Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Who Knows

My blog's gotten over 8,000 page views in the month of January.  Such tremendous support.  Thank you!  But it gets me thinking: Why am I doing this?  The virtual recognition is encouraging, but the flighty feeling flutters away in a day or two.  I'm not in it for the money, which is virtually nonexistent.  Why do I keep doing it?

I like this quote from PBS Idea Channel:

Where older cultural systems exist for basically profit, internet culture exists for... it's really hard to say.  Maybe pure expression?  Maybe altruistic entertainment?  Who knows? 


It's the who knows that attracts me.  That's what makes blogging so exciting and so rewarding.  I get to explore the who knows.

Must Watch: PBS Idea Channel with Mike Rugnetta

Here's an idea: education can be entertaining. Kinda like art itself. If you're looking for a great series that doesn't feel like a total time suck, check out Mike Rugnetta's PBS Idea Channel.  Plop it down in the "self-improvement" column on your mental to do list and feel good about your entertainment consumption of the day:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Math Problem

I've got a math problem.  My child likes math and I don't.

"This is fun," Katie announced from the kitchen table.  

My daughter is doing her math homework and she thinks it's fun.  Yes, that's right.  Fun.  I don't recall ever thinking math is fun, but I don't say this to my six-year-old.  I smile at her.  I keep doing the dishes, which is also not fun.  

Most everyone knows I'm math-phobic, but I'm in the closet around my daughter.  I want to give her a few years to develop her own attitude about the subject before she gets swayed by my tendency to hate it.  I regret dropping out of college because College Algebra was too hard.  If Katie ever drops out of college, I want it to be because she has better things to do, not because she wasn't up for the challenge like her slacker mother.

I wasn't always a slacker.  I'm just the kind of person who needs lots of validation and I didn't get enough from my accountant father who is better with numbers than with people.

I was once an enthusiastic student.  Highly sensitive, some would even say a cry baby, I was generally an eager achiever in elementary school.  Things changed in junior high.  When I was in seventh grade I proudly handed over my report card.  It was a new school.  New friends, well, no friends yet.  I still stayed pretty quiet and kept to myself.  I missed my old friends back home.  But I had all As and Bs and I was proud of myself for doing so well in my new school.  Then Dad laughed in my face and said, "Wow, all I ever got was Cs and Ds, except in math.  I always got As in math."

My math score plummeted after that semester.  I can't be like Dad.  What an asshole.  Math is for assholes.

I was merely thirteen when I formulated that oversimplification and translated it into a lifelong phobia of math.  Add twenty-nine years and I no longer equate math with the difficult man who is my father.  It can't be all bad if my sweet kiddo likes it.  Good correlative fun!

Best Laugh I've Had All Day: Don't Pity the Puppy

The best laugh I've had all day is brought to you by the rescue group Peace Love and Pit bulls.  Here is Bandit, a tiny pit bull who just wants to run!  Don't pity the puppy!
Oh it feels so good to laugh.  Enjoy!

Welcome to Kansas: Home of Bizarro Sherwood Forest

I recently blogged about the disconnect between Governor Sam Brownback's compassionate Christian public persona and his actual governing style.  People can call him "Pastor Sam" all they want, but a governor who treats his poor constituents like Brownback does is ignoring a fundamental truth behind his faith: Jesus loved poor people.

But it's not just Brownback and it's not just Kansas.  Rachel Maddow recently aired a segment about how these bait and switch type of politicians are hurting poor people in other states too.  As Maddow points out in this clip below, "What you do with power says a lot more than what you say about power, even if it isn't always said as loudly."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Maddow goes on to show us how tax policies like the ones supported by Governor Brownback are going to hurt poor people while simultaneously helping rich people.  Watch this clip below:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rachel Maddow: "This is the new republican leadership talking point: 'President Obama is mean!'  And republicans are helpless before his meanness in Washington.  But you know what?  Republicans have complete control of government in twenty four states.  Which is a lot.  And where they do have control, they're not blaming Obama.  Right?  Look at what they're doing in governance.  They're having the rich pay less and they're having the poor pay more.  This is not what they're marketing to the nation, but this is what they're doing when they're handed the reigns of government."

It's like I'm living in Bizarro Sherwood Forest.  Let's rob from the poor to give to the rich!  I don't need a bracelet to remind me that this is not what Jesus would do.  How 'bout you, Pastor Sam?

image source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Warning: This Post Will Make You Sick

My family was attacked by norovirus last week.  Whoever said humans are at the top of the food chain has yet to have these viral predators invade their body.  Norovirus kills over 800 individuals in our species each year.  I felt like one of them.

Image Source: Wikipedia

I'm the kind of person who only prays when I mean it.  I'm fine with an occasional "Thank God!" for what life ordinarily throws at me, but I don't like to pray for things too much because it feels greedy.  As one of seven billion homo sapiens on this planet, I like to hold the door open for other people's prayers to reach God while my paltry needs wait their turn.  I like to store up my plea-prayers for times of utter desperation.  Like when hot lava is shooting out of the gastrointestinal orifices at both ends of my body.

"Please, God!  Make it stop!" I cried out, unashamed.

Sickness erases shame.  It humbles us.  It brings us closer to an awareness that while we're alive we are constantly on the brink of death.  It forces us to realize that no matter what kind of hot shits we are during times of good health, at any given moment microscopic beings can take control of our bodies and make us beg for mercy.

I've heard of praying to the porcelain gods after a night of hard drinking.  Those prayers sound something like this:

"Please God, make it stop!  I promise I'll never drink again if You just please, please, please make it stop!"

Porcelain god pray-ers are fucking liars.  They want God to make them feel better, but once they do, they go back to feeling like shit about their lives, which leads to more drinking in attempts to feel better again.  I don't pity self-inflicted porcelain god pray-ers.

I do, however, have the utmost sympathy for porcelain god pray-ers who arrived at their state through no fault of their own.  Collateral damage due to a vicious viral enemy combatant.  Victims of norovirus have a free pass in the plea-prayer department.  Anyone who suffers through that kind of personal attack and doesn't cry out for help from some kind of Supreme Power makes Sam Harris look like a believer.  

