Inside Out

IMG_0762There are times when I do  a lot of work that no one but me will see, like the time I painted the insides of the cabinet under my kitchen sink, which is weird, because the outside of the cabinets look terrible. Then I painted the bottom section of the kitchen pantry and let it dry while I spent the entire day throwing crap away in the garage again, sweeping and arranging the lawn mowers and bicycles in a way that Ben (and maybe I) could have some space in there to work out on the heavy bag and practice Tae Kwon Do.

Yet my back yard deck looked like this:

IMG_0757My garden was full of weeds and the grass around the mailbox was 20 inches high.  Even my bedroom (which no one else was going to see either) was a mess with shoes everywhere, sweaters hanging on the door knobs and dust covering the unread books on the nightstand.

IMG_0761Still, I felt better when I opened the pantry or threw something in the trash under the sink and saw the fresh white paint.

What was going on in the kitchen was not unlike what I had been doing on my own insides. The past few years, I’d spent a lot of time out on the hiking trails, riding my bike, and doing yoga. These things are all good for the insides, but if I had to be absolutely honest, I was doing them for some outside reasons too; that primarily being the outside of my thighs, also known as ass extensions.

And while physical activity has always been good for my soul as well as my body, I had been neglecting straight-up soul work for some time. Spring  had a hard time arriving that year. Normally, if I can get through February without medication, I’m good because with March usually comes some hope that the weather will warm and the sun will begin to shine again.  That year though, it was May and we had just gotten a couple of frost warnings and the sun hadn’t been out for more than a few minutes per week.  We had more rain between January and May than we had all of previous year.  I honestly thought I would never go outside again, never show my fleshy legs again, never be happy again.

The long winter took a toll on my psychological well-being, too. Spring took so long getting here, that I just figured it never would. I was a pale blob of depression, anxeity and widening ass flesh.  Being forced to spend so much time inside, I had no choice other than to look into places I didn’t normally look, and slowly I began tidying up my own insides in the same way I had been painting the hidden cupboards of my kitchen. I read my first Caroline Myss book that spring and from what I understand, it’s a tough one to start with. But it was the one on the shelf, when I decided to go to the real bookstore—not the half-priced one—and find whatever book on spirituality spoke to me.

Little did I know that the Barnes and Noble near the rugby practice fields was moving and only had about ¼ of the normal books on the shelves.  But I was determined to find something and Myss was the only author on the shelf I recognized, other than God and Abraham, so she landed in my hands.

In the book she says this (which I think she specifically wrote about me):

“The archetypal hero’s journey . . . always begins with a process of separation or alienation from the tribe, followed by a series of difficult challenges that the hero must meet alone. The journey culminates in a descent into the abyss of self-doubt and a loss of faith in the Divine, but then results in a vital transformation of trust, which in turn leads to a revelation of some new knowledge, insight or wisdom.”

I am almost always in the abyss of self-doubt and loss of faith, which, if you think about it, is not what one would normally think I’d be facing after my own series of difficult challenges, e.g. things catching on fire, lots and lots of flooding incidents (By the way I fixed my constantly flooding basement with a 51 cent piece of plastic from Lowes.), tons of trash and rodent removal, beginner’s Tae Kwon Do, and the loss of my favorite yoga instructor. Normally, you would think making it through all that and more, I would be the poster child for self-esteem, deep faith, and glistening skin, but I wasn’t. I  was the complete opposite. My hair was falling out, my skin looked terrible, I was full of anxiety, and I couldn’t hear God speak if she shouted at me in the middle of the night from the foot of my bed.

Myss is right though, nowhere is it said that if we overcome a lot of adversity and figure out how to fix the lawn mower are we rewarded with clear eyes and a fruitful spirit.  We are only given more knowledge, and hopefully, greater understanding.

So of course the next step is self-doubt and a loss of faith. We used up all our naive faith and confidence doing things we never thought we could do before, like fix a lawn mower and survive an electrical fire. Eventually things calm down, though, and there’s time to poke around inside and uncover some things that aren’t so evident from the outside. Things like, a transformed trust. Maybe less blind and childlike, but born from greater knowledge and experience. Maybe a self that is less about it and more about others. And perhaps even an ass that may have gained a pound or two, but has also gained some hard-earned wisdom.

