Monday, August 31, 2009

Stuff that makes my day

Listening to my almost 9-year-old come home from school, saying, "Mom, 4th grade is SO AWESOME!"

And seeing my 14-year-old beam, as she talked about how great it was to go back to school and have all her friends and teachers tell her how great she looked.

Life goes on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Futile Tears

Tonight I attended a wake for a friend and co-worker. Jeff was a 28-year-old technology development guy, whose easy smile, boyish good looks and absolutely scrupulous approach to his work made him enormously likeable and enormously respected.

Jeff had just gained a big promotion that included a title and a move to Florida, which was where his wife was Wednesday morning, looking for a new house, when she got the news that he'd died in his sleep.

I can't imagine the heartache that call must have caused, in part because it was not a surprise at some level. Jeff was a Type I Diabetic (sometimes called a Juvenile Diabetic).

I'll spare my usual diatribe about Type II Diabetes being a self-inflicted illness and instead just say that Type I Diabetes is a terribly unfair disease that takes too many young people far too soon. To live with Type I Diabetes is to obsess about food, about medicines, about exercise. Not enough? Too much? Do you have your glucose tabs? Your juice? An extra injection? What if they only have bagels at the breakfast meeting? For those who live with the Type I diabetic, every day brings the possibility of a mistake that can result in a trip to the hospital, or coma, or in some cases, even death. The disease takes a lot of teen and young adult victims.

Maintaining the right level of insulin for overnight is the toughest part of Type I. Almost anything can upset the careful balance: illness, stress, even changes in weather. Most of my single Type I friends have a "wing man" who calls them at 6:00 am to make sure they wake up and to call 911 if they don't. It was a hideous coincidence that one of the few mornings his wife wasn't there to check on him, Jeff's insulin went terribly out of balance and he quietly slipped away.

The line into the viewing tonight was an hour long. Jeff's family greeted every visitor with a polite grace underscored by a numb, blank-eyed exhaustion. In contrast to the gatherings that surround the passing of our eldest, where there is a natural discussion and banter that can border on light-hearted, there was little conversation in the room. At one point later in the evening, I saw his young widow, for a moment released from the receiving line, standing in the center of the room, utterly alone. She stared at the video screen, then projecting a photo of her and Jeff from a vacation, the disbelief on her face palpable and heartbreaking.

But not one tear. In fact, while every quiet conversation in the room was punctuated by broken voices, I saw no tears on any of the faces. Maybe some events need so many tears that it seems an utter futility to let the first one fall.

Sometimes, it seems that God calls the best of us home first. Perhaps it is to teach humility to the rest of us.

All I know is that Jeff was one of the good guys, and he left us far too soon. I'll miss him very much.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Perspective, Redux

Daisy and I crossed the paddock toward Kes, who had just finished a riding lesson. Kes had her arms around Hershey, a 6-year-old chestnut gelding thoroughbred.

"Oh, Hershey, I love you! You're just the best horse ever!"

Kes grabbed the bridle and walked back to the barn, talking a mile a minute to Hershey, whom she handed off to her instructor. "Mom! Mom, did you see me trot? Hershey's got a monster trot, doesn't he?" She continued to chatter away, skipping, and turning pirouettes in the tack room as she put Hershey's equipment away.

Daisy rolled her eyes. "Oh my god, does she ever shut up?"

"Daisy", I said, "give her a break. She's eight years old. It wasn't that long ago that you were eight years old."

Daisy stopped and regarded me with a mixture of sadness and disbelief, then turned her head out toward the paddock. Her eyes fixed on a point in the distance.

"I was never eight years old. At least, not like that." She turned back toward me. "When I was eight years old, my older sister and I were trying to figure out where to get food, and taking turns going to school, so someone would be home to watch my baby sister, Gina. There are days when I would give anything -- I mean it, anything -- to actually be eight years old. Just for a little while."

There are days when I am so involved in the activity of loving this child -- of giving her the life I think she wants and needs -- that I forget that she went through enough hell before she arrived here that she was removed from her home for her own safety. And at those times, I want to wrap her in my arms and protect her from all that is bad in this world. I want to find her birth mother and make her look me in the eye and tell me what on Earth she could have chosen over loving this child.

But I can't do that. All I can do is love her, and maybe...finally...give her a chance to be a child.

What I'm doing RIGHT NOW.

I'm listening to iTunes, working on a white paper for work, and wearing some of the fabulous swag I got today from Fitness Magazine, courtesy of Crabby McSlacker over at Cranky Fitness.

I have no idea if their magazine is going to be any good or not, as I haven't received my first issue yet. But if it's half as good as their swag, I'm all for it.

Thanks again, Crabby!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Coverage Mulling Exercise

I'm taking the Challenge that Justine put forth over at Justine's Housewreck today.

I'm supposed to list five things I like about my health coverage, and then five things i hate about my health coverage. Mine; not someone else's. Which is tough, because I have really, really wonderful health coverage through my husband's former employer. Which is going away in April. And so I am about to embark on changing health coverage for me and Mr. Bean and the Bug. I can't get coverage for Daisy Mae yet, as she remains a ward of the state for another six months or so and is covered by Medicaid. I add her on later.

So why is this hard? 1) Because I have nearly perfect health coverage. I mean, seriously. 2) I have $20 co-pays for routine office visits, which is very manageable. 3) I have $5 or $10 prescriptions. 4) I have vision and dental that is good enough that I get my teeth cleaned and whatever else they need twice a year and I usually don't pay much of anything, unless I make a cosmetic choice. 5) I get new glasses every other year, for about $50 a shot.

