Friday, March 28, 2014

Bernie Sanders Goes off on Greed

--Senator Bernie Sanders A Threat to American Democracy

The above video is 22:11 minutes of gold from Senator Bernie Sanders. Here are my favorite quotes:

"You want to know why people are angry in this country? Typical, that's the median, male worker in this country made 283 dollars less last year than he did 44 YEARS AGO."

If that's not enough to piss you off, try this one:

"From 2009-2012, 95% of all new income earned in this country went to the top 1%."

Attention, watch out for righteous indignation ahead:

"The top 25 hedge fund managers made last year over 24 billion dollars...That is enough to pay the salaries of more than 425,000 public school teachers."

And the best point Senator Sanders makes is this one:

"The billionaire class is going to war against working Americans. You would ask yourself, if you had 80 billion dollars do you really need to invest in the political process so that you can elect candidates who will give you even more tax breaks? Do you really have to invest in right-wing candidates who are out there trying to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, nutrition, food stamps, education."

"Why, if somebody has 80 billion dollars, are they working so hard for more tax breaks for themselves and for more cuts for the middle class and working class in terms of programs that people desperately need? Frankly I think this is not an economic issue. I think it's a psychiatric issue. I think it is an issue that suggests that people are simply power hungry they need more and more and more and I think that that is a very sad state of affairs."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

John 3:16

When Will and I got married, our pastor friend Nancy gave us a gift, a modern-interpretation of The Bible called The Message.

"Oh, cool. A book on massage," Will said, misreading the title as a handbook for couples who want to play together, not a handbook for couples who want to pray together.

"It's The MESS-age, not The Muh-sage," I explained.

Will looked at me, confused.

"It's from Pastor Nancy. It's an interpretation of The Bible," I said.

"Ooooooh," Will said, finally understanding.

Will grew up in a conservative Assemblies of God church, but he stopped attending as a teenager. Now, whenever Katie or I invite him to our progressive Presbyterian church, Will politely declines with a simple, "No thanks. I've had enough church."

On our first date, as we sat in a bar waiting for our movie to start, I asked Will what he thinks happens to us when we die. Will took a big drink from his Boulevard Wheat beer, licked his upper lip, and said, in his slow, steady manner, "Well, since energy cannot be created nor destroyed, I think our bodies decay in the ground and the atoms form to create something new."

Phew! I was so relieved to hear such a reasonable response from him. A minute ago he'd informed me that he grew up in an Assemblies of God church, a church I didn't know much about other than there was one across the street from our house when I was a teenager, but we never set foot inside it. My dad called it a "holy roller" church in the same tone he used when he bragged about being the first person in his family to not grow up on a farm. My parents were both accountants. White collar, middle-class, white people who, if they bothered going to church at all, attended ones so boring you didn't have to worry about missing out on sleeping in on Sunday morning. You could snooze in the pews. As a teenager, I mostly stayed away from church, fearing I'd either die of boredom or spontaneously combust as my heathen ass waltzed through the door. Either way, I figured I was going to hell.

It sucked believing what jerks like Jerry Falwell and jocks at my school said to me, that I was going to burn in hell for being gay. I wasn't even all-the-way gay. From the time I was about four I recognized that I got crushes on both boys and girls. But no matter. Bisexuals burn in hell just like gay people do. It's not like we get to spend half our time in heaven and half our time in hell. When jocks were screaming, "Dykes!" at my friends and me in the hallways at school, they didn't say, "But we only hate Becky half-way since she sometimes likes guys."

My mom read The Bible pretty much daily. She often read parts to me, or told me about stories she'd recently read. She also told me stories she'd read from her Danielle Steel novels and stories she'd seen on her favorite TV show "Dynasty". Mom made sure my literary, pop culture, and spiritual up-bringing was well balanced.

We had a fancy Bible when I was a kid. As far as I could tell, no one read it. It had empty space in the front where you could write in your family tree. I'd open it from time to time, but I didn't read it. I mostly just fondled the gold leaf edges and flipped the pages fast to release a cloud of dust butterflies.

My mom's favorite translation of The Bible was simply called The Book. She had a paperback copy. One of the few books we owned. My parents are big fans of reading. My dad's also a big fan of not spending money on books when you can get them for free at the public library. Which explains how someone who grew up in a home where we owned few books turned out to be such a prodigious reader.

