Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pre-emptive Strike

waI don't watch sports anymore. Since moving out on my own, I haven't had cable and have watched maybe an hour of television in my home. I don't follow them on the internet. My preferred media source is NPR, which as you might imagine offers minimal athletic coverage.

You probably have noticed there is a big tournament going on right now. March Madness is what I believe some folk call this phenomenon where people [hope to] follow their favorite teams through a bracket until they reach the National Championship. Basketball, I think. Men's basketball.

You also might have noticed that I live in Kansas. And I attended KU 20 years ago. I didn't go to athletic events. I studied...a little. I worked...a lot. I didn't leave with a degree. In the years since, I have watched plenty of KU hoops, even had a little coming out of my own, celebrating their National Championship a couple of years ago. And once I was no longer living with a fanatic, I didn't put forth the effort to keep up with it.

Over the course of this season, I've heard buzz about the KU men's team and how well they were performing. But if you lined up several tall men before me, I wouldn't be able to tell you whether or not any of them play for KU, or any other collegiate program for that matter. I did assume that KU would make a pretty good run at the championship. That's what the experts said. I even glanced at a bracket on the night it came out and was happy to see that KU and Duke were on opposite sides of it. You see, my sweetheart is a Duke Alum. I thought it would be interesting to see who I'd cheer on if the two teams made it to the big game. Or if I'd cheer at all...

But the Jayhawks lost in round two.

So if I am to root for anyone now, I guess it will be Duke. If you've ever been in a relationship, you understand that your happiness often correlates directly with the happiness of your partner. Sometimes there are simple things that you can control -- a well-timed cup of hot cocoa or a back rub at the end of a long day. Other times it's a little more out of your own hands -- a raise at work or a victory by one's alma mater.

Okay, now I'm finally getting somewhere...

No one owns the monopoly on my loyalties. I will cheer for whomever I see fit, whenever I see fit. If I wish to watch only one game a year, that is what I'll do. If I choose to become a rugby fanatic and immerse myself in those happenings worldwide, I will do that as well. To think that my support for one athletic team or another makes an iota of difference in this great big world of politics, religion, technology, war and hunger is an absurdity. If by donning a Duke sweatshirt, I offend you, well, don't look at me.

And because The Ex- has gone so far as to threaten that if I wear said shirt he will publish unflattering photos of me in my former life as, well, his wife, I will cut him off at the pass. Here you go. This is me 17 years ago. Wearing a KU shirt. Just remember, Mr. X, you thought I was attractive then.

And one more thing...

Go Blue Devils!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Absolutely Nutty

After I told Spinning Marcy about considering giving up my precious peanut butter for my own special version of Lent, she quickly jumped in with suggestions of other nut butters. If you can all just keep your snickers to yourselves, I will now admit that I have an unbelievable weakness when it comes to nuts (have your giggle and then we'll move on). Handfuls of raw walnuts, cashews, almonds...dry roasted peanuts...don't even get me started. My whole peanut butter issue is merely a manifestation of a far greater madness.

A couple of spin classes later, my dear friend brought to me a gigantic jar of almond butter. Helping? I'm not certain. But I was, in no way, shape or form, going to turn such a gift down. I was rather excited because I had recently tried a delightful homemade granola bar recipe that utilized almond butter, but had since run out. It was even on that ongoing grocery list -- y'know, the one full of the things you keep forgetting -- yeah, that one.

I'd suppose it's been a month of busy-ness and I've finally made another batch of those delights. My weekdays -- especially Mondays -- are nothing shy of ridiculous and grabbing a bite on the go is no easy task for a gal plagued with this whole no-gluten thing. One of these on my way to 5:45 a.m. spin and another in my backpack...

Life is good.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Princess and the Muffins

Today I'm featuring a guest blogger. Sweet Audrey, fresh from a relaxing weekend from the grueling life that is second grade, put together a little something for us to chew on...
Once upon a time there was a princess named Audrey. She lived in a great big kingdom. One day Audrey was riding her horse to the palace garden. "Mmmm," she said, "I love the smell of roses." Then she got to the place where butterflies fluttered all over. "Oooh!" said Audrey, "the strawberries on this bush are red and ready to be picked. I can't wait to show mom how many strawberries I picked and how good they look." After she picked about 15 strawberries, she began to ride home. As she rode home, she said, "Oh, it's almost time for the chefs to make breakfast. I need to get home super fast. Giddy-up, Princess," she said to her horse, Princess. "We need to get home soon to eat muffins." Once they were home and the muffins were made, the royal family ate muffins outside. But when they weren't looking, someone stole some of the muffins, but the guards went after them.

