Chess Club through May, plus there’s drill team – I’m not sure the best way to deal with it other than sticking it out.

People need downtime so desperately that will find a way to get it, no matter what. In fact, people get sick (not fake sick, but really sick) in order to have time off to relax. In extreme cases, people become mentally ill or do something crazy and lose their job, their family, or whatever else is causing them to be short on down time.

We have different ways of dealing with the stress of having little time to relax and just be. Some of us learn that it’s all too easy to morph the computer work we have to do into fun, time-wasting computer time. With a click of a finger, the spreadsheet goes to the background, Facebook comes up, and two hours later you wonder why you never “have time” to read that book you wanted to read.

Kids manifest this problem in their own ways as well. Is your kid not listening to what you say and you have to repeat it four times? She’s probably in her own world because she never gets time to process or think. Is your kid refusing to do things she has to do, like homework, toothbrushing, bathing? It’s possible she just isn’t getting enough time to do relax and do the things she wants to do.

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle the 2013-14 school year, but something’s got to give. In the meantime, we’ll be struggling along, watching dinner and bath time be derailed at least two weeknights a week for practices and lessons, and hoping nobody loses her mind in the process.

It’s all in how you look at it, so I hope to just accept that things are hard right now, but that it won’t last, especially now that I know to do things differently next year.

Awesome song:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Survivor: Pet Edition

I think most of us believe we are doing animals a favor when we bring them into our homes as pets. We feed and care for them, and give them a safe haven, free of predators and roving automobiles. They say that indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats, after all.

But we forget that we can be the greatest danger of all to our own dear pets. I was reminded of this recently when I dangled a foot long length of Malabrigo lace yarn on my cat Sketch's head, hoping he would play with it. He grabbed it with his mouth, and proceded to slurp the whole thing into his mouth in about three seconds. Luckily this yarn passed through without incident, much like the various earplugs he has consumed over the years. 

Here my cat Sketch survives being in the middle of a hug sandwich:

I know that, but so far, the pets in our household have been extremely lucky.

Last month my other cat Max threw up food several times in one day, and on a couple of occasions, it looked like there was blood in it. Away he went to the vet for xrays and tests. Eventually we realized he'd eaten the red plastic fringe off a cocktail napkin (the little plastic bits looked like blood when he barfed them up), and a couple days later, he was fine. However, during the course of all those tests, the vet discovered high globulin levels. Looks like Max is harboring an infection of some kind, so tomorrow he's getting an antibiotic shot which will hopefully take care of it. 

A couple of months ago we brought a garden snail into the house.

This little guy is definitely a survivor. The first disaster to befall him was that my 7 year old sprayed a mild bleach solution on him, thinking it was plain water. If you google "bleach snails" you'll find it is a method of killing them. We carefully rinsed the little guy by moving him from place to place on the deck, while spraying him with clean water, and Fluffy lived.

Then I made the mistake of plucking an old leaf out of his tank, not realizing he was stuck to the underside of it. He dropped about three feet and cracked his shell. In fact, the shell section was about 4x20mm and broke clean out of the middle. He lost a bunch of water and I was sure he'd dry up. In a desparate move, I glued the shell piece back on with acid-free scrapbooking glue. He spent a few weeks estivating and not doing much. I thought he was dead, but he wasn't. He recovered and is now a very active, seemingly happy snail.

So somehow these pets have survived living with my family. I hope they will be with us for many years to come.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Taking responsibility for your own health

“Fix me!” I pleaded half-jokingly to my physical therapist one day last year. Every week for months I had been to her office and she’d spent twenty or thirty minutes manipulating me to help ease pain in my back, shoulder and hip. It was great! Then I’d do my exercises and go home. Yet every week I was back there again, wondering why the pain would not go away completely, forever.

Due to insurance limitations I had to stop seeing her. My shoulder and back pain slowly worsened. I got to the point where I went to a doctor specifically to ask “what is wrong with me that I have this pain?” He told me everyone has pain and that all I could do was manage it with massage and the like. At first I was disappointed. I wanted a magic bullet solution. I wanted proof on an xray or MRI that there was something structurally wrong with me that could be fixed.

The pain between my shoulder blade and spine was like a ball of Ick. It was like someone threw up inside my back and the barf just wouldn’t clear out. I’m speaking of this ball of Ick in the past tense because it is no longer with me in any serious way. I’ll tell you how I got rid of it.