The little buggers got to Katie first.  I knew something was up when she refused to eat breakfast or lunch and then asked to take a nap.  I'm always down for a nap, so I slept peacefully next to her until I was awoken by the command, "Get a bowl!" followed by the feeling of hot, sticky vomitus oozing under the covers and settling in my lap before I'd made it out of bed in time.

From what I've read this is one of the most contagious viruses out there, so I probably would have gotten sick even if I hadn't had such direct contact with the nastiness.  Two days later Katie was feeling better and up getting ready for school.  She asked me to scramble her an egg for breakfast.  I have a wussy stomach that's prone to first-thing-in-the-morning irritability, but even I can usually manage to scramble the kid an egg.  This time no.  I couldn't stomach it.  She had to settle for a pre-packaged apple cereal bar while I puked in the kitchen sink.

Two days later Will came down with it.  He's younger and has a super immune system, so he was only sick for a day.

It's been six days for me.  It's a Sartre-esque case of nausea and not a medical one now, though.  I'm over the bug, but still nauseous.  It has more to do with the awful news that's been churning inside my head ever since I saw this data compiled by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, rather than from any bugs churning inside my stomach:

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004–2013:
Total reported killed: 2,629-3,461
Civilians reported killed: 475-891
Children reported killed: 176

US Covert Action in Yemen 2002–2013:
Total reported killed (all): 374-1,112
Total civilians killed (all): 72-178
Children killed (all): 27-37

US Covert Action in Somalia 2007–2013:
Total reported killed: 58-170
Civilians reported killed: 11-57
Children reported killed: 1-3

I'm so sick of war.  We cannot fight a war on terror by becoming terrorists ourselves.  We must cry out for help to make it stop.

"Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other." -- James Madison

"War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses." -- Thomas Jefferson

"How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?" -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." -- George Orwell

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?" -- The Mahatma Gandhi

"All forms of violence, especially war, are totally unacceptable as means to settle disputes between and among nations, groups and persons." -- The Dalai Lama

"We have guided missiles and misguided men." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I'm tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to fight.  If he wants to use American ground troops in Cambodia, let him lead the charge himself." -- George McGovern, an anti-war hero who lost big time in a presidential election a long time ago to a Quaker named Richard Nixon.  I thought Quakers were anti-war?

But what do I know?  I'm the kind of mom who lets her kid go off to school in Kansas on January 29th wearing shorts because it was nearly 70 degrees when she left this morning.  I just got back from dropping off a pair of long pants for Katie at school.  She lives an idyllic life in the suburbs and her mommy brings her warm pants when the temperature drops twenty degress in two hours so she can concentrate on her school work without her legs shivering.  While half-way across the globe my tax dollars pay for drone attacks that kill innocent children my daughter's age.  No matter how much their mothers try to cover them.

I can see a brown-skinned mother holding her daughter's hair back while she pukes in a bowl.  Norovirus knows no national boundaries.  It strikes at will, imprecisely.  So this mother is caring for her sick child.  Just like I did last week.  She nurses her back to health.  Then a drone strikes and kills this mother's child.  The child this person carried inside her own body for nine months.  This child who drank milk from this mother's breasts and grew strong and healthy.  This child who has nothing to do with terrorists any more than my child has to do with military superpowers.  This child is my child.

Make it stop! 

Today's cold rain reminds me of that day back in 2008 when I stood in line for an hour outside my caucus site to stand on your side of the room, President Obama.  I should have stood with the one guy in the corner holding a Dennis Kucinich sign.

But I did stand on your side of the room, Mr. Obama.  You said you were going to end the wars.  Then, after caucusing for you I voted for you in the elections, twice.  And I'm thrilled at so many of the good things that you have done for our nation.  But now it's time to call you out.

Make it stop!

President Obama, like McGovern said, let's see you lead the charge yourself.  If you honestly think these drone attacks are necessary to protect our nation from harm, as you said so here, please, sir, I ask you to spend a few minutes behind the controls of one of these drones.  What if it were you who sat in that safe seat far away and dropped a robot bomb and watched a child explode on a monitor before your eyes?  A child brushed off as "a dog".  Would you finally say enough's enough?

Make it stop!

It's time to rest our nation's arms and use our arms to cradle children instead of killing them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Grateful Dead Valentine and Maggie Gyllenhaal's Hair

During "free draw" in art class at school today, Katie made this early Valentine for Will and me:

front: "Happy Vallntines (sic) Day! Mom and Dad" by Katie Carleton, age 6

inside: (l to r) Becky, Katie, Will 

Will does have the longest hair of us three, in real life and in this picture, but no, he does not have three boobs, if that's what you're thinking.  Those squiggles are writing on his t-shirt.  It says, "Grateful Dead" and has a "skeleton" underneath, says Katie.  

I like what she's done with my hair.  I've been disappointed with my latest hair cut because I don't look like Maggie Gyllenhaal like I asked for.  I had planned on bringing this photo to the salon, but I forgot to print it and I don't have a smart phone to summon it while sitting in the chair trying to explain what I mean by a "funky/flippy wavy bob".  I think next time I'll bring Katie's Valentine to show the stylist how I want my hair to look.  The artist's got it down.  She knows what her subjects like.   

Friday, January 25, 2013

3-D Printers Don't Kill People, People Kill People

I've been writing about guns a lot lately and frankly I'm sick of it.  I hate guns.  I'm a freaking pacifist for Dude's sake!  You can read those posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Then this article popped onto my screen this morning and now I just have to say one more thing.

This.  This is what I've been saying.

image source: Flickr

Thank you Salon for publishing something difficult for us Americans to digest with our early morning coffee and prepackaged cereal bars:

Perhaps not today, but almost certainly tomorrow, the code to 3-D print your own gun will be as shareable as MP3s. Outmoded legal approaches to restricting gun ownership may not apply.

Criminals who want to kill people can find ways to make their own weapons.  Come on.  I hardly ever watch TV or go to crime dramas at the movies and even I know how easy it is for a prisoner to get shivved by a fellow inmate.  We can ban all the assault riffles we want hoping it will prevent senseless killings, but murderers don't follow the law.  The fact is, people who love to kill people are part of the DIY movement too.  It's not an exclusive club.  Maker Murderers, if you will.  Anyone with a will can find a way to make their own weapons no matter how hard we try to ban them.  Nowadays all you need is a 3-D printer.

