Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dear Dad - a thank you note

Dear Dad,

Today was an all-around dreary day. The kind of weather that makes you not want to leave the house, but rather stay in your sweats and immerse yourself in a good book while time fades away. Well, I braved the weather to leave the house all the same. I went Christmas shopping! Now I'm home, tucked in with Mr. Dog, candles lit, and Vince Guaraldi Trio christmas music playing on Pandora, and I thought I might start in on all my overdue thank you notes.

Ironically, this has been the worst year of my life and yet it seems like I'm constantly thanking someone for something. Twenty thirteen has been one huge lesson in gratitude. Even in death, and beyond, you are still teaching us valuable lessons. Last night I was driving IH35 and listening to a band I got hooked on in college called Death Cab for Cutie. You would have hated their music, more than likely, but their lyrics are like poetry for me and I'm always having new realizations or making new discoveries when I listen to them. It's "emo" music and I'm sure you would have found the songs very "self-indulgent," having no patience for that sort of thing. However, one song called "What Sarah Said" suddenly had a lot more meaning for me last night, one lyric in particular.

"love is watching someone die"

One of these thank you notes is addressed to you, Dad. And maybe not for the reasons everyone might think. As awful as it sounds, and as difficult as it is to say, thank you for letting me watch you die. Thank you for letting me a part of that phase of your life: the ultimate transition.

I have the courage to say this publicly, because I know you understand what I mean. And I know you would want others to understand it, too. I know death probably frightened you quite a bit, especially when it crept up so much sooner than we expected and with such ferociousness. But I also know that it probably intrigued you a little - just as all aspects of life so intrigued you. You could never do anything half-heartedly. If you had to participate in something, it was going to be to the fullest, and someone was going to learn from it. Well, we all learned from this, and we'll go on learning from it for the rest of our lives. In that way you made the ultimate sacrifice: wanting us to learn from your experience, even if it was the last thing you did.

In fact, in your death you probably taught me several of the most valuable lessons of my life, and some I can't even begin to fully understand just yet. I wish it hadn't been quite that way. I wish there had been other ways for me to learn, ways that didn't involve you leaving us. I wish that I had heeded more of what you had to say before the imminent threat of loss cast its dark shadow on our lives, and we had no choice but to listen, and listen closely. I wish I hadn't been so defiant, so scornful of your eagerness to share what you know. I wish I had been more loving, and patient, and kind. But one of the things I'm learning from you, and from all of this, is to Let Go. Let go of those regrets. Let go of those wishes that won't come true.

In those almost six months of saying goodbye, of letting go, I learned so much. I learned that what I put in my body can kill me - literally. I learned that what I eat can also have amazing healing capabilities. I learned that stress, negativity and anger can poison a person in a very real way. I learned that all the cliche things people say about family coming together in the face of tragedy are true and beautiful. I learned how quickly some once important things become so completely unimportant, and others, so previously undervalued, become so valued. I learned what it felt like to honestly, and 100% willingly, put someone before myself for the first time, ever. I learned what it truly means to "reprioritize your life." I learned what it's like to be angry at someone who is dying, even though it's not their fault. I learned about the massive amounts of ugly and irrational guilt caretakers will carry in their hearts. I learned to memorize things about a person I never want to forget. I learned how to talk to doctors and nurses, be a patient advocate, interpret scientific journals, ask the right questions, keep track of meds, and make judgement calls on zero sleep and in the face of heightened emotions. I learned the value in just "being" with someone. I learned when words are necessary, and when silence is enough. I learned when my opinion was crucial, and when support was more appreciated. I learned so much about myself, about our family, about the man you were, are, and how you will forever be remembered. I learned about legacy, the importance of a job well done, a life well-lived, and how we will all define those things for ourselves individually. I learned utter vulnerability: what you feel when you have nothing and yet everything to lose. And so much more.

And then in those last few weeks, oh . . . I learned so much I didn't really want to know, but which made me a better person, a more profound person. About what happens when you die. Like many of your lessons, "it was harmful, but worth it." Depending on my mood I am either very bitter that I can't ever retreat to my prior naïveté, or extremely grateful that I was given the "gift" of this whole experience. But I will never regret being with you till the end. I will never regret spending those five days with you, singing you songs, reading you letters, holding your hand, listening to your breaths, memorizing your heart beats, telling you how you impacted my life, saying my goodbye, and lovingly watching you die. I will never regret it because more than anything else in the world, that is what love is . . . I was there because I wanted to be with you. I was there because I knew you would have been there for me. I was there because I love you. Because love is being willing to watch someone die.

I thanked you in person for the father you were to me, for everything you taught me, for the life you gave us, and the sacrifices you made for our family. And now I'm thanking you for the exit you made, for choosing to spend your final days in your own home, for allowing us to care for you with our own hands, and for letting us be there as you slipped away. Thank you for waiting until we had all had our chance to say what we needed to say and what we wanted you to hear. Thank you for sharing that final experience with me, with all of us. Thank you.

I love you, always and forever.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dear Dad - the most wonderful time of year

Dear Dad,

We are moving quickly towards Christmas. "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." It really is my favorite time. You were often so "bah-humbug" about  the festivities, but I think you actually enjoyed the holiday. I will let myself believe that. I know you liked having us all at home, whether it be when we were little, on break from college, or flying in from out of state. Even though you grumbled, I believe you enjoyed the full house, the molasses cookies, and particularly the cold weather.

Since it's gotten cold we've had to learn how to make the fires in the woodstove. So far we've all failed to make a "roaring" fire the way you did so easily, according to mom. The day after your party a little bird was trapped in the woodstove. It sat looking out at us through the glass. In trying to rescue it, it flew out of the stove and past me out into the big room. Susanna and I went running to open the doors and third floor windows. It flew back and forth a few times, perched on the railings as though trying to make a decision, and then right out into the open air. Free.

We are all looking for signs of you. It's not hard to project symbolism onto experiences like a little trapped bird. It's comforting to think of you as still here, even if it's not in the shape or form we knew so well. It's just another way we are muddling through The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. You are both everywhere we look, and yet nowhere to be found.

I love you, always and forever.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Dad - 2 months

Dear Dad,

It's hard to believe it's been 2 months since you left us. I say "left us" because that's truly what it feels like. It's pretty easy to imagine you're somewhere on an extended vacation (ha!), and might be home any day. When I'm at home - your home with mom - it often feels as though you might be just outside feeding the chickens or weeding in the garden. It's still surreal and unfathomable that you're just not here anymore. I mean, I can't really wrap my mind around what that actually means.

