Masks are Tyranny???

Some people really and truly think that masks are tyranny. Really and truly. Despite EVERYTHING, there continues to be (really strong) opposition to wearing a mask.

I was initially all geared up to rant about it. I wanted to rant, but I am not going to. That’s the easy thing to do, but it isn’t helpful. It’s what everyone is doing these days. Who wants more of it?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I looked up the definition of tyranny just to sanity check my gut reaction to that phrase and, yep, tyranny is a pretty extreme word for a face covering:

Tyranny (noun): “cruel and oppressive government or rule.

“people who survive war and escape tyranny” · 

Synonyms: despotism · absolutism · absolute power · autocracy · dictatorship · undemocratic rule · reign of terror · totalitarianism · Fascism · oppression · suppression · repression ·

  • a nation under cruel and oppressive government.
  • cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.

    “the tyranny of the nine-to-five day” · 

  • (especially in ancient Greece) rule by one who has absolute power without legal right.”
close up of face masks
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I admit that after reading that definition I was even more pissed off for a while. Wearing a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth to stem a scientifically-proven public health crisis isn’t anywhere near the ballpark of being subjected to cruelty, oppression, or a reign of terror. It’s just not.

Of course there is plenty about this pandemic situation that is definitely cruel and unreasonable. Dying alone in a hospital comes to mind. Perpetuating this shit show and elongating everyone’s suffering by ignoring public health mandates gets a nod. Setting up the most vulnerable people in our society to be taken out by a virus that, at this point, we know exists and, honestly, we know how to contain, reigns pretty high too. But wearing a mask?

In the face of racial protests, clear inequality, food insecurity, massive unemployment, and pretty much many much bigger issues, calling a mask tyranny – wasting your breath complaining about it at all, really – seems pretty damn tone deaf.

But this blog isn’t Ranting and Raving.com for a reason. Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First is about providing a hopeful viewpoint to counterbalance the pervasive negative we are ever more perpetually steeped in. It’s about changing the narrative, looking more deeply at the universality of human suffering (how much more universal could you get than a pandemic?), and striving to take a new look at our challenges and to uncover the threads of hope.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

So, here we are, deep in struggle, and this is what I got for ya.

It’s been a really hard time.

People are BURNT OUT and worried. In the U.S., we left school in March with the promise that fall would be better. And it’s not. We are still vulnerable, still uncertain. And now, all these months later, the cure is perceived to be worse than the curse. There is virus fatigue, isolation fatigue, fear fatigue, economic fatigue, uncertainty fatigue, cheering-myself-up-and-looking-on-the-bright-side fatigue, fatigue fatigue. Kids are climbing the walls and so are parents. What’s so sad is that if everyone would just wear a mask, keep some distance, and wash their hands, we wouldn’t be having this problem.

mona lisa protection protect virus
Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

So here’s the short of it: we can do this. We HAVE to do this.

Care about the economy and want it to open back up completely? Wear a mask.

Want the kids to go back to school? Yep, wear a mask.

You say Black Lives Matter? Wear the mask (otherwise that is 100% NOT how you are living. Black and brown people have been disproportionately impacted by this virus. So, mask it).

There are a bevy of excuses for disliking the mask: it’s hot, it fogs my glasses, I don’t know anyone who has had the virus, I want my kids to have a normal childhood. My short response: rip the band-aid off, wear the mask, and we can all move on. The long version is:

  1. It’s hot: that’s true, it’s damn hot and the mask is extra uncomfortable when it’s hot. I am pretty sure a ventilator is uncomfortable, too, so a mask seems like not that much to ask, relatively speaking;
  2. Glasses fog: I wear glasses, too. I wipe them off or lift them up when they start to fog up. Ink smudges when I write with certain pens, too. I deal;
  3. Don’t know anyone personally who’s had the virus? – well, I do. The conservatively estimated 165,000 people who have died in the U.S. to date all knew someone. You will, too – eventually. Would that really make you feel better?!?!? The fact that the majority who have died were old doesn’t make me feel better about them getting bumped off. It’s a horrible way to die. When did we get so callous?
  4. Kids having a normal childhood: I get the worry about the kids, trust me, I really do. But adversity can be a great teacher. Besides, does anyone remember their own childhood in great detail? Like year over year detail? My summer memories are a blur of the odd family vacation, the odd sports or all around camp. Mostly we made our own fun and spent A LOT of time being totally bored (my mom’s solution: “I have plenty of things you can help me with around the house,” which effectively sent me into hiding and back to figuring out how to entertain myself). There is no timeline or dates or ages associated with any of it, just a vague pool of memories. School years also blur together. I am sure bad stuff happened in there, but I don’t remember most of it. And I turned out okay. Maybe better than okay. Completely pandemic-ready okay. Resilient, flexible, able to make my own fun.
person with a face mask and latex gloves holding a globe
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Basically, kids will respond to all of this okay, maybe even with some positive memories, if the adults in their world present it well. I don’t mean to fake it. I mean to listen and be present, but to work with it instead of against it. Resisting it or fighting it doesn’t make it better, it just makes it harder to live with this reality. This is 2020. This is just it. We don’t know the end date, but this isn’t forever. Take a deep breath.