I never got around to reading Pastor Nancy's gift to us, though. Neither did Will. We weren't churchgoers at the time. We didn't find our morality from within one book but from many, and from living life, and loving our friends and wanting to make this world a better place. The Message sat on our bookshelf unread, until two years later we found it was just the perfect size to prop up the busted sliding gate on baby Katie's hand-me-down crib.

Katie's crib is now in our basement storage room. Katie, now seven, asked if we could go to church last fall. I'm always up for a new adventure, so I said sure, why not. I had no idea I'd like it so much. I had no idea I'd get to the point in my life, at age 43, where I'd have the urge to sit down and actually read the whole Bible. So now that I'm ready to read Pastor Nancy's gift, I can't find it. I'm not speaking metaphorically. I literally can't find the book. It's probably inside a plastic bin full of Katie's toddler clothes. There's no way in hell I have time to go through all that stuff. I'm gonna have to honor my father's ways and go check out a copy from the library.

This is a long ramble to explain that I had no idea my husband speaks Bible Quotese. He gave up church twenty years ago. We don't live in a house where a copy of The Bible can be readily found. We're far from theologians in this house.

I'd long been well aware of Will's gift for speaking Movie Quotese, but it wasn't until yesterday, twelve years into our relationship, that I found out he's not just bilingual but trilingual.

We had twenty minutes before Katie and I had to leave for Gay Christian Fellowship at church. Will doesn't go with us. He loves gay people. He's just "had enough church," especially enough to not go on a Tuesday evening.

It's called "Gay" Christian fellowship, but it's open to all people regardless of sexual orientation. The idea is for people from the congregation to share a meal with LGBT people who have been traditionally shunned from the church. Katie likes to go because I let her drink Sprite.

To kill time before we had to leave, I decided to scoop the litter box. I grabbed a plastic bag out of our bag drawer. The first bag I found was a bright yellow bag from Forever 21. I've never set foot in the store. At 43, I've known for 22 years that I would not be forever 21. My friend Marty sent me home with some of her girls' used books to give to Katie, and that was the bag she sent them in.

I dropped the bag and it landed handle side down. I saw at the bottom of the bag something written in bold black letters.

"John 3:16? Is Forever 21 one of those religious stores like Hobby Lobby or Mardell," I asked.

Will shrugged his shoulders.

"What's Forever 21?" Katie asked.

"It's a store at the mall. I think they sell clothes that young women like to wear," I explained.

"Oooooh, like 21 year old women?" Katie asked.

"And people who want to look like they're 21, " I said. "I wonder what John 3:16 says? Something about fashion? Is that the part that says not to wear polyester? Where's that tiny New Testament that guy gave you last year at the Trunk or Treat party?" I asked Katie.

Before she could answer, Will quietly interrupted:

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I was stunned. I stood there speechless for a moment, a true miracle if you ask Will. I looked down and saw Katie's tiny New Testament on top of a pile of her art supplies, library books, and garage sale video tapes. I picked it up and said, "Is that really the Bible quote? Is that really how chapter, what is it--?" I asked, looking back at the bag, "--John 3:16--is that really how it goes?" I asked in disbelief.

I opened up the tiny New Testament  to John 3:16 and read the exact words:

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I looked up from the palm-sized book, my mouth agape, my eyes open wide in Will's direction. "How did you know that? I didn't know you know Bible quotes!"

"Nah. It's one of the most famous quotes from the Bible," Will waved his hand at me being impressed. "Everybody knows that one."

"I didn't know it!" I argued.

"Well, everybody who grew up going to church knows it," Will said. "It's famous. So famous, sometimes I feel like John 3:15 and John 3:17 are like 'fuck you, man' to John 3:16."

Oh dear Jesus, thank you for leading me to this hilarious man. A former Assemblies of God goer who is now an Agnostic who quotes Scripture. I love him.

The other day I asked Will if it bothers him that Katie and I are joining this church. He said no, not at all. It's not his thing, but he understands why we want to do it. Will is one of those people who is so comfortable with himself he isn't bothered by other people's differences. I love that about him. He's so steady and firm in his beliefs.

I am unsteady and more open to changing my beliefs. I like to try new things. I like to go on spiritual adventures. I feel bound up if my spirit isn't allowed the freedom to evolve and grow.

I don't feel silly saying such things either because I've got a steady, firm man on my side, no matter which path I take. I might call myself a Christian and Will might call himself an Agnostic, but really, we believe the same thing.

