Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Million Dollar Game

Do you ever play the million dollar game? This is the mental game that goes “If I had a million dollars I would…” A variation is “If I won the lottery I would…” I think of an amount and I try to think of all the things I might do and how my life would change. It’s a fun game when I’m feeling down or blue or when daily life just seems like a bit of a grind. Sometimes a vacation into spinning daydreams is almost as relaxing as a trip, and it’s cheaper and easier!

Here’s how I play. If I won ten million dollars I would have to give about a third to the government (taxes) and I would give away one million to various charities that I believe are doing good work. So I would have about $5 million dollars left to play with. I always imagine a lump sum, not an annuity, because it’s not as much fun to play the game with smaller amounts. So what would I do with $5 million dollars? Well, I think I would set aside about $300,000 for my daughter’s future. I would give away $100,000 each to my mother, father, stepmother, sister, mother-in-law, father in-law, and brother in-law.  I would spend $500,000 to buy a house that I liked.  I would use two million to set up some kind of retirement fund for my husband and I, some investment at a decent interest rate (if there is such a thing anymore) that would let us have an annual income. I would like to take about $500,000 to take a year off work and finance a trip around the world so I can see all the amazing places that I’ve read about. After that I usually get stuck. What to do with that last million dollars? I usually come up with some plan to divide the money up amongst my friends so that everyone gets something and I get the fun of giving away.

I realize that in the end, I don’t really want a lot of things. I’d like to live in a paid off house, with enough money to pay insurance and taxes on it. That feels like security to me. It would be nice to have an option not to work, but if I’m honest with myself I probably would anyway after my year off. I mostly like my current job and while it would be nice not to need my job, I wouldn’t feel very good about leaving it forever. I don’t really want a whole lot of expensive things; I like the cars we have, I like my clothes, I don’t wear much jewelry. I love to buy books but I can only read so many in a period of time after all.

Which is part of the point of the game. It’s fun to fantasize about a few things I could do with a whole lot of money, but then in the end, it’s fun to realize that really I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ve been told, many times, that gratitude is the best cure for worry (including a recent reminder from a good friend). The million dollar game reminds me that even without a million dollars, life is very good.

Erasers and Guidelines

Fancy Flowers. Rose Anne Karesh. 2013.
This week on my ongoing journey towards learning to draw well I worked through about four lessons in the book I am reading. Mark Kistler wrote an outstanding book entitled “You Can Learn to Draw in 30 Days” that I found online through Amazon when I was looking for a book that would help me improve my drawing skills. So far I have worked through about half the exercises (I’m working slowly, repeating lessons at times) and I am pleased to say that I am absolutely seeing an improvement in my skills. Mr. Kistler’s approach is to break drawings down into simple steps and then show you how those steps illustrate principles of realistic drawing. Each lesson includes a basic lesson with the detailed instructions and then a bonus challenge, which will give you suggestions and examples but not the specific steps. So far I have been able to work out how to complete the bonus challenges based on the instructions in the lesson, which gives me the sense that I actually have understood and mastered the material.

Advanced House. Rose Anne Karesh 2013.
My favorite lessons this week were “Advanced Houses” and “The Lily.” I posted my homework; compared to the work form the first few lessons I am pretty pleased. I realized this week that my most important tool is a good eraser. Each of these drawings involved multiple attempts. I am learning that getting drawings right is a process of trying something, realizing it isn’t quite right, erasing it and then trying again. I worked both with my Kindle Fire application “Sketchbook Pro” and with an actual pencil and paper this week but in both media I needed to erase frequently. I don’t know if this is the case for more experienced draftsmen but it seems to me that it does reflect the nature of life in general. You try something, it isn’t quite right, you undo things as well as you can and then you try again. In life your erasing tools are humility, apologies, forgiveness of self and others, and willingness to learn from mistakes and it seems to me that having a good set of erasers is just as important in life as in drawing.

Three Lillies. Rose Anne Karesh. 2013.
I also learned the usefulness of guidelines in my lessons this week. Guidelines are lightly drawn on the page to help you keep your angles consistent, something that I struggle with. When you are done with the outline of your drawing you can erase the guidelines. Guidelines keep your houses from looking like they have been through an earthquake. It occurred to me that this is also like life. You need basic guidelines of some sort; something to let you know where to draw your lines and how to get the different parts of your life aligned to make a good picture. The guidelines aren’t supposed to be the picture; they are operating invisibly to harmonize the different aspects of the life you are drawing.

I’m pleased that my efforts to master a new skill are also giving me some food for thought about life in general. I’m curious to see what new artistic skills and what new reflections crop up in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Worry and Prayer

It’s a strange feeling when your toddler begins to teach you and minister to you. In the car this afternoon my two-year-old daughter said “Mommy’s boo-boo leg is healing up.” And I agreed and added that it would take a while. I must have sounded sad because my daughter then piped up with “Mommy’s sad about that.”  So I told her I was, a little, but that it would be okay. She responded with “Please don’t cry.” I assured her that I wouldn’t cry. The next thing told me was “please don’t worry.” Inside I’m wondering, where does she get this stuff? It’s eerie when your toddler echoes you, but it’s even eerier when she begins to say important things you don’t think you ever taught her. I told her I wouldn’t worry and that G-D is taking care of me and would heal my leg. Then I talked for a few minutes about G-D always being near us and answering our prayers, until she moved on to another topic.

Now I have to try to live up to not worrying and trusting G-D, since I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Which isn’t always so easy. I’ve been a little down the past few days; getting the heavy splint off was great but now that I am trying to do range of motion with my ankle I’m realizing I can’t move it well. Intellectually, I know it is still early. I know it’s still swollen and inflamed. I know that things will improve with time and persistent effort at rehabilitation. Still, intellect isn’t always in charge. Emotionally, it feels discouraging to not be able to completely flex or point my toes the way I am used to doing. Let’s not even talk about ankle circles. Emotionally, I’m tired of pain and hassle.