I've felt this overwhelming need to talk to you the last few days. It's the first time since you left that I've really taken the time to just miss you. To accept what it's going to be like with you not here. I've tried really hard to forget those last few weeks, to put the final tumultuous 6 months of your life out of my mind, to celebrate all the good things about your 60 years and my 28 as your daughter. But I'm not forgetting you. I think about you everyday. Yesterday as I was "carrying" my suitcase down the stairs I let it bang on each step. I knew you hated the abuse to your pretty floors, and I was really hoping I'd hear you shout at me to "pick the bag up!" Of course, you didn't. It felt kinda good to be rebellious, but it's not nearly as satisfying as when there's someone to rebel against.

We made thanksgiving dinner and sat around your beautiful table on Thursday. Our first holiday without a patriarch. Again, it was just plain weird - like we sat down to dinner before you were home from work or in from the evening chores. I've realized over the last two months how much you both blended into the landscape and demanded a significant presence all at the same time. You were always "there" with your commentary and lecturing, even when we pretended to ignore or overlook it. Tim sat at the head of the table, and Samson at the other end in his booster seat. It was hard not to see you there, in your normal place. I knew you would have had nice things to say about the food, and I realized for the first time how much pleasure that always gave me when you appreciated something I made. Probably because I know you have high standards, but mostly because, no matter how often we disagreed, I really do like to please you and make you proud.

We celebrated you one week ago today. Last Sunday we gathered all our family, your closest friends, and loyal customers, and we tried to pay tribute to your life. In some ways, it was a very happy occasion. It was so good to be hugged and held and reminded of what you meant to everyone. People came from all over. Your cousins you hadn't seen since God knows when. Old family friends who had fallen out of touch. Nieces, nephews, basketball alumni, neighbors, people I'd never met. At one point there was a line of people to sign in at the guestbook backed up all the way down the stairs of the pavilion. People waiting, in the cold, to leave you a message and pay their respects. You never would have believed you were "that cool" to draw such a crowd. In the bitter wind and freezing temperatures it was warming to stand on that stage and look out at a sea of people, all crammed in together, all there for you. 

Tim served the homebrew - the same recipes you two made for our wedding. He labeled your milk stout "St. Christopher." Margaret sang with the awesome jazz quartet. Susanna put together a slideshow that gave us a moving and hilarious visual timeline of your life. People enjoyed Virginia's tamales, bratwurst that Uncle David grilled, and a mediterranean buffet put together by my friends the 2Tarts. Susan whipped up some pretty native flowers. Lisa, Mike, and Chuck all spoke about you. And I guess I orchestrated things... big surprise, huh? I know. I'm a Bossypants, like you. We all came together as a family to honor you (with only a little bit of drama and flaring of tempers). I'm just sad I never got to do this for you while you were still here, knowing how much you would have appreciated the chance to see all those people. I have to believe that you still experienced it, though, just in a way that is beyond my earthly understanding right now. It was a beautiful and amazing event, and I will never forget it.

I'm looking for you everywhere. I'm listening in my heart for your words of wisdom. I promise I'll write when I feel the need to talk. Maybe we can have the conversations we were never really able to have together in this life. Maybe we'll agree more now that the conversation is somewhat one-sided. :) Maybe you'll let me get the last words in...

I love you, always and forever.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Making the bed

Just one normal thing each day.

I love a made bed. I especially love getting into a made up bed at the end of the day. I've never liked getting back into a rumpled bed after a long day. It just feels wrong and messy. Even if I do nothing else useful all day, making the bed proves that I accomplished one thing, however menial.

When I went off to college, making my bed every day became a necessity. It wasn't always in the morning, when I first got out of bed. I am most definitely not a morning person. In fact, more often than not it was probably afternoon, once classes were over and I wasn't rushing like mad to get out the door, that my bed got made. But I would always make up the bed before sitting down to study or write papers. It was a functional necessity for my education. An organized room meant an organized mind.

Recently, working at home, it's become just as imperative to my productivity that I  pull up the bedding and plump the pillows before accomplishing any "real" work. Now it is actually one of the first things I do, since I'm usually not rushing off anywhere -- except to take a pee and get some breakfast before sitting down at my computer. I love that immediately I can check something off my mental task list right at the start, and it makes my whole house feel tidier. 

Add to those practical reasons a heavy burden of grief, and making the bed has become a staple form of therapy. Comfort is found in routine and participating in "normal" activities, when so many other aspects of life no longer seem normal. Some days are much easier than others, for sure. But many days I fear I would just get right back in bed if I didn't make it up. It has become the signifier that the day has begun, and there is no going back. "You're up, you can do this, keep going."

Until today it never occurred to me that making my bed was something that was always on the chore list growing up, without fail. My dad stressed neatness in our personal spaces even more than my mom. She's the one that worries about the house being clean for company, but she always tended toward the parenting principle that our rooms were our sanctuaries and were ours to keep (within reason) to our own standards. However, bed-making was an item that was always at the top of those daily lists made out by my dad and begrudgingly followed by his children.

People say I will find ways to keep my dad close, even though he isn't physically here with us anymore. They say that I can be comforted by knowing he's always going to be apart of who I am, and that I will always carry him with me. Maybe it's a stretch, but in this small task - ingrained in me by my father - I find this to be true. And I find it to be comforting.

I will happily make my bed everyday with you in mind, Dad. We will start each day together.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mr . Green, Mr . Fix - it

Written on May 21, 2013

My dad is really good at fixing things. He knows a lot about how things function, and how to trouble-shoot when something malfunctions. Not limited to material items, he also knows a lot about a lot of topics. He's one of those educated people who actually knows how to use their education properly. He has a broad base of knowledge, with specialization in many areas, but he can engage in a theoretical discussion about something he knows very little about by drawing from past experiences. It's actually always been something I very much admired, but was at the same time rather irritating.

Every day my dad goes into people's homes and fixes their machines. He's not a silent repairman. He knows most of his customers, some are old friends from high school or their parents or offspring, and if a person is willing he keeps up a stream of conversation while he's at work. He's taught many people the value in having a reliable repairman you can count on in your time of need, and he's not afraid to give free advice. He's served several generations in our hometown. You can't go anywhere in town with my dad and not run into someone he knows. People recognize his truck around New Braunfels and honk and wave. 

I used to ride along with him in his truck and while my jobs were pretty menial (hold the flashlight at the perfect angle, keep track of the screws he'd just removed, carry the kneeling pad, etc), they were absolutely necessary in my eyes. In fact, I used to wonder what he did on every other day when I wasn't there. How did he manage to position the flashlight correctly if I wasn't there to hold it? How did he keep from misplacing those pesky screws? I didn't realize until much, much later that riding along with my dad on jobs - and just being his daughter - had left me with a pretty good understanding of how things work. Much more than flashlight-holding and kneeling-pad carrying, it had also imparted a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to fix things around me. 