I did four things. I can’t be sure which was most effective, but I’ll list all.

1. I’m seeing a new acupuncturist and she is awesome. Acupuncture is awesome. I highly recommend it for pain.

2. My new acupuncturist performed cupping on my back. A lot of crap came to the surface and my back opened up considerably. If anything, this (combined with the acupuncture) may have been the number one thing that loosened the blockage of ick, and the addition of qigong helps maintain my back’s health.

3. With the help of a qigong exercise video, I learned how to get my qi energy flowing again. Whenever I feel the ball of Ick starting to coalesce again, I can do some of these moves and it’s much better.

4. An attitude that I am responsible for my own health. Believing that I need a certain person or procedure to “fix” my problem takes my power away. In that situation, I become dependant on the outside help in order to feel good. That’s a crappy way to live.

So I encourage anyone who is suffering...look at your mind. How might it be contributing to the problem? Are you telling yourself you are just old or broken and you can't expect to feel any better? I encourage you to give yourself a compassionate pat on the back. You've been through some rough stuff. When you are ready to look at yourself with caring and love, your body may surprise you. I wish you the best!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Being "right"

There’s this mediation practice in Buddhism called metta (lovingkindness). In it, you wish health and happiness on all beings, starting first with yourself, then those close to you, those neutral to you (like the mailman or grocer) and finally with your enemies. The idea is to expand your full circle of compassion toward all living things. Everyone deserves compassion, because they are all worthy just by virtue of existing, even the people you hate. Metta is a little bit like the Buddhist version of unconditional love – loving someone without expectations of getting anything in return.

Sharon Salzberg has an article in Tricycle where she explains how when doing metta practice, it is especially valuable to do it toward one you feel neutral about, because when you know someone (either as a friend or an enemy) your biases about that person and their situation creep in, but with a neutral person, you are forced to face them as they truly are. I have seen the wisdom of her advice from my own experience, as I find myself wishing, for example, that so and so might have health and happiness, then catch myself with underthoughts, like “if only she would see that her health would improve if she quit gluten/alcohol/sugar,” (or whatever I personally happen to think would help that person). With a neutral person, I don’t know enough about them to inject my personal opinion into the wish for their happiness, so I can wish for their happiness in a more pure-hearted way.

After going through this experience with metta I began to wonder: Why is it so hard for us to set aside our biases and our need to be right? We might think are helping someone, when what do we really, truly know?

And I think it comes down to exactly that: we don’t know.

You’ve probably heard stories about people who suffer hardship that turns out to be a blessing in disguise.  With that in mind, how do I really know for sure that my “help” (in real life or in meditation) is helpful? In fact I could be hurting people with my “help.” I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Wishing my mother-in-law would not vote for Mitt Romney, because his policies would set the lives of her granddaughters back several decades in terms of equal rights, doesn’t really help anyone. What do I know? Maybe 4-8 years of Romney in the White House will cause sideline liberals to finally get up and fight for their rights, and in a decade we will actually be better off for it. Maybe another 4 years of Obama will cause liberals to go back to watching YouTube cat videos instead of signing petitions, and in a decade, we’ll be back to the prejudicial 1950’s cultural wasteland before anyone knew what hit them. (I am fully aware of the prejudices I'm expressing with these sentences, yes. :) )

So I aim to set my ego aside as much as I can (easier said than done), and just watch and wait and see. More and more I'm seeing how pointless it is to worry about the future. Maybe I need to do an article on that...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Something most people aren’t talking about in the same sex marriage debate

At least 1 in 2000 human births result in people who are neither male nor female, in the traditional sense. Not all are surgically assigned a gender at birth. Some conditions cause gender to shift during a person’s lifetime. Some people who are born with a specific gender don’t feel comfortable in their bodies and with the help of hormones and sometimes surgery, shift into a different sex body. For these reasons and more, a fair number of people are unable to choose “male” or “female” on a form without lying about who they are.

If marriage is between a man and a woman, what happens to those who are neither male nor female? Like homosexuals and lesbians, intersex people would be denied the right to marry those they love. However, if we can understand marriage as a pact between two people, people can love and marry whomever they feel most drawn to.