A house with no drapes and wooden floors

20150307-135636-50196070.jpgI realize now that I approached recovery in much the same way I used to approach housework. I used to clean my whole house every Saturday morning then hardly touch it again for the rest of the week.  I must have learned this style early, because I remember going to my friend Elaine’s house when we were kids and thinking it odd that her mother ran the vacuum two or three times a week. Their rugs always did look great, though, all plush and fluffy pile with vacuum marks in nice little lines.  Not like the indoor/outdoor in the family room at my house.  Geeze, my poor parents. I’m sure my mom would have loved plushy soft carpets in her home, too. But we would have just ruined them with our 16 pair of muddy shoes and bowls of Cap’n crunch in front of the TV.

Anyway, before I bought this house, that’s how I did my housework; once a week vacuuming and dusting unless something catastrophic happened in between or guests were coming over. Maybe not even if guests were coming over. I had dark carpets purchased with the intention that they would hide the grape juice and pizza spills. And we had old patterned furniture, basically, for the same reason. Then I bought this house with all its big uncovered windows and hardwood floors, and there was no hiding anymore. I’d look around and see dust and little pieces of things on the floors and think to myself, “Didn’t I just vacuum these floors three days ago?”

On the other hand, haven’t we been tracking dirt and dead leaves in for three days?  And I began to see that the old ways weren’t working anymore. So I adopted new ways. The new way leaves me open to doing the work when it needs to be done, rather than waiting for that perfect time when the kids are occupied and all my buckets are filled with vinegar and tea tree and there is “time” enough.

One of the things I am recovering from is my formerly severe relationship with God and Christianity.  For the longest time I thought that loving someone unconditionally meant to keep loving them while they kept taking advantage, crossing boundaries, and abusing. That’s what I thought love was. You love them and keep giving while they just keep taking. The love part, I guess you can’t really help. You either love someone or you don’t, but the giving and keep taking part is where I got all mixed up. I think it might also be mixed up with perfectionism, because I thought that if I just kept doing it, I somehow would get it right and it would make that other person all better.

The same with forgiveness. I always thought that famous story about Jesus telling people they must forgive seven times seventy meant that if someone kept hurting you, you just kept forgiving them until they did it the next time, then you forgive, then they do it again, and so on. Weird, now that I know better, that sounds exactly like the cycle of abuse. I wonder how many people miss that.  Now I see that, yes, I do have to keep forgiving that person, but that is supposed to be taking place in my heart, not in my living room.

Still, when I’m in the middle of the same, repeated argument or some other frustrating situation, or my savings account is back down to $300 and I am saying to myself, “Didn’t I just learn this three days (or three months, or three years) ago?”

I realize whatever it is, it needs to be learned again and probably practiced a whole lot more even though the kids aren’t occupied and it doesn’t seem there is time enough. Because I am not perfect and the things I am unlearning are just as important as the things I am learning. Sometimes they butt up against one another and can’t seem to call a truce, but that’s just another lesson telling me to fill up my buckets and get to work.

Grab an end and pull

IMG_3948In the middle of one of my DIY projects, the one where I learned all about chain saws, one of the things I had to stop and do was unwind a few hundred feet of orange extension cord.  I never have the patience to wind them back up the way you are supposed to after every use, and I know there is special way handyman-types wrap these things so you can use just a few feet at a time or use all 150 feet if you need it. But I never do that. I just throw them in a pile in the corner of the garage until the next time I need one and then stretch it out half-snarled to the approximate length I need, or go buy a new one that I promise to take better care of.

Anyway, I needed an extension cord for the electric chain saw I was using but when I went to the garage to get it I found this:

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In this tangled mess, was a 25-foot cord and a 50-foot cord but I needed only one of them. And since I was concerned for my safety—the perils of living in a free world that allows someone like me to use a chain saw—I considered taking the time to untangle it all.  ‘Sometimes it’s better to stop and do something like this,’ I thought. But rather than doing that,  I reached down and grabbed the end of one of them and pulled imagining that if I pulled hard and long enough something magical would happen to untangle them and I would have one end for the outlet and one end for the chain saw.