The End.
I don't know about you, but I smell a sequel.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Best Friends

"I've got a big job ahead of me," he said out of the blue.

"What's that?"

"I want to be your best friend, but you've already got the best friends in the world."

I shyly smiled. We'd been back together for only a couple of weeks and hearing that meant everything to me. At the same time, I had to agree. How could he be the first on my list to know my highest highs and lowest lows? My wonderful friends are cut from numerous distinct fabrics and each of them tend to get different pieces of me. How could any one person possibly get top billing?

A few months have since passed and I can safely say that Mark has securely filled that spot. He's listened to me moan about homework, housework, parenting, ex-spousing, stubbed toes and broken fingernails. He's seen me dolled up for a party, gowned down in the ER and sweaty after a 12 mile run. He's eaten my culinary triumphs as well as kitchen failures. We can casually chat politics, then religion, but somehow always return to the same conversation we had the first day I re-entered his life. What color should his dining room be? We share a very comfortable, caring, easy friendship with a deep and passionate undercurrent of love.

And now it's my turn to step up to the plate.

At this moment he's going through something far more challenging than all of my piddly woes combined. While we watch his mother slip away from us, my job is...well...I'm not certain what it is. So I answer the phone when it rings, hoping it's not the news, I listen as he conveys any new information about her condition and nod when he convinces himself that he's ready to let her go.

And I'm learning a big-girl lesson right now. Life doesn't stop, even when life is stopping. Nearly every other facet of Mark's life is unrelenting, and mine continues to whiz past me almost too quickly for me to catch it by the tail. My focus is shifting, however. I will meet my deadlines, I will feed my children and I might even wipe my kitchen counters, but I'm preparing for the moment when the phone call is that phone call from my best friend who will be hurting differently than he ever has. And I will try to be there for him in the right way...which I guess I'll figure out when I get there.

Friday, March 26, 2010

39.75 is the new 40

From the time I was in my 20s, I have been assured that one day I'd have to wear glasses. Numerous folk informed me that it was just as they turned forty -- nearly to the day -- that their near vision failed them and they began wearing reading glasses. I held on to a little hope that I might make it a few extra years since my dad didn't need correction until closer to 45.

And I enjoyed those years without glasses. Friends would fuss with scratched lenses, broken frames and lost contacts -- a few even went under the laser to alleviate their vision-correction woes. All the while, I lazily cared for my $10 sunglasses, never giving much thought to the great gift that was my 20/20 vision.

Until this semester.

The first day in microbiology lab was an eye opener. Trying to focus the microscope proved more challenging that I expected...then I realized I was using one eye far more than the other, having to really concentrate to see the micrometer that was in the left lens. After a few weeks, our scope use dwindled and I went back to pretending my vision was just as it had always been.

Then a few weeks ago, I had to take a test at a computer. Two hours staring at a big blue screen left my eyes shaky for the rest of the day. So I surrendered. And while the optometrist was wowed by my distance vision, he readily recited the speech about our lenses becoming less elastic with age and that it happens to all of us as we turn 40. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was three months shy of the four decade mark.

Perhaps this signals the end of my procrastinating ways.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Saying Goodbye

On Thanksgiving of last year, I met a remarkable woman. Having never before lain eyes upon me, she hugged me, welcomed me into her home and fed me. This Thanksgiving will not be the same, however.

Mark's mother is dying. And he is going through something I cannot imagine. So I will stand beside him, bewildered at times as to what to say or do.

I just returned from a short visit with her at the hospital and was startled to see a DNR bracelet circling her wrist. Though I have known for a couple of months that the end was not far off, seeing those letters on the brightly colored plastic shook me. This is a woman who I want to know better. She played an enormous role in shaping the man I love, providing him with an enviably happy childhood as well as continued support, love and friendship to this day. And while it's devastating to watch he and his family lose their matriarch, I selfishly wish for more time with her for my own gain. I want to sit for tea and learn of her education and career in Sydney as a biologist. I want to hear stories of rearing four children on multiple continents. I want to thumb through photo albums and listen to her chronicle her own childhood.