The pastor in church today talked about Christians being afraid of prayer, because prayer the way we taught it is transformational, not transactional. The difference being that transformational prayer seeks G-D’s will as opposed to transactional prayer that asks for things. Transactional prayer isn’t wrong; it’s okay to ask for what you need and want; but it should be subordinate to transformational prayer. That part of the sermon really struck me because I absolutely feel that it is frightening to pray sometimes. It is one thing to pray, Lord, heal my ankle. Help me recover. It is yet another thing to say Lord, your will be done. I’d like my ankle to be healed, but if for some reason I can serve you better with this limitation then I will accept that. I’ll be honest; I don’t want to accept that.

I think that’s where a lot of worry comes in for Christians, despite several passages of scripture that tell us not to worry. We worry because we know that ultimately we might be asked to do something we really don’t want to do, to deal with something we just don’t feel we can deal with, because it serves a larger purpose. The pastor spoke a word of comfort for that, too. He said that by the time you get to whatever you’re afraid of, it will be the next logical step. He said G-D will lead you there bit by bit until you are ready. That certainly sounds better, but I’m not sure it bears out in practice. I have gone through things that I know were ultimately for good (for me and for others) but that I didn’t feel ready for or enjoy at all. I doubt I’m the only one who would say that. Surrender of our will is very hard.

I don’t have a really good answer to any of this. I do feel that worry is unproductive; it saps energy without producing any benefits. So I will try not to worry, and I will try to trust both the process of healing and G-D’s will. I will keep on doing my part to get the best possible outcome. And I will try to trust that prayer that transforms me is best in the long run.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ankle Fracture Progress - An Up and Down Day

It’s been an up and down kind of day. I woke up feeling good and excited – this morning was my orthopedic appointment with the promise of a new, lighter splint that can be removed for showering (without a plastic bag on my leg. Hey, it’s the little things!) and also clearance to return to work. Hooray! Then around 8:30 the doctor’s office called and said my appointment was cancelled because my doctor was sick and could I come in on Tuesday. I veered into immediate distress and panic. I had told people I was coming back on Monday, I was so looking forward to getting that bulky splint off, what to do, what to do. I managed to pull my thoughts together in a coherent way and ask if someone else could see me, please. The nurse didn’t know but said she’d ask and call me back. I then sat on the couch in an agony of hope and impatience. Fortunately she called back fairly quickly and said another doctor would fit me in this afternoon. The appointment time wasn’t great for us as a family but I took it gratefully.

So this afternoon we trundled off to the orthopedic surgeon’s office, with no nap for my two-year old daughter. We checked in and they said to wait, and I asked the receptionist about X-rays, since the nurse had said earlier to come early for x-rays. She said I didn’t need X-rays. I asked if she were sure, since the nurse had told me to come early for them. She said, okay, then go to radiology. I said, don’t I need to have the splint taken off first? She said, oh yeah! So they brought me back and took the splint off my leg. It looked awful. Still orange from the betadine they used pre-surgery to clean the skin, bruised all over, and with two fairly raw looking scars on either side of my leg. I know it can only improve from here but it was a bit of a shock. X-rays were completed without a problem and without pain, which was nice since the first two sets of X-rays were pretty awful, and then back to the orthopedic office for a 60 minute wait. I couldn’t really complain, since they fit me in, after all. Fortunately we had the kindle for our daughter and she happily watched Sesame Street and Elmo while we sat. My husband and I chatted with a very nice couple who admired the knee walker I’ve been using to get around. The woman had shattered her ankle in early December and had required much more extensive surgery than I needed. I felt much less sorry for myself after speaking with her.

The orthopedic surgeon came in and she was very nice. She showed me the x-rays and told me everything is lined up well, although it’s too early to see bone healing yet. She checked the surgical incisions and said they look good. She reminded me not to bear weight. She asked if my original doctor had planned to have me in a cast for 5 more weeks? I gulped and said no, she had mentioned a CAM walker so I could do range of motion exercises. I was praying she wouldn’t overrule that and put me back in a cast, particularly not for 5 weeks, since I was hoping to be cleared for walking in another 3-4 weeks. I also really wanted to be able to wiggle a little bit now and then and especially to wash my leg (gently!) after seeing it. She told me she thought that was fine, cautioned me not to force anything on the range of motion, and sent the technician in with a CAM walker. He very kindly showed me how to put it on and away we went.

I called my boss and confirmed that I will be back to work on Monday, and was pleased that my job seems happy at the idea of my return. The CAM walker is lighter and smaller than the large, bulky splint so I think it will be easier and less tiring to get around. It fits a bit more tightly too, so my ankle actually feels a little more protected. I still have to sleep in it, so I will have to work out details of pillows and getting comfortable with a new immobilization device. But overall this feels like progress and I am ending the day as it began, on an up note. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tightening My Belt - Personal Perspective on Budget Sequestration

I was text messaging with one of my colleagues at work and she mentioned there were town hall meetings at work today. Like most Federal employees we are anticipating budget sequestration starting 1 March, and for us that means a 20% reduction in hours and a 20% pay cut which will probably go on for two weeks. Nothing is certain yet, of course. That would be too simple, you know, actually allowing people to make solid plans.

I’ve been anticipating this for a while, so personally I am not too freaked out or frightened. Fortunately my husband and I are very financially conservative and we have always been very cautious and thrifty with our money. We live well below our income and so we can absorb a 20% pay cut with some tightening up of our belts. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt. We have some savings goals that are important to us, and those will have to be on hold until this is over. We were hoping to buy a house this summer and we will probably need to hold off until my salary returns to normal. We will also have to limit some of the things we do for fun, like going out to eat, hiring babysitters, traveling, and purchasing non-necessary items. So while I’m not panicking, I’m definitely unhappy.

I do think it’s important to reduce the budget deficit, but this is not a just or reasonable way to do it.  First of all, most federal employees are not in the same position I am in. For most of the people I work with, a 20% pay cut is jeopardizing their ability to pay their bills and care for their families. Please believe that kind of impact will roll down to other people. If I, in a position of relative security, am making plans to cut back expenses and postpone major purchases, what do you think people with less security will be doing? And what will that do to the places they shop, the people they already owe money to, all of the other, non government business trying to keep going in an uncertain economy? Depending on which data source you use, there are probably about 2 million full time employees in the executive branch - that doesn't count employees in the postal service, the legislative branch, the executive branch or the military. That's an awful lot of potential customers not going shopping.