Stopping senseless killing is a wonderful goal.  And it's such an important goal, I wish more people would work hard to think of myriad ways we can attain it without solely relying on the law to protect us from outlaws.

We need to address the issue holistically.  Get to the root of the problem.  What makes people want to kill?  The Bible tells us it's forbidden to murder.  Religious leaders scare us into believing we'll burn in hell for all of eternity if we murder another.  Why doesn't that prevent people from killing each other?  Laws, secular and religious, are great for some people, but they don't work on everyone.  We need to figure out what triggers humanity's urge to kill so we can figure out ways to combat it.

Might as well shoot myself in the head.  Who's got time for hard thinking?  I've got my daughter to raise and that takes up most of my time.  Trying to raise her as peaceably as possible.  To think critically whether I'm around or not.  To remain nonviolent even when provoked by people she disagrees with.  To pay attention to her own body and treat herself to good health.  To understand that mental illness runs in our family and there's no shame in asking for help.  To recognize within herself emotions such as anger and jealousy but remember they are moods that lift and simmer down with deep breaths and introspective moments and eventually everything will be fine.  It's hard to be a mother.  To protect her and guide her and send her off into this big scary world.  I have so many things to teach my daughter.  So much to learn myself so I can be a proper model for my child.  I don't have time to save the world.  I've got a child to raise.

PeaceMaker Mama, if you will.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Turkey Sandwich Nirvana

Here's my favorite way to achieve turkey sandwich nirvana:

2 slices Whole Foods organic Early Bird bread
expeller-pressed canola oil mayonnaise (I use WF brand also, but I've seen others)
Boston bib lettuce
2 slices nitrate-free, preservative-free deli turkey
1 roasted red pepper (I buy the organic jarred variety from WF)
1 slice rBgh-free Emmentaler cheese

Slap it all together and enjoy.  I like it best with baby carrots and ranch dressing on the side.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pastor Sam or False Prophet?

Some say Sam Brownback, our current governor in Kansas, makes his decisions based on his strong Catholic faith.  Here's an article from the Kansas City Star entitled Religion Is at the Center of  Sam Brownback's Life that spells out many areas in which Brownback appears to do so.  This quote in particular is interesting:

Some call him "Pastor Sam."  He occasionally evokes a preacher's tone while citing lengthy Bible passages to a crowd of worshipers.  

I'd love to hear him quote one of my favorite passages:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"  "Why do you ask me about what is good?"  Jesus replied.  "There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, keep the commandments."  "Which ones?" he inquired.  Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself."  "All these I have kept," the young man said.  "What do I still lack?"  Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." --Matthew 19:16-24 (NIV)

Instead, I see a trinity of evidence of Brownback's disbelief in this particular biblical quote.  Here's Governor Brownback's recent budget recommendations.  Here's a decent critique of Brownback's plan from the Hutchinson News editorial staff.  Here's a quote from a Kansas City Star editorial about Brownback's recommendations that I'd like to focus on:

Brownback invited a squabble with lawmakers, including many in his own party, by proposing to make permanent part of a one-cent sales tax that was supposed to go off the books in July.  Continuation of that tax would fall most heavily on low-income Kansans, while the income tax reductions that recently went into effect mostly benefit more wealthy residents.

The Kansas Democratic Party shared this photo on Facebook today.  I believe it concisely demonstrates the fundamental area of Christianity that "Pastor Sam" chooses to ignore.  Jesus loved poor people.

Image source: Facebook

Some argue against Brownback's mixing of church and state.  I say if he's going to govern as a man of faith, he ought to pay attention to his Savior's most fundamental teachings instead of looking away as his rich donors line his pockets.  

What do you think?  Is Governor Brownback really Pastor Sam or a false prophet?

Either way, I can't wait to elect a Governor Someone Else. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jokes and Dominoes

Image source: Wikipedia

While the three of us were playing dominoes at the kitchen table, Katie whipped this joke out of her six-year-old arsenal:

Katie: "Why did you go under there?"
Me: "Under where?"
Katie: "You said UNDERWEAR!"

Her father, also a joke enthusiast, tried this one on Katie:

Will: "Spell mop."
Katie: "M-O-P?"
Will: "Spell cop."
Katie: "C-O-P?"
Will: "Spell top."
Katie: "T-O-P?"
Will: "And what do you do when you get to a green light?"
Katie: "G-O!"
Will, chuckling: "Well, Punkin, I can't trip you up."
Katie: "What's trip you up mean?"
Will: "It means you wouldn't believe how most people think the answer is stop."

To Preschool or Not To Preschool?

I've been thinking about preschool, which is pretty weird since my one-and-only kid is already in first grade.  I didn't go to preschool myself, and neither did my husband.  Instead, my mom took me to story time at three different public library branches three times a week.  I'm a librarian at a public library now, so it appears to have swayed my career decision.  My husband didn't have any formal preschool education.  His parents didn't regularly take him to the library.  They pretty much laid off and let him dismantle his toys and figure out how to put them back together and learn to play nicely with others by sharing a bedroom with his brother.  The Montessori method at home, if you will.  Now Will is a wonderful family person who is also good at fixing things, and sharing, as long as you're not his six-year-old daughter who complains about his alarm waking her up while she's hogging his side of the bed.  If you are that six-year-old, you might get a stern, "Well, Punkin, you can always get up and go sleep IN YOUR OWN BED."  That's about as much as Will ever complains about parenting, though, he's such a good daddy.

The family bed idea was mine.  I read the literature that says kids are calmer and healthier and have better cognitive function when they are allowed to sleep with their family members.  Will went along with it because he remembered what it was like to wake up from a nightmare and not want to be alone.  He had his brother to protect him.  Katie's an only child, so when she needs some nighttime comfort from another warm body, we're it.  Will was never as opinionated about the matter as I was, but he goes along with allowing Katie to climb into bed with us because it's important to me.