Of course, that’s not what happened, and I didn’t really think it would, I was just being hopeful. And hopefulness can do a lot, but I try to keep my eyes on what’s ahead—like the big thing I’m hoping to achieve—while being particularly mindful and appreciative of ‘the now,’ knowing that it will all end up in the same place. It’s my choice to make it a tangled mess or enjoy the ride.

Sometimes it can be great fun to just grab an end and pull and see what happens. Other times we’re gonna meet some resistance. And when we meet that resistance, it’s good to hang out there for a while and unsnarl the cords even when the temptation is to throw it away and buy a new one. The big thing we want will still be there. It has to be because it’s been there all along and is waiting for us.

I have found this is true of pretty much everything–work, home, cars, people. Sometimes we find ourselves in a tangled mess, not sure how it got this way, or wondering why we didn’t take better care of it. Our temptation can sometimes be to throw whatever it is it in the corner and ignore it, or maybe go get a new one. But then we miss  what the resistance is telling us. And if we don’t hang out for a while and untangle the cords, nothing is going to change and we’re just going to have to do it again at the next job, or with the next lover, or the next time we visit mom.

So for me, the choice is pretty clear. Either tug and pull and struggle against, or sit with it, get clear and intentional, and keep my heart and eye on the big thing I know I want. And when I do that something magical does happen:

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The Beautiful Carpenter was here. I didn’t notice until later that after we finished our work that day, he’d taken the time to do this for me. He was mindful. I am appreciative. Next time I see him, I will show him just how much.

 

 

 

An excerpt from the book

. . .

A few years later my dad died. During the five years of his illness  when his vitality faded to confusion, then helplessness, I learned to father myself. In the process I also let him and all the other men in my life off the hook.

His death left me raw and wide open to whatever might come next. I did all the things you do when your dad dies. I acted brave and strong. I felt weak. I got drunk. I started my period.

Back up. I got very drunk. I got drunk on tequila in my living room with the beautiful carpenter and danced half-naked while we played DJ for each other playing songs that we loved and songs that were funny and horrible, like Funky Cold Medina (what does that  mean, anyway?), Radar Love, American Pie and Paradise by the Dashboard Light. We played Eminem and Barry Manilow and sang to each other and drank more tequila. We took a midnight hike through the farm fields behind my house, then made drunk love for what seemed like hours. We woke up hung over as hell and made love again before rolling out of bed mid-afternoon and going out for breaded tenderloins and Cokes.

Later, while I ran errands he went back to my house and slept in my bed, texting me, “I smell really interesting. Dirt, sweat, sex, fried pork, French fries, tequila, all rolled into one.”

“Sounds delicious.” I sent back.

Something happened in those hours. I didn’t know tequila and dancing half-naked could lead to such intimacy, but how could I? I’d never trusted anyone enough to sing songs from the 80s with and dance half-naked and not feel judged. But like I said, I was raw and open.

Two days earlier  I had I walked in to my dad’s hospice room when my mother looked up and said he was gone. But I already knew that because there was no presence of him in the room.  When I leaned over to hug him, he felt like an empty, hollow vessel.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that he was dead in the room while my brothers and sisters came in one-by-one and realized, just as I did, that he was no longer there. It was just a body. But for several months after, I tried not to see again, what I saw when I walked in there. Him lifeless and already stiff-looking with his mouth frozen open and twisted upward, as if with his dying breath, after two days of not saying a word, he said something he wanted someone to hear.

But no one was there. My mother had gone up to her room to change after spending the night with him. The hospice nurse had bathed him and gone on to her next patient and he was alone, like we all are in the end.

Recently, I have allowed myself to see his face again. Really see it and let down my guard and feel things about it. And I’ve wondered often what that thing was he said in the end. “Sorry?” He said that a lot in the last months. No explanation. Nothing else. He just looked up at one or the other of us and said, “Sorry.”

Sometimes we’d ask each other what he meant by that. Depending on who was there I would say different things. If it was Ben, I would say something like, “I think he’s just saying sorry that we are all having to help him out.” And then Ben would reassure him, “It’s okay Papa. We want to be here.”

Sometimes when my dad would say “Sorry,” I wondered if he meant. ‘Sorry, I could be such a dick sometimes.’ or ‘Sorry, I didn’t spend more time with you when you were little.” or ‘Sorry,  if I ever hurt you.’