But instead, I will hold Mark's hand, offer the rest of the family any support I can provide and enjoy the remaining time I have with his mum. I have far more tears than words right now. This is uncharted territory for me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Assurance

Six months ago I was one of 32 million uninsured Americans -- and I didn't really mind. I had spent a significant portion of my adult life without insurance. We did have coverage for all three (uneventful) births, but once back in Kansas without the very cheap, very good coverage of the Screen Actor's Guild plan, The Ex- and I gave little thought to the lapse in coverage. We were healthy, the kids were healthy, and even when we did have health insurance, we didn't use it. Doctors, schmoctors...the body is remarkable at healing itself. And we were invincible to boot.

While I worked at Hope Care Center, I was part of a low-cost HMO. I managed an annual checkup toward the end of my tenure, but giggled at the thought of paying for COBRA coverage upon my exit. Why on earth would I pay hundreds of dollars a month when I didn't average even one visit a year?

At about the same time, I'd taken over the responsibility for getting coverage for the kids. They had been uninsured for several catastrophe-free years, but the divorce lawyers laid out the necessity for their insurance. Because The Ex- worked as a server and I was an unemployed student, I took a deep, guilt-ridden breath and applied for government subsidized health coverage. While filling out the forms, I checked the box beside my name to request a policy for myself. What could it hurt, right?

After several you-need-to-send-us-more-paperwork letters (I assure you, they don't make it easy), I received four shiny new "insurance" cards (I use quotes because that's how you're treated when you use them) in early November. Since I was far more concerned with reading chemistry textbooks than policy manuals, I figured I'd wait until the break and then look at the details to get the kids in for long-overdue (but in my opinion, unnecessary) checkups.

Then to everyone's surprise, I was left speechless one December night. The resulting ER visit and follow-up care and tests would have left me tens of thousands of dollars in debt. But they did not. Because I was covered.

Were I not covered, I might have begged Mark to not take me to the ER even more ardently. Were I not covered, I would have most certainly ignored the follow-up orders for further testing. Were I not covered, I would have accepted the initial diagnosis of a TIA and assumed it all a fluke. Were I not covered, I would have likely taken the suggested aspirin for a month or so and then slipped out of the habit. Were I not covered, I would not have learned I experienced a sub-acute stroke. Were I not covered, I would not know I have a hole in my heart.

Fortunately, I live near an extraordinary learning hospital that accepts this "insurance." I have never felt in more competent hands in any chapter of my healthcare experiences. I know many who are in the same financial boat as I am do not enjoy such qualified care. In sparsely populated areas of my state, one must travel a great distance to be seen by a doctor or facility that would accept this plan. And while emergency rooms must welcome all who walk through their doors regardless of ability to pay, the financial aftermath of a hospital visit is almost always devastating to someone without insurance. So you can add to my "were I not covered" paragraph, "were I not covered, I would have been forced into bankruptcy."

While I was busting my arse trying to acquire the follow-up care with doctors who would accept the pittance that is their reimbursement for their services, I realized that healthcare reform was far bigger than just insuring the masses. But it's one heck of a start. Six months ago I was a Young Invincible. Today I have pre-existing conditions that could easily keep my future employer from offering me reasonable coverage.

But something big happened in Washington D.C. today. Though far from perfect and far from being enacted, I'm still pretty tickled.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gimme a (Spring) Break!

Last Wednesday afternoon while driving to microbiology lab I felt exhausted. Its origin was a result of more than my five-day-a-week exercise habit, more than my school schedule and more than rearing three children. And it was an extra-special brand of exhausted. It was physical and emotional and spiritual and technical and ethereal and...spherical (don't ask...I never know what might come out of my fingertips). What I sensed was that I needed was a good cry -- but time wouldn't allow for that. This semester has been nothing less than a bear, and while I've repeatedly told myself that it would likely be the most difficult of my remaining time in school, the adviser at UCM had just counseled me otherwise. (Looks like six weeks of summer driving and then a monster of a fall.) So that day, I still had lab then baking for kids' school stuff, followed by a Thursday full of chem studying and class and kids, a Friday with kids out of school and birthday cake making and studying, a Saturday morning midterm, Saturday afternoon skating party, Sunday actual birthday, Monday drive to-and-from the parents and finally a Tuesday to see to eight weeks of....well... sigh.