I similarly went along with his uncommon idea to not put Katie in preschool.  While growing up, Will noticed his classmates who had gone to preschool tended to be more hyper and insecure than kids like himself who stayed home with his dad during the day while his mom worked and then they traded duties in the evening.  He firmly believes kids are healthier if they spend the vast majority of their time with their own parents and immediate family members.  It sounds good to me, and Katie's smart so I never worried she wouldn't learn her ABCs by not going to preschool.  She never has learned how to tie her shoes, but most shoes her size are Velcro, so I'm not stressing about her lack of achievement in that area just yet.  If Will wanted to keep her home with us until she started kindergarten, that was fine with me.

I did worry about Katie's socialization.  I made an effort to get her out of the house and into social settings with her peers: story times at the library, the community center explorer room, outdoor parks , the indoor play area at the mall, and play dates with her cousins and her friends.

Most days I'm happy with our decision not to send Katie to formal preschool.  We did cave a little when she started begging to go to school at age 4 1/2 by sending her to a one-hour-a-week school skills class at Gymboree for seven months before she turned five and started kindergarten.  But for the most part, we raised her in a blend of both our upbringings, amounting mostly to a combination of regular visits to the library and lots of unstructured play at home.

Of course when Katie does not behave like a model child at school now, I worry we made a bad decision.  Maybe she needed more structure when she was young?  Maybe she needed more time with kids her own age each day?  But those worries have more to do with the unregulated perfectionism and chronic self-criticism of her mother than with Katie herself.  Kids mess up sometimes.  No big deal.  That's how they learn.  What can I say, for the most part Katie's an awesome kid and I think we're on the right track, as long as we remember it's OK, and even more fun, to occasionally get lost.

Will and I adore our child and so we set out to provide her with the healthiest life we can give her.  Notice I didn't say the best of everything.  I'm a firm believer in enrichment through a little deprivation.  Nothing major.  But if you give your child everything soon nothing will be special.  When Katie was an infant someone got me a subscription to a parenting magazine.  I remember very little of the advice.  After reading Alfie Kohn garnered an I'm-my-own-parenting-expert response from me, I chucked out a lot of information I had once taken in so diligently as a new mom.

The one thing I remember most from that magazine was an ad.  I can't remember what company it was for, but it had a photo of a toy easel which had a giant pad of paper with a child's painting on it and a generic looking child wearing a painter's hat and apron, holding a palette and paint brush, standing there looking confident and like the kind of kid who gets absorbed in an art project and knows how to leave his tired parents alone.  You know, most parent's ultimate fantasy kid.

It was the text at the top of the photo that caught my eye, though.  It said, "The less the toy does, the more the child does."

Bam!  Go buy our easel and pad set and your kid will summon masterpieces from her imagination.

I never did succumb to the ad's message by buying the thing.  It was too expensive.  But maybe I did succumb to it in a deep way.  I told myself I wouldn't buy it because I couldn't afford it and that all Katie needed was the back of a scrap piece of paper and a nubby pencil to create her masterpieces, but see, maybe I paid too close of attention to the message of this ad.  I can find a way to give my child even less by not buying this toy for her.

Whenever anyone would ask me why Will and I decided not to put our kid in preschool, which is much less common today than it was when we were unschooled youths, I tell them about this toy easel ad and they get it.

Now it looks like I can quote some less metaphorical resources too, although I still like the easel analogy.  I discovered this article in Slate, The Early Education Racket: If You Are Reading This Article, Your Kid Probably Doesn't Need Preschool.  It appears to substantiate our previously un-researched, anecdotal evidence.  I found this part to be particularly interesting, considering our recent dealings with Katie's inappropriate behavior at school and choosing to discuss it with her rather than punish her for it, the good ole Alfie Kohn approach, so she learns the reasons why she can't smack her friends no matter how annoying they are and who is around:

In work they conducted at the University of Kansas and chronicled in their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Betty Hart and Todd Risley recorded, for two-and-a-half years, a full hour of conversation every day between parents and children from 42 American families of differing social classes. Children with professional parents heard about 30 million words by the time they turned 3, compared with 20 million in working-class families and 10 million in welfare families. In addition, the ratio of parental encouragements to reprimands was about 6-to-1 among professional families, 2-to-1 among the working class and 1-to-2 in welfare homes. These different experiences closely tracked with the children’s later academic and intellectual performance, and other studies have since supported these findings.

To me, you don't have to be a professional to be a good parent.  What I get from that paragraph is this: more talk talk talk with our kids and less scold scold scold leads to educationally-enriched gold.  So no matter whether or not you decide to enroll your child in preschool, talk and be kind and things will work out in the long run.

Security Guard Leaves His Gun Unattended in Michigan K-8 School

Sadly, this headline is not from The Onion:

Security Guard Leaves Gun Unattended In Restroom at Lapeer Charter School


Thankfully no kids were harmed.  But it makes me wonder what the NRA's response to this major blunder will be.  They're the ones who are pushing for more armed guards in schools after the Sandy Hook Massacre last month.  I support the Second Amendment even though I hate guns as much as the next Progressive Libertarian, but that doesn't mean I want guns in our public schools.  The main reason: How do you combat such a grave human error as this one?  "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" says NRA president Wayne LaPierre.  Well, maybe.  But good guys are not perfect guys.  Even good guys sometimes make mistakes.  I shudder to think what could have happened if a child got ahold of this weapon in school.

The second I find out Governeor Brownback is ordering Katie's school to have an armed guard, I'm homeschooling my sweet girl.  Although I really don't want to have to brush up on my first grade math.  Instead of worrying about it, I think I'll contact Governor Brownback to let him know where I stand on the issue of armed guards in our schools.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Maddening Ambiguity: Ronald Reagan, Hippie Gun-Regulator

Governor Ronald Reagan
image source: Wikipedia

Adam Winkler, author of this article in The Atlantic about the history of the modern gun-rights movement caught my attention with this statement:

The text of the Second Amendment is maddeningly ambiguous.

As you might infer from seeing the name of my blog, I'm a sucker for maddening ambiguity.  Which explains why I'm fascinated with this article about then-Governor Ronald Reagan's support of gun control when the Black Panters fought for their Second Amendment rights.  How times have changed.  Now a bunch of white guys are complaining about losing their Second Amendment rights because of regulations supported by a black guy in charge.  I wonder how many of my conservative friends who idolize President Reagan know their guy was such a hippie about gun control?

Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”

And here's one that might blow the minds of some of my liberal friends: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the kings of nonviolent resistence, was pro-gun:

Civil-rights activists, even those committed to nonviolent resistance, had long appreciated the value of guns for self-protection. Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in 1956, after his house was bombed. His application was denied, but from then on, armed supporters guarded his home.

When you're sharing poltical memes and arguing with your friends on Twitter and Facebook about President Obama's 23 executive orders to prevent gun violence, you'll earn bonus points in my book if you have the presence of mind to remember our nation's history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I got an email from Katie's teacher yesterday.

"Just to give you a heads up about today.  She got upset very easily and would get angry.  She said she was tired.  Hope tomorrow is a better day."

It's the first time one of Katie's teachers sent us a note about Katie's inappropriate behavior at school.  Still, I wasn't surprised to see the note in my inbox.  I know about a few outbursts she's had at school lately.  Katie speaks freely to me about her good and bad days.  She rats herself out when she loses a cube, the primary punishment at her school.  I'm not worried about our relationship.  She's heard me say over and over again, "You can say anything to me."

I get my parenting advice from an 80s movie with cute stars and a really good theme song by Peter Gabriel.

I'm not worried about Katie academically either.  On her last progress report, her teacher wrote, "Katie has scored 100 percent on all of her spelling tests!  Super effort!  She does an excellent job of working quietly on class assignments.  Keep up the excellent effort in all academic areas!"

It's her peer relationships that worry me.  Ever since she first started begging for a sibling that my sub-fertile body couldn't produce, I've worried about how Katie's going to practice the fine art of learning how to get along with someone who often drives you crazy.  Katie gets along great with Will and me, her grandparents, her extended family including cousins her age, her self-selected friends outside of school.  But it's easy to be nice to people who like you.  Who love you and accept you for who you are.  Kids at school are less impressed.  

When I came to the realization I was raising an only child, I panicked.  I must socialize her!  I took the dogs to the dog park to socialize them.  It only made sense to take Katie to the human park to play with other humans her age.  Problem solved, right?  

Nope.  Turns outs an hour of playtime at the park every now and then is not the same as spending seven hours a day with twenty-four other kids your age.

Now my worries are being validated.  On the same progress report, Katie's teacher wrote, "Goal: Work on peer relationships.  At times, Katie gets upset with her classmates and shouts at them.  We as a class are working on how to handle situations with peers when we disagree with them." 

Well, that's not so bad.  Sure, it'd be nice if Katie had more real-world experience with a sibling at home to fight with and make up with and do it all over the next day instead of her pretend sisters Bacca and Stella Sarah, who, if you want to know the truth, are a couple of pushovers.  You can get those dolls to do whatever you want, which I'm sure is one of the benefits for Katie, being the oldest sister among the three.  She's in control.  At school, she's not.  And sometimes it freaks her out.  I can understand that.  But there's no excuse for pushing and shouting at your peers.  I'm glad they are going to discuss this topic as a class.  It will reiterate what she's learning at home.

I tell Katie all the time, "You don't have to like everybody but you do have to be kind to everybody.  It's hard.  There's lots of people who annoy me, but that's no excuse to be mean to someone."

She appears to be listening to my little lectures.  But she forgets when she's at recess and someone chases after her with their hand cocked like a gun shouting, "Pew, pew, pew, pew" in the odd way pretend bullets sound to six-year-olds.  She forgets to use her words by saying, "Stop it.  I don't want to play cops and robbers."  Instead she runs screaming across the playground or stands firm and pushes the kid to the ground.  Either way, it's overkill and she's not even the one with the fake gun.

"I wouldn't want someone to run after me with a fake gun either, Sweetie.  But you can't push your friends.  Just tell them to stop it and go tell the teacher if they're bothering you."

But she forgets.  

What Katie lacks in siblings she makes up for in dogs.

Earl is a 75 pound Great Pyrenees mix.  Sawyer is a 50 pound Beagle/Lab mix.  They bark a lot.  And loudly.  They are barking now as I type this.  They are barking now as you read this.  How do I know?  I love my furry kids, but damn, they bark all the flipping time.  

I grew up with an outside dog, so I never learned how to deal with house dogs until I met my ex-girlfriend, Kristin, who converted me into a born-again dog-lover.  Not even a month after we hooked up, we were at the St. Joseph pound picking out a puppy.

I got Earl when Kristin and I split up, but we lived together for nearly a year, so I learned the art of caring for dogs from Kristin.  She yells.  Normally a quiet person, Kristin would shout at the dogs over the most minor wrong-doing.  Soon, so did I.

Along with Kristin's example, I also read books on the subject since that's my natural  instinct as a librarian.  I learned that dogs have a natural instinct to bark.  They honestly think they are alerting the pack of imminent danger.  They thrive in packs and relish their human companion's role of alpha dog.  They want to be bossed around, Kristin and the books told me.

At that time Kristin was working - big shock - at a doggie daycare.  Not big shock because she's a lesbian.  Well, that too.  Big shock because most of the time my ex couldn't be bothered to show up to any job so it was quite a feat for her as an employee of this doggie daycare to get Earl and me into free puppy training classes before she got canned.  

"Firmer!"  The trainer commanded mousy me.  "You have to show him who's the boss!"

If I had my druthers I'd hold up my finger and shush him like a good little librarian.  But no, dogs are not library patrons.  Even though both sometimes pee on the floor.

Dogs can become aggressive toward their owners if the pack-order reverses and they think they're the alpha dog.  My mom once had to euthanize a dog because he bit her, twice, and he was so aggressive Mom worried someone might sue her if she knowingly gave away a dog that bites.

It's difficult for me to be firm without yelling.  I have a naturally high-pitched voice more suited for my own vocation than for the job of dog trainer.  Still, I love my dogs dearly.  And so I yelled at them.  For their own good, I thought.

I got the email about Katie's inappropriate behavior about ten minutes after I had already been selecting a book and a couple of DVDs on conflict resolution for Katie and me to read and watch together to see if I can help her learn some skills to cope better at school:

5 Ways to Work Things Out (Without Fighting) in the Get Along Monsters DVD series.

So I was disappointed to receive the news from her teacher.  But I was prepared.  I brought these resources home and laid them out on our kitchen table to show Katie what I had in mind.