Remember that many people are facing MAJOR, earth and life-shattering issues right now. If you aren’t food or shelter insecure, if you are safe in your home and not struggling with addiction or mental health issues, then it’s time to put your oxygen mask on, take a big deep breath, and then assist the person next to you.

Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Just because we wish it so will not make this all go away. Until we all tow the line in a unified way, the U.S. will continue to trundle along with its ineffective whack-a-mole approach to dealing with this. More and more people will suffer and die, the school year will be in a constant state of upheaval, and the economy will not be able to fully re-open. Instead of the fast, difficult, unified approach, to date we have taken the long, slow, extended suffering approach. All the loss plus a clear view into our broken health care/insurance system (that would sooner bankrupt people for needed care than cover them); the inability of many to skip work despite the risk (because there is no financial safety net whatsoever); food tied to schools/food insecurity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; and a government that treats its most vulnerable citizens as expendable, well, I think I just described tyranny. If masks and tyranny belong in a sentence together, it would be more accurate to say “masks are liberators from tyranny.”

Wear a mask.

Unite. Be strong. This too shall pass. If we work together, it will pass all the more quickly.

We are the solution.

You will be alright.

Back to School options

 

 

Strong Core

Swimming is one of my favorite things. I used to swim 2 to 3 times per week with a Masters swim program (don’t be impressed, it just means I am old). I was in super swim shape this year right up until, oh, March 10. And then it all stopped.

Let’s face it. During a global health crisis, many things we might love – and even things we didn’t know we loved but suddenly now miss (I am thinking of my kids and how they unexpectedly longed to go to school) – just aren’t a priority. So we shift gears and adapt. Personally, I did more crossfit, and I tried kickboxing and yoga (all on zoom). I made stuff up on my own, rode my bike, went running (sorry, joints, desperate times call for desperate measures). I just kept moving. The school thing is still a conundrum I have not yet solved so I am not going to dive into that one.

Anyhow, it’s summer now, our case count is low, and the ponds are no longer freezing or frozen, so I can swim again. And it feels SO good because I missed it (a lot) and my hamstrings were really, really sore (too many squats? I have no idea, but, as usual, swimming fixed it.)

As I paddle along, I have these moments of philosophical inspiration (oxygen deprivation can do that, apparently). Not only is swimming great exercise, but it has a lot of important life lessons to teach.

When I first got in the water, it felt familiar but my body was like, wait, what the what? Oh, we are doing this again suddenly four months later? And my mind was like, oh my gosh, was that a turtle? It was chaotic and ugly and, at times, terrifying (I prefer my swims wildlife-free). Yet it was also divine to bask in the soothing weightlessness of water again.

Life lesson #1 – It doesn’t have to be pretty; if you love it just get out there and do it (turtles welcome, ideally from a distance).

And then my lower back started to hurt. And I thought, huh, that’s odd. It’s a low-impact sport, after all, which is the whole point in my case. What the heck? So I mentioned it to the friend who I swim with and he said, “Are you tightening your core?”

BOOM! Right then I had this huge a-ha moment. I’ve been told to tighten my core many times before, but then I forget and need a reminder again. Sure enough, as soon as I tightened my core, my stroke became more efficient and less chaotic. I felt stronger, more whole, less floppy. And I realized that having a strong core matters more broadly as well. Sometimes I forget to engage my core in life – too often, really. When that happens I feel blown about by the shifting sands of time and public opinion. I am so non-confrontational that I will adapt like a chameleon so I don’t attract attention or get attacked. It’s a survival strategy (classic, in fact, if you’ve been bullied), just like it is for a chameleon. But in those situations, deep in my unengaged core, I am filled with misgiving, chaos, and confusion. When I remember to engage my core, I immediately feel stronger and more empowered.

Life lesson #2 – Engage your core! Live your values. Find your voice and speak it!

Once my core is engaged, I remember that I am supposed to stretch my body long with each stroke (or as a good friend told me when I got back into swimming several years ago – “You are not tall enough for this sport. You need every inch you can get” 🙂 – which means that the Olympic dreams of my childhood were pure fantasy, it turns out. Glad no one told me that then!). When I consciously stretch my body long, I suddenly realize that I tend to spend much of my life sort of shrunk. There’s a cool inch or two gained if I just stand up straight, or stretch all the way through all of my muscles, especially in my hips and spine. It feels so good to open those joints that mostly spend their time being compressed by my slouch, or by my lack of awareness that I am not reaching, stretching, extending, growing, lengthening. Like in life, a reach doesn’t necessarily feel good at first. And it requires conscious thought to make it happen. But once you start doing it, once you find that groove and stretch yourself, your stroke becomes much more efficient and so much more beautiful. You begin to glide across the water instead of battling against it.