Back at the bar, on our first date, after Will so reasonably explained to me that since energy cannot be created nor destroyed, he thinks our bodies decay in the ground and the atoms form to create something new, I asked him, "What about our souls? Do you believe living things have something beyond their physical bodies?"

"Yes. I believe all people have a spirit. It's all energy. And that energy flows on after we die. It transforms."

I fell in love with Will right then. That exact moment. Everything made sense. I felt so complete. I finally understood the universe, for only a millisecond, and yet somehow that was enough.

"That's what I believe too!" I said. "I never thought of it that way, but that's exactly what I believe!"

Our beliefs remain the same, but how we live them is different. Will likes to work on Sundays. Earn a decent living for his family, for his house, for our security. I love that about him. He makes me feel safe and loved. But I prefer to reach out to the broader world and write and share my beliefs with anyone who will listen. My beliefs reach out and Will's reach in, and both ways are just right for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


When I was a kid, I had a close friendship with Jesus. For most of my adult years I thought of my childhood relationship with Jesus as quaint and cute, but irrational. I told myself that when I was a kid, Jesus was my imaginary friend. The best imaginary friend in the universe, I might add, but then I'd feel guilty for so smugly displaying my team pride. Other kids around the globe probably think Mohammad, or Buddha, or The Ghost of Mr. Rogers is the best imaginary friend in the universe.

Now I'm starting to question my disbelief. Now I'm starting to think maybe I knew more about my relationship with Jesus when I was just a silly kid than I have for the past twenty years as a big, know-it-all grown up. When I was just a silly kid, I felt that Jesus was real, that he walked with me, sat beside me, no, inside me, wherever I'd go. By the time I was a big, know-it-all grown up, I suppressed that feeling.

Now that my daughter and our friend Sarah have led me to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, it feels like I'm reconnecting with an old friend I'd long ago shunned in the name of explainable answers and facts and reason.

For most of my adult years I thought believers were weak-minded, unsophisticated, or lazy thinkers. Whenever I'd find out someone I knew was a regular church goer, k.d. lang's "Don't Be a Lemming Polka" would play in my head.

My seven-year-old daughter Katie and I have been attending church since last November. At first I kept going because Katie loves it and I was impressed with the social justice work these church members do. I figured I could attend but not get too into the whole Jesusy thing. I could find my place within the church community and use that platform to help me help others.

It's been four months now. Winter has turned into spring. Jesus was born and now he's preparing to die and be reborn, if you're into that story. Days are getting longer. There is more light in my life.

For many years I've been honored to receive compliments for my writing. People find out I'm largely uneducated about creative writing--I've had two creative writing classes in my life, in 9th and 10th grade, and I flunked the one in 10th grade because I was uber-angsty and refused to do what seemed to me to be busy work--and they ask me, "How did you learn how to write?"

I say, "I don't know. It's just like, I don't know. I don't really think about it. I just sit down and the words come out. I can't think about it too much or it stops the flow. Like how your fingers have your library card number memorized, but if you stop and try to think of what your number is without typing it out, you can't remember what it is."

With the deal with my library card number, I explain that as my subconscious brain has memorized my number from so much practice typing it over and over in the thirty years I've had it. With my writing ability, it feels more like a gift. Until I started this blog not quite three years ago, I did not have a regular writing habit. I journaled a lot as a teenager. I wrote awful poetry. I threw too many trees into the trash after reading the crap my soul had transferred with ink onto paper and trying not to vomit.

I'd get ideas for books I wanted to write, but I told myself I didn't have time for them. And I didn't. I worked full-time at the library. That's a good enough excuse right there. But I was also putting myself through college--albeit incredibly slowly: it took eleven years for me to finish all the requirements of a two-year Associates' degree. And I was working on myself. Using my library card number to check out tons of self-help books and fiction I could relate to about sexual abuse and dysfunctional families.

I'd beat myself up for not writing enough. It has been my one unyielding goal since I was thirteen years old: to be a writer. It's the only thing I ever felt really good at. I'd spent all of high school and much of my early adulthood being told by others that I wasn't living up to my potential. Especially by my dad, an accountant who could not understand why I'd want to work at a library and not get a job that makes lots of money. I mostly learned to ignore these outside critics and learned to do what felt right to me. What felt right to me was writing, so all those years I didn't have time for it I felt shitty about myself.

