Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Picking Up Chicks

Sam: 'Hey mommy, guess what I heard on the radio today.'

Me: 'What's that Sam?'

Sam: 'Like six different ways to pick up chicks!'

Me: 'Really?'

Sam: 'Yeah. Like at the supermarket - that's one place.'

Me: 'Oh yeah?' Totally not listening.

Sam: 'Yeah. And at a tupperware party!'
Me: 'Tupperware?' Paying some attention now.

Sam: 'Yeah. Tupperware parties are hot places to find chicks.'

Me: 'Hmmm. Never thought of that. You want cream cheese on this?'

Sam: 'Yeah. And you can even pick up chicks in - get this - its so funny - Church!!'

Me: 'Sam, you are not picking up chicks in church. Tie your shoe.'

Sam: 'Oh yes I am. It was on the radio!'

Me: 'Sam, you are not going to be picking up chicks anywhere. Tie your shoe.'

Sam: 'I am. I am going to pick up hot babes.'

Me: 'Sam, what are you going to pick them up for?' Looking directly at him now.

Sam: Long pause. 'I don't know,' slowly. 'They didn't say. What do hot chicks do?'

Me: 'Sam. Tie your shoe.'

Sam: 'OK. By the way, what is tupperware?'

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Silence As Virtue?

My mom always said that to me when I was little. "Silence, baby," she would say, "is a virtue." That was my cue to pack up my noise and ship it elsewhere. In hindsight, I could have answered with 'patience is a virtue', but that likely would have resulted in collecting a righteous return on my bottom so it's probably better I just clammed up.
When I was very small I didn't even know what a 'verchoo' was. I had a faint idea that it had something to do with the Mary statue in church, but that theory was disproven when I learned to spell. Turned out, she was not the 'verchoon mother' I once thought she was. When I realized my mistake, I didn't want to publicize the gap in my knowledge by asking what a virtue was, especially since I'd, many times, nodded in agreement when I was told about this virtue or that. So onward I went, stoicly carrying a desire to have these oft-talked-about virtues even though I didn't know what they were. (This was oddly similar to my desire, later in life, to have 'vander-built' jeans, even though I didn't know why it mattered who built them.)
I was in a fourth grade class when I finally learned what a virtue was, from a nun who clearly hadn't acquired the 'patience' one. She gave a lecture on the seven virtues: chastity, temperence, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. Finally satisfied! I knew what a virtue was. In essence, this was a fancy word with many meanings that could be expressed in its simplest form as 'good'. Patience is good, kindness is good, etc. etc. etc. Grown ups, I said to myself not for the first or last time, make things so complicated. I didn't think more about it for a very long time.
In high school, the lecture on virtues was repeated, this time by a most unassuming, soft-spoken nun who I've come to believe had acquired all of the Christian virtues. Her name was Sister Humiliata, naturally. She talked about how the process of acquiring virtues was not to be viewed as a triumph of the individual but as a gift of spirit to others. Very interesting. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and couldn't dwell on the importance of that message for too long. My hair required much more devotion than my spirit.
The lesson lingered though and recently the concept of virtue has come back to me, along with my mother's wry take on the most important of these to her - silence. I've mulled the healthcare debate, the economic crisis, the war strategies - everything - with this idea of the virtues.
And what I've come to is this: there are many different collections of virtues based on religion, culture and philosphies. They are all worthy of some study. But more importantly, they are all worthy of action. The virtues, the ones that work best for each of us, should serve as the standards by which we approach the big problems facing our country and our world.
In my case, I imagine the good that would come from a little 'Patience' in foreign relations. Add some 'Kindness' to that. Many civilizations believe 'Mercy' to be a virtue. Certainly in health care it must be so. And blessed be the Romans who added 'Humor' to the list. You couldn't watch one session of congressional debate without it. Learn from our Hindu friends that 'Reverence for Earth' is most definitely a virtue.
And what of silence? Is it a virtue? You could argue that it is not. You could hold that silence - in the face of deafening world hunger, poverty, suffering -is the cruelest of all the sins. Silence sent us to war. Silence can mean pain when what is called for is a loud cry. I wouldn't argue against that. But then, silence also offers something else - opportunity. When you stop speaking, you can listen. When you turn down the noise, you can think. Silence offers respite, serenity. And from that place you can wonder more honestly, perhaps more innocently. See a people filled with respect, honesty, wisdom - all virtues - and work toward a world community centered on justice and peace. Serve with honor, speak with restraint and work diligently. Offer a humble soul. Silence is a virtue, I agree. And in my quiet, this is the world I see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Will It Ever End?