This morning was full of catching up on bills and making appointments and whatnot, then a fun lunch catching up with Tattoo Steve. I made a grocery store run (but not too big, in anticipation of the Trader Joe's trip tomorrow -- oh yeah, Wednesday and Thursday in Saint Louis), then home to address a few pre-trip details. And that's when it happened.
A short number-crunching phone call with The Ex- (we'll have a public vote on your nickname eventually, Martin) left me weepy...then tearful...then flat-out bawling. About twenty minutes into it, I realized that much like my December break-down, this had less to do with the current matter at hand and far more to do with everything else. So I just kept crying, ran a bath and wept while I soaked. Once all of my mascara was floating atop the water, I figured I was done.

So I hopped out, got dressed and I went thrift shopping.

And now I have a "new" vintage orange trench coat.

And I feel better.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Eight is Great!

Wouldn't you know it...I am unable to stop time (and quite frankly, with three children, have little desire to do so). Somehow eight years have passed since tiny Miss Audrey landed in my arms. And what a beauty she has become. Smart, funny, gorgeous and adding more to her resume everyday.

This year's celebration was at the roller rink. She invited just a few friends and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon. And as usual (though we did fail on one birthday since the separation -- foolish standoff...lesson learned), we managed a "family" get-together for the opening of gifties. The Ex- came to Casa del Mar and hung out for an hour or so, spending some time with Audrey on her special day. He also helped me get rid of more of the cake (I made it with gluten so I don't know how it tastes). There are numerous reasons to remain friends with your ex, and I think help with leftovers is pretty high on the list.

So the big advantage to her turning eight is that she is no longer required to ride in a car seat in the state of Kansas. The disadvantage? I have to re-learn my kids' ages.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Am Yogurt. Hear Me Roar.

There's a person who doesn't like me.

Outrageous, huh? I mean, I'm as charming and delightful and fun and witty and wonderful as anyone you know, right?

Okay, okay, so perhaps I'm not everyone's favorite person. I do, however, like to pretend that everyone digs me, so when someone makes it perfectly clear that I'm the object of their disdain...well, it gives me the ickies -- so much so that it becomes all consuming. Yes, I need to finish my micro lab homework. Indeed, there is a chem test Friday. The house needs to be tidied, the laundry folded, the dishes washed, the scooter ridden (see how I just slipped that in?), the bills paid, the plants watered and the kids cherished. But I am single-minded in my need to remedy this dislike.

Gotta be honest...probably won't happen. This will likely be a long term, stand-offish, challenging relationship. And I suppose accepting that is as much a part of my growing up as any of the other big steps I've taken in the last couple of years. I also can see that with age, I've become a little more acidic (like yogurt, y'know) and am palatable to a less broad audience. So while my newfound pH is considered an improvement to some, it may very well be a turnoff to others. Too tangy, perhaps? Well, I could throw on some honey...and walnuts, of course, for character.

If I could only offer a reduced fat version of me...then surely everyone would like me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spooning

A few days ago, Spinning Marcy asked if I'd given up anything for Lent. I quickly replied, "I don't play that," but gave it more thought as the day passed and decided I should consider taking something away from myself for the sake of self discipline. She's giving up artificial sweeteners -- and I'm rooting for her. When I gave up diet soda a few years ago, it didn't take long for the addiction to back off and I can't tell you how happy I am to not to pump my body full of aspartame several times a day.

First off, I'm not going to consider giving up something like chocolate. That would just be absurd and bordering of self-abuse. I don't need chocolate, but it's one of those lovely somethings that should just be . A cultural phenomenon, you might say. When someone offers you chocolate, you just should accept it. Y'know...kinda like communion. It brings us together.

My achilles heel...peanut butter. Spoonfuls of peanut butter. Not sandwiches (I haven't made my bread since the beginning of this semester). Not cookies. Not in a lovely Thai stir fry. Those things I can enjoy in moderation. It's that jar of Whole Foods crunchy peanut butter in my refrigerator and the spoons that are in the drawer right next to it. That's my problem. That's my weakness. That's what would be just about the hardest thing for me to give up right now.

So I guess it's as simple as putting the p.b. away.

Or maybe the true culprits are the spoons.