I was the only girl in my entire dorm freshman year who was sent off to college with a full tool kit. And not only did I have tools, but I knew how to use them! Word spread and occasionally my roommate and I would get a tap on our door from some poor girl on a different floor (that's a world apart, mind you) who needed to borrow a screw driver to put together her desk chair. My dad had outfitted me with all the practicality, problem-solving, and handiness a girl could need. I felt good that I had been given the tools to survive in life. I knew how to fix things.

To this day, when I don't know how to fix something, I call my dad. So imagine my distress to find that my family is in a situation my dad doesn't know how to fix. We are utterly confounded, and the one person my entire family always turns to for an answer, doesn't have one. Because there isn't one.

I think that's what I see when we make eye contact. He knows I'm a fix-it person, thanks to him, but he feels as helpless as I do. He knows I don't look at a situation and see problems, but solutions. We are the same in that respect. We are always trying to anticipate the bad, the wrong, and the broken, and make it good, right, and repaired. Somehow our expert "fix-it"training has failed us here. We've encountered something that's broken, and no amount of knowledge, experience, or expert deduction is going to repair it back to the way it was. 

He can't fix himself, and I wasn't given the right tools to do it for him, but we will go on trying. 'Cause we're also both stubborn like that.

My dad passed away September 25, 2013. He was stubborn till the end. We never stopped trying.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I'm going through a phase where I'll spend a couple of days fixated on a topic or idea, before moving on to something else. I'm not sure this is any different than what I usually do; I suppose I'm just more aware of it right now. Commitment to anything sadly seems unattainable.

For the last few days it's been the word: malaise. 

In my OCD / Designer mind, I like to find descriptive words for any project or phase I'm going through. It helps me establish a clear direction. This word popped into my head yesterday, and though it's not regularly in my vocabulary it's now hovering: the perfect description for my current state.

Malaise is a general feeling of unwell: that something is not right. It can refer to an emotional feeling or a physical feeling. Often for me these are so closely related, I have a hard time differentiating. Is it purely physical? Do I sense a developing cold, or is that just a negative outlook? Grief and anger, both seem to equal nausea these days. Depression equals lethargy. Relief equals energy. Sometimes I cannot tell the physical from the emotional.

Life just doesn't feel right. I've struggled with pinpointing exactly why. Some of the possible culprits aren't even appropriate to write about in a public forum, but I think anyone who reads this has likely experienced similar cycles of life. I've actually managed to be quite positive over the last four months, despite what you read here. (This has been, I suppose, my outlet: book reviews and complaining is what I've written since March. You're so welcome.) Living with and learning from the difficulties of having a terminally ill family member has had quite the opposite effect on me. It's forced me to dwell on the positive parts, and not the negative ones. I've surprised myself by my own pretty good attitude. I didn't know that was possible! 

But this isn't just about my dad's cancer. There's a lot more going on in my head and heart and soul that I cannot blame on cancer. If anything, this disease has just highlighted other contributors to my malaise. When you're living with a "life's too short to..." mentality, a lot of inner crap surfaces. In general, I'm becoming more and more acutely aware of life's many disappointments. People are not who you want them to be, or who you thought they would be. Your marriage is hard work. Work is unfulfilling. You've settled in a state with a miserable climate. You can't afford to travel. You don't have time for adventures. You get lazy, flabby, and pathetic. The life you imagined for yourself and the things you know you're capable of just wither away and die. And if you're like me, you despise yourself even more for acknowledging these things but not remedying any of them. Yay!

I'm becoming convinced that aging isn't depressing just because you lose your good looks, memory, and sex drive. It's an uphill climb against growing melancholiness as you see possibility fade and you accept the reality that you probably aren't going to conquer the world like you once thought. Disappointment after disappointment stacks up that life's not working out the way you want. That something's just not right.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June Book Review: Gone Girl

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Wow. I have a lot of not necessarily well-thought-out things to say about this book. Here goes nothing...

I really knew very little about this book - just the premise - which was described to me as "a woman disappears and the main suspect is her husband." So many people were talking about it, that I decided to make it summer reading.

Without a doubt, this is my definition of summer reading. This is just the kind of cannotputitdowndon'ttalktomeI'mreading book I was looking for when I called it "summer fluff" on my Book List in January. If my lazy brain had its way, summer reading would be all that I ever read. Because it. is. FUN. And I'm lazy. What I liked in particular about this one, though, was that it was thought-provoking fun. Just enough that I was stimulated and invested (what you might call "a page-turner"), but not enough that I felt exhausted.

I raced through this book. I got a few chapters in last week (and the chapters are short) and then put it down and finished re-reading (for the umpteenth time) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver instead. I wasn't in the mood for a murder, and I wanted to loan a friend Barbara's first novel which I had been casually re-reading since May. Then yesterday I wasn't feeling particularly great and I literally holed up in my bed and read the whole dang thing in one sitting. That doesn't happen very often. The last time I did that, I think, was the Hunger Games trilogy which I devoured in one weekend.

Okay, so about the actual book. Meet Amy and Nick Dunne - married 5 years. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary Amy suspiciously goes missing. Nick doesn't have a great alibi, and slowly but surely he becomes the number one suspect. Their marriage had been rocky: unemployment, relocation, debates on whether to have children. Things look bad for Nick. Really, really bad. But for Nick to be the culprit is just too easy.... Right? 

Now to the literary structure. This book is written with typical he said/she said back and forth. Chapters are short entries, alternating either Amy's (past) or Nick's (present day) perspective. Amy's dialogue is in diary form, from entries written over the past 6 years of their relationship, and 5 years of marriage, and we gather more and more incriminating evidence against Nick as her entries unfold. Nick's input is first-hand thought and interaction play-by-play (much more interesting). You wonder as you're reading Part 1, "how long can Flynn (author) keep this up?" Amy's entries are too pointed, too obvious, so I'm not revealing anything by saying early on you suspect this isn't a cut and dry scenario.

As for the inner workings of the novel: I liked the characters. I thought some of them were certainly more original and believable than others, but I particularly loved some of their thought sequences on marriage. I didn't expect to be reading summer fluff and be caught thinking, "Shit, she's right. Marriages do fall into those categories!" And then follow that by setting down the book to think hard if I could drum up anyone I knew whose marriage that DIDN'T fall into one of the categories she listed. Dammit, I could not. There are truths about marriage to be had here folks, some uglier than others, and I think those truths are what makes this better than your run-of-the-mill CSI case. But let's face it: it doesn't take much to be better than CSI. This is really fun, "gotcha!" material, that also leaves you a tad bit more enlightened.