Remember when I said I wanted the seasons to realign correctly so I could get on with my 'fall' activities? I changed my mind. It's cold. I didn't wear socks today. And it's Monday. An ode follows, reminding me why I never became a poet.

The clouds rumble, tumble, plump.

A grey grey day all around all around.

A dull ache at the temple

looms but never lands.




Not fresh but dank.

Not crisp but cold.



Must. Close. Eyes.

A snuggle-good book waits, waits, waits.

A mug yearns to be cradled importantly.

Feeling hollow.

Feeling too full.

The delicious density of an abbreviated slumber

rests on the lashes.

Flourescent lights.

A copier hums.

The day



Will It Ever End?
I close my eyes and wait.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sometimes Its Simple

My sister-in-law is beautiful, isn't she? Yes. She is. Simple as that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A New Take On Seasonal Depression

My shoes are depressed. It's September. Its cloudy. School has started. Evenings are abbreviated and mornings are darker. It should be fall. But the day-to-day temperatures, like talk-show hosts on AM radio, refuse to agree with the prevailing logic. It should be fall, but it feels like summer. And I need someone to do something about it.
I need my seasons to stay in proper working order. This whole blending of seasons and cross-wind crap is not working for me. I need all four seasons, distinct, beautiful, and finite. Its why, despite - and over the loud objections of - my caribbean genetics, I live in Chicago. Four seasons. This year, however, the balm in the air will not cooperate. Late to arrive at the party, and late to leave, the summer air is wreaking havoc with my clock. My whole wardrobe selection process is suffering from dyslexia. I can't wear turquoise during this part of the year because, even though 81 degrees calls for the turquoise linen capris, September is a 'brown' month. Turquoise is August. But all my brown clothes are too warm for 81 degrees. Health care shmealth care, I can't get dressed for Pete's sake!
My meal-time choices are equally distressed. I'd like to start the grill, but not for hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob. No. It should be time for thick burgers or steaks. September is a hearty-meal-on-the-grill month, not a picnic-food month.
So, despite the pleasure with which my skin soaks in the delicious warm humid air, I have a very serious problem: I'm naked and I'm hungry. And it gets worse from there.
Not only do I have my clothes seasonally sorted and my menus mentally cataloged for seasonal rotation of meats, fruits and veggies, but I have my house decor boxed for the seasons and holidays (halloween/thanksgiving for fall, christmas for winter, easter for spring, and 4th of july for summer). Each of these categories requires approximately three months to run its course. After that, I'm all out. I need to shift to the next season or I start maniacally repeating stuff in random order. Watermelon and winter squash for dinner! AAAAAH. I can't do it!
What's more? It's disrupting the harmony among inatimates inside my home. You know that fall wreath is just whimpering away in that storage box, waiting for her turn to be pulled out, dusted off and given the place of honor on our front door. And that pink and green number I have out there now is so smug - practically purring with pleasure as she reigns over the front landscape. She knows she's getting extra time and she's loving every minute of it. Its not fair, I tell you. And I dread what will happen when those two cross paths in the transfer from storage to placement. It's not going to be pretty.
Now, I'm willing to negotiate. I'm not advocating for sleet and hail. Just a little weather shift in the seasonally appropriate direction. Make it low 70s during the day and low 60s at night. I'm fine with that. I can wear jeans, serve pot roast, have orange flowers in the dining room and it all works. As it stands, I'm fretting in front of my closet each morning with the brown shoe-boots pining away on a too-high-to-reach-for-every-day shelf, waiting to be called to work. They're depressed, I can tell. But the high today is going to be 78 and I'm wearing open-toes. Maybe next week.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I live in my promise

On September 11th, 2001, when all the world was burning down around me - or so it seemed - I was stunned into silence. Anyone who knows me knows how meaningful that is.

On September 12th, 2001, when all the world was stunned into silence around me - or I couldn't hear them - I was numbed to the point of inaction. Again, not my norm.

On September 13th, 2001, when all the world was grappling with what to do next - really, it was - I walked into my new home for the first time.

My husband was working from home. He wandered aimlessly from office to kitchen to nursery, where little ones breathed in and out, blissfully unaware that the world had been forever changed.

After a while, he returned to his desk and continued to numb his day away. As I watched, he began mindlessly flipping through neighobrhood listings, something real estate agents do all the time, just to waste time but still look busy and important. The phones were not ringing and, for once, we were thankful.