But none of that really matters when you have been a dick to your own kids enough times and are are spoon-feeding soft foods to a dying man. I can’t say what does matter, but it’s none of those things.

It was more about who I was and what I did. What kind of forgiveness and kindness and love could I offer? I saw my siblings struggle with this in different ways. I saw tenderness from my brothers that was often times  more than I could extend. Grown men staggering under the weight  of their own lives lifting their dying father from chair to bed, patiently walking him down the halls, and fetching bed pans .  .  .

 

Somebody sew a dick on me, this might officially make me a guy

IMG_0689One Saturday I found myself with time on my hands—ON A SATURDAY. This almost never happens. Normally, I run with Ben on Saturday and go to whatever sport he is involved in, maybe visit the grandparents, do errands, and if  I’m  in his good graces, we’d play Rock Band on the wii.  That almost never happens either because I’d bring down his score with my bad guitar playing and less-than-rhythmic drumming.  He never lets me be Tom Petty, but once-in-a-while I get to be Pink and play an instrument or sing on Crocodile Rock while he rolls his eyes and tells me I’m doing it wrong.

None of that happened on this particular Saturday because when I dropped him off at baseball practice, his dad was there to take him to his Aunt’s for dinner after.

So I spent the afternoon driving from small town to small town near my city searching for the perfect bathroom vanity, one that I am pretty sure never existed so I’m really not sure why I kept searching, but it kept me busy until the right one came along. It’s crazy really. I think I was just putting off buying one  because after searching for months,  finally buying one and installing it meant there would be no meaning to my life anymore—my version of walking on the moon.

Since finding a vanity proved to be futile, I drove the long way home because it was the first warm day of spring. In my head I planned the week ahead. I suddenly remembered I was picking up a new friend for dinner  who invited me to share a gift certificate to a nice restaurant in town one night since her husband was gone for the week. And recalling how perfect her life seemed and how spotless her house always is, I looked around my car at the old French fries and Skittles stuck to the floor mats, and the shoe print marks on the dash and decided I’d better get my act and my car cleaned up before she learned about the real me and decided not to be my new friend anymore.

That’s what led to what you see in this picture. It’s scary what a roll of duct tape can do to a girl. But it was there and I couldn’t find the crevice tool that fit my Shop-Vac only the one to my old upright. So when I taped them together and came up with something that could suck the food and pea gravel from between the console and front passenger seat I felt pretty good about it.

Though I spent about an hour before this trying to fix my broken windshield solvent sprayer cursing god for not giving me a gear-head boyfriend who would just do it for me, I was desperate to get those french fries and skittles sucked up and this just sorta happened. I’d cry if it wasn’t so funny.

Not having a gear-head boyfriend was probably a good thing. I would have just messed it up not knowing then what I know now. I’ve learned a lot about men the last few years, mostly by doing lots of home remodeling and discovering duct tape. But also from having some very good friends that just happen to be men and keeping my eyes and ears open. I’ve learned about beer courage and  that sometimes they don’t want to share their feelings. I’ve learned that they can be just as vulnerable as women, and in some cases maybe more so. Sometimes they miss their moms and some of them just want us to love them in ways their mothers failed to.

I’m starting to think that we learn to love others the way we believe we have been loved. Some people might say the way we believe we have been loved by God.  I think I might say that too if I could figure out if I believe in god.  I can see that could be true. If we see God as a big scary being, which is how I spent most of my life, we might be afraid of love. Afraid to love.

I don’t feel afraid of either anymore. When someone says God to me, I don’t feel that anxiety in my gut or the judgement I once did like what Louise Hay says about god not being, “an old  man sitting on a cloud  above planet Earth watching my genitals.”  I think letting all of that go, has taught me how to love better too.  Weird, with everything I’ve learned, you’d think I’d be better at playing the wii by now.

Chainsaw Massacre

IMG_0836My DIY projects have had as many false starts and stops as my love life.  As soon as I think I’m ready to start a project, I have to stop and Google something, or stop and find protective eye wear, or stop and nurture a new wound.  The day I learned how to use an electric chain saw to cut down some overgrown juniper bushes in front of my house, that was okay. Using a chain saw seemed dangerous so I knew I needed help, but being the resourceful loner, the only help I was willing to allow was internet videos.