A analogous way of describing my overall judgement would be to say that Part 1 was like Season 1 of a stunning new TV drama series (take Homeland, for example). I was excited, hyped, immersed and intrigued. No - more than intrigued - I was a captive audience. More importantly, I believed in the characters, and I wanted to know more. There was lots of potential, lots of page turning, and lots of resisting the urge to skip ahead. Part 2 became a little questionable with some of the plot twists, and you begin to see the potential fade. It's like that point in your favorite show - typically Season 2 - where you start to get worried. Not worried for the characters exactly, but worried you might start hating the show if the writers keep going down that road, or handle the choices badly. It could go either way. Part 3? Felt a little like "I need to wrap this up.... and tie it with a bow," just as many TV series finales do. The ending wasn't bad, but it was perhaps the less interesting route to take, likely because it became the predictable route. (Not predictable as in stereotypical for all marriage-related murders, but predictable based on the setup provided in the first 2 parts.) It felt like we got beaten over the head with the "wittiness" of the ending by Flynn, as if she was saying "Look how wicked clever I am!" BAM. And then she - BAM, BAM - hit us a couple more times, just for good measure. You know, to leave a lasting impression? A cliff-hanger would have been much more satisfying in that "I'm not satisfied!" type of way good book endings have.

So bottom-line? Yes, read it! I really enjoyed it -- it was lots of fun and held my focus all the way until the end.

And yes, for the record, I am worried about Homeland Season 3. It had better not have a bow on it.

June Bonus Books:
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver (★ ★ ★★☆ )   [A re-read and always a safe bet!]

★ - Hated it. ★★ - Didn't like it. ★★★ - Liked it. ★★★★ - Really liked it. ★★★★★ - Absolutely loved it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

April Book Review: Life After Death

Book Review: Life After Death, by Damien Echols
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I have a lot of catching up to do here on the blog. I'm way way way behind on my reading and reviewing, as evidenced by the fact that it is now June and I'm writing a review for my April pick. Still, I'm determined to tick them all off the list. I've finally read Life After Death by Damien Echols, and I let it sink in a little before writing the review. It was my book for April, but I'm so glad I waited until June to read it.

From April 5th through end of May I only read scientific journals and alternative medicine articles about Pancreatic Cancer. I spent hours researching different treatment centers, and writing update emails on my dad's status to his family and friends. I sort of only had a head for cancer. I find it very interesting that I selected this book unaware in January "for the month when many people contemplate salvation, redemption, and forgiveness [because of Lent, Easter, etc]," as I stated in my Book List post, yet had no idea that I would actually be contemplating all those things and more in April, myself. I'm not sure I would have been able to appreciate this book for what it is, had I read it according to schedule. My own life tragedy was too fresh in April. Since then, I've found - as I'm sure many victims of Cancer do - that tragedy has a way of creating communities and commonalities. I still have no idea what it's like to spend nearly two decades in a concrete cell as punishment for something I did not do, but I understand what a cruel turn of events can do to your whole life. I have a much bigger heart for people who've been dealt an unfair hand, and my concept of compassion and understanding of empathy are radically more mature.

Sometime late last year I caught an interview on NPR with this death-row prisoner-turned-author about his autobiographical work and was instantly fascinated. After being convicted for the "satanic" murder of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, and serving 18 years on death row (most in solitary confinement), Echols and two co-defendants were released in August 2011 on the Alford plea agreement. The agreement allowed all three to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty, and the judge converted their sentence to time served. Over those 18 years in prison, their controversially mishandled case received the publicized support of celebrities like Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks). Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh filmed a documentary about the case titled "West of Memphis." Damien's wife, Lorri Davis, who discovered him by watching "Paradise Lost," married him five years into his incarceration and has organized and championed his case ever since.

So that's a little of the background, now on to the book review. First of all, this book is not a historical account of the murders or the trial. If that's what you're looking for spend some time googling all the various audio and video clips that have been made public, and read the documented evidence provided on many readily available websites. Apparently "Paradise Lost 1, 2, and 3" (an HBO documentary series about the case), and "West of Memphis"are fairly one-sided documentaries, but I haven't seen them and I'm not reviewing them here. My point is that there are plenty of resources out there if what you're looking for are facts about the crimes and trials. This book is not one of those. 

The book is Damien's account of his tortured childhood, misunderstood existence, encounters in prison, and spiritual journey. Even if none of it is true or it severely manipulates the truth, it's still a fascinating concoction. Read it with a grain -- or two -- of salt or read it as if it were pure fiction. But, I think the read is worth it simply to imagine yourself in Echol's position. I spent a lot of time wondering what type of person I would have become, had I witnessed the injustice and experienced such persecution as Echols claims. He creates an inspiring pocket of hope for himself inside a concrete cell, by using Buddhist practices, sustained meditation, and ritual ceremonies, as well as writing in his journal (much of which is used in the book) and fighting constantly for his freedom.

I flew through this book. I can't help myself when it comes to conspiracy theories or "train-wrecks." It was an easy read, but I admit I sped through because I hoped for a revelation. Once I realized that there is no real answer or closure provided and, thanks to the police bungling much of the evidence, unfortunately for the victim's families and the suspects there might never be, I was sort of disappointed. Not sure what I expected: Echols to admit guilt in his own memoir? Point the finger firmly at someone else? I did certainly expect there to be more of his "Life After Death" experiences, as the title implies and now that he is a free man, but the book abruptly ends with his release and subsequent celebration. It's much more about his terrible childhood and time on death row, than his life since his release in 2011.

This was a highly publicized and extremely well-known and documented case. However, I knew absolutely nothing about it before picking up this book. The fact that the murder and trial took place in 1993 (I was only 8 myself), means that it passed completely under my radar at the time. I spent several hours watching interviews, even with the man himself, and reading available evidence since I finished the book. I still don't know what to think -- except that it's worth reading.

★ - Hated it. ★★ - Didn't like it. ★★★ - Liked it. ★★★★ - Really liked it. ★★★★★ - Absolutely loved it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Not writing about "Gratitude"

I sat down to write about gratitude today, and then decided against it. Today I wasn't feeling very grateful.

I've learned a lot in the last two and a half months about gratitude, but today found me unlearning it all. I was cranky, irritable, and quick to frustration. So many people and things rubbed me the wrong way. I was failing at optimism. Miserably. So I decided not to write about gratitude.