Life lesson #3 – Stretch. Reach. Grow. Stand tall. Glide with the water, don’t fight it.

I can’t talk about swimming without talking about gratitude. Swimming is what brought me back to life after several years mired in emotional and physical pain with my RA diagnosis and my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. When it was taken away, as with so much else during the height of our state’s efforts to curb the pandemic, I could have been angry or sad. And maybe I was those things a little bit. But mostly I accepted that that’s what needed to be done for the greater good, adjusted my stroke, and found some other way to channel my energy. Now that I am back in the water, I am filled with gratitude – for an accessible pond nearby, for a break in coronavirus infections, for summer, for my health, for the ability to swim. I know this time in the water is fleeting because summer is fleeting and indoor isn’t an option for me until the coronavirus takes its leave of us. So I am conscious of this gift and I cherish this time while it lasts. Which leads me to:

Life lesson #4 – Gratitude is powerful. Live and love consciously.

So many of us spend so much of our lives on auto-pilot, unconsciously moving through the world. We miss so much of the nuance, so much of the good in the simple things this way. The coronavirus has created a unique moment in history (and I am definitely looking forward to it being history!). If we take the time to be conscious and reflective about what’s going on in our world, in our communities, in our lives, it can be an opportunity. This period has pulled back the veil of what we have accepted as normal and revealed so clearly how abnormal, unjust and inequitable “normal” was. I think a lot about the notion that “if you win the rat race you’re still a rat.” Where are we racing to? Is it somewhere we actually want to be? A life we actually want to have lived? And at what cost?

finding-dory-movie

WE ARE THE SOLUTION.

Wear a mask.

BREATHE.

Stay well.

You will be alright.

100 Days of Quarantine

Yep, that’s right. I’ve been counting. I may be a day or two off because it all blurred together and I couldn’t tell what day was what for a while there, but I am calling it today and sticking to it!

What does this mean? Traditionally, in my experience, preschools and elementary schools celebrate the 100th day of school. The 100 days of school typically signifies that you are over the hump of the school year and on the downward slope toward summer break (that’s my interpretation anyway, no one ever actually explains WHY we are doing this). It drives me nuts, to be honest, because it’s pretty arbitrary and usually involves some sort of project with 100 objects that requires my assistance to collect, coordinate, and recoup after it goes to school. But damn if those traditions don’t just stick in your brain whether you like them or not! And, I mean, come on, 100 days is a freaking long time and a nice, round number so let’s at least notice it if not celebrate it! As far as I am concerned, these 100 days is 1/3rd of a freaking bizarre year and worth reflecting on no matter how many days are still to come.

The 100 days of not being in school? The 100 days of isolation? The 100 days of digging deep (sometimes really, really deep) to find gratitude? The 100 days of riding a roller coaster without ever leaving home?

Are we over the hump of coronavirus now? I suspect not really. Maybe we are over one hump, the first sin wave, but this bizarre period is not yet over. So the trouble I have with this 100 days is that there is no end in sight, and that still incites a little panic and overwhelm at times. I refuse to use the term “new normal.” I hate it. I prefer something like “the way things are for now.” For now is always a good way to approach uncertainty and change. It implies acceptance of the present but knowledge that the future might be different, though when that future comes is unclear.

I am trying to remember what life was like 100 days ago. I still prefer life from 101 days ago, I am certain of that, but am pleased with the mental shift that’s occurred in between. Those early days were LONG. And confusing. And depressing. I would go to bed knowing I had nothing to look forward to in the morning. I am a do-er and a busy bee so the idea that I had nowhere to go and nothing to go do tanked me at first. It felt so heavy, like so much work to get up and just make it through another day. I’ve mentioned before how I felt like coronavirus teleported me to the 1950s as a housewife, right? I swear that’s the truth of it. I wrote in my quarantine journal on March 31, “I missed 16 whole days in writing this journal. How is that even possible? Well, I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Because life right now is this twilight zone of sur-reality. I have been teleported to the 1950s and spend most of my waking hours cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, working with kids on one thing or another, and curating precious items for our consumption or comfort (general groceries and paper towels in particular).” That did not feel like much to wake up for. So for a long time I wallowed. For three weeks, in fact, according to my journal. Time is so strange. During the same period that the days were forever long I didn’t have time to write. Riddle me that, Batman.