Second, it seems terribly unfair to finance the government's debt primarily off the backs of those who are federal employees. I’ll be honest; that’s how it feels to me. Instead of saying yes, we’ll increase taxes moderately on those who are wealthy, or even saying  yes, we'll increase taxes on everyone a little bit, our leaders in Washington are doing the equivalent of increasing taxes by 20% (that’s 1/5! Of my salary!) on federal employees. Who, I can assure you, are not high income earners by and large. We are not an overpaid crew of people. I know because I am at the highest possible grade and step of the pay scale, and I make less than the median income (according to for a general adult psychiatrist in my area.  And that median income for a general adult psychiatrist is under the lowest of the many definitions of “wealthy” that I’ve heard bandied about in the news recently. So if I’m significantly below the threshold, that means almost everyone I work with, almost all of the federal work force, is much, much further below it. Is it fair to use me and my family and my colleagues and their families, all of us solidly in the middle class bracket, to pay off a debt that we all, as a nation, helped accumulate? Everyone benefitted from Bush-era tax cuts. Shouldn’t everyone be helping pay that back?     

Third, this kind of drastic cut is going to have a terrible impact on the ability of every federal organization to provide services. Think about getting your job done with 1/5 of the people missing for the next 22 weeks. How well do you think that's going to go? And whether you like the federal government or not, whether you like federal programs or not, the reality is that everyone depends on these programs to some extent or another, every single day. This is not a good idea. 

I know we’ll get through. I don’t do my job for the money, obviously, and there will still be patients to take care of and I will. I believe that many of my colleagues will do the same. And I hope that our elected leaders will take a step back and really think about this. I hope they will think about solutions that are just, even-handed and that don’t create such a terrible impact on the people who have dedicated their careers to public service. I don’t have a lot of faith in our legislature right now, but I will hope. And in the meantime, I’ll be tightening up my belt. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comfort Food Kind of Morning

I woke up today hungry for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That isn’t terribly unusual for me, since this is one of my favorite quick foods. I often will eat a PBJ for breakfast, since it is fairly quick and, made on whole wheat bread, has enough substance to get me through the morning until lunch. Today, however, I was craving comfort. I woke up too early, and in pain, and just felt generally grumpy. I wanted the soothing effect of a food I remember fondly from childhood onward.

I’ll readily admit that eating for comfort isn’t a great habit. However, it does actually work as a short term pick me up, which is probably why I continue to do it. So since I was eating for comfort this morning I thought I would write about my favorite comfort foods and see if that helped cheer me up (it did, although I ate the PBJ first, so it’s not a very good experiment). Here’s a list of my top five comfort foods. What are some of yours?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. These have to be made in a specific way to count as a comfort food for me. The bread needs to be whole wheat but not too seedy or grainy; the texture should be somewhat soft. Low calorie bread does not cut it here. The peanut butter should be smooth and sweet, no organic peanut butter allowed. It needs to have that store bought taste. For jelly I prefer marmalade or cherry; strawberry will do in a pinch. Grape is just not right; I don’t know why but it doesn’t have the same comfort value. Finally, the sandwich needs to be cut in half, in rectangles.

Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable Soup. This is the classic alphabet noodle soup. I have tried all kinds of store brands and they just don’t measure up. I don’t like the kind with beef stock either. I usually eat this with the next comfort food on the list, making a comfort meal. This comfort food I usually don’t feel too guilty about, since at least it contains a serving of vegetables along with all the salt.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I’m not quite as particular about how the grilled cheese sandwich is made as I am about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All kinds of breads are acceptable; sourdough, wheat, and pumpernickel are big favorites of mine. For cheese I usually prefer a colby-jack or mild cheddar, but sometimes I like to spice things up with a pepper-jack. Occasionally I’ll add in extras like a slice of tomato or bacon, but for real comfort food I will usually just stick with cheese. I like to butter the bread before placing it in the skillet but melting the butter in the skillet first works fine. The sandwich should be toasted on both sides but not burned, and it has to be cut in half in triangles.

Chocolate Chip Cookies. I definitely prefer homemade cookies but store bought can do in a pinch. Chewy is preferable to crunchy in my book, and I like just plain chocolate chip cookies, without fancy add-ins like macadamia nuts or caramel chips. M&M’s are fine, since they are really just a sugar shell coated chocolate chip, and add a fun pop of color.

Macaroni and Cheese. Again, homemade is the best with the slightly crunchy breadcrumb topping over the gooey cheese and noodles. Unfortunately, homemade macaroni and cheese is a lot of work. Annie’s macaroni and cheese (I prefer the classic kind) is quite good, although it is still not very good for you. Then again, health is not the point of comfort foods, right? When I eat macaroni and cheese I like to have fish sticks with them, but the fish sticks alone are not comfort food.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I am trying to gather a wider audience for my writing. I like to write and it's much more fun when people are reading what I take the time to write! So this morning I have been researching ways to increase traffic to my blog. There are plenty of websites about this, some of which have good advice and some of which are nonsense.

All of the websites say to publish good content and to publish it frequently. Ok, that makes sense, and I am working on that. I am trying to keep my eyes and ears open as I go through my day so that I find inspiration around me for interesting things to write.

Many sites talk about Search Engine Optimization. I am still trying to work out exactly what that means, but it seems to be writing so that you are using keywords that other people will search for. There are ways you can do research on keywords that people use when searching google, and if you write to appeal to those searches then you will get more page views. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I want to write what I want to write, not what I think people will search for. On the other hand, if there are changes I can make to what I wanted to write anyway that make it easier for people to find me, that's not bad. I haven't spent too much time on this in general so far.