For those of you who don't know, there are 5-7 stages of grief. I say 5-7, because occasionally people combine some of the similar stages into one (shock/denial & bargaining/guilt). As a list of seven, they are as follows:
Shock or Disbelief 
Acceptance and Hope
I don't number these, because they can occur in any order and last for any period of time. These 7 stages of grieving are different when the person you love is still alive. Of course, that seems obvious,  right? Well, it wasn't to me. A few months ago, I wasn't familiar with this list, and I couldn't have named all of the above, or claimed any real experience with most of them. But a few months ago, my dad was given a "death sentence" called Cancer, and even though I live every day believing that he's going to get well, and I'm certain that his time here is not through, I still grieve a little bit each day, too. Because, that's what you do.

Some days I feel mostly normal, and my thoughts are Cancer-less. Other days I dwell on all the wrong things. Rather than moving progressively from one stage to another, I feel like every day is a taste of a different stage. Sometimes I'm immersed in one alone, and sometimes I get to experience three or four stages in one afternoon. How exciting, right? It's exhausting. The person you're grieving for isn't gone, but statistics are looking grim. The patient is looking grim one day, and just like his pre-Cancer self the next. The whole family wants to curl up and groan collectively. But you can't! You're not dying from Cancer - you're living with it. So you move forward, simultaneously allowing yourself to grieve in little bits and pieces, but giving thanks that everyone's still alive. (Thank you, Jesus.)

I'm not only grieving for my dad's health, and for my family and what this means for us, but for how my life has been forever changed. My carefree existence is gone. My ability to imagine my life much more than a month or two ahead is simply not possible. My sense of security, health, and happiness is hanging in question. Very selfish things to grieve over, of course, but I think normal. Yet, it's a strange thing to grieve for something lost, but have astounding amounts of gratitude for what has replaced it.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have what feels like a real, daily, non-combative, honest relationship with my dad. We talk about things, and this talking involves taking turns, listening, acknowledging, eye contact, and respect. When I hug my dad, I really don't want to let go. When I'm away from him, I can't wait to come back and "hang out." I soak up his knowledge, and enjoy anecdotes which formerly went unheeded. Those prior juvenile walls are gone and the only thing remaining is just a huge amount of untainted love. I'm thankful for that, and it's been the foundation of my understanding what "gratitude" really is, and what it means. I hate Cancer, but I'm thankful for it, because I've been given an opportunity I might not have otherwise. At the same time, I hate that I'm thankful for it, and I feel awful for thinking that.

And this is where you look back at that list and you begin to see...."Aha! She's spending today with stage Guilt." Or up late at night, I'll sink deep in despair as reality, called "Depression," hits me with full force. Or I'll think our family is invincible, and a prognosis given to us doesn't mean the same as it does in all those other cases: we will overcome anything, because WE are special. That's the "Hope" talking, my friends.

There's a stage that's not on that list, but should be. It's called "Gratitude." I can't get through a day without at least a small dose of this one. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by it when my dad comments "I feel really good right now, almost normal." My heart unclenches just a little, and gratitude washes over me, and for an hour or an evening I'm simply and utterly thankful for that small victory.

I didn't want to write about it, but there it is.... "Gratitude." It crept in. Sneaky bastard. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Getting my Masters in Cancer

The last month has been a crash course in Cancer -- both what conventional medicine and alternative practices can teach me. I've skimmed what feels like hundreds of medical journals, clinic websites, and clinical trial abstracts. I've read books on nutrition, alkaline water, and watched documentaries on health. I've researched supplements, spices, roots, and plants with healing properties. I've studied diagrams of the gastrointestinal area and learned medical jargon.

If we'd had complete faith in the first doctors we met, or even in what conventional medicine had to offer my Dad and his type of cancer, this all would have been much easier. We would have trusted them to educate us, answer our questions, and make all the decisions. The agony we've experienced was trying to take the matter of Dad's care into our own hands, educate ourselves on our options, and make a decision we had enough confidence in to proceed, while accepting all the responsibility for it possibly not working. Each time we made a decision, we were faced with an obstacle: a doctor wouldn't treat us because the disease was too advanced, we lived out of state, or there was a waiting period longer than seemed reasonable.

For the first time in the last few years, falling apart and letting my anxiety get the best of me isn't an option. Neither is giving up. The stakes aren't wearing the wrong outfit, wondering what to do with my career, or worrying about my marriage. The stakes are my dad's life, my family's ultimate happiness, my world being turned upside down. I have to see all these hurdles as closed doors that HAVE to lead to an open one. I have to stay positive that there is something out there that could help, that would help. I can't let the disappointments result in me frozen and petrified, not knowing what to do. I have people counting on me in a big way.

So in the last month or so, I haven't just gotten my "Masters Degree in Cancer." I've started to comprehend faith in a way I never had before, because I'd never had any real reason to need it. In a sense, true tragedy makes faith very easy to understand, because it leaves you with great need and incredibly humbled. This wasn't a "situation" I could fix with my own intelligence or planning skills. I couldn't swoop in and save the day of my own accord. I couldn't control it. I could only rely on faith.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Climbing and Crashing

Hope is a funny thing.

It doesn't float, like in that movie with Sandra Bullock. It's more like a roller-coaster. At least when you're talking about Cancer. In such a short time, my family and I have seen many hopes climb and crash.

It started off with,
"During the procedure, we did see a tumor on the pancreas." Crash.
"However, and I don't get to say this very often, it looks to be small and likely operable." Climb.
"Your CT Scans show spots on your liver." Crash.
"They might just be bile." Climb.
"Both biopsies came back positive for cancer." Crash.

The bumpy ride has continued as we've had appointments with oncologists, submitted our records to alternative doctors around the U.S., and been met with depressing treatment prospectives and flat out refusals. When hope is taking you on such an unpredictable ride, you grow really wary and very weary. Around every corner, you hope  there's an answer. At the same time, you're terrified it's not the one you want to hear.

Hope is the fuel that propels us upward, even in the face of disappointments and disasters, but it also makes the fall that much harder on the way down. And that's where I'm at with hope. I can't live with it and I can't live without it, so we're learning to co-exist in a new way.

You might say it's a love-hate relationship.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Life's not fair.

Over the last three weeks, I've been absent. Maybe you noticed.

In those last three weeks, my entire life has changed. All of it. Forever. I've been absent, because I've been wondering if I could and should share with a more public audience what's going on, and if yes, then how? How do I write about what I'm going through? Is it self-indulgent to write in this forum? Will it seem like I'm asking for pity and sympathy? I hope not. 

I'd sort of worked through that phase a little bit, and when my mom asked me about my blog yesterday and why I wasn't writing, it reminded me of why I have this forum to begin with. It's good for me, but I think sometimes, it can be good for other people, too. Mom, I know you're reading this, so I hope it's okay I'm writing again. I'm writing because I NEED to, not because I want to.