I knew only two things for sure about using an electric chain saw. One, I shouldn’t cut through the power cord, and two, I shouldn’t cut through my femur. Armed with that knowledge and some safety goggles, I set out to start cutting. I had used this chain saw once before just to cut down a small dead spruce by the garden. That only took a minute or two and was simple enough, so I figured I could master this job, too.  I started by cutting one branch at a time at the base of the shrub, carefully dragging each away so as not to cause any kickback and accidentally cut through my femur like I mentioned. But by the third or fourth branch, the chain came off.

Of course I had no success trying to put it back on like a bike chain so I stopped and Googled “how to adjust a chainsaw chain,” and found this great video you should check out. I had to watch it twice because I got distracted by the hot guy doing the demo and the way he says “feel.” But once I got a grip on myself and listened to instructions instead of looking at his arms, I understood pretty much what to do.  Like I said, my chain saw is electric and the one in this video is one of those gas-powered macho ones, but they work pretty much the same.

I’ve had this chain saw  for a long time. I have a vague recollection of one of my exes going out to buy it for a project at my old house. I was thinking he would come back with one like in the video, but what he came home with was this:

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A  16-inch electric Craftsman. Not exactly what you want to see your man holding up triumphantly, if you know what I mean. It’s a girl-saw. Whatever it was he wanted to do with that thing, it did not make me want to watch.

I don’t remember if it did the job back then. I think we probably called someone to come and cut down whatever we wanted cut down. As it turns out, though, years later it’s just right for me.  I would not be brave enough to use one of those macho saws anyway.  If I were I would have cut down these shrubs, trimmed the big oak tree, removed the fallen pine from the back yard, and extracted the hollowed-out beech tree by now.

Anyway this video made it look so easy to fix the chain and I was kinda excited because I had dedicated two days over the holiday just to clean and organize my garage so I knew where all the tools were. So I followed the directions on the video and loosened the “clutch cover nuts” and adjusted the “chain tensioning screw” but when I tightened everything back up and ran the chain through like the hottie in the video says, it drooped where the chain enters and exits the clutch cover. So this time I took off the cover and found all kinds of saw dust gunking everything up in there.

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I just cleaned it out with a whisk broom and put everything back together and it worked fine. However, I did need to readjust it again about half-way cutting down the first shrub. Much like Mr Hottie in the video says, it requires “frequent” adjustment.

After I had all the branches cut off both shrubs, I cut the stumps down low enough to cover them with dirt. Didn’t I  read somewhere that stumps will eventually die off because they get no sunlight, and therefore, no nutrition from photosynthesis?  So rather than dig the monster roots up, that’s what I opted for. I just didn’t have the strength or will to dig up these roots.  Sometimes I play the girl card when it suits my needs.

Where the law of attraction meets groundlessness

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Before I dived into learning the law of attraction, I learned from the teachings of Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jack Kornfield. From Jack I learned so much about knowing, and presence, and this, my favorite quote from him. From TNH, I learned about saying thank you, and how this human form we take on for such a short time is really only an extension of our endless soul-life; and from Pema, the acceptance of groundlessness.
I experienced  groundlessness, when I was dumped by a boyfriend right in the middle of the most exhilarating and fulfilling relationship of my life. A year later both my parents died within exactly four months of each other, more groundlessness–or as my sister said, “there’s no coming home anymore.”

Life events like these define  groundlessness; a space where there is nothing to grasp on to, nothing to fix it for you, and nowhere to hide. Then there’s the everyday kind of groundlessness; self-doubt, fear, jealousy, boredom, laziness. Don’t let self-righteous zen assholes tell you you’re above all that. You’re still a human being functioning in an uncertain world. You’re not living in a monastery, or fully enlightened, or dead-yet.

With careful attention to ourselves and maybe a few distractions like work or meeting up with friends, we get through these times without self-destructing and even begin to love life just the way it is, groundless beauty and all.

And that is what I thought was my story on groundlessness.

But that story has ended and now I realize I was only dipping my toe in. Now I’m standing in a place where there’s no going back, but forward hasn’t arrived yet. I don’t want anything I have now, and I don’t want anything else either. This is true groundlessness; whole, encompassing, standing-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, what-the-fuck-do-I-do-now, groundlessness. In some ways it feels like freedom, in other ways that are real and physical, I feel straight-jacketed, literally. My arms ache like I am being bound. I grind my teeth in frustration and scowl at my computer all day. It seems no amount of running or yoga can take it away for very long.