One website suggested switching over to Google+, so I did that. That was annoying, since it required re-establishing my profile and then double checking all the details, but I managed it. It also suggested listing your blog at sites like Technorati, which I had never heard of before, but which is a blog directory. Listing through them is another way to get an audience. So I went to the Technorati site and signed up. It has not been simple. I got tripped up over it asking for me Feed URL. I looked that up and followed the directions to obtain it, and then it rejected it saying it didn't look like a valid URL. Really? Because it pulled up the blog site when I used it in my browser, which I thought was the definition of a valid URL - it directs you to the website you thought you were going to when you clicked it. Anyway, after about seven tries I finally got it to accept the feed URL (not changing the actual URL... maybe persistance just wore it down). Now the last step: I have to put a claim code into a post. I don't love that. I don't want to post stuff here that is nonsense. I do understand where they're coming from, since they are trying to make sure this is really my blog and I'm not just claiming someone else's work. But it's annoying, and not how I like to do things. So I decided that at least I would write a rant about this whole process before entering the code. Hopefully I've entertained someone, and at least I've spoken my mind and relieved my feelings somewhat.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Time to Talk

I read something today by Catholic priest Richard Rohr. If you haven’t read his work, I highly recommend it. I am not Catholic and perhaps I miss some of the points he is writing about but I find that he write from a very caring, very wise and also very practical human perspective. My reading today was an essay entitled “Do You Have A Little Time To Talk?” Father Rohr says:

“You’ve never seen a people with as little time as Westerners. Yet we have kitchens filled with time- and work-saving objects. Go to the poor Third World countries and ask, “Do you have a little time to talk?” “The rest of my life,” they’ll say, and sit down and share themselves with you for the afternoon.
We should have more time than anybody, but we don’t have any time at all. We’ve defined freedom falsely as an outer thing, in terms of time, space and options. Americans think they’re free if they have more options. In fact we’re paralyzed by them. With so many choices, we don’t have to surrender to any one of them. There’s always another door to open. We are pushed around by our options and kept busy fixing our time-saving appliances.”
That really resonates with me, because I find myself struggling many times to find the time and energy to connect with people who matter to me. Often my answer is “No, I don’t have a little time to talk. I don’t have the energy to talk.” I don’t think I’m worn out in the kitchen, but I do get worn out by the way I live my life, and I do sometimes feel that I am “pushed around by my options.”  I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what decisions to make, what is the best choice, and how to provide the best path to security for myself and my family, a path that protects the lifestyle we currently have. Our culture can be really exhausting at times. With all of the demands to work hard, earn a living that allows us to afford the things we are taught to want, there isn’t always enough left over for the relationships that actually make our lives worth living.

Thinking about this, I am even more appreciative of all the friends and family who have taken time in their own busy lives to call, email, visit, and send packages. I am not happy about having broken my ankle or about having to go through all of this pain and inconvenience. I do, however, acknowledge that there have been many blessings for me in this situation. I have, first and foremost, been blessed with love and support from many people who were willing to make a little time to talk, and to do more than talk. I also feel blessed in having been forced into making my own time to talk. I have been able to write several letters to my pen pal, have phone conversations with friends I haven’t connected with in months, participate in my daughter’s play dates and daily routine (I can still do hair, even confined to the couch!) and connect over the internet via writing with many others. In being forced to be less busy, I have been blessed.

I’m not sure how to carry the blessings of these past few weeks forward into the future with me. I anticipate returning to work next week and I am both looking forward to it and anxious about how I will manage, since I will still be unable to put weight on my ankle and will need my scooter to get around. I suspect that without some deep thought and conscious effort I will be pulled fairly quickly back into the long hours and high stress that I confess is often self-imposed in my wish to be admired and appreciated. I think however, that if I allow that, I will be missing the point in some way. As I read again what Father Rohr wrote, I hear him saying that part of not having time is the choices we make, and I realize that I have the ability and responsibility to make wise choices about time. I don’t want to stay in a place where I often don’t have time to talk to a friend.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turning Away From Self

I kept getting a message about giving up self today. First at Sunday School, studying 1Peter Ch 3 we were talking about how we should treat each other, and what’s hard about it, and when it’s hard. What we came up with is that we are called to be kind, honest, humble, working for peace, not retaliating, offering understanding, and giving blessings. It is hard to do those things when you are hurt, angry or scared and we all had a lot of examples, from being cut off on the road to getting wrong orders in restaurants to having the doctor not be there for a medical appointment.  I commented that what you have to do is take your “self” out of the picture. If you want to be humble, and kind, and not retaliate, and offer understanding, and seek peace you have to stop worrying about me, mine, I. You can’t be thinking about your security, or your reputation, or your comfort, or your anything. And you can’t be focused on the other person exactly, either, it’s more being focused on doing things the way G-D tells you to do them, because it pleases G-D. It’s being willing to let your “self” die that then lets you do all the good things we are told to do.

Which is not to say it’s not okay to set limits or speak up. One woman talked about a huge mistake her doctor’s office made and she wrote them an angry letter about the situation. She was wondering if that was okay. When she talked about the letter it sounds like despite her anger she was calm, fair, courteous and even kind to the people who made an unsuccessful effort to help. She just laid out the situation, explained why it was not okay, and suggested some different ways it could be handled. I don’t see that as being self-focused; she is bring attention to a problem that can (and she knows for a fact did) affect not only her family but many other families. She is speaking up to write a wrong and doing it in a mature, focused way that people can hear. I think that to do that you actually have to be able to take a step back from self and so it’s actually a good example of not being in the self. I don’t think that’s easy to do.

Then the singing today was by the youth group and I got the message again. I was so incredibly moved by the music they offered. It’s hard to say why, exactly. The music as a musical performance was okay, the instrumental parts were very good, but their voices weren’t strong and some of the timing was off. But I had tears in my eyes, listening to them. Some of it was song choice; they started with “Lay Me Down” by Chris Tomlin which just rolled right into the things we had been thinking about and talking about in Sunday School – if you don’t know the song it essentially is saying I give up my “rights” and will follow G-D, which is the same thing I think as saying I will turn away from self-interest and self-involvement. Some of it was just seeing these young women and men standing up in front of the congregation leading us; it makes me hopeful.  