I had spent nearly the entire 'nap time' washing dishes, wiping, drying and then rewashing because of some invented flaw in the original cycle. Usually I tried to rest when the babies rested, but on that day, and for many days after, resting when so many others were restless with terror and tears seemed awful and unfeeling. I couldn't rest, so I just washed dishes.

As the babies were waking, my husband came to me with false enthusiasm, brimming with it rather garishly given the circumstances, and insisted we go see a house. He'd come across an oddball listing nearby and decided we needed to see it right away. We'd talked a little bit about buying a house after the twins were born, but we'd settled into a routine, albeit a chaotic one, and the issue had been back-burnered. Now, all of a sudden, it was the most important thing on my husband's agenda. He persisted. And I was too beaten down to refuse.

So we spent some time packing up the kids (when you have twins, age 1 and a 'big girl' age 3, getting to the front door requires packing) and made our way to the property just a few blocks away.

I think, my husband's initial idea was just to get out, to revive the family, wake us up and give us some sense of purpose, even if only for a few hours. But stepping out onto the sidewalk, being in the dead air of those silent days following the burning of our arrogance, was no comfort. Speaking, to fill the air with noise and nonsense, seemed irreverent. So we walked in silence.

When we got to the front of the house, we all looked up, as if called to the roof's peak by some herald, placed there to await our arrival. I won't blather on about the creepiness of the upside down cross that trims the front of the house, ending in the crux of the roof. But it was creepy. Years later, when we had the roof and trim re-done on the house, the 'capper' asked us if we wanted it removed. We both looked at each other and shook our heads 'no'. It belongs to the house, and to us, and to that moment when we first looked up.

We stepped in and breathed in the aura of someone else's home. It was plain, worn, a little odd in places, and old. For some reason, being inside seemed to captivate all of us. The twins - really my little girl, but the boy followed her everywhere - did everything they could to climb the stairs despite each step being about waist-high on their tiny, 13-month-old bodies. Lucy did what all little girls do in huge old houses - she pretended princess and bowed delicately to her imagined prince, before she escaped into a one-sided ballroom dance in the middle of the living room. I hemmed and fussed over the kitchen and Tony went straight to all the mechanicals. It really wasn't much of a house, all whitewashed and creaky.

When I looked out the dining room windows and noticed a faded red patio set and bushes practically encroaching on the spot where I stood inside, I called to my husband.

"Look," I told him, "you could probably make the house workable, but I don't want to be on top of my neighbors like that. I want space. We talked about this. I want a yard."

He smiled at me, a genuine smile. It took us both a second to enjoy it, because we were well into day three of having no ability whatsoever to express happiness.

"Come with me," he said gently. "You don't understand."

And he led me through the dining room, into the kitchen and out the back door.

"That is your yard," he motioned across the expanse I'd just frowned upon. "And so is this," and he swept his arm across the other side. "It's just what you've always wanted. I found it."
And I was overcome. The babies spilled out behind me and went about the business of claiming territory. There were roses and vines and trees and flowering plants and all sorts of pines and firs. This yard, this little secret space on this pained planet, was so full of love and life and beauty. I was overcome again.

Did you ever read 'The Secret Garden'? This was it, but somehow with an air of Gatsby too. It was serene and splendid, but alive and tingling. You could hear the tinkle of glasses from parties past and you could discern, barely, a perfume in the air, as if the remainder of a courtship still lingered among the flowers. You could feel the life in the garden and for the first time in days I - we all - felt alive again.

Needless to say, we were sold. It probably wouldn't have mattered what we had to do, we had to get it. If the garden hadn't done it (and it totally did) the fact that the small finial on the staircase leading up to the bedrooms came off in my hand - ala 'It's a Wonderful Life' - would have completely sealed the deal for me.

We went home awake, talking, jabbering really, because the rush of language that had been pent up for so many days came tripping out of each of us in gush and gab. Even the babies, I'm sure feeding off of our excitement, particpated in filling the walk home with the music of happiness and hope.