When my sisters and I were little and we would whine "But whhhhhhy?" to my parents, about thisthatandtheother, a typical response from my dad included some form of "Life's not fair." I don't think the true meaning was ever fully absorbed until now, at ages almost-26, almost-28, and 31. We just understood it as finality: the conversation was over, shelved, DONOTGOTHERE, zip. It was the last  semi-friendly roadblock before the ultimate precipice of "attitude adjustment." We usually heeded it. (It didn't work quite as well in middle and high school.)

I've been spending quite a bit of the last three weeks being reminded in a hard way that life's not fair. Really bad, unfortunate things happen to really good, undeserving people. All the time. I know there are much more stark cases than the one my family and I can present to the world, but my dad doesn't deserve to have pancreatic liver cancer. My mom doesn't deserve to have had her world turned upside down and shaken. My sisters and I don't deserve to feel anguish and helplessness all at the same time. At least, I don't think so. Life isn't fair in that way.

In 21 days I've experienced so many emotions I didn't even know existed within a human being, much less within me. Something inside of me feels broken. A wise friend told me that regardless of how this present situation resolves itself, "you won't ever look at the world the same way again." I know this to be true. What I've felt the most is this fiery, boiling hot anger that keeps bubbling up as tears and filling me with waves of nausea. This terrific hate toward that THING, those clusters of evil cells inside my dad's abdomen. A ridiculous, irrational fury that I can't just do this or that and fix things, and we all wake up from this nightmare and go back to normal. And, of course... I hate the unfairness of it all.

I'm going to be talking a lot about Cancer in the coming months, because life's not fair.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stop this train.

On Monday, March 24th, three weeks ago, I went to bed late, tossed and turned, and never could fall sleep. In fact, I laid awake until 6:30am Tuesday morning, when I heard Tim begin to move and start his morning routine. Finally, I slept a few hours in late morning, cancelled my training session due to exhaustion, and then sat down to write about all the things that had kept me from sleeping. I'm only just now sharing them.

Tuesday, March, 25, 2013
Sometimes you think thoughts you don't want to. Sometimes I choose to write them down. 

You might say I've struggled with melancholia all my life. I think my parents will agree that from birth I exhibited signs of being a rather dark-tempered child. I was shy and withdrawn around people when I was a toddler, and incredibly stubborn. My father likes to tell this story about me and a tin of hair pins (there is disagreement as to whether it was hair pins or Q-tips). I think I was about two, and I was playing with a tin of hair pins which I opened and dumped all over the floor. When play time was over, my father told me I needed to pick the pins up and put them back in the tin. I refused. There was a spanking. I picked up one pin and put it in the tin. My father told me I needed to put the rest of the pins back in the tin. I refused. There was a spanking. I picked up one pin and put it in the tin. By my father's account, this happened 8 or 9 times before I was crying, he was crying, and ultimately he gave up. You might say it set a tone.

I've written about my struggles with control and anxiety before. I've shared some of my nightmares that I'm sure are a subconscious release of that anxiety. Last night I wasn't having dreams, though. I was just awake, grieving, for my future. There's this "cheesy" quote I like, because it very much explains my three main mental states: "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." (Lao Tzu) Last night I was living the future. I was so anxious about nothing in particular, that I was lying in bed until after six am this morning without sleep. Not even dozing. I was just awake. Worrying. And actually that's a lie. I know what I was anxious about. It's just really hard to talk about it.

I was sad about the end of things.

I know all things come to an end. I know that one day we will no longer be young and dreaming big. I know that it's impossible to always have Mr Dog by our sides. I know that eventually we will care for  our parents the way they are caring for theirs now. I know that one day I will no longer be able to dye the greys that have taken up residence on my temples and top of my head and are moving in all across my crown. I know I won't always have elasticity in my skin, or a sway in my step.

But like that two year old that didn't want to obey my father, that resisted at every command, I want to refuse this knowledge. I don't want to imagine a time when my parents aren't taking care of me. I don't want to be a grownup! I don't want to think about saying goodbye to my best companion. I don't want to think about life without my husband, or about his life without me, down the road. I know things end. Things have to have an end. I just don't want them to, and sometimes it's so frightening that I don't have any control over it at all. I anticipate all the grief that comes of loving with a depth that is scary and undefinable. I can't put into words for you how much I love my dog. I can't measure the amount of love I carry in my heart for my family. I can't imagine the aching hole that would be left in my heart if my husband weren't there to fill it. Sometimes it just feels like we are all on this train rushing toward the end, and I'm not ready.

Say what you will about John Mayer, but this song has struck a chord with me from the first time I heard it. It's has so much truth and puts into words how I feel in such an exact way, that I often just can't listen to it.

Stop this Train 
No I'm not color blind
I know the world is black and white
Try to keep an open mind but
I just can't sleep on this tonight
Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't
But honestly won't someone stop this train 
Don't know how else to say it, don't want to see my parents go
One generation's length away
From fighting life out on my own
Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't
ut honestly won't someone stop this train 
So scared of getting older
I'm only good at being young
So I play the numbers game to find away to say that life has just begun
Had a talk with my old man
Said help me understand
He said turn 68, you'll renegotiate
Don't stop this train
Don't for a minute change the place you're in

Don't think I couldn't ever understand
I tried my hand
John, honestly we'll never stop this train 
See once in a while when it's good
It'll feel like it should
And they're all still around
And you're still safe and sound
And you don't miss a thing
'til you cry when you're driving away in the dark. 
Singing stop this train I want to get off and go home again
I can't take this speed it's moving in
I know I can't
Cause now I see I'll never stop this train

by John Mayer

Tuesday morning, exactly one week later, my mother called to say that an ultrasound had shown a mass on my father's pancreas. Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Book Review: Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
My rating: ☆☆

I'm so glad I finally read something by Ian McEwan. Sweet Tooth is his newest novel, and I haven't read his others, so I don't have anything else to compare it to... yet. I will read him again, and I really enjoyed this first experience. My only past encounter with McEwan is the movie adaptation of Atonement, which I had mixed feelings about (and that was probably due to Keira Knightly being in it - I always have mixed feelings about her). Due to the dark nature of that story, I think I assumed that Sweet Tooth would have a similar tone. It's definitely not a lighthearted plot, but it's not as black as I would have liked for a book about espionage.