After that the pastor during the sermon quoted from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, which is one of the books that has been most influential in my life. He quoted the passage from the chapter “Is Christianity Hard or Easy” in which Lewis states “The terrible ting, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’.” This is part of a longer passage about giving over our entire selves to G-D, to be reformed, formed anew, in G-D’s image. It is a process we resist, but for as long as we do we struggle to live our calling.

This idea of giving up your self, your rights, your ego isn’t just a Christian idea either. Buddhist practice also talks about moving past your ego and your self, although if I understand correctly (and I may not, if you know better please feel free to offer a corrective), the premise is less one of obedience and more one of releasing an illusion that keeps us unhappy and trapped. Selflessness is also a value in Judaism. I don’t know enough about other religions to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this process of turning away from self is part of many others. It is also a concept in human psychology; letting go of excessive self-involvement (narcissism) and becoming invested in other people seen as genuinely other and valuable for it is considered an important step for healthy development. Once you acknowledge someone else as genuine, valuable and real it is harder to remain in a place of extreme self-interest. I’m not sure what the message means for me today, although I’ll be thinking about it for a while I expect. I do believe as a whole learning this selflessness is fundamental to our continuing survival as a species.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ways to Amuse a Toddler While Confined To The Couc

Amusing a two year old while confined to a couch can be something of a challenge. My husband has been a champion shouldering the burden of all the home and childcare the past few weeks while I have been out of commission, so I feel the least I can do is keep our daughter busy sometimes while he is trying to get something else done. Fortunately she is a pretty easy-going and good-natured, although very busy little girl, and we’ve had a lot of fun recently. Here’s what we’ve been up to.

Sesame Street. I know in general TV is not considered optimal for toddlers, but Sesame Street offers an hour a day of distraction and at least she is being shown letters, numbers, problem solving, and pro-social behavior without any commercials during that hour. My daughter loves this and talks about “Abby’s Flying Fairy School” on a regular basis. I feel a little befuddled, to be honest. Many of the Muppet characters I loved as a child seem to have been relegated to a minor status (Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, the Count) and new characters have taken main stage (Elmo, Abby, Zoe, Telly). I haven’t seen Snuffleupagus yet. Sesame Street also seems considerably more “hip” than I remember it being. One episode there was a segment spoofing glee and another they had a spoof of Kelly Clarkson’s song “Stronger.” Were there pop songs on Sesame Street when I was a child? I can’t recall, but perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed. Anyway, Sesame Street is at least a distraction I can feel minimally guilty about.

Legos. My daughter has quite a lot of these, since my husband and I both remember them fondly from our childhoods. We bought her the chunky Duplo kind that is rated for toddlers. Legos have also been significantly upgraded since I was a child; my daughter has flowers, animals, people, blocks with hinged doors and all kinds of curved blocks. I remember squares, rectangles, one wheeled cart and one long piece in my childhood set; my daughter has those pieces too of course. She’s getting very good at building towers herself but her favorite game is still to get Daddy to build an imposing looking staircase which she then knocks over. I can’t get on the floor to play right now but I’m still good for opening buckets and praising and admiring the creations.

Art. For some reason, a chalkboard and chalk has worked better for our family than crayons. The crayons seem to end up in the mouth whenever we get them out lately and then have to be put away again. Chalk, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to taste so good, so it can stay out. My daughter loves to go to the chalkboard and scribble. When we ask her what she is drawing she tells us “I drawing my friends!” I can’t draw for her on the chalkboard at the moment but I can view her art from the couch and offer applause. I can also sketch things for her using the app on my Kindle which she finds really fascinating for some reason. Although I tried to draw a fish today and was told – that’s not a fish. Oh well, better luck next time Mommy.

 Bouncing on couch cushions. This is a relatively new game in our house, since my husband introduced my daughter to the joys of the local “bouncy gym” a few weeks ago. A “bouncy gym” is a large building with indoor play things including slides and moon bounces set up where for a small fee children can go wild when the weather outside is too cold or wet to permit visits to the park. We don’t allow our daughter to bounce on the furniture in the house, envisioning bumped heads and stitches, but since our furniture is well-worn and shabby we do let her put the couch cushions on the floor and jump on them there, which produces shrieks and giggles. When she gets done jumping she will then lie down on the cushion with her arms hanging off and pretend to swim, and then she will announce she is tired and is taking a nap. The nap part tends to only last for about 20 seconds and then she is up and bouncing again. She is able to get the couch cushions down herself and my role is to supervise and also to sing songs for her while she bounces.

Pretend. I really enjoy my daughter’s imagination. In the course of the day she has  been a dinosaur, a master chef cooking in her kitchen (tortellini was the cuisine du jour), a doctor giving a checkup first to me and then to various of her stuffed animals, and a parent to several of her toys who received time outs for different offenses. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with as she gets older! She is the main actor in these little dramas and she works my husband and I into supporting roles as we are able. Since I have been stuck on the couch I have been an excellent "patient" for her budding medical skills. Since I'm a doctor too I have to confess to a certain amount of delight that she is able to correctly name (and mimic the use of) her otoscope and stethoscope. 

Reading. I’m sure you could have guessed this one. I think I read about 25 books today, although some of them were repeats. It’s incredibly sweet to sit with my daughter nestled on my lap, still and quiet for a short period, while we read rhymes and short stories. At the end of each book she says “one more!” and as a general rule I don’t have the heart to tell her no, enough, we’re done. So on we go. I think she has more books on my Kindle than I do, since I have found that reading is a great on-the-go activity as well, and carrying a Kindle is much lighter than carrying multiple board books. 

Friday, February 15, 2013


I was sitting on a bench on the playground this afternoon, with my broken ankle propped up on my scooter, while my husband and daughter played on the slides. While she was there some older girls arrived, perhaps around 10 years old, and began playing as well. The big girls were fairly considerate of the little ones but I was keeping a sharp eye on the situation regardless, and one of the older girls really caught my attention. She was fearless. She was doing flips on the bar over the slide. She was jumping from the twisty slide to the main platform, a jump of about five feet made at least four feet off the ground. She was very graceful and did not fall or get hurt. I was quite impressed, watching her, although the Mommy part of my brain was cringing realizing that my two year old daughter was also avidly watching her.