The law of attraction says I’m just not ready for what is next. It says the universe is expanding and so am I. The universe just expands wider and faster  than I possibly can, so I need to catch up. And the only way I can do that is by spending time feeling the “endlessly expansive joy” that was mine before I was born into my body. It is mine now, and will be mine after my body turns to dust. That can be hard as hell when you are feeling groundless.

But like sand settling into spaces between stones, this is all settling into a greater understanding for me. I’m beginning to gain some insight into how these teachers and ideas have all spoken the same message to me the last several years.

I am here only because of where I was before and I am moving toward the next thing, and in the middle is groundlessness.

l remember Deepak Chopra saying that when we meditate we go inside and connect with ourselves, the self that we were before we were born. But once we are on the outside and start to compare ourselves against other people, other things, what we have or don’t have,  we separate from ourselves–our true selves. And now I am hearing that message all around me from all kinds of sources.  From the still, small voice inside, from the eagle that flew alongside my car on the highway, and the voices of people I trust, and I know it’s true. Going inside is where we experience “endlessly expansive joy,” and the only place to find real peace in the groundlessness while we wait to catch up with the rest of the universe.

Sometimes Karma rides in on a vanilla chai latte

 

When you’re a single mom on a limited budget trying to renovate a home room by room, it’s best to stay out of the casinos. But if you are lucky like I am, and have a great guy in your life who took you there and wouldn’t let you spend any money, then it’s best to stay out of pricey coffee shops when you come home with about the same amount of cash you left with on Saturday.

I convinced myself that I was flush enough to order an almond milk vanilla chai latte extra hot—LARGE—and a bacon and egg breakfast sandwich on the way to my day job because I didn’t lose any money over the weekend. I was just home from my first trip to a casino (sort of a bucket list thing) where I was prepared to lose $100 gambling and also brought an extra $100 for food, silly souvenirs, and shared room expenses. Yeah, I know, I’m not a big spender. But when I got there (maybe a teensy bit late) I didn’t really have time to gamble because I wanted to see the band that was playing and then I wanted to walk around the casino and see how it was done first. Yeah, I know, I’m not that spontaneous either.

So I watched some folks play electronic poker, then I went to the off-track betting salon to get away from the cigarette smoke hanging in the air at 500,000 ppm. But all the races were over (even the ones in Australia), so instead I had a drink and ate a cheese-free flatbread and some French fries. By then I was a little tipsy and more than a little bit tired so all I could do was occasionally hold a $20 bill out to my friends who were playing electronic roulette, and bet on the wrong color or number from time-to-time. We went up and down by five or ten dollars for a very long time. We just kept playing. Man, that stuff can be addicting.

I guess my friends must have thought my money was about as good as my bets, because they never let me pay. I just stuck my $20 bill out toward them, and then stuck it back in my pocket repeatedly. Meantime, my guy found another roulette table and started applying his awesome skills, and in no time he was winning. We cashed out (way too soon probably) and headed to bed and the next day spent our winnings on good cheap breakfast food at noon (with extra sides), left the server a nice tip (and a rubber cockroach for fun), then took our time driving through the countryside home. Yeah, I know, he’s great, right?

Because I had this cash, I kept feeling like I should spend it.  So the first thing I bought was from the vending machine at a gas station. I had seriously never seen rough style condoms or “sexy toys” in a vending machine before, and since I hadn’t officially gambled on anything yet, I thought this might be sorta like playing the slots. So I shoved a bunch of quarters into the machine and got my prizes.  From the looks of the boxes that popped out, these prizes were in those machines for quite a long time. But when I got back to the car, I opened them up.

The rough style condoms where a little disappointing. The package said something about “studded” and “extra pleasure” and the girl on the package certainly looked like she knew a lot about both those things, but like I said, disappointing.