Anyhoo, I know for sure that those first few weeks were a doozy, with more emails about cancelled plans and “uncertainty” than I care to count. I literally still use whiteout and still have a daily planner so I get to laugh when I look back at my calendar now and see the indent of my pen marks for all the plans that should have been just disappeared from reality by the quick stroke of the whiteout brush. It reminds me of traveling in Madagascar, sitting at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. The airport staff would just erase the departure time on the chalkboard and rewrite a new time when the plane was ready to go – two hours delayed was suddenly, miraculously, right on schedule! It’s like the question of whether trees falling in the woods make a sound if no one can hear them. If the plans you didn’t do don’t exist, well, did you miss out on anything?

I have 154 pages (including lots of pictures) keeping track of the last 100 days to pour over one of these days. In sum, a haiku:

Grief. Plodding days. Fear.

April snow. Enough! Spring blooms.

Pollen, hope abound.

Or something like that! I do love a good haiku :-).

So, today – day 100 – I am not saying we need to celebrate. But maybe we might as well (we did, after all, flatten the curve (where I live anyway) so at least a pat on the back is warranted for that)? My March 12, 2020, post Don’t Freak Out, But Also Don’t Be Cavalier is still all true. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that the puppy thing is very real as is the racism.

It’s a remarkable thing that the whole world is living through at the same time. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to define this period as good or bad, but we should notice all of it, learn, and adjust. Maybe I will make a list for next time of all the things I have learned over this time. Camus sums it up well, but I am always up for a good list.

Camus Quote

You will be alright.

Wash your hands.

Stay well, stay (close to) home?

 

 

Home School/Survival Resources

Hi everyone,

Just a quick note to all to say chin up, breathe deep, and stay well! I have put together a curated list of resources on both COVID-19, should you care to read more, and, even BETTER, on websites for keeping kids busy and engaged as we work through this tumultuous time. Check it out on my Resources page by clicking this link.

Be well and stick together (at least 6 feet apart). There is great irony in isolated solidarity. And in Guatemala closing it’s borders to the U.S. And in the fact that I never leave my house yet still can’t seem to get anything done.

Try to laugh. It’s nothing short of a weird, weird time. Let’s hope that unlike the French existentialist writers and filmmakers our current existential existence actually comes to some sort of conclusion. Gosh, how I detest the existentialist’s unwillingness to wrap up a story. Now to be tested. Maybe they knew more about reality than my proclivity for happy endings and no loose strings could fathom.

More to come. Together – and only together – will we rise beyond this.

Meg

My Job vs not my job

 

Lifted Up By Letting Go

This essay was published in the March 2020 edition of Wellesley Living Well Magazine.

Life consumed me in the early years of motherhood: work deadlines were shoved into limited daycare hours; the frequent illnesses of childhood regularly upended any non-parenting endeavor; time for grocery shopping was elusive; exercise mostly consisted of bouncing with a baby and “lifting” out of the crib. During those demanding and isolating pre-school years I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and my mother with Alzheimer’s. I found myself wrestling with Pico Iyer’s question, “How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.”

At the time, I struggled to find hope. The intensity of these divergent and demanding caregiving needs galvanized me to pay attention and not miss this time – any of it – while also laying heavily in my lap a palpable burden. Without exercise, I had no outlet.

Fast forward a couple of years and I found myself joining Crossfit Launchpad. CrossFit, it turns out, is more than lifting weights and intense cardio. The surprise – and what keeps me going back – is the community. Trust me, I never thought I’d say that – a gym that’s a community? But that’s what it is, and it is part of the formula of endorphins, nutrition, and a support system that helped restore my balance, clarity, and health.

Not only is my RA in remission now, but my Crossfit community has also helped me bear the heavy weight of caring for my mom. Outside the gym we gather monthly to make baby blankets for Boston’s Family Nurturing Center. I mentioned that a large version of these blankets, with their taggie ends and soft texture, would be ideal for Alzheimer’s patients. Without missing a beat, the group decided to make blankets for my mom. It would never have occurred to me to ask. My go-it-alone, never-be-vulnerable internal driver flared. I couldn’t have people spend their time doing that for me. I declined. They insisted. Eventually I let go.

And, what happened? I now have two soft, beautiful blankets for my mom. By allowing help, I was able to focus on other things my mom needed. By letting go, I allowed the number of hands who created those blankets – the number of people who touched my life – to grow exponentially. This turned everything I know about asking for help on its head – helping me can help you, too?

Life is an incredible teacher. Hope is restored in the most unexpected ways. This is universally true, if you are open to seeing it. My truth, this journey, has tested me with its bleak mercilessness. As in the depths of winter, I have at times been lonely and cold, wondering if it would ever end. And yet, I wrap my mom in her blankets and this act of support and community warms my soul. The light in my truth is all the people who have held my mom and me along the way. The smallest gift, the heartfelt gesture, the simple acknowledgement that the journey isn’t mine to walk alone, matter. Helping other people – and letting other people help you sometimes – are powerful antidotes to lost hope. Even on the darkest days there is light. Also, exercise helps.

art artistic black and white blank
Photo by Lynnelle Richardson on Pexels.com

Best Strawberry Smoothie Recipe Ever

21 meals a week. I underestimated that part of motherhood. I am hardly a cook so maybe it should have registered that meal creation could be an issue. But I figured I had survived on whatever it is I used to eat, so I guess I thought they would, too. Many days, though, I find myself STILL in a state of shock about how they can eat so dang much so darn often.