I wonder what it’s like to be so fearless. I have always been a physically cautious person, even as a child. Before my ice skating debacle I’d never broken a bone. I don’t climb mountains, I don’t bungee jump, and I don’t jump out of airplanes. When I’m out hiking I wear sunscreen, carry lots of water and snacks, and always make sure to have a charged cell phone in case something goes wrong. I’ve gone white water rafting but only with experienced guides and I make sure to wedge myself very firmly into the raft and paddle hard. And in reality, while I like being on the water, I don’t really like the fear of the white water part that much. It’s more something to get through so I can enjoy the rest of the beautiful environment. At heart, and I think by inborn nature, I’m a risk-adverse person. I’m cautious. I test things out before committing myself. It’s a safer strategy, but I do wonder sometimes what it would be like to be different. I wonder what I might be missing.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly become reckless. In fact, I imagine after my recent misadventure I will probably be even more cautious physically. I do not like being in pain and feel strongly motivated to avoid future painful accidents. I just wonder, that’s all. I suppose if I were a less cautious person I wouldn’t be me, but I wonder. How would it feel to casually flip over the bar above the sliding board and leap from platform to platform in midair, never worrying about the hard ground below. Would the exhilaration be worth the fall that will eventually come?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Scrooge in Recovery

I confess, I used to be a Valentine’s Day Scrooge. I didn’t care much about the holiday one way or the other until my sophomore year of college. That year, in the throes of a painful romantic break-up, I began to disdain the holiday.  I called it a made up holiday, an excuse for the purveyors of cards, flowers, candy and jewelry to pressure poor hard-working people into spending more money.  Yes, I know about St. Valentine the Christian Matyr, but let’s be honest. This is not a religious holiday. I also protested it’s exclusionary nature, which of course was particularly bitter for me that year. It was very painful to see my paired friends exchanging cards, trinkets and flowers when I was still nursing a broken heart. However, the next year, when I was in a loving relationship which eventually evolved into marriage and parenthood, I still felt profoundly skeptical about the holiday. I didn’t like the commercialism and I didn’t like the idea of making anyone else feel sad and lonely. My husband and I have made a pact of not exchanging cards, flowers or gifts on Valentine’s day (much to his relief, I am sure) that we have kept for 17 years and counting now.

However, I have not been able to exclude Valentine’s Day from my life. My mother and father, loving parents that they are, always send me cards. It’s hard to feel grumpy about a sappy card from your dad saying how special you are to him or a sweet one from your mother telling you what a great daughter you are. My dad sends chocolates too, good ones, and I just don’t have the willpower to refrain from eating them. Also, one of my dear friends has a birthday on Valentine’s Day and so I really can’t dislike 14 February, because she is an awfully good friend and I feel good about the day she was born.

Having a daughter was probably the final nail in the coffin of my Valentine’s Day scorn. She made a Valentine hat in her daycare today. It’s just too adorable. My parents (of course) also send cards to my daughter because they love being grandparents. My mom also usually sends her a little gift - this year an adorable stuffed elephant. Which got me thinking this year. As a parent who is struggling to walk the straight and narrow with not buying too many toys and not spoiling my child with too many things, any legitimate opportunity to buy her a toy is not to be scorned. I love giving my daughter things and the only reason I don’t give her new toys every week is that I know it wouldn’t actually be good for her to receive them. Gifts on a holiday, however, are acceptable. I couldn’t resist. I bought her a little Valentine gift this year. I will probably get her a card and a small gift next year too, because it is just too much fun to give her things. I will continue the ban on gifts between my husband and I though, since we don’t need more things and buying gifts tends to cause stress for both of us.

One idea which is helping my recovery from my Valentine’s Day scroogism is the concept of turning the holiday into “Generosity Day.” I heard about it via a newsletter I received and read the blog post here . The idea is to take the holiday back from all the commercialism and instead make it a celebration of human kindness and connection. That is an idea I can get behind! So, from a recovering Valentine’s Day Scrooge, I wish you and yours a Happy Valentine’s/Generosity Day 2013.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Having a broken ankle has made me much more sensitive to issues of wheelchair access. It’s not something I thought about much before. After my daughter was born I did think a little about stroller access, but I was strong enough to lift her up stairs if needed and so it really has never been a major issue. Now it’s a big factor.

I’m getting around pretty well using a knee walker, a clever device with four wheels and a pad to rest the knee and shin of my injured leg on. Our insurance company didn’t provide it so we went online to Amazon and purchased it. I am not complaining about the insurance company, they’ve done a fantastic job taking care of me with readily available appointments and solid care for extraordinarily reasonable costs – say what you want about HMO’s but as a patient I am a fan of Kaiser Permanente. We looked at rental prices but realized that with the length of time I would need it (7 weeks at least) renting would be more expensive. I have another family member with planned foot surgery this summer, so I will recycle the knee walker to her and then after that look to sell it on Craig’s list. The knee walker feels much safer and much more stable than crutches, and is also much easier to use. However it still requires a flat surface to roll on and so I have become much more aware of which places I can access and which ones I can’t.

I am quite grateful to still be living in my ground floor apartment at this point, since I can get into every room in the house independently and safely using the knee walker. My major obstacle is my daughter’s tendency to leave her toys all over the place, which clutters the pathways. Getting out of the house is also possible, although a little more challenging. The threshold of our front door requires a little manhandling to get the knee walker over it. The bricks that make up a segment between the breezeway and the sidewalk have a bad tendency to “grab” the wheels of the scooter and wrench me off course. The sidewalk itself is quite painful, as the concrete slabs are not lined up smoothly. At best I get a nasty, painful jar to my ankle with each join. At worst I have to actually stop and lift the scooter up and over the bumps to avoid a fall. It is actually seems safer to just walk in the street, since a lapse of attention to the joins of the sidewalk could potentially send me flying.