As for a little plot background: Serena Frome shows potential in high school for numbers, despite an overzealous appreciation for contemporary fiction reading, and is accepted to study Maths at Cambridge. She disappoints upon graduating, and only gets a third (which is the lowest level honors you can graduate with). She has a chance affair with a older professor who begins tutoring her, sexually and academically, for life as a "social servant." That's code for: MI5, Englands intelligence agency. She applies, is accepted, and is assigned to a special operation referred to as "Sweet Tooth." It's 1972, England is still fighting the Cold War, and MI5 wants to back writers whose politics lines up with the government's, in order to manipulate the cultural conversation. Well-versed in contemporary fiction, Serena is selected to co-opt a promising young writer named Tom Haley. The story centers around her falling for his stories, then for Tom himself.

I moved quite quickly through this novel, but I would have flown through it had it not been for all the tedious historical details. I don't mean details that really add to the flavor or intrigue, either. Parts of Sweet Tooth sort of read like a text book, and that's coming from a gal who loves her some historical fiction. I don't know enough about McEwan to know if he's just got a thing for history, or if he was indulging his inner professor, but man... I admit... I skimmed somma that shit. It always seemed to come at the most inopportune moments, too, like when you're waiting to see if something more interesting or exciting is about to happen.

I also didn't really relate to Serena's character very well. I felt like she could have been much more fleshed out, and even more likeable, for that matter. She did have a sort of self-deprecating dialogue that was both endearing and a little irritating all at the same time. You don't ever really feel sorry for her when it's appropriate, because you see all the consequences coming before she does. I feel like McEwan could have made her a little more approachable, but maybe that wasn't his desire.

This is a good little novel. Especially if you like Cold War history, read up! There is a nice twist toward the end, that I totally saw coming chapters ahead, but was still fun to unravel. I didn't guess the exact details, but gathered an inkling of the final punch, and this is where I feel like the climax could have been darker and -- therefore -- make much more of a lasting impression.

March Bonus Books:
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by Mark Haddon (  ★☆ ) 

★ - Hated it.   - Didn't like it.   - Liked it.   - Really liked it.  ★ - Absolutely loved it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness

Soooooo...I worked multiple events as a contractor throughout the month of March. This is really fun for me, and a nice change of pace, because by bonding with a larger production company I get to work on large-scaled events/festivals and for corporate companies that I wouldn't ordinarily as little ole me. These included a 300+ person gala, a 4 day long corporate SXSW Interactive social event, and SXSW live music showcase. All great experiences and lots of fun! Here's a recap in picture form:

Bartenders dance on the bar at Handlebar on East 5th Street - our host venue for corporate clients at SXSW.

Upstairs deck at Handlebar, transformed.
Sound & lighting gurus in action.
People enjoying SXSW music.
And then this happened.

With Snoop-Dogg/Lion at his movie screening.

Yup, Ole Snoop. He was super nice and very gracious with his fans. We were working his movie screening, which was just for an intimate group of people. Afterward, he took time posing in pictures and shaking hands with the guests. Later, on his way out, we just sort of stumbled into this picture with him, which he was more than happy to take. The best part was that right after this he voluntarily came up and hugged each one of us and thanked us for all our help making his event go smoothly. Um, no prob, Snoop!

Oh, don't believe me? Here's another angle. My glassy I've-worked-12-hours-and-counting eyes really "pop" in this one.

But Snoop wasn't the only VIP present. Oh hohoho no. The Dream was performing (didn't know who he was until that day) before the movie screening, so there was a heavy hiphop/r&b presence. The Dream's keyboardist borrowed my ear buds and then asked for my number. Whoo hoo. We had no idea that Usher and Bobby Valentino (also didn't know who he was until that day) were also going to show up to support (aka smoke weed?). I only caught a glimpse of Usher before he was ushered away. Har har. That was pretty chaotic. I was "stage managing" the bands, and Bobby Valentino's bodyguard came up to me backstage (if you wear black and a walkie talkie people think you make big decisions) and this was the conversation that ensued:

Bodyguard: "Hey. Hey!" (The band was loud)
Me: "Yes?"
Bodyguard: "I'm Bobby Valentino's bodyguard, and he'll go on for you after these guys."
Me: "What?" (It was really loud)
The Bodyguard repeated himself at least three times. I finally caught the name.
Me: "Who?"
Bodyguard: "BOBBY VALENTINO." (I had zero clue who that was, so I just shrugged.)
Me: "Oh, well, sorry. Our sound permit is up at 10pm and these guys get to play their full set."

What I now understand was that Bobby Valentino was offering to get onstage and give a spontaneous performance just out of the goodness of his heart. Clearly, the sound permit.... and all.

All in all, my first SXSW experience was a lot of fun, however I'm glad it only comes but once a year!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We are two year olds!

 Survived another year of marriage, partnership, and buddyhood.

I'm sweating in this picture, in my handmade 60-year-old heirloom dress, and I think I had actually just made a face at him about how gross it was our two perspiring foreheads were touching right here. Fortunately, Maggie just knows how to make us look a lot more sophisticated and romantic than we really are. At one point in the middle of the ranch where we were shooting I just ripped my spanxs down and stepped out of them. I couldn't take them or the heat any more.

I suppose I'm sharing these dirty details because details are what make up the moments that make up a real marriage. Marriage isn't that picture up there ^ even though it's beautiful (if I do say so myself). It's what's going on behind the pose, in the eyes, between the hearts. Some of that is beautiful, but a lot of it is hard. Hard work. (Trust me, we worked hard to look just that good.)

Our first year celebration felt like cheering for the hurdlers who make it through to the end of their sprint, but knock down every single hurdle in the process. I did not feel like a winner at marriage our first year, except that we survived. It wasn't horrible, but it was much much harder than I expected. I was glad to have that first year behind us.

This year, in comparison, felt like a reward. We are a better, stronger team. Sometimes I still worry our differences are insurmountable, that we will always bicker like tweens, but the reward of buddyhood is enough to quiet that doubt. That and a whole lotta love.

Cheers, darlin'. You are the best thing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

February Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling
My rating:    ★☆

This novel slowly creeps up on you... in a casual way. So slowly that it took all of February and most of March for me to finish reading it. I started it actually on time, at the beginning of February, got a few solid chapters into it and then got depressed with the dreary lives of the Pagford citizens, put it down, and didn't get back into it until me mum (like what I did there?) loaned me the audio recording.

The conflict thickens because me mum only loaned me some of the cds, as she wasn't finished listening to the conclusion. So I read the beginning of the book, got frustrated, listened to a good part of the middle on cd, and then had to resort to reading the last 100 pages or so with my own two eyes. But it is in the bag, folks! All 512 pages of the sucker. And I only admire J.K. Rowling more for having written yet another complex tome, this time without quidditch games to fall back on. (On a superficial note, and a review bonus 2-for-1: if you do attempt to read this and get bogged down, definitely check out the audio recording. I know that sounds like something for the elderly or the vision impaired, but the narrator is great--not one of those annoying drones--and really helped me catch a lot of details and grow attached to some of the characters I hadn't previously by reading it on the page. It was the boost I needed, and once fully immersed returning to reading--rather than listening--was easy and I couldn't wait to find out what happened.)