And the complaining! OMG. I can barely make it through the 21 required meals, let alone produce alternatives.

BUT, sometimes you hit a homerun. There is that one diamond-in-the-rough moment when the food/meal/whatever-consumable-item-you-make actually goes over without complaint.

I have had that moment. It’s a rare glimmer of hope in a sea of despair and hopeless meals. The smoothie recipe to follow is a go-to favorite in my house and because it gives me such ridiculously-outsized-for-what-it-is joy every time I make it, I have decided it should no longer be my special secret! Moms everywhere looking for a healthy slam-dunk for their kids – this may be your salvation. It’s healthy AND it tastes good – for REAL. Feel free to share and help spread the joy, one less stressful meal at a time!

Plus, if you know me at all, recipe creation is so far outside of my area of expertise that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, folks! So give it a whirl:

1 bag frozen strawberries

1 ripe banana (if it’s frozen, you need a better blender than mine 🙂 but it will work)

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 cup coconut water (for extra sweetness/flavor try pineapple coconut water)

1/2 ripe avocado (makes it creamy and you can’t taste it, I swear)

1-2 teaspoons almond butter (you can leave this out if you have allergies, this is an intentional add-in for us since we passed our almond allergy challenge!)

Blend it all together and, voila! A calcium and protein-packed marvel for even the pickiest kid. Enjoy!

Motherhood Cartoon

 

 

 

 

What are We Without Our Memories?

My mom forgot my birthday for the first time six years ago. As an almost-forty-something, I didn’t need a big birthday party or lots of attention or anything like that. But it is a stunning milestone for a mother to forget the day that she brought her baby into the world. And for said baby, it was incredibly painful the first time it happened. There are some things that seem like they would be impossible to forget.

Especially for my mom, a woman who embraced motherhood fully and in every way. Raising my brothers and I was the best job she could dream of. That’s not just me putting on rose-colored glasses and saying so – she told me that. When I say our mom was our biggest fan, I am not exaggerating. She showed up in so many ways. She was on the sidelines for all of our games, only missing them if there was a conflict with another sibling’s schedule. She attended every ballet recital (a bouquet of flowers in hand), swim meet (day-long affairs in over-hot, heavily-chlorinated air to see your kid swim for 30 seconds), soccer game (sometimes taking up entire weekends for months on end, game after game), hours and hours of shuttling us to music lessons, baseball practice, soccer, tennis – you name it, we played it. Even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s she was there on the sidelines for Kindergarten soccer and witnessed her grandson’s first goal ever. It was 28 degrees, the field was covered in frost, her memory was failing, she was frightened about the future, her world was shrinking – and there she was. She showed up time and again – for us, for everyone in her family, and for her friends.

Don’t get me wrong, we were far from perfect and I am pretty sure she had her moments when she wanted to run out of the house screaming to escape from us and the insanity we were causing her. In fact, she actually did so on at least one occasion, prompting our next-door neighbor, who had been out gardening, to come over and put his arm around her to comfort her. It kind of became neighborhood lore. So I know she thought we were royal pains in the ass sometimes – and we were – and surely she was overwhelmed keeping track of us and our schedules and our issues and, of course, the never-ending laundry. I imagine she had her moments of cursing us quietly under her breath, or venting to her friends or sisters on the phone. I am certain there were lots of things that got missed. My mom was chronically last minute in her approach to life. Her desk was a jumble of papers, binders, and – to my mind – complete and utter chaos. It looked like she didn’t sweat the small stuff, but I think the truth is that she was the world’s biggest procrastinator. You could count on her, but she’d make you sweat it out, tumbling through the door with the cake or hors d’oeuvres or whatever she had promised to bring just seconds before the start of a big event.

For my birthday, she would hang streamers in the dining room and bake a cake from scratch. She took cake-decorating classes to improve her skills, and – as cliche as it is to say it – she baked love into every morsel of every item she made. She planned epic treasure hunts in the woods for my friends and I – two-hour hikes with elaborate clues and “treasure” hidden along the way that ended at a river where we would feed the ducks with stale bread she had been collecting and freezing for months. It only occurs to me to wonder in hindsight how she got the clues placed and the treasure hidden all while baking and decorating the cake, organizing the party, and keeping up with my brothers and I. While those more elaborate birthday celebrations faded away as I got older, if I was home my mom would always bake her famous chocolate chip vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting (recipe below). If I was away, she sent a card and called. She was never extravagant, more of a simple but elegant woman. But she always acknowledged what a special day my arrival was for both of my parents and how much I meant to them. Like I said, this is the stuff that you would think you could never forget.