Public buildings can be challenging as well. I’ve been in to work once already to pick up a laptop that allows me to do some work from home. The thresholds into the hospital are a little challenging, believe it or not. Although once you are inside the hospital is, as you would expect, fairly easy to negotiate. My doctor’s office has been reasonably easy although there have been some turns in tight spaces and the knee walker doesn’t have a great turning radius. The only other place I’ve attempted to go is the local mall, where we tried to go one evening in the hope of having a short outing. It ended up being a very short outing as, besides the fact that I was in pain, the building was extremely challenging. The mall features multiple short levels. There are ramps between the levels but they are fairly steep. Getting up them required only a small effort but coming down was frightening. I came down very slowly, braking with each step, to avoid a runaway accident that would crash me into a kiosk. By the time we had walked for about ten minutes I was exhausted.

Prior to my accident we had been out house hunting. Every house we looked at was at least two levels. Most of them featured stairs up to the entry way and bedrooms and living space on different levels. Some of them didn’t even have a bathroom on every level. I think about that now and wonder how I would manage if we had already moved to one of these houses. It makes me reconsider some of my house hunting criteria, since while I hope never to go through this again, life obviously doesn’t offer guarantees. I don’t think I will take having two strong legs for granted again.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Toddler Book Reviews

Having a small child means I spend quite a lot of time reading children’s books these days. My daughter enjoys being read to quite a bit and so it is both a part of our daily routine, at naptime and bedtime, and something we do throughout the day on demand. We’ve also learned that reading often calms her when she’s upset and sometimes tantrums can be stopped by a parent sitting down, picking up a book, and starting to read aloud in her hearing.

Reading to a two year old has both special joys and special challenges. It is amazing though, to hear my daughter repeat words and phrases back to us when looking at pictures. As she goes about her day to day life she will sometimes appropriately comment on something she sees using a phrase from one of her books, and then tell us “that’s in a book!” It’s hard to describe the delight I find in seeing her apply her books to figuring things out. On the other hand, it can be extremely boring to read the same book three times in a row (my husband and I imposed the three time limit for our own sanity) or ten times in the same day. The books themselves vary in appeal to adults; some are just dull while others have illustrations or rhymes that are interesting enough to please me as the reader.

Here are some of the books our family has come to love over the past two years. Although none of these books quite stand up to the ten times a day test (if you know of any that do, please let me know!) but they do provide enjoyment to both my daughter and me over and over again.

1.     Llama, Llama series by Anna Dewdney. These books have a rhyme pattern that is reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe (Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…) but deal in humorous but practical way with childhood traumas such as bedtime, having to share, and other common issues. There are six books in the series so far and they have all been well illustrated and fun. My daughter loves them, particularly “Llama, Llama Time to Share.”

2.     You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series by Mary Ann Hoberman. These are funny little poems written in two parts, designed for two readers to read together. My mother gave me the first of these books before my daughter was born so my husband and I have taken the parts but when my daughter is able we will share the reading with her. Besides the original book there are books with fables, fairy tales and scary stories. There is also an older “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You” book by John Ciardi and Edward Gorey that I remember from my own childhood, but is a little scary for my two year old.

3.     Olivia by Ian Falconer. There are modern updates to the Olivia series that I haven’t read, but the original books that I’ve checked out of the library feature a stylish, independent and strong minded female pig named Olivia and are quite funny. Some of the comments are over my daughter’s head but she enjoys the stories and asks for them over and over.

4.     The Cat in the Hat Learning Library Series by Tish Rabe. This series of books was designed with the intention of filling in basic science knowledge for preschoolers. We have books about butterflies, space and how the human body works and my daughter enjoys all of them. There are at least twenty books available in the series about all kinds of topics. I am not always certain how much my two year old really understands of the science but my husband and I find them interesting and she definitely likes the pictures.

5.     Dr. Seuss. This is a classic, of course. My daughter loves all of the Dr. Seuss books we have read to her so far, with The Cat in The Hat being her top choice. The pictures are amusing, the rhymes are funny, and often the stories carry a moral. What more could a parent want? They also tend to be a little longer (One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is about 60 pages) which is nice in terms of keeping her busy for a while, although tiring at night when tired parents are putting a tired toddler to bed.

6.     Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton goes through different emotions and then lets small children know it is okay to have negative feelings. As a psychiatrist, I have to love it. Actually anything by Sandra Boynton is a crowd pleaser. Her illustrations are cute and funny and her books are simple and geared towards a toddler level. She has a set of five books about a toddler pig called Little Pookie and has books about colors, musical instruments, opposites, body parts, rhyming words, counting; pretty much any teaching concept I can think of, she’s written about in a way my daughter enjoys hearing over and over.

7.     Good Night World by Adam Gamble is one of an entire series called “Good Night Our World.” It is not related to Good Night Moon. The books are not all written by the same person, but they read like toddler travel guides. The series includes Good Night Washington D.C., Good Night Israel, Good Night Lake, Good Night Beach, and many others. They are beautifully illustrated and have been led to quite a few discussions with my daughter about the pictures and also the places we have been.

8.     You are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano Love is an incredibly sweet poem about the different roles parents and children play in relationship to each other. I have a soft spot for this book because it was given to me shortly after my daughter was born and so was one of the first things I read to her in those teary, emotional new Mommy weeks. The illustrations are sweet and calming and my daughter will actually pick this book off the shelf for us to read when she feels a need for comfort.

9.     Disney Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales is actually a book that I had when I was little. When I saw it on the shelves I recognized the illustrations and had to buy it for my daughter. The Fairy Tales are gentled significantly but my daughter will still ask us to skip the parts with “bad” characters who are trying to hurt the main characters. The nursery rhymes are more classic. This is one of our bedtime standards.

10. Teeth are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick is a book that I bought in e-book format that talks in very simple language about why a young child might want to bite, and then reminds them “ouch! Biting hurts!” and suggests other things they can try. There are quite a few books in the series; we also own “Sharing Time” and “Calm Down Time” and there are many more I haven’t purchased. The suggestions are practical and I like the fact that they acknowledge and are accepting of the intense feelings small children experience. The books also have a page of parent tips after the stories.