The basis is simple on the surface: Barry Fairbrother, a member of the town council, dies unexpectedly. The town is divided over longstanding city boundary issues, and the empty council seat creates an opportunity for the upcoming vote to be swung either way The story follows the citizens who choose to run for council election, and airs the dirty laundry each member of this apparently idyllic little village tries desperately to keep hidden. With a sort of mundane plot foundation that harkens a Jane Austen's society drama, the complexities of the characters, families, and their lives (past and present) are slowly unraveled. Only Rowling could take something as tedious as a small city council election and elevate it into thrilling drama with multiple unexpected revelations.

Rowling is deft at those twisty plots involving lots of characters. You think I had complaints about my January pick having too many perspectives? Well, I spent the first 200 pages of The Casual Vacancy trying to remember WHO everyone was and HOW they were connected to one another. For such a "small town" story, there sure were a lot of key players. And none of them - not a one - appears to be happy with their lot. However, what's magical about the way Rowling writes, and what was lacking from Beautiful Ruins, is you somehow sense that all these folks traveling separate, depressing paths will intersect at some point and it will all make sense in the end. It's worth it to hold out, trust me. And Rowling is so talented that though the topic and material wasn't my favorite, the storytelling was just. that. good. that I kept on. She always - just as in the Harry Potter books - gives you the right balance of "Aha! I knew it." and "Holy shit, did that just happen?" moments. She's just so darn clever.

Please don't read this thinking it will be like Harry Potter. Don't even think about Harry Potter at all. Pick it up and read it as if someone else entirely wrote it, because otherwise you'll spend some valuable time expecting to be taken on a magical journey, with a heart-wrenching but ultimately happy ending. This is not that book. This is a book for adults, with all the tedious, depressingly small things adults have to deal with. There is no magic except for Rowling's gift for weaving an intricate tale. There's barely even a hero, just failing marriages, miserable teenagers, and malicious busybodies. This book is about selfishness, close-mindedness, bullies, actions, and reactions. This book is about battles--personal and professional--and revenge, and how some people get what they deserve and some don't get what they deserve at all. Small town, small minds, big drama. Read it.

★ - Hated it.  ★ - Didn't like it.  ★ - Liked it.   - Really liked it.  ★ - Absolutely loved it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Facebook Mission: Accomplished

So we are well into March and I have yet to finish reading and write my review for A Casual Vacancy, my February book pick (thanks to a little switcharoo that had to take place since I couldn't get Sweet Tooth at the library until... yesterday). The fact that it has taken me over a month to read this book should hint at some of my feelings about the book, but I will wait until the last page has been turned to give a full account.

What I know you're really dying to hear about is how my month "without Facebook" went. To be perfectly honest, I was not diehard about this and I don't really feel ashamed about it. Have a snide comment to make about that? Let's see you give up Facebook for a month, and then you can be critical about my go at it. I snuck a few peeks here and there and looked in on my notifications (stupid of me to plan a party/meet up using Facebook invite and then think I could just disappear for a month) and messages from time to time. In my original post I discussed that I had no intentions of being Nazi-like in my requirements for avoiding Facebook. If you struggle with authority, as I do, telling yourself you absolutely can not do something only makes you want to do it more. Instead - just like a good diet should be a life-long lifestyle change, rather than a 24 hour fast - I was striving to change my relationship with Facebook and show myself that I didn't need it on a daily basis. Mission: Accomplished.

From the beginning, the two best things I did was un-bookmark on my computer toolbar and delete the Facebook app from my iPhone. It was amazing that these simple actions kept me from constantly checking my newsfeed whenever I was working on my Mac, and kept my thumb from robotically updating my notifications on the iPhone. I still haven't added the bookmark back, and although the app is back on my phone, I'm keeping it on homepage #2 so that it's not the first thing I see every time I unlock my screen and I've disabled my notification alerts.

I was as surprised as the next person that, since feeling completely free to comment, like, and post my little heart out as of March 1, I haven't really wanted to. Facebook isn't what it used to be (meaning back in college days), and I'm realizing how very little purpose it serves in my life now - especially since Instagram is so much more prevalent these days. Pictures say more than words. In any case, even though I peeked a few times, I refused to comment, kept myself from "Liking" things, and avoided making snarky responses on occasion, and really enjoyed this month of FB silence (especially during the Academy Awards) and a newfound value of privacy.

Now I just need to work on my TV addiction.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bag Bans

On March 1, Austin became the first major Texas city to effectively ban plastic bags. What seemed like a huge controversy at the time the ordinance passed, and instigated a lawsuit between local retailers and the City of Austin, transitioned seemingly without a peep.

I can't remember when I started feeling responsible for the environment. My family always recycled when I was growing up, when it was available, but I don't remember really caring one way or another. It certainly wasn't until college that I began feeling a heavy burden about keeping things from ending up in a landfill. I remember setting up for college house parties and clearly marking a trash can for recycling beer bottles and cans, and one just for trash. Yep, I was "that girl." I knew no shame.

The kicker though was when I made my first trip to New York City a few years later. Sadly, what I will remember most about that visit was the trash piled as tall as a (very tall) man outside our hotel, and walking through windy Times Square and a plastic bag blowing into my face. I will always associate with that visit the nauseating feeling that came over me, when on the drive home my world was torn apart by the reality that was Fresh Kills Landfill (now Freshkills Park). I really, truly had no idea. I was so naive. 

I am quite proud to live in a city that has a Zero Waste by 2040 plan, not only in writing, but also in motion. Recycling can be a lot of work. It's too easy to just throw something in your trash can and not think about it once it's disappeared on the truck. Especially, because I looooove to get rid of things, I'd much rather it was a streamlined, simple process. I don't particularly enjoy collecting food scraps for composting, or saving up electronics to recycle at Best Buy, or remembering to take reusable bags with me to the store. There really isn't anything fun about it. It's work, extra work, which doesn't directly or immediately benefit me, but we're all responsible and there's no way around that.

Even if you don't live in a city with bag bans or advanced recycling programs, you can still participate in small ways, like buying reusable grocery bags. It might seem silly and pointless, but you are just one more person doing Mother Earth a favor. Trying to minimize your personal waste levels will make you reevaluate other parts of your life, as well. Just watch and see.

So pick yourself up a couple of these...

And one or two of these...

And let's all shoulder our responsibility and do our part.