But forget she did, first six years ago and increasingly each year since as time for her becomes more and more of a loose construct and words and their meaning elude her. This year I baked her famous cake for my daughter’s birthday and brought her a slice to see if the taste brought back any recognition of all of these wonderful, deeply held memories. She liked the cake, smiled while she ate it, but otherwise was blank. For my birthday, I brought tea and cookies to her care home to celebrate. Because, really, my birthday is about us, maybe even more about her than it is about me if you think about it! She was happy as usual to see me, springing from her chair with delight, her hands swinging dramatically in the air to wave me over, a huge smile across her face. She loved the idea of a party, but I don’t think she really understood the birthday part. She used to break into song, part of her brain holding onto familiar tunes like Happy Birthday better than other things. But she didn’t sing this time. She just enjoyed her cookie and her tea, and I enjoyed her company. Despite all that I have lost of her, I still have that.

I am left wondering time and again as we face into Alzheimer’s ever more deeply, what is life without a memory? I read Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End and, while inspired, grateful for this new perspective, and appreciative of the recommendations for aging and dying well, I found myself wondering how one can have a meaningful, purpose-filled life and live life to the fullest until the very end if you can’t remember anything. Who are we without our past? It’s one thing to live in the moment, moment to moment. That’s enlightenment. But isn’t life, ultimately, a collection of memories? Isn’t that what we all aim for, to create wonderful memories? So many of my conversations start with, “Remember when?” What happens when you don’t? Without memories, what does it mean to be alive?

I don’t have any good answers. I just wonder. And I wonder what goes on inside my mom’s head, what she is seeing when she points to things that aren’t there, what she is trying to describe when she can’t find the words, what it feels like to entrust yourself and your well-being completely to another person.

Where is the hope in this? I don’t know. But there is definitely connection. There is some deep, biological recognition of one’s own, no matter what else has departed. And I guess there’s hope – or magic of some sort – in that. And there’s always cake.

Bethie O’s Famous Chocolate Chip Vanilla Cake

1 cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

1 cup oil

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

2 heaping teaspoons baking powder

3-4 eggs

1 bag mini chocolate chips

2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix. Bake at 350.

Tube cake – at least 1 hour

Flat cake – 30 – 35 minutes

Cupcakes – 20 – 25 minutes

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 ounces cream cheese

Confectioners sugar

Dab of milk

Mix to taste and consistency. And enjoy!

Just because you carry it well

 

I Ran Two Marathons in One Month

Literally it took me a whole month. As in, I ran a couple miles at a time and over the course of a month somehow I managed to run 52.4 miles, the equivalent of two marathons. Could I have run a marathon, or even a half marathon, in one fell swoop? Heck NO. But I accomplished this and it is a pleasant surprise!

I am participating in the Acadia to Katahdin virtual race series to raise money for Acadia National Park and Millinocket, the gateway town to Baxter State Park, both of which are in the state of Maine. It has been a great experience. The race app helps me track not only how many miles I have run, but also where those miles would put me if I were actually running on the roads around Acadia and Katahdin. And, not that it’s a competition (at least for me), but it also tells me where I am in comparison to the other runners who are participating.

My racing stats are far from impressive, logging my progress in one- to four-mile bite-size chunks and averaging about 12 miles per week and about 9 minutes per mile. Some of those miles are walking, some are running. But that’s not the point! The point is that I am doing it. Like anything in life, it’s putting one foot in front of the other and making progress toward a goal. As an RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) patient, tying up the laces to my sneakers again and going out for even a mile run consistently is nothing short of a miracle. The days of barely being able to hobble around the block are behind me for the moment. Your guess is as good as mine as to why my RA is behaving itself currently, whether it’s diet or exercise or stress management or better sleep or the super perfect prescription cocktail, but I am running with it (literally) while it lasts!

Will I complete the race’s entire 328.5 miles before December 31, 2019? I would say that’s doubtful. Will I run the actual Millinocket Marathon and a Half that will take place this year on December 7, 2019? No, my long distance days are over. I am a short distance runner these days (and a swimmer – low impact is where it’s at!). BUT, I will be there to cheer on the runners, including my husband, as well as that community that is so dear to me. And in October I will attempt to climb Katahdin for the first time in almost two decades, weather gods permitting. And I can’t wait! My heart has ached to walk those trails I used to clamber up like a mountain goat for fun on a day off. I cannot wait to look out from the peak over the vast and serene landscape of the North Maine Woods, to feel the solidarity of accomplishment with fellow hikers, and the peace and calm that comes from being part of that wild world for a short time. I thought having RA had relegated me to only the low-lying, pond-side trails. And I made my peace with that – the view from there is beautiful, too. But, wow, to climb the mountain!??! What an unexpected gift. This hike will be one of deep gratitude, both that I am healthy for now and that I get another chance.