So, there are some of our recent family favorites. Happy reading!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guilty Pleasures

I’ve been thinking of guilty pleasures while I’ve been stuck on the couch, trying to amuse myself while I wait for my broken ankle to heal. Guilty pleasures are those things you really, really enjoy that you just don’t think are cool, or sophisticated or very grown-up. Nothing really shameful, just things that maybe you feel a little embarrassed about and nothing you’d be likely to tell anyone but a close friend. Things that don’t fit the image you have of how you would like to be.

I was thinking about this because my husband went out and brought back Pop-eyes for lunch. If you don’t know, Pop-eyes is a fast food chain that specializes in “Cajun-style” food which consists mostly of fried chicken, fried shrimp, battered spicy French fries, and salty buttery tasting biscuits. It is, of course, incredibly unhealthy and not authentic at all. It’s quite tasty though. For me, this is a guilty pleasure. I like to think of myself as sophisticated about food. I enjoy quite a few cuisines from different countries, I understand the importance of eating organic and local, and I care about my family’s nutrition. When we have friends over we take pains to cook delicious and intriguing food. So Pop-eye’s doesn’t really fit my self image, but I sure did enjoy it this afternoon.

Books by L.M. Montgomery are another of my guilty pleasures. L.M. Montgomery is the author of the “Anne of Green Gables” series, a set of seven books about an idealistic, dreamy, optimistic orphan growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island in the late 1800’s. Anne begins by being a bit of an outsider but as she grows wins friends everywhere by her charm and sweetness. Most of L.M. Montgomery’s books feature similar characters, settings and themes. They are sweet and bright and evoke a simpler, happier, more wholesome time. As a sophisticated adult, I know perfectly well that the world L.M. Montgomery writes about never existed as she wrote it. The late 1800’s certainly had their share of problems, among which racism, sexism, classism, lack of modern medical care, and poverty are seen between the lines of her books. She makes the hard work of life on a farm seem romantic instead of backbreaking and she makes insular villages seem charming and friendly instead of exclusionary. I still love her books. I still love the descriptions of the surroundings and the funny antics of the characters and the image of a better, brighter world than the one we struggle with now.

I also love silly games on my iPhone. Right now Arcane Empires, Tiny Zoo and Dragonvale are my three favorites, with Dragonvale being my top choice at the moment. I have to confess I will often spend a half hour or more a day on these games, breeding different dragons or feeding them up or racing them to try to earn coins or what have you. None of which has any bearing on real life, of course. They are mindless games without any kind of strategy or intellectual challenge, but they are colorful and attractive and offer a small break from the daily routine. I enjoy the goofy animations and the special events the gamemakers come up with to keep you hooked into the game.

I think having a few guilty pleasures is good for me. It’s easy to be too serious, too busy, too caught up in the tasks of daily life. Having a few simple, slightly silly, unsophisticated things I love reminds me not to be too grown up.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Coping with Fear

My daughter woke up this morning and announced "I'm a dinosaur! Raaarrr! I'm so scary!" Then she ran down the hall, giggling madly. She is 2 and a half and lately her play has been full of roaring dinosaurs and tigers and other scary animals. Fortunately for me, she is a dinosaur who is still happy to give hugs and kisses.

I think that this is a way for her to cope with her own fears. Life at our house has been a little disrupted lately. I’ve been laid up for the past 2 weeks with a broken ankle, which means I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on the couch. I’ve been home a lot more, and except for the day I had surgery and the day after that I’ve been a lot more available to her for reading books or cuddling. But I haven’t been able to get down on the floor and play legos, or help her go to the potty. I haven’t been able to eat meals in our dining room because my ankle still hurts badly whenever I stop elevating it. And she knows that I’ve been in pain, and unable to do things. She’s talked quite a lot about “Mommy’s boo-boo leg.” We’ve also had quite a few more visitors than normal; my husband’s parents and my parents and my husband’s brother have all come by to help out. I know my daughter loves all the family and attention, but things definitely haven’t been routine. It’s hard to tell what a 2 year old is thinking sometimes, but I do think that this has been a little scary for her. Pretending to be a big, strong scary animal with big teeth like a dinosaur seems like a pretty good way to channel all the fear and anger that I imagine she is feeling. She can be in a position of strength and power and control, even if it’s just in her imagination, instead of suffering all of these changes and disruptions passively.

I don’t think we’re quite so creative about coping with fear as adults. I have been reading about the particular fracture that I sustained (a trimalleolar fracture – meaning I broke 3 separate bones in my ankle) and I feel frightened. There’s plenty out there on the web that says that full recovery might not be possible, that I might always walk with a limp or have terrible arthritis in that ankle. That’s a really scary prospect for an active woman in her 30’s with a demanding job and a young child. I love to walk, to travel, to do yoga, to jog, and to play with my daughter. I need two strong ankles to do those things, and I don’t want to be slowed down by pain.

So what do I do with my fear? Well, first of all, I’m going to be honest about it. Pretending that I’m not afraid or pretending that a bad outcome isn’t a possibility isn’t going to help me do the things I need to do. Because I’m a person of faith, I’m going to pray about my ankle healing and about the fear itself. I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders conscientiously. I hate not being able to walk on my ankle, but if staying off it for 6 or more weeks increases my chances of having a good outcome I will do it. I will increase my calcium and protein and vitamin D intake so that my body has all the building blocks it needs to build healthy new bone. When my doctor clears me for physical therapy I will do my rehabilitation exercises faithfully, knowing the more work I put into rehab the more benefit I will see later. I’m going to commit to taking better care of myself. I want to eat right, exercise more, and get enough rest so that my body and mind stay strong and so that I have energy to heal. And I’m going to write about it. About what I’m experiencing, what I’m thinking and feeling, what this process is like for me. I want to write because it might help someone else in the future and because the writing helps me right now.

Those are the things I can think of at the moment to cope with my fear. It’s still there; nothing I’m doing to manage will make the fear go away. I suspect only time will do that. But I want to be as creative and honest as I can in my coping. After all, I have to keep living up to my 2 year old, right?