The sexy toy was a little more interesting, though. A package of Horny Goat Weed, a Chinese herb to enhance male and female libido. I’d heard of this herb before, but honestly, I thought the “horny” part referred to the horns of the goat or some kind of bristles on the weed. I had no idea it meant actual horniness. That one, I took home. So I spent $1.50 on a gamble, but I didn’t actually lose anything. So on the trip home, I kept trying to spend money but all I could manage to buy was a pair of Carhartt wool socks, and 4 egg rolls and 3 crab rangoons from Chinese drive-up window. I guess I’m just not that much of a spender. But for some reason, I’m not that much of a saver either.

I had recently, for the first time ever, looked at my budget. I was always afraid to do this because I never really wanted to know where all my money went. That way I could continue to say “I swear, I don’t know where it all goes,” and therefore continue not to know. I really, really liked this strategy. But then I met the carpenter, and it all got complicated. He had a finance degree and loved playing with money and figuring out spending strategies, and watching things grow (more about his awesome gardening skills later). Anyway, he had me write down all the stuff I spend money on and all my monthly bills and pointed out all the things I could do to save money and maybe take a vacation with him sometime. Thankfully, when I mentioned how much I spend on salon services, he told me to not to cut back on those because it was a sign I took care of myself (or maybe a sign he likes things tidy in my garden, if you know what I mean).

Either way, he was right. And one of the things I eliminated from my budget was my trips to the local coffee shop two to three times a week at about $10 each. I had convinced myself I deserved these trips because by the time I got Ben and the neighbor kids stuffed into my 2009 Honda 2-door Coupe with their backpacks and band instruments and then pried them all back out in carpool lane before the mom in the Ford Expedition behind me (with one preschooler carrying an empty pink backpack) could start honking, I was exhausted and needed a pick-me-up before I went to work. Well, you try getting a didgeridoo and a trombone in and out of a trunk that size when it’s already full of the recycling you never got around to taking to the drop-off site.

Besides that, it’s not like I was going to Starbucks or some other national conglomerate rip-off. This was a locally owned coffee shop that had almond milk AND bacon and they needed my support in the form of $8.56 plus tip on my two carpool mornings and Fridays when I celebrated leaving for work early since Ben was at his dad’s.

Here’s where Karma rode in.  This time I thought it was weird because I ordered a large latte instead of a medium, but it still cost $8.56 and almond milk is usually extra. It’s extra everywhere because apparently those of us with lactose problems never lose money at casinos.  Anyway, I didn’t think much of it. All I could think of was how it was okay to go there since I still had all that unspent cash. And then all I could think of was putting my mouth to that yummy vanilla chai deliciousness. So when I did, and it tasted extra sweet, the thought that it was real milk instead of almond milk crossed my mind for a sec, but honestly, I thought it was just the sweet taste of righteousness on my lips.

Three hours later, I’m excusing myself from meetings to hide the painful sounds erupting from my gut, and an hour after that, I’m curled up in the fetal position in the sick room. I still tried to act like everything was okay, but by day-two when the pain increased and my gut screamed in terror something about not having the right enzymes, I knew Instant Karma had knocked me right in the head. I also knew that if I ever wanted to finish my house or go on vacation with that beautiful carpenter who seems to like me, I’d better get myself together. And so, I put the rest of the cash away, and swore off the coffee shop again, and the next time I got paid, moved $500 straight into my savings account. I know, it’s not a budget, right?  But it’s a beginning and like I’ve said many times before, baby steps eventually start to add up.

 

Reposting 2016: Posting my mammogram in honor of Indy’s Race for the Cure

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Full disclosure: not really me. My original mammogram got lost somehow.
It’s not that I love having another woman grab my left breast and smash it between two cold plastic plates at 7:40 on a Tuesday morning. It’s the mammogram I like. The picture.  Look at it. My boobs haven’t stuck straight out like that since I was 16. But that’s my boob, and it looks great here, right?  So that’s what I’m going with.

If you happen to be a radiologist or a breast surgeon, please write me, but don’t write to tell me my image looks concerning. I had my best friend Cassie Photoshop it for me, just in case there really was something concerning about it that my real doctors missed, so other doctors wouldn’t write and tell me.

Cassie is a very talented photographer, so she doesn’t use Photoshop much, only for special things like my online dating photo. I even considered using this boob shot for my online dating photo, except my boobs don’t look like that when they aren’t smashed between two cold pieces of plastic, and I try to be honest on those things.