Life is short and life is also unpredictable. Next year is not a guarantee. October is not a guarantee! I am riding the wave while I can. Sometimes you just have to grab a latte, be bold, be brave, and go for it! And, always, always, be grateful.

 

 

 

 

In the Shadow of a Blood Moon

I used to earn $50 per week.

Accommodation was provided as part of my job, and we pooled our resources to purchase food in a family meal plan. I lived in T2R9 in the unorganized territories* of Maine at the time, a one hour drive to the closest town. We made one trip to town per week, family-style in a lumbering repurposed Suburban. The town trip consisted of food shopping (family plan), collecting and sending mail, doing laundry at the laundromat, and using the payphone – yes, for real, the payphone. If you’ve never seen one, I included a picture here. There weren’t a ton of extras to spend money on in Millinocket, ME, which suited me just fine since I didn’t have any money to spend anyway. Somehow I managed to break even each week.

Well, every week except for the week that I got my period. Tampons and pads weren’t part of the family plan. And, guess what? They are expensive and, also, essential. The other women on the crew lamented the same issue – every month we slid further into debt. And there was really nothing we could do about it.

You would think that this experience might have made me wonder as I traveled in developing countries how women there handled this issue. I guess I assumed there was some practice handed down woman to girl about feminine hygiene and how female bodies work. I often assumed other cultures were more evolved and open than my own close-lipped, grin and bear it Irish-Catholic heritage. I made those assumptions and didn’t think much more about it.

It turns out, there isn’t a good practice in most developing countries for handling basic health education on this issue. In many countries, girls miss school, are sent to huts together to wait out their “time,” or sit on a piece of cardboard alone in a room until it’s over. Every single month. I only figured this out recently when one of the women I was traveling with in Guatemala brought kits from Days for Girls to distribute to the students at the MAIA Impact School.

Do you understand how vulnerable a group of girls in a hut alone could be? Or how much school is missed when this happens every month? Or, simply, how unhygienic it is not to have a means to deal with this, or a cultural support system to explain why it is happening and what it means? Does teenage pregnancy in these circumstances, inequitable educational attainment between girls and boys, or high maternal death rates really come as a surprise in a world where this completely natural and necessary process isn’t discussed, in many cases is feared, where tampons, pads or pharmacies don’t exist, and where earning $50 per week is more the norm than the aberration?

To begin to address this problem and solve the many ancillary issues it creates, Days for Girls (DfG) developed reusable sanitary supply kits that are hand-made in the United States by individuals and groups committed to creating change for these girls. Sewing groups gather regularly or sewists work independently to make pads that can be discreetly hung on a washing line to dry and that last for approximately three years. The design has evolved over time – 28 different iterations to date – into an effective, durable, reliable and environmentally friendly product. Over the years, Days for Girls has earned the trust of village elders and other decision-makers, winning some semblance of freedom for girls worldwide.

Wisely, these kits aren’t just distributed to anyone who asks. Days for Girls requires the person distributing them to be trained and to teach the recipients about how to use the pads and care for them properly, but also about what is happening with their bodies and why. Kits go where people involved with Days for Girls travel. The number of kits available depends on how many each chapter is able to produce.

My local Days for Girls chapter sent this recent status update: “212 kits will go to Uganda in a week, to help girls stay in school. 10 kits will head to Guatemala in July as a pilot project. 10 more travel to Zambia soon. The last 20 will be donated to Days for Girls’ refugee project. They will be taking 11,000 kits to each of three refugee camps. Imagine fleeing your homeland and arriving somewhere unfamiliar, then living in a camp with thousands of other people, none of whom have access to sanitary supplies. The conditions under which many others live is challenging, to say the least. We hope to relieve some of the misery. The kits have been extremely well-received in the camps in which they have been distributed in small numbers in the past. We will also be sending some kits to Ghana in December.”

I am astonished both by the thoughtfulness and impact of this program as well as by my own ignorance. The provision of these basic supplies has an immense effect on a girl’s well-being, dignity, and potential. Globally, countries that have greater levels of gender equality are safer and more prosperous (World Economic Forum). Educating girls is also among the top forms of combating climate change (The Unsung Solution to Climate Change). In Guatemala specifically, “if women had equal economic participation, in 10 years the Guatemalan GDP would grow by 46%, or $40 billion, or $2,460 per person. In a country with an average per capita income of $4,060, that’s a big deal” (MAIA Impact School). Reducing the number of school days that girls miss matters enormously. This is a really big deal.