She didn't bat an eye.  In fact, she picked up one of the DVDs and began reading the back to see what it was about.  She's used to my nerdy approach to self-help.  When she was having trouble learning to use the potty, I brought home a stack full of books and what soon became our favorite instructional video, Elmo's Potty Time.  Try getting those songs out of your head.

I announced, "We're going to spend some time going over this book and watching these videos.  I want you to learn how it's important to treat others kindly even when we disagree with them.  I think these might help."

As I tried to explain what "conflict resolution" means to a six-year old, the dogs began to bark. 

Without thinking, I shouted, "BE QUIET!!!"

Then Katie shouted, in the same tone of voice, "BE QUIET!!!"

I must have been slack-jawed because Katie stopped and said, "What?"

"Honey, I have an idea.  Why don't we make a deal?  Do you know what a deal is?" I asked.


"It's when you agree to try something at the same time I'll agree to try something.  We'll try to do something that's hard together so we can encourage each other to keep trying."

"What is the deal?" She looked suspicious.

"What if you try your hardest to stop yelling at kids at school and I'll try my hardest to stop yelling at the dogs?"

Her eyes bugged out of her head and she laughed a bit.  "OK," she agreed.

We shook hands on it.

I don't know what I've gotten myself into.  But it's a challenge I'm glad to make.  Will often complains about my yelling at the dogs.  He's right.  It doesn't even get them to quit barking. 

"They think you're barking too." Will says when I yell at the dogs to be quiet. 

Will claims he once saw a show where the trainer just walked over to the dog and laid his palm on the back of the dog's head and it calmed the dog enough to stop barking.  Will walks up to the dogs to demonstrate this technique and they stop barking before he even lays a hand on them.

"That's it.  You're never going to be able to leave the dogs' side again," I teased.

Will walked out of the room, smiling like he does when our cat who bites everyone else sits in his lap and makes biscuits.

When the dogs started barking again, I walked over and laid my palms on the backs of their heads to see if it would quiet them down.  It did not.  They looked at me like, "Well, why aren't you joining along?  It's group bark time isn't it?"  

They did not stop barking.  But I did.  Maybe eventually they'll follow my lead.  I suspect Katie will catch on faster than the dogs do.  Young humans are pretty good at learning new tricks.

After the dogs settled down on their own, I returned to the table to help Katie with her homework.  The students were instructed to fill out this worksheet stating who their hero is and why.  

Katie chose me.  Let's see if I can live up to the honor.

***Update: Two Days Later***

After a setback yesterday when Katie smacked her classmate on the shoulder with her lunch sack, prompting a handwritten note of apology to the girl from Katie, and another evening of discussing the issue of appropriate and inappropriate responses to other people's annoying behavior, we got some good news.  Another email from Katie's teacher:

Yippeee!!!! Today when Katie was unhappy with a classmate who was telling her what to do, instead of yelling and getting mad at them, she came up to me and told me.  I had a discussion with the two girls and we worked their problem out.  I pulled her aside later and told her how proud I was of her and that she had handled the situation appropriately.  (She got a big smile on her face.)  So I think your discussions at home are working!!

Great news!  And, to top it off, I am proud to say I haven't yelled at the dogs since Katie and I shook on it.  I've come very close a few times, but I stopped myself and took deep breaths, just as I've instructed Katie to do when her classmates get on her nerves.  

And guess what?  The dogs, sure, they still bark.  That's what dogs do.  But people don't.  I'm proud to say the human-canine behavior balance has been restored to the Carleton household.

Monday, January 14, 2013

This Ambiguous Anniversary

My brother Pat died two years ago today.  My blog is on fire.  I miss him like it was just yesterday.  I can't believe my writing is getting all this attention.  He was too young when he let himself slip away from this earth.  I am so proud of myself for expending tremendous emotional energy to write this blog.  He said he was ready to join his wife's side in heaven.  I am so proud of myself for sticking with my commitment to writing for my mental health.  She died just a week before he found out he was dying of liver failure.  Because the more I write about my own experiences with mental illness--and mental wellness--the better I feel.  Pat wasn't done grieving his wife's death yet.  I hope my stories inspire others to shrug off the stigma.  The doctor asked Pat if he wanted a liver transplant.  There is no shame in either dark pain or golden elation.  He said no.  But my confidence slips from time to time leaving me thinking, "What's the use?"  How could we expect him to make the choice to stop drinking and take the doctor's offer of a second chance while he was grieving his wife's death?  I've thought, "I'm not a real writer unless I'm published."  So he left us two years ago tonight.  But I am.  I'm sad but I don't blame him. I'm self-published.  I miss him.  Writing is about reaching out, sharing feelings with others who feel them too.  I love him.  Each time I click that big orange Publish button on my blog, I feel like a real writer.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sometimes Screwups

Harriet Lerner is my favorite psychologist.  Her book, The Dance of Anger, changed my life.  Slogging through my post-adolescent psychological murk took outside help.  I turned to Lerner's wise words.  She taught me that it's not selfish to take care of myself.  I could not be where I am today emotionally if I hadn't read Lerner's book in my early twenties.

I'm middle-aged now and I still follow Dr. Lerner's advice.  I follow my favorite psychologist on social media.   Today she shared her latest blog post from Psychology Today, The Truth About Your IQ.  It was like she answered some question about myself I didn't even know I had asked.

I'm not terribly concerned about my own IQ, but I do get performance anxiety big time.  I overcome it mostly by sticking with things I'm comfortable with.  I've worked at the library for coming up on twenty years, for example.  And for the most part, I've felt good about my job.  Good at my job.  Happy to find a good fit.

But lately I'm starting to feel a bit incompetent.  Nothing major, but I certainly don't feel like I know as much as I should know for someone who's worked somewhere since we still used DOS-based email and reference books.  Here's the deal.  We've had a lot of technological advancements in the last few years and I'm getting to the point where my battery feels like it will no longer hold a charge.  I do OK when I'm at work, but I get home and I'm exhausted and crabby from pretending to know what the hell I'm doing all day.  With a smile on my face.

I remember when I was still living at home and Mom would come home from work, tired and cranky.  She worked too hard and didn't take enough breaks during the day.  I vowed to take better care of myself when I got a job.  I would never eat lunch at my desk or skip my breaks.  Me-time is rejuvenating so I can go back inside and kick some customer service butt.