I realize now the reason I love to write so much is because it's when I'm the most in touch with God. I'm not disciplined enough to regularly pray or meditate or go for a walk in the woods, things other people do to get in touch with God. I realize now the reason I love to write so much is because it allows me to tap into my inner energy. It brings me back to the time in my life when I felt like Jesus was inside me, guiding me. About the same time I gave up my childhood friendship with Jesus, at age 13, I began writing. I realize now it's because it was the only way I felt comfortable tapping into my dormant faith.

For many years I could not explain how I did it, only that I didn't have time to do it often enough. Now I take the time each day to write, because it feels so good to tap into my faith. I no longer worry it will make me look like that crazy preacher man on the street corner that everybody jaywalks across the street to avoid walking by. I'm mature enough now to mostly ignore my critics. I just sit down and don't think about it too hard, and let my fingers transcribe what my old friend Jesus whispers from within me when I take time to listen. Our relationship has evolved from best friends to imaginary friends to teacher/transcriber.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Messy and Argumentative

During a visit with my mom recently, she said to me, "I like mess and disorder. I think I thrive on chaos."

That thought right there probably sums up my psychological makeup better than thirty years of head shrinking.

I feel out of place when I walk into a stark, clean home. I feel like I might trip and spill my drink or knock over a plant and grind dirt into the lush, ecru carpeting as I, in desperation, attempt to clean it up.

When your house looks like you said, "Fuck it!" years ago, I feel more at home.

When I was a kid, during the long, boring summers, Mom would let my friends and me leave our Barbie set-up out all summer long. In the living room. We didn't have real doll houses or cars. We used the living room furniture, shoe boxes, and wash cloths to furnish our Barbie's homes. It took us two hours just to set up. It would have been cruel of Mom to make us pick it up right after we had just gotten done setting up, when it was time for Stephanie or Sherry or Cristie to go home.

I learned balance not by taking gymnastics and walking along a beam, but by dodging the toys that littered my bedroom floor on my walk from the door to my bed at night.

On my report cards, I got plus signs for my enthusiasm for learning and my good behavior, but I got minus signs on "keeps neat and clean" and on some foreign word called "organization".

It doesn't bother me at all that our seven-year-old daughter has a messy room. It drives Will nuts. I do ask her to clean up her drawing/coloring/board game/books/chemistry set/other messes from the dining table before dinner so we can eat. That's practical. I expect her to take her plate to the sink when she's finished eating. That's polite. I nag at her to remove her shoes from the middle of the living room floor so someone doesn't trip over them. That's safe. But her room? To me, that's her business.

But since it drives Will nuts I try to abide by his requests. If he out-and-out tells Katie to clean her room, I gently shove her in that direction when she whines and moans about it.

"Don't you want your friends to be able to find all your toys because they're all together and ready to play with?" I ask, trying to show her how reasonable her dad is.

"My friends are here to play with me, not my toys," Katie says.

Oh boy. Messy and argumentative. It's like I'm raising a little Becky. Dear God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Professor Andrei Linde: What If I Believe In This Just Because It Is Beautiful?

Watch as Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprises Professor Andrei Linde, one of the authors of inflationary cosmology, with news that evidence now supports his 30-year-old theory about the beginning of the universe:

From Stanford University's YouTube account:

"Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprises Professor Andrei Linde with evidence that supports cosmic inflation theory. The discovery, made by Kuo and his colleagues at the BICEP2 experiment, represents the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the "first tremors of the Big Bang."

This quote especially resonates with me:

"This is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that is just overwhelms. Let's see. Let's just hope that it is not a trick. I always leave with this feeling of What if I'm tricked? What if I believe in this just because it is beautiful? What if? Yes. So, this is...very helpful to have evidence like that." --Professor Andrei Linde

Today let us celebrate our awesome universe and our incredible brains that continue questioning and exploring and seeking the truth.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Welcome to Kansas!

Saturday night:

Fire pit, our back yard

Mmm. Turkey dogs roasted over the fire pit

Sunday morning:

Only the Great Pyrenese dog wants to be in the back yard now.

Welcome to Kansas!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dear God, Please Forgive Fred Phelps

I hopped on Facebook to leave a link to my blog post about my personal faith statement. That's when I saw the news that Pastor Fred Phelps, Sr. of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is on his deathbed.

In the personal faith statement I was getting ready to post I say that this is one of my favorite biblical quotes:

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." --Matthew 5:44 NRSV

I immediately thought of this quote when I read that Fred Phelps is going to die. 