While my husband went about the business of completing forms and signing documents, I tended to the spiritual element of the home purchasing process. I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together, and promised. I promised God, of course, more out of practice than anything else, but with an element of urgency usually reserved for medical crises. But more importantly, I promised all those babies who lost their parents two days before, all the parents who lost their babies, all the weepers who posted futile notices and waited in vain, and the sweepers who tended the debris left behind by blameless and suited souls. I promised probably as deeply as I am able.
I promised I would live out loud, for all those whose lives had been muted. I would make that house a place where every day, the love we have for one another would be remembered and acknowledged, and spent generously, in case the day's events halted the next day's chance to do it again. I promised we would open that house to as many as would come, with all we could give, for as long as we could. I promised my babies would grow up in that house and, when they left it, it would be to change the world, even if only in the smallest ways, with their sunshine and shimmer. I promised I would tend that garden to the best of my ability to make sure that its secrets were kept and its magic was kept alive. I promised that if God saw fit to give me that house, that gift would be repayed in every way I could, with every breath I have, until I could pay no more.
Ironically, the day when I can pay no more may be coming sooner than I'd hoped. But for now, for as long as I can, I live in my promise.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Here's why we need a change in healthcare

We need a change in our healthcare system. That is not a debatable point. Everyone agrees. So let's set that out there from the get - we need a change. Next, let's look at the different components to the existing system so we can figure out what to change. On second thought, scratch that. We can't. There are too many and I'm not that smart.

So instead let's look at the ones I can think of and have something to say about. I'm nothing if not honest. I know this is a BIG topic and there are alot of strong opinions, emotions, and - yes - some facts that come into play. I'm setting out the stuff that matters most to me and hoping it strikes a chord with some. For others, other issues may be of concern.

That's the nice thing about our country. Lots of us. Lots of opinions. All heard. None shouted down. None diminished in importance because of lack of popularity or AM radio time. It's one of the things that distinguishes us from a socialist society.

Here's what I care about:

This is an economic issue. We have to have a healthy, striving and sustainable economy in order to produce everything we need and enjoy - including healthcare. The problem is the U.S. is competing in a global market on an uneven playing field. Our corporations and our workers are carrying undue burdens related to healthcare costs and inefficiencies.

The United States spends twice as much on health care per capita ($7,129) than any other country . . . and spending continues to increase. In 2005, the national health care expenditures totaled $2 trillion. Source: National Center for Health Statistics (Pesky little facts.)

These problems amount to kicking us in the shin with the blade of an ice skate as we try to run in that global rat race.

In 2006, the percentage of Americans without health insurance was 15.8%, or approximately 47 million uninsured people. Source: US Census Bureau. (That's a fact.) That's more than the last registered population of the entire country of Spain. (That's an estimate, since the numbers I saw ranged from 43 to 45 million.) Can you imagine kicking everyone in Spain in the shin every morning as they got up for work? Big job. Very expensive. Bad for the Spaniards. And after a few days, you'd better believe, some of those folks would be less effective at work.

This is a general welfare issue. Swine flu is going to kill how many people this year? Yet my children's school can only afford to bring a nurse in on a part-time basis. (That is a fact.) Nearly a thousand people incubating in a building with scary-movie-type levels of hand touching, sniffle wiping, cough spreading and related germ spreading activities going on all day. Don't you think that if we had a healthcare system that provided reasonable, accessible care more parents might take their children in for preventive care - or immediate care during the early stages of an illness or injury? (That is an open question.)

Instead, because a large majority of the students in my children's school qualify for free or reduced lunch, one can infer that many of those same families do not have healthcare coverage. We infer this because free or reduced lunches are linked to poverty. Poverty is often linked to under- or un-employment. Private healthcare costs would make it highly unlikely that a person who meets the free or reduced lunch poverty requirements would have sufficient income to cover private healthcare costs.

In fact, the primary reason given for lack of health insurance coverage in 2005 was cost (more than 50%), lost job or a change in employment (24%), Medicaid benefits stopped (10%), ineligibility for family insurance coverage due to age or leaving school (8%). Source: National Center for Health Statistics.

Sadly, this doesn't even account for the families that don't (or won't claim to) qualify for assistance. How do I know? My family is one. I am an educated, articulate, professional person, with a job and a mortgage. I have a reasonably clean home (don't check today, but if you call first...). I speak English. Pretty well. I am a natural-born citizen. But my job does not include healthcare coverage and the costs of buying private insurance would render us incapable of owning a home, despite being a two-working-parent household. So we go without. Say what you want to say about Blago but his healthcare program for children has saved our family.

Frankly, I'm shocked it's taken this long. After all, I'm entitled to general welfare in the constitution. In fact, my non-socialist country is supposed to PROMOTE general welfare. To me, that means encourage, support, provide resources for and allow the welfare to flourish. That's why my government provides for education, fire and police protection, a legal system, public libraries, postal service and so forth. My government, through and by the people, provides for my welfare in all of these ways. How is it that my health is not related to my welfare?