But lately, since there's all this new stuff I'm learning for my job, I feel like I'm slower than ever before.  I can do it.  I can muddle through.  But I have to check and recheck my work.  I have to stay focused and keep trying and figure things out.  No breaks.

But I can't do that to myself.  I deserve a short walk around the park to clear my head and pump the blood through my body.  Even though I'm used to absorbing new information painlessly that doesn't mean I'm some kind of genius.  I've just surrounded myself in an atmosphere where my kind of thinking can thrive.   Now the atmosphere has WiFi and I have to troubleshoot why it's not working.  I'm having to study hard to learn things that I'm not naturally talented at, so I feel like an impostor.  I feel like a dummy who's somehow fooled all the jokers around her into thinking she's smart.

Stop it.  I can't do that to myself.  I need to face the fact that sometimes I'm going to fall behind on a learning curve.  I'm going to have to admit I need a little extra time to catch on to some things.  And that's OK.

Next time I experience performance anxiety, I must remind myself of these wise words from my favorite psychologist:

For example, I happen to do work that is socially valued and economically rewarded in the mainstream culture. But some years back, when I joined some colleagues to lead a seminar for the Colorado Outward Bound Program, down the Yampa and Green Rivers, I learned how it felt to be the least competent person in a work group. I had no outdoor skills and was slowest to learn them. I had difficult mastering everything, from starting a fire to tying our gear securely into the raft to controlling my anxiety. Had it been an option, my colleagues surely would have voted me off the river.

As the week progressed, and the wilderness became my "real world," I understood that if I lived in this world on a daily basis, I would not see myself as a smart person. Had I been born in a different historical time, where the skills that were valued were the ones I didn't have, I would have to struggle so much harder to value myself. I might well have felt permanently inept and inferior, rather than just temporarily stupid in an area I could tell myself didn't really count.  

--Harriet Lerner, The Truth About Your IQ

It's inspiring to discover your heroes are sometimes screwups too.  I love hearing stories of people I look up to feeling insecure or intimidated.  It's not schadenfreude.  That's how I feel when someone I dislike makes an ass of him or herself.  We need a word for "feeling glad when you find out someone you admire is imperfect, just like you."  Too often our society only celebrates victories and jobs well done.  I say let's also celebrate our failures and jobs muddled through so we can inspire each other to live with more balance and less self-criticism.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Moderation Is the Key

Seems like lots of people are talking about the downside of marijuana prohibition these days.  It's not surprising in our more polticially progressive atmosphere since the November 2012 election.  Open, honest communication is the best way to raise awareness of unjust laws that ruin people's lives.  Gay people no longer feel compelled to stay inside the closet.  Neither should pot smokers.  Come out!  It's a breath of fresh air.

I wrote this blog after seeing the phenomenal video Breaking the Taboo a month ago when Mayor Cory Booker shared it on his Facebook page.  The film argues that ending the global drug war is a humanitarian issue.


To Ban Ki-moon and all Heads of State:

We call on you to end the war on drugs and the prohibition regime, and move towards a system based on decriminalisation, regulation, public health and education. This 50 year old policy has failed, fuels violent organised crime, devastates lives and is costing billions. It is time for a humane and effective approach.

Mayor Booker was at it again yesterday.  I awoke to find he'd shared this provocative video from one of my favorite writers on the planet, Dan Savage:

And now liberals Cory Booker and Dan Savage have been joined by a conservative.  Leave it to pot to bring feuding people together in an a political Kumbaya.  Four days ago on CNN conservative writer David Frum jumped on the decriminalization band wagon, despite his opposition to legalizing the plant.  Frum joined the board of the organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana which "rejects the 'war on drugs' model."

It agrees that we don't want to lock people up for casual marijuana use --or even stigmatize them with an arrest record.

Frum goes on to argue, however, that just because he thinks we should quit locking up users, marijuana should not be legalized because it is harmful.  Two days later CNN ran another op-ed piece, this one from psychiatrist David L. Nathan, laying out his reasons why we should not just decriminalize possession for nonviolent offenders, but legalize the plant for recreational use by adults over twenty-one, like we do with alcohol.

Nathan writes,

I agree with much of what he says about pot's potential harm, especially for the young and the psychiatrically ill. Like Frum, I am a father who worries about my kids getting sidetracked by cannabis before their brains have a chance to develop. But I am also a physician who understands that the negative legal consequences of marijuana use are far worse than the medical consequences.

That reminds me of a great quote from President Jimmy Carter to Congress on August 2, 1977:

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are they should be changed.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use.

That was in 1977.  In 2011 the spry President Carter wrote this op-ed piece for the New York Times arguing to call off the global drug war:

At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!
Some of this increase has been caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws. But about three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980. 

My friends who support pot prohibition say they do it for the kids.  They want to keep kids away from marijuana.  They argue the easiest way to do that is to point out using marijuana is a crime.  As Frum says:

Yet as a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I've found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: "Marijuana is illegal.  Stay away."  I think many other parents have found the same thing.

To me, that's lazy parenting and it turns marijuana into forbidden fruit.  Kids are way more capable of understand complexity than we give them credit.  Our species bit into the tree of knowledge of good and evil long ago.  Let's forgive ourselves already.  It's now up to humanity to learn how to do the right thing not because we've been told to by The Supreme Being, or by Congress, but because we know inside it's the right thing to do.  Similarly, I want my child to make decisions about her health not because she'll get punished by an outside authority figure if she chooses unhealthy habits, but because she pays attention to her body and treats herself well.

I do not allow my six-year-old to consume caffeine, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, cigarettes, and most pharmaceuticals.  When she sees me drinking a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or popping an aspirin, I talk to her about why she can't have these substances but I can.  When she asks questions about the grownups she loves in our extended family drinking diet pop or smoking cigarettes, I talk to her about why these substances aren't healthy in excess for even adults, but that they're very unhealthy for children with their immature bodies.  She understands that there is a difference between what adults and kids can consume without getting sick.  And she understands that most grownups are capable of making educated decisions about what they put into their bodies.