How can I love Fred Phelps and pray for him? He and his family and fellow church members have spent more than twenty years picketing funerals to protest our society's acceptance of homosexuality. They're the "God Hates Fags" folks. Seriously hateful, sick, and scary.

I assume if the death beds were turned and Fred Phelps found out I was dying, he'd come stand outside my house with his "God Hates Fags" protest signs. I can't know what's going on inside Fred Phelps' mind, but his actions tell me he would not be standing outside praying for me. 

The other day I watched a documentary about Ruby Bridges with my seven year old daughter Katie. This amazing little girl was the first black person in the south to integrate the public school system. Federal marshals had to escort this little first grader to and from school each day to protect her from the angry mob of white parents and other white community members standing in line shouting death threats at her.

One day Ruby is hesitating to come inside the school building. One of the federal marshals asks her what's taking so long. She says, "I usually pray for them when we're in the car, but I forgot to today, so I was praying for them now."

"Praying for who?" the marshal asks.

"The people out there. Like Jesus said to do."

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

If Ruby Bridges can pray for her enemies, I can too.

Dear God, please forgive Fred Phelps, bless him, and help him find peace. Amen.

My Personal Faith Statement

Katie and I have decided to join Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. We will get baptised and become new members on Sunday, March 30 during the 11:05 service. We'd love to see you sitting in one of the pews that day if you can make it.

In the new members class we were asked to express a personal faith statement. It could be a simple oral statement of our beliefs, or we could write it out and read it to the class. I decided to write mine out. I'm terrible at on-the-fly public speaking. I get nervous and shaky and my mind goes blank. When I'm speaking to people I don't know very well, I at least need prepared notes, and it's even better if I can just do a reading without having to look up from the page.

I had a week to write my personal faith statement, so of course I didn't start writing it until 9:30AM on the morning when we were due in Sunday School at 10:00AM. We live just five minutes from church, but still, after all the booze I drank last night I was really hoping to get a shower before I had to present myself in front of my peers at church. Nothing is worse than sitting in a pew next to someone and worrying if they're thinking "P.U." because they can smell the beer emanating from your pores.

I read once that some people procrastinate not because they're lazy slackers but because they're perfectionists. I like to present my slacker facade to the world,--oh I'm so laid back and easy going, no worries here--but what's really radiating from deep inside me is fear.

When I was twenty, one of my community college instructors who was also the music editor of a local paper offered me a writing job. I immediately turned him down.

"You have a fear of success!" he said to me.
"Or is it a fear of failure?" I asked.
"It's the same thing, really. They both come from the same source: insecurity," he said to me.

It's true. How does a person who has not yet found inner peace share her story with the outside world? I had far too much work to do on myself to begin a writing career when I was twenty years old.

When I as forty years old, I thought I was finally ready for my writing career to begin. My brother had just died of alcoholic liver failure. I had spent twenty years "working on myself" and was in a really good place. I had long ago forgiven my brother and his friend for sexually abusing me when I was a young child, but I had not shared our secret with too many people outside the inner circle of my close friends and family, and the secrecy weighed heavily on me. It's hard to let go of shame when you can't express it openly. I decided to write about it.

I began this blog in July 2011 with two goals in mind:

1) Improve my mental health and help others by openly expressing myself and sharing stories of my struggles and how I've learned to make peace with them.

2) Impress a literary agent with my amazing way with words so that she or he would email me a contract, find me a publisher, and I would become a rich and famous author who travels the world and heals it one book reading at a time.

So far so good with goal number one. I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to hear someone tell me that one of my blog posts has helped them feel better. I feel like responding that makes both of us. Expressing myself is healing in and of itself. Knowing that my stories help other people is a blessing beyond measure.

Several people at my new church, after reading one of my blog posts, have told me I have a calling. A calling? Holy shit. The pressure. Now I'm not just writing for my own mental health, or for my readers' health, but for God itself? You've got to be kidding me. I can't do that!

But wait a minute. Maybe I can.

I'm no longer the insecure twenty year old turning down a writing gig. I've grown more confident over the years. Perhaps too confident in my self. Now that I've decided to join Grace Covenant, I realize I'm no longer the forty-year old who so arrogantly jumped to conclusions that she could take a horrible event and turn it into gold and make herself a star. That's really shitty now that I think about it. I'm sorry, Brother Pat. I hope you can forgive me. (I know you can.)