To follow are a couple of examples of videos from the Days for Girls website that more fully display the results of providing these basic necessities alongside health education. #daysforgirls #maiaimpact #girlsforgirls.bracelets

*Side note – I know it says unorganized, and I get now what it means (no local, incorporated municipal government – essentially vast swaths of territory with very few human beings), but in my early days in T2R9 I kept thinking the word was “disorganized.” I remember thinking what an odd way that was to describe a place, but, fine, own it, you disorganized territories. Whoever heard of moose and black bear getting organized anyway. That may just be me and it may only truly be funny when you’ve been living in the woods with the same 8 people for months on end, but it still cracks me up.

Update – check out legislation that just passed in New Hampshire! Lack of access to feminine hygiene products should never keep girls out of school – in the US or anywhere else!

Article: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-hampshire-passes-bill-requiring-free-menstrual-products-in-all-public-schools_n_5d31bd0de4b0419fd32bd119 

On Becoming Powerful and Empowered

I have been writing a lot recently about the MAIA Impact School and my fight for girls’ education (rights, life – hope!) in Guatemala. Today I am bringing empowerment Stateside.

A couple of years ago, my Rheumatologist recommended adding weight-bearing exercise to my routine. Instead of doing what normal people do, you know, lift some weights here and there at the gym, maybe do the circuit equipment, I joined CrossFit Launchpad (CFLP). My Rheumatologist’s jaw dropped when I told her that. It was pretty funny, actually. I could see the wheels turning in her head, “Crossfit? Really? Do you always have to push the outside edge with this disease?” Why, yes, yes I do.

You see, I know myself, and it’s a fact that I will not pick up a weight unless I am instructed to do so. Accountability counts. Plus, the gym owner, Ronda Rockett, is a Primary Care Physician, so she knows all about body mechanics and physiology. When I told her that I have RA I felt safer knowing that she knew exactly what that meant. Plus, she seriously knows about health and fitness.

Crossfit Coach
Crossfit Coach and Athlete Ronda Rockett

Needless to say, I started showing up to these classes, at first cutting workouts in half and still hobbling around on pulled and tired muscles for days afterwards. I have been going long enough now that not much fazes me, the lingo all sounds familiar, and I have watched our crossfit community grow. The other day it struck me as I watched people moving around the gym, stretching and warming up, gearing up for the workout, asking questions of the coach – this small gym is a microcosm of society, a seemingly ever more rare reflection of what an inclusive, supportive, caring community looks like. The idea is to work hard personally, but not to leave anyone behind (even the family dog).

This tenet applies to everyone who comes to the gym – men, women, and children. People join CFLP for a whole range of reasons, including some who haven’t exercised in a long time; who weren’t “athletes”; who have weight they want to lose that just won’t budge or health issues they can’t shake and are sick of not feeling well. I notice them shyly standing in the corner, hoping to blend into the walls and go unnoticed, deferentially allowing others to go first, reviewing the WOD (Workout of the Day) saying things like, “I don’t think I can do this.” The weekly schedule reflects the scaled workouts and WOD modifications designed for them. I see how hard they work, and how it just wipes them out, sweaty, panting, red-faced, and exhausted at the end.

Over time, I witness a slow evolution brought about by hard work and perseverance. Not only are these budding athletes literally becoming more powerful by lifting ever heavier weights or accomplishing more sets in a workout, but they are also becoming more empowered. Being part of this community ignites a light within. Here, a strong core means much more than six-pack abs – it’s about your spirit and celebrating everything that makes you you. Given the right support and encouragement, it turns out you can do anything – in the gym and outside of it.

Scientific studies suggest that strong, healthy, active parents raise strong, healthy, active kids. According to Dr. Christine Carter, “the first step in the science of raising happy kids is to actually be happy yourself.” Check out this Time magazine article from 2014 about how to raise happy kids (10 steps backed by science). Here’s the summary list:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them To Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimism
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment For Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together

At CFLP, Ronda and the other coaches encourage us beyond the amount of weight we can lift. We talk about setting (achievable) goals, forming new habits, nutrition and sitting down for a healthy meal as a family (not in front of the TV!), working hard, and gratitude. We are creating new pathways for ourselves, and also setting an example for our children. We are modeling what it means to be healthy and strong and to expect effort, but not perfection. We are also teaching them about building relationships and how a supportive and caring community behaves. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one goes it alone. Everyone needs support and encouragement somewhere along the line.

The other day, we finished the prescribed workout with a little time to spare. One member, the one guy in the room that class, suggested that we add on a little extra to finish out the time. This particular athlete had finished the workout well before the rest of us, and then stood there patiently swigging his water, cheering for each of us, and waiting for us to finish. When the coach asked him what he wanted to do for extra work, he responded, “whatever the team wants.” This is an attitude to emulate. Imagine our world if everyone strove to lift others up versus pushing them down; where unity was sought over division, support given versus criticism; where we meet face to face, put the screens away (for an hour!), and cheer hardest for the one who is coming in last; where our common humanity – our community – is celebrated and flourishes. Go team!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

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