If Katie asks why people she loves drink coffee, pop, and booze, and smoke and pop pills that can make us sick, I ask her why she eats cookies and jumps on the bed even though she could get cavities or fall on her head.  It's not nice to judge other people's bad habits until you've eliminated all of your own.  And good luck with that.  Katie understands that moderation seems to be the key to health.  She watched Will and me continue to drink moderately while my brother drank himself to death.  She knows if she eats five cookies she'll get a tummy ache, but one cookie makes her feel just fine.  She listens to me when I say, "Whew, that's enough coffee for me today!" when I'm running around the house like a crazy person as well as when I say, first thing in the morning, "Honey, slow down with the questions until I've had a cup of coffee."   

I don't think the threat of our government locking her up in jail is what's going to keep my kid from consuming unhealthy things, Mr. Frum.  To me, the most effective way to raise a healthy kid is to talk talk talk, openly, about all kinds of issues, and to set an example of healthy living through moderation.  Especially when it comes to parenting.

When Katie's a teenager, when it's developmentally common, I expect her to become curious about partaking of substances our society has deemed appropriate for adults only.  I hope to handle her experimentation as even-handedly as my parents did with me.  Mom believed in laissez-faire parenting.  I could pretty much do as I pleased.  As long as I was in the safety of our home, she didn't mind if I had a glass of wine or a beer, although I hated the taste of beer back then.  

For my 14th birthday I asked if we could eat at my favorite Chinese restaurant.  I felt very cosmopolitan.  Back then Chinese was still considered an ethnic food so when you went into a Chinese restaurant you sat down and ordered something you'd never heard of and ate with chopsticks and it was a big ta-do.  Unlike when you choose macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets and self-serve ice cream off the buffet at most Chinese restaurants in the 'burbs today.  

For my 14th birthday I also asked for a bottle of pink champagne.  After our exotic meal out, we came home and Mom and Dad and I raised our glasses of bubbly to toast my existence.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.  Maybe from the tipsy feeling I got drinking champagne at such a young age, but also from the warm feeling of my parents trusting me to figure out ways not to fuck up my fragile life too much.  

It wasn't just Mom, although she was the leader of the hands-off approach to raising us kids.  I talk pretty openly about what an asshole my dad was when I was a teenager, but he was also incredibly enlightened in two ways.  When our family first moved to affluent Johnson County, KS when I was twelve, my mom suggested we drive through Mission Hills where the richest of the rich live so I could see the mansions.  Dad said no.

"I'd rather drive Becky through the ghetto to show her how well-off we are by comparison."  As it is when someone who normally shouts starts whispering and it makes you pay closer attention to them, rare moments of empathy like this from my normally self-centered, crotchety old dad stuck with me and I'm thankful for them.

The other wonderful thing my dad did for me was this.  In the prehistoric days before cell phones, when I was about fifteen and began going out with my friends at night, my dad handed me a quarter and told me to hold on to it and use it to call home from a payphone if I ever got stuck somewhere and everyone was too drunk to drive home.  

"Your mother and I don't want you to drink when you're out, but if you do, don't drive.  Call us."

This was a pretty powerful statement coming from the guy who yelled at me if I got caught sitting in his chair in front of the TV.  I didn't miss much, not getting to watch the entire episode of an All In the Family rerun, since it was my own private Archie Bunker who was kicking me off his throne.  Our living room was All In the Family all the time, not because that was what was on TV.  Dad was Archie.  Mom was Edith.  When I was young I was whiny Gloria for sure, but in my teenage years I evolved into Meathead.

And just like Archie Bunker, just when you'd start to think he was a complete and total asshole, my dad would go and open his mind for a bit.

Dad wasn't all bad.  For the most part he was terrible with kids, but he understood that kids like to party with their friends.  He told stories about his crazy teenage days of literally falling out of moving cars and taking over the wheel of his drunk buddy who passed out while driving along the highway.  His own father was an alcoholic who, before he died at age 48, when my dad was just 22, used to have the bartender call home regularly to have my dad come pick him up when he was too drunk to stumble home unassisted.  Dad kept a six pack of Hamms beer in our fridge, but I never saw him drink any.  Some days, hot-headed and home from a grueling day at work, I wished he would drink one.  In moderation.

Alcoholics for the most part annoy me, not because I can't empathize with them, but because I feel helpless around them.  I want to help them and there's not a lot you can do other than live your own life as well as you can and hope they learn from your example.  But that kind of a holier-than-thou attitude makes me uncomfortable too.  Who am I to judge someone when I have so much work to do on myself?  So I just feel helpless around drunks.  I am reminded too much of my brother who drank himself to death two years ago.  The anniversary is in a couple of days.  He's been on my mind a lot lately.  I look at his beer stein our family picked out for his ashes.  I pour myself one glass of wine for the night.  I thank God I can get by on just one.

Some days I don't, though, and I have more, and the next day I don't feel so well, so I keep that feeling in mind the next time I feel like tipping back one too many.  

When Pat was dying of alcohol induced liver failure, I asked him why he gave up smoking pot.  I have few memories from childhood of my brother where he is not surrounded by smoke.  As he lay there dying, he was still surrounded by smoke, but not the skunky kind of my youth.  He took a drag off his Camel non-filter and explained that he had to give up pot to pass the drug tests they made him take to get his carpentry jobs.  They didn't mind if he drank every night, as long as he'd show up at work the next day sober enough to do his job.  

When Pat found out he was dying, he called in sick.  I was there when the head of the company came by the house to say goodbye.  All the bosses and his co-workers chipped in to buy Pat gifts and cards that wished him well and told him how much it meant to them that they got to work with him.  Never again.  Now Pat's dead.

We're all going to die.  For me, that's reason enough to make each living day the fullest, healthiest, most satisfying day I can, the way I see fit.

Why do people drink coffee, pop, and booze, and smoke and pop pills that can make us sick?  Who knows?  The same question could be asked about why people become addicted to legal prescription medication despite bad side-effects like Health Ledger, Michael Jackson, and other celebrities who died of overdoses to medication their doctors prescribed to them experienced.  We don't have answers to all the questions about human health and wellness.  We don't know why some people become addicted to things and some people don't, or why some people become addicted to one thing but not another.  But keeping pot in the shadows of the black market doesn't help us study it.  The war against pot is not working so it's time to try something new.  Keeping it on the black market is causing more harm than good.