All the things I hate have to do with the fact that nobody else I know has coverage like this. I feel like this plan -- my plan -- is right and good and that every American needs to have something just as good. We don't need to be able to get everything at the drop of a hat, and we don't need it all for free. Some reasonable co-pay is OK and some reasonable waiting time is OK, and new glasses once every two years is often enough. And I actually think it's OK, that, if everyone has free basic coverage, that those who can afford it can buy supplemental coverage. Just because public education is free to all doesn't mean we have outlawed private schools. This is no different. So with that in mind:

1) I hate that I have friends, like Justine, who -- even with health coverage -- have thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. 2) I hate that there are good, hard-working people in this country who can't afford health coverage and don't qualify for Medicaid and so they just pray they don't get sick. Or they fake indigence and take cash-only jobs, so they can be on Medicaid. 3) I hate that we've designed hospital systems that won't pay for a midwife to deliver a low-risk pregnancy and give the mother 5 days in a birthing center, so instead we put new mothers in the hospital so they can have their delivery covered, but then boot them out on the street 24 hours later. And it ends up costing both the insurance and the family more than the midwife/birthing center option. 4) I hate that our current system discourages providers and payers from actually TALKING to each other, so it takes months or years to resolve billing issues. and 5) I hate that we have a payer system that believe that mental health is somehow less important or less expensive than "physical" health.

What about you? What do you think, when you take Justine's advice and mull it over a bit? What five things to you love about the coverage you currently have? And what five things just stick in your craw the worst about your coverage?

Be healthy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Got a Song in My Tummy, and It Wants to Come Out

Last night, I updated my Facebook status to read: “I am dancing around my kitchen, singing the Sleeping Beauty Waltz, and eating fresh blackberries from the back yard. Just because.”

My friend Leslie remarked that I am seriously whack. Which may be the truth.

The truth is: I love to sing. Like, all the time. I sing in the shower. In the car. In the garden. I sing to the kids (if they’ll let me) before they go to sleep. I sing while I do the laundry. Stressing out at work? I have a show tune for that. I cannot pass by a karaoke machine.

I make up songs on the spot about life’s mishaps:

Please don’t you slam that ‘fridgerator door.
It makes the bread fall on the floor.

Or narrations about what the cat is doing… (Sang to the tune of POTUSA’s “Lump”)

Mudge sits alone on the kitchen chair,
stretchin’ rollin’ puts her belly in the air.

My kids regard me as though I were the weird old aunt who wears a tinfoil hat and purple rain boots. “Geez, Mom! Do you have to do that???” Sometimes, I make a point of singing stupid kids’ songs to their friends, just to embarrass them. My kids, not their friends. Their friends appear to like that I sing to them. “Your mom is hilarious!”

My husband has learned to live with my ongoing self-styled soundtrack, with only the occasional, “that’s not your best key, dear”, to interrupt my serenades. The cat normally decides that I am in pain or otherwise distressed and reacts by licking my face and meowing frantically.

But I still sing, because it makes my heart glad. And I’m not half bad at it. Oh, sure, I’ll probably never make it on American Idol or anything. But I can sing in the church choir and I belt out the national anthem at the fair before the combine demolition derby starts. What’s important, though, is that the songs – any songs – tap into those emotions that I need most at the time. It might be songs from my childhood, or whatever I heard on Daisy's radio station driving home. I sometimes switch from Bing Crosby to Pat Benetar to Pink in the span of a few minutes. I can use a song to cry out my despair when the tears won’t flow, or to dispel disappointment. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, sung with an attitude just on the edge of panicked laughter, is a wonderful way to ratchet my frustration level down from the break point. I can make a despondent friend laugh, or soothe a baby to sleep.

Some people write to express themselves; some paint. Some people keep it all inside, preferring not to let others see what they’re really thinking.

Me? I gotta sing.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Home-cooked Companionship

I was reading Michael Ruhlman's blog today, wherein he summarized Michael Pollan's NYTimes Magazine Article about the demise of the home cook, and then went off on a bit of a rant about the difference between "Cooks" and "Foodies".

Honestly, I don't know what category I fall into. I love fine ingredients and different foods, and I love to cook, although my skills are limited and my time even more so. But still, I manage to keep everyone fed and occasionally delight one family member or another with something I've whipped up.

The whole conversation on Ruhlman's blog, however, underscored an observation I made this weekend.

On Saturday, we took long-time friends, a few of their kids and our two girls out to dinner. It was a local place that specializes in Brazilian barbeque, outstanding salad bar, all you can eat meat on a sword. The guys’ inner cavemen were howling with joy at the prospect. It had all the makings of a great evening. Except that it wasn’t really all that great. It was crowded and a bit noisy, the food was good, but the service chaotic, everyone over-ate and went home not feeling well, we really didn’t have the conversation we hoped to have, it was expensive, and all in all, wasn’t a terribly satisfying experience.

I’m contrasting that with Sunday night, when I made homemade pizza crust and the four of us decorated pizzas with whatever we wanted, baked them on the pizza stone, and giggled for most of the experience. The food was fresh, delicious, everyone stopped when they were full, because the left-overs weren’t going anywhere, and it was extremely satisfying. And it made me think that, had we chosen the pizzas in the kitchen option for Saturday, we might all have had a much better evening. For about 20% of the price.

Most people say they’d rather go out to eat with friends, rather than cook at home, because they don’t want the time and hassle of cooking a meal – they’d rather spend the time in conversation. I find increasingly, however, that I get less stress and more “quality time” with my friends when we cook together.

I hope cooking doesn’t go out of style in the manner Mr. Pollan says it will. I think it’ll be a loss for our mental health, even more so than for our physical health.

What about you? Do you prefer to eat out with friends or cook in? Do you have a favorite "cooking as socialization" recipe?

Photo Credit: