Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolutions for 2012

If the world is going to end this year, I might as well make it the best year yet.

I resolve to...

…never put off what will take five minutes to do. This one i got from The Happiness Project, and it includes tasks such as hanging up my coat when I get home (rather than draping it over a chair) and rinsing a plate immediately after use so as to avoid having to scrape off stuck-on food later.

…run the dishwasher (or wash the dishes by hand) every night. In other words, I want to clear the crap from my sink every night. (Am I talking about dishes or am I talking about life? Hmmmm…)

…repaint my nails every Sunday night, or remove old polish and go naked. I'm sorry if this one sounds ridiculously shallow, but there is actually something deeper to this. When I paint my nails, I feel more put together, but at the same time, I typically wait until the polish is chipped to the point that there is more nail than polish showing on each finger before I take it off. It symbolizes my neglect of details.

…make two new friends. I'm not going to say that "Facebook friends don't count" in general, but for this, they don't. 

…blog. Too long I've put off this one in favor of finishing my book, giving some lame excuse that the book has drained me of all creative juices. But the book is ready and that was just a lame excuse, after all. This will also gel nicely with what I've already committed to doing in January, The January Mindful Writing Challenge: A River of Stones.

…use coupons. I'm not going to become an extreme couponer by any means, but I need to use them more.

…put eyedrops in more often. For those of you who do not know, I have cysteamine eye drops that I am supposed to put in my eyes every waking hour. I do not believe that these drops will actually prevent blindness (blindness in cystinosis generally comes as a result of retina damage, not cornea damage, and the drops are for the cornea whereas the retina receives cysteamine from the blood stream via the oral capsules I take), but they will ensure that I have little to no light sensitivity. I have been averaging about five drops per day. I'd like to double this.

…release Roller Skating with Rickets. It's never going to feel perfect or be perfect, but it is what it is and it is time. There have been so many hiccups along the way...but I'll save that for another blog post.

…switch to a natural deodorant.

…use up what I have before buying more. (Obviously, I'm not talking about things like toilet paper here. I'm referring more to the five half-empty bottles of face cleanser that I have on the bathroom counter.)

…pick up a book, not the iPad. (Unless the book is on the iPad. That's okay.) Log all my reading on Goodreads and sync with the blog.

…quit living in regret.

…drink water.

…love a layer deeper.

…avoid animal products on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I feel much better when I eat vegan, but after experimenting with it off and on for the past month, I've realized that it's not a lifestyle that I can maintain 24/7 in a healthy way. And if I were truly doing it for ethical reasons, I'd have to give up eating most non-vegan products, too, because our food - animal, vegetable, or mineral - is, in general, NOT produced ethically. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The "Currently Reading" Shelf

I am notorious for having multiple projects going on simultaneously. It should come as no surprise, then, that I rarely finish one book before starting another. Lately, I've been reading The Happiness Project, and from it came the inspiration for a most marvelous concept: a bookshelf devoted solely to what I'm reading now.

In The Happiness Project, the value of having one empty shelf in your house is touted as one of the ways to find organizational balance and thus, contribute to your own satisfaction. I have to admit, though, that I see little reward in maintaining an empty shelf. So I decided to make a point of maintaining one almost empty shelf: a shelf where I can stack books that I am currently reading with the knowledge that if the shelf gets too cluttered, I need to make more of an effort to either finish what I've started or enact a judgement call that if a particular book is not holding my interest now, it probably never will.

Here is my almost empty shelf of the moment:

The Happiness Project: Despite its somewhat loaded title, this book isn't actually about spiritual discovery or dealing with skeletons in old closets. So far - and I'm only on April, the fourth month of the author's year-long project - I've found numerous practical tips on increasing overall feelings of wellbeing. Everything from don't put off things that take less than a minute to act the way you want to feel have sort of rocked my world as mantras that should have been completely obvious. Sometimes, though, it takes exposure to someone else's life journey to realize the little steps we can take to improve our own.

Bloggers Boot Camp: This is one that my husband picked up, since he is interested in starting a tech blog. So far, I've only read the introduction, and I do feel like it's a great read for someone with my husband's goals. I don't know how much an aspiring creative, personal blogger such as myself will get out of it, but I'm excited to delve a little bit deeper before removing it from its precious place on this shelf.

Writing Personal Essays: Now that Roller Skating with Rickets is almost behind me, I'm looking to hone my shorter essay writing skills. I tend to be such an academic writer; I think it's why I've previously gotten the freelance writing opportunities that I have. But I'd like to improve in the area of creative essays, particularly as I strive to enjoy each day and cherish the now (another tip brought to me via The Happiness Project). I want to be able to convey how it felt to hike with my sixth graders to a spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, not merely communicate the sequence of events.

The Complete Illustrated History: Aztec & Maya: There will always be a history book on this shelf. I'm paid to teach the subject, after all - and I count my blessings every day for the ability to do for a living what I also love to do. My eighth graders recently ignited my interest in the Aztec and Maya, from their stunning temples to the somewhat jarring practice of human sacrifice. This was a bargain book at Barnes & Noble that I just couldn't resist.

As these books are all in various stages of completion, I can't offer any book-buying advice as of yet. But what I can say is that it feels good to have a designated place where I can visually take in my literary pursuits. It sure beats having them strewn all over the apartment, sitting inconveniently wherever I happened to be when I picked them up (and put them down) last.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cupcakes, Kidneys, and Tattoos

It's been a while. I've been looking for my voice. You see, since starting Roller Skating with Rickets over a year ago, I've found that it has become a vacuum of sorts - sucking up my creativity, my voice, my soul. This is something completely unintended and a little sad. As it is nearing completion, though, I'm looking forward to redirecting my attention to other creative outlets, including Plucked Dandelions.

I've been enjoying my last couple weeks of summer. Wayne and I finally ventured into Kara's Cupcakes on Main Street. What greeted us was something lovely.

This cupcake, though - a raspberry filled chocolate variety - is a reminder to me that what glitters is not always gold. It enticed me from its place underneath the class, and I found myself on the customer side of the cash register, eagerly peeling dollar bills away from the large wad of cash (I kid, I kid) I was carrying in my equally enticing pink retro wallet. All the while, a quiet voice in the back of my head whispered, "But you don't like sweets!" And indeed, I don't. I used to, until I had what I like to call "The Metolazone Incident" about three years ago, when I overdosed on a drug simply by following the instructions given to me by my doctor. But that's a story for another time. (Better yet, you can reserve a copy of Roller Skating with Rickets and read it there!)

I took a few bites of my cupcake. I could appreciate that it was a delicious cupcake, a beautiful cupcake - but quickly recognized that my money would have been better spent elsewhere. Once again, I was lured in by a pretty thing, only to find that its beauty fell flat.

I'm finding more and more that we can't let the world define beauty for us. (Really? It took me 30 years to accept that old adage, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?") Try as I might, I'm not the lovely cupcake under the glass. I'm a diamond in the rough, with so much ugliness (I'm not speaking about the physical here) that needs to be chipped away at and transformed. I am selfish and greedy; judgmental and proud.

I take a lot of time to ponder that selfishness this time of year. When I received a kidney transplant 12 years ago, someone else unknowingly sacrificed his life for mine. While I don't think that my taking of his kidney was selfish by any means, I do sometimes think about how I fail to appreciate others and the price they pay for my own happiness. I want to never take anything for granted.

I didn't want to celebrate August 12, but I wanted to remember it. Somewhere out there, a family grieves every year on this date for the loss of their son. They don't know me, but I hope they realize that people live on because of their decision. I decided to commemorate my donor's life with a tattoo right over my transplanted kidney.

I'm still seeking out loveliness. But unlike pretty cupcakes under glass, the kind of beauty I want to embrace is permanent, internal, selfless. The kind of beauty epitomized by my donor family.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Sad Farewell

Wayne and I are up in Oregon, at his parents' farm. Once teeming with cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and ducks, it is mostly quiet now, save the grumblings of a few wild turkeys and the low hum of the neighbor's mower as he tackles the growth on the edges of the unpaved road leading up to the house.

It is hard to fathom that nearly a year has passed since Scott and Marilyn were murdered. In a small town unaccustomed to the kind of drama that arouses the attention of even such national personalities as Nancy Grace, the wound remains fresh. We went to the local DMV to transfer the title of one of the vehicles, and discovered that unlike the big-city DMV employees in the Bay Area, small-town government workers are not cold, unhelpful, heartless, and distant. On the contrary, here they are warm, helpful, and nosy - but still a tad heartless.

She took Wayne's paperwork and recognized the names on the death certificates immediately. "So," she said, "Did your brother have a history of mental problems?"

Inappropriate as it might have been for a DMV employee to ask, it's the question on everyone's mind. In a few hours I will come face-to-face with the man who has confessed to the brutal killing of his own parents. I will also come face-to-face with my youngest brother-in-law. These two men happen to be one in the same - a Jekyll and Hyde, if you will... or at least that is what we would all like to believe.

For how can the little boy - only 10 years old when I sat in the living room of Wayne's grandmother's house, laughing as Wayne scolded him for interrupting our movie - be capable of this? Will I look into his eyes and see a cold-blooded killer - which he certainly is - or the 19-year-old groomsman at my wedding, so clumsy and skinny that he nearly fainted when he locked his knees in the gazebo behind us?

I don't know what to say to him through the glass. What are you up to these days? Is your isolated cell comfortable? Did anyone wish you a happy 21st birthday a couple months ago?

It's a lot easier to seek solace in the barrenness of the farm than to face the inner turmoil that will surely be present in an occupied county jail. I sat in the garage last night, trying to keep my eyes away from the spot where I know Scott fell. The damaged wall remains, but presumably, it will soon be fixed as the house is prepared for sale. But other wounds will always remain.

Up next: forgiveness. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Avgolemono Soup (Egg-Lemon Soup)

Welcome to the first installment of In My Mother-in-Law's Kitchen! My mother-in-law, Marilyn, was an amazing woman who made her own cheese, kombucha (before it was a fad), soup, family clothes (including Wayne's underwear - yes, I just went there - and snowboard pants), and more. I was handed literally hundreds of recipes when she and my father-in-law were killed last year.

As I'm working on compiling a cookbook for Marilyn's family with these recipes, I'm also trying my hand at as many of them as I can. Once a week, I'll post a recipe with my attempts at its creation. I'll try to gather stories from the recipes as well. Unfortunately, when I botch something up in the kitchen I won't be able to call her up and ask her how to fix it! But hopefully I can honor a small piece of her memory with this journey.

Okay, on to the first recipe. There is a very personal story associated with this one. Back in September 2006 when Wayne and I started dating, I was incredibly nervous about eventually doing the inevitable: meeting his mother. Wayne and I had known each other in high school and I knew her to be incredibly strict with her children. I was worried about feeling her judgment and not making a good impression.

In December of that year, during my Winter Break from teaching, Wayne and I drove up to Oregon to spend a week with his family. We arrived on a Wednesday night, in time for dinner. This added to my anxiety.

Wayne's parents lived on a farm. They were not wasteful people. Everything in their home, everything on their kitchen table, was wrought from their labor. I knew that Wayne and his brothers had always been taught to clean their plates.

I, on the other hand, had always been given encouraging nods if I even took just a few bites of food on any given day. My illness left me with no appetite and no real interest in food until after my kidney transplant. Getting enough calories was always a struggle, and cleaning a plate was practically unheard of. By the time I was a 25-year-old adult approaching the home of my future in-laws, I knew that my food habits could be considered rude.

What greeted me that night, though, were warm hugs and a bowl of this soup. From the first bite, I was in heaven. It was tangy, creamy, soothing. My mother-in-law looked on with pride as I had seconds and then thirds. I noticed Wayne wasn't eating his. "I've never liked this soup," he said. I think my jaw literally dropped to the floor, but I quickly recovered it and ate what was left in his bowl, too.

And with that, I'll offer a disclaimer that this soup isn't for everyone. Wayne doesn't like it. I love it. Marilyn - who copied her recipe card for me that very December night, not realizing that I would inherit her original card five years later - said it was one of her favorite soups. It's a MLL dish - Must Love Lemons.

So without further ado, here is the recipe!

8 cups chicken broth [Marilyn made her own, of course...I used the cardboard box variety from the store!]
1/3 cup rice, uncooked
2-3 lemons
4 eggs [Marilyn's chickens hatched 'em...mine came from Trader Joe's hens.]
1/4 lb butter [8T; I used unsalted]
1/4 cup arrow root powder [I used flour]
salt and pepper to taste

I halved the recipe, which serves 6-8, because I knew I was cooking for one and I wasn't sure it would turn out well.

Here are the steps:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan...

and mix in the arrow root powder or flour.

In a separate large pot, bring broth to a boil, add rice, and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Lower heat. Add butter mixture to the broth and boil for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Beat together eggs and lemon juice.

(I know - all of my mixtures are looking very yellow.) Now for the hardest part: tempering the eggs! Add a spoonful of the hot broth to the egg/lemon juice mixture and stir in thoroughly.

Repeat a couple times before adding the mixture to the broth, slowly to avoid scrambling the eggs. Then salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! Super simple, although I have to admit that I had a few bits of scrambled eggs in mine because I wasn't totally successful at tempering! But it tasted wonderful!

So how did I do? Well, Wayne had a few bites to humor me and his response was, "This tastes just like Mom used to make. Now, where are the leftovers from lunch?" So while I wouldn't call this recipe a unanimous hit in my house, I would call it a universal success! It is so good - even more so because it makes me think of Marilyn. Give it a try!

Monday, June 27, 2011

School Trips

This week's RemembeRED prompt was:
School trips. We all go on them. What trip do you remember the most? Where did you go? Who was with you? How did you get there? Have you ever been back?

The funny thing is, I didn’t really go on school trips until becoming an adult.

Oh, I went on field trips to museums. That’s about the only thing I remember. And not to criticize the educational value of these excursions, but museums seemed very mundane compared to the places some of my classmates were able to experience: the week-long trip to the great outdoors in the fifth grade. The eighth grade adventure in Washington, D.C. Yes, even senior prom aboard a boat in the San Francisco Bay.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go on these trips. In fifth grade I was on so many medications that had to be taken every six hours around the clock that I feared what my friends might think at the sight of it. By eighth grade, I was adamant: no one must know of the disease that was slowly shutting down my organs. And by senior year, every other day was consumed by a four-hour after-school trip of its own: my regular dialysis treatments at Stanford Hospital. Non-dialysis days were dominated by complete exhaustion after a full day at school.

There is no doubt that I could have gone on school trips, had I really wanted to and hadn't cared so much about what others thought. When I have a will, I tend to make a way. But I just didn’t have the desire to be “that girl” on an excursion, the one who had to have special accommodations or needed to sit down and rest a little more often than everyone else.

Years later, when I became a teacher, myriad opportunities for school trips presented themselves. This time around, people still didn’t know of my chronic illness, but as a post-transplant adult, I felt freedom to take such trips – and I knew that should students or fellow teachers observe me taking medication, I would turn it into a proud lesson in the value of being “that girl.”

The first trip I took was to the great outdoors – an overnighter in the Muir Woods, just north of San Francisco. I bunked with a group of seventh grade girls, officially as their chaperone and unofficially as their confidante during late-night conversations. I experienced all that I had missed out on 15 years earlier – the rustic accommodations, the morning hikes, the afternoon nature lessons, the cafeteria-style food. At some point in the trip, I realized that I wasn’t living vicariously through anyone, although my students were the reason we were on this adventure. I was living this too.

And so, when we reached an obstacle course with an 80-foot ledge up one of the amazing redwood trees, I knew that my days of vicarious living were about to be truly incinerated forever. Unsure that I would even be able to climb the tree due to muscle wasting in my arms and legs (another side effect of having cystinosis), I surprised even myself when I made it to the ledge in record time. With my kids cheering me on – “Jump, jump, jump; you can do it!” – I walked to the edge with shaky legs and prepared to make my “Lion’s Leap.” I looked down at the smiling faces below me, though I soon heard only the loud clanging of my knees inside my head.

I turned my face upward and looked at the magnificence that was all around me. Redwood trees shot into the air as far as the eye could see. I knew that somewhere up there, just as my kids were doing from beneath me, God was smiling down at me from above. I had made it.

And with that, too frightened to leap and grab hold of the swinging bar that was about six feet out from the edge of the blank, I instead fell backwards and let the harness and ropes catch me. On this trip, I was content to simply have the new experience of making the climb. I knew that next time I would jump.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Unconditional Companionship

Many of my friends know that I am an animal lover. In the great cat person vs dog lover debate, my position has been primarily decided by the constraints of apartment living. I always figured that if I had a dog, he would be a large, protective breed requiring backyard running-around-space; this just hasn't been my reality for the past several years. And although my parents at one time bred Yorkshire Terriers in their condo, I can't really see myself with a smaller dog.

That being said, my husband and I actually do own a large dog, a McNab Shepherd named Patches. She was my mother-in-law's dog, and worked faithfully on the farm before I lost both of my parents-in-law prematurely to an act of unspeakable violence. When we traveled up to Oregon to start the long and arduous journey of picking up the pieces of their murder, Patches became my refuge. When I couldn't take the thoughts I was having inside the house (the location of my mother-in-law's murder), I escaped to the porch and called for the dog. Patches, despite her size, would come and clumsily crawl into my lap. There was no way I was leaving the farm without her.

Unfortunately, though, there was also no way I was sharing our tiny apartment with her. I knew that Patches would not thrive without wide open spaces, especially after living on a farm since puppyhood. It was no small blessing, then, when my husband's boss offered to take care of Patches until we were able to purchase a house.

And so, my dog lives about an hour away from me. Her worth is unmeasurable in part because she was raised by someone who is no longer with me. I can't wait to get Patches back.

It's not that our lives are devoid of animals, though. In fact, I am concerned that I will be classified as a crazy cat lady before my 35th birthday. In our small, 1000-square-foot apartment, we have three cats: a Bombay mix, a Russian Blue mix, and something that can only be classified as beautiful. I think I have finally managed to capture the softness and loveliness of Mumtaz's coat on camera:

 Mumtaz grooms her coat almost constantly during waking hours - but it pays off in softness

She is an amazing creature to me. The lone survivor of a coyote attack on her mother and siblings, Mumtaz has earned her name - which means "excellent" in Arabic. I am so thankful for this fighter, survivor, and sweetheart and all she represents to me.

Yes, I just wrote an entire blog post about pets. But you see, every day I am reminded of how wonderful it is that we live in a world in which creatures of different species can be companions and loving friends. Even when they get on my nerves (as they do when they make their beds in freshly laundered, unfolded, unattended sheets), I still don't know how I'd manage without them.

Poe, our Russian Blue, looks up from her bed of unattended sheets