Breast cancer has always been a peripheral thing in my family. On health forms, I could always say, “Yes, my grandmother had it, but not until she was in her sixties and she was a paternal grandmother anyway. Yes, my aunt, but again, paternal and post menopausal. Oh, and a cousin on my mom’s side. She was only 40, but that was some weird fluke. No sisters, not my mom, not my maternal grandmother. Check. Check. Check. I’m good.”

But this year was different. My sister was diagnosed a few months ago.

When you have a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, things in that department can go a little wonky for a while. Your thoughts thrash all over the place between denial, blame, fear, and anywhere else they can think of to go.

So what, it’s just a boob.  That husband of hers. It’s his fault. DCIS isn’t real breast cancer (I had read on the internet). My boobs feel fine, so screw mammograms.

And, geeze, my mom. Her denial was so great (in front of the rest of us anyway) she seemed almost cheery about it. But I remember when this same sister had an abnormal pap smear once. She had Suzanne dead and buried before I even knew about it.

“Oh, and she has those four kids . . . “

“Mom, it’s a class II pap smear. It could be caused by anything, even just an infection or something. The results didn’t say anything about cancer.”

“I just can’t imagine what she will do.”

She didn’t hear anything I said. I guess at that time, she was the one worried about her husband raising all those kids alone. Of course it turned out to be nothing, just the result of having given birth recently, and everything returned to normal. So normal, in fact, baby number five came 9 years later.

So I’ve been very flippant about my breast cancer chances, even though so many other women I know have battled it in one form or another. ‘Crap. I can’t say that my family history is clean any more,’ I thought one day. Then it hit me. This was my sister.  And then my denial began. I mentioned it to a friend in an off-handed way one day. She stopped and grabbed my arm. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” she said. I looked at her like, ‘Huh? So what. She’ll be fine. Now what were we really talking about?’

Later, she told me she was surprised by my cavalier attitude about it. “I would be devastated if it were my sister,” she said. “Yes, I admitted. I was keeping it at arm’s length for some reason.”  I still don’t know why. I try not to overreact to news like that. I think because so many times, it turns out to be okay. Is that what I really thought this time too, or was there something wrong with me? Why wasn’t I rushing to her side or quitting my job to drive her to radiation treatments every day, or to sit for hours and brush her long lovely hair while we looked at each other’s reflection in the mirror like those heroic friends and family members I read about and see in movies? What is wrong with me?

We have a weird thing about our bodies in my family. It’s half shame and half TMI. Some of us are extremely prudish and ashamed when it comes to sex and the anatomy. Yet, in the safe (and sacred) confines of marriage, anything goes, chatting  about details no one wants to hear, getting overly descriptive about our partners and what we do with them. But then on the other hand some do as our pastors say–as if we really do believe that the Church should know everything about what’s going on in our lives, including our bedrooms, our use of birth control, and whether or not we are having sex purely for procreation. Add the worry about getting pregnant with baby number 8 the whole time and ensure there is absolutely no fun involved. It’s kinda cultish, really.

And then when we get older we are sorry we wasted all our good years on being so prudish and wish we had had some more fun, So my plan is this: When the shame and worry of pregnancy is finally gone, I’m finally gonna have some fun. Yep, I’m gonna be an 80-year-old slut.

Women in my family get pregnant until way late in life. My grandmother was baby number 11 to a 47-year old mom—in 1898! And if my gynecologist is to be believed, non-smoking women today are entering menopause later than ever before. Mostly, she supposes, because of better health. She is putting 5-year birth control devices in ladies in their early fifties left and right. And don’t you know, insurance is paying for it so you know there’s something to it.  No one wants to pay for all those prenatal tests and sonograms for a bunch of 56 year old pregnant lades. One-thousand dollars per hit for an inter-uterine device is a much better gamble on the actuary tables.

So my sister has breast cancer. What does that mean for me? Nothing really—again, according to by gynecologist. But what does it mean to her?  I can only imagine. I imagine that it will change her life, and the lives of all five of her kids and her husband. But I can hope that it will change her mind a bit too, and that she will be kinder to herself and put herself first once-in-a while like her self-centered sister, and she will grow to someday be–maybe not an 80-year old slut–but the 80-year-old graceful woman I imagine.