Moreover, we've long overlooked the question of morality as it relates to national healthcare. The United States as a world power and leader in the world falls woefully short in this regard. We still, as tarnished as we are, provide a beacon of light for others to follow.

But from 2000 to 2006, overall inflation in the U.S. increased 3.5%, wages increased 3.8%, and health care premiums increased 87%. Source: Kaiser Family Foundation (Statistics/Facts.)

That is unconscionable. The powers-that-be are well aware that as costs increase in such grotesque disproportion to wages, families fall away from the system. The end result is that we fail to protect more and more people from simple things like common illness, injuries and chronic (but treatable) diseases. Horrid.

Further, our stellar system results in our ranking as 43rd in lowest infant mortality rate, down from 12th in 1960 and 21st in 1990. We're getting worse and not better? Given our improvements in education and technology, that's not very American or very moral, is it? It means we're using our know-how and tools, but not to protect even the tiniest of American lives? What kind of example does that set? What does that teach the children who make it past that first year?

Some of the other 42 nations that have a lower infant mortality rate than the US include Hong Kong, Slovenia, and Cuba. Source: CIA Factbook (2008) So, Slovenia, huh? They can teach us a thing or two, I guess. (That is sarcasm.)

What's more? For as many people who come here seeking our oustanding care, there are people who leave the United States not because the healthcare is not good, but because it is inaccessible. A friend from work travels to Colombia every year, leaving her job and husband behind for a month, to take her developmentally disabled daughter to an intensive therapy camp that would be available to her here, but is too expensive for her parents to afford and isn't covered by their plan. It's free in Colombia because the woman holds dual citizenship.

I have another friend whose son is autistic. She's been fighting with her local school district for help covering astronomical (tens of thousands of dollars) costs for a therapy that's helping her son to talk and communicate, because the school can't provide it and won't help her pay for it. If she can't get her son the help he needs, he'll be always dependent on his little brother. Both lives, as well as those of the parents, forever tormented. Is that moral? Is it necessary in the richest country on earth?

My own mother is reduced to living quietly the most modest of lives because she is tied to her employer's disability plan which stipulates that she can't be found doing anything remotely identifiable as 'liesure' because that would mean she wasn't disabled. We've begged her to go on the tiniest vacations with us - even to Wisconsin for a day - but she won't because she's terrified of losing her coverage and having to depend on us to help with her expenses. After all the life she's lived, she deserves better, and I am heartbroken every day that I can't provide it for her. It is immoral to allow her to live out her remaining days in this state, at the hands of a country that she has always loved, served and cared for so diligently. It is immoral because we can do better.

Taking care of our citizenry, however, is not a step toward socialism. Ever heard of Medicare? Seen a VA Hospital? In fact, a revamp of our healthcare policies will be a life-saving step toward reviving the capitalist system, allowing us to shake off the burdens of an overly expensive and ineffective system that does not keep our people in good health and precludes us from greater success in the world. Plus - look what the debate has already done to reinvigorate the democratic process!

As for the woes of the private sector as it contemplates the prospect of competing against the government, puhleeze. The government competes with private sector all the time. You can't have it both ways - either the quality will be awesome which will force the private sector to up its game, or the quality will be lacking and it will give the private sector everything it needs to succeed. There are examples of this everywhere in our every day lives. Have you ever used FedEx instead of the post office? Have you ever gone to Border's instead of the library? Ever seen a security guard at a mall instead of local police officer? Ever gone into a public school instead of hiring a private tutor? Gotten on a bus or train instead of in your private car? The government can provide an alternative and you can choose it or choose something else. That's the definition of friggin capitalism, NOT socialism.

A healthcare system that would have private, corporate and government options and would include competitive prices, a broader marketplace and a wider distribution of services is NOT socialist. We are not going to start wearing fatigues and combat boots if we can go to a local healthcare provider the same as we'd go to our local police station or our local library or our local state rep's office. Stop acting like the President of the United States is in cahoots with some radical underground socialist movement trying to make us all die slow deaths in line for treatment at some dingy clinic where the doctors all have hippie beards and smoke weed while they stroke our chests with feathers. It's ridiculous and beneath us as intelligent people discussing a critical issue in our country.

The fact is (ok, ok, my opinion is) the President and all self-aware and self-preserving policy makers are responding to a desperate need in our country that, when addressed, will lift an anvil off our shoulders and free us to be more competitive, healthier, more globally responsible, moral, capitalist pigs.

Amen and applie pie to that, my friends.