It's been three years since my brother died. I'm no longer ashamed to share our secret, but I'm also no longer interested in turning our painful story into literary gold.

My mental health improves each day. I've met the objectives of goal number one. But I think it's time to retire goal number two. Instead of focusing on the gold in my pocket and being a shimmering star, it's time to focus on another kind of light. It's time to acknowledge that something bigger than me guides me to write. Something bigger than me shows me the way. Something bigger than me heals me and helps me heal others. That's a scary concept for a sexual abuse survivor. When you're a young child who is abused by an older person, you associate "big" with something to fear.

For many years I didn't fear God's bigness. I said fuck you to it.

I can take care of myself, I thought.

I don't need anyone else. I am strong and brave and smart and independent, I said.

But now I think I was wrong. I don't begrudge myself my former agnostic beliefs. I think they were a necessary path for me to travel to get to where I am today.

So where am I?

I'm ready to profess my faith. Here's what I read to my new member's group today. This is the reason I stunk like beer in the pew this morning. Instead of showering, I was busy transcribing the Holy Spirit's message into my personal faith statement:

I got drunk last night with a cultural "Assemblies of God" Christian who, as an adult, now calls himself an agnostic, and a cultural Muslim who, as an adult, now calls herself an atheist--my husband and our good friend Sarah B. This is a long ramble to explain my haste in putting together this sloppy personal faith statement.

My haste and my sloppiness, as well as my actions of getting drunk with an agnostic and an atheist, are an apt metaphor for my beliefs. God guides me in unusual ways.

I believe in God, the Creator of the universe. Because energy cannot be created nor destroyed, I believe all living beings are not static entities that are born and then die, but beings filled with this energy that neither begins nor ends but continues on its path. When we humans die, our physical bodies are eaten by detritivores and become one with the earth again. Worm poop is beautiful. Our souls, our Spirit, our inner energy--whatever you want to call it--continues its path in a different incarnation. I do not know what to call it. Reincarnation. Not necessarily. Just molecules of energy continuing to beat its path.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth preached to us a way of living together in harmony on this planet. I do not believe that a person must follow The Bible literally or slap labels onto him or herself in order to be a "good" person or to achieve eternal life in the afterlife. I believe all life flows on its path. I do not believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell. I believe these concepts have been used (and misused) to encourage people to act morally by those that are in power.

I have decided to join a Christian church and slap a label on myself because I am tired of other so-called Christians hogging the label. Too often in contemporary society when we hear the word "Christian" it is followed by news of hate and judgment, not love and peace. I would like to change that cultural perception by calling myself a Christian while living an example of love and peace. I want to help my fellow humans--and other living inhabitants of our planet. I think joining this inclusive, loving, Christ-like community will help me help others.

My two favorite quotes from The Bible, which I try to follow, are these:

1. Matthew 22:36-40 NRSV
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

2. Matthew 5:44 NRSV
"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I believe all living beings are filled with an inner energy that connects us all to each other. Humans can tap into their inner energy through prayer, or meditation, or introspection. You can call this The Holy Spirit or inner energy. Whatever its name, it guides me each day if I listen to it. This inner energy has led me here.

In Peace and Love,
Becky Carleton

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Healthy Human Chow

Since we got our Roku box, the show we've been binge-watching as a family the most has been "Futurama". It's hard to find things all three of us like. Katie, at seven--understandably--generally only likes kids shows. She'll watch grown up shows if they're not "too scary" or "too boring". Unfortunately, most of the grown up shows Will likes, Katie thinks are "too scary" and most of the grown up shows I like, Katie thinks are "too boring". 

But all three of us love "Futurama", the animated science fiction satire about a New York City pizza delivery guy named Fry who is accidentally cryogenically frozen on New Year's Eve 1999 and, after thawing out on New Year's Eve 2999, finds a job at his great (x30) nephew Professor Farnsworth's interplanetary delivery company.

One of our favorite gags on the show is Bachelor Chow, a human food product advertised in the 31st century like Purina Dog Chow, a dog food product, is advertised in the 21st century. Food in a bag you just pour out, add water to make gravy, and eat! Voila! Brilliant.

Over the years, as a person who hates to cook, I've often made jokes about how I wish they made Human Chow. When I met Will and he turned me on to "Futurama," I knew it was my kind of show when I saw the first ad for Bachelor Chow. 

"That's an awesome idea! I wish there really was such a thing as Bachelor Chow. But that's kinda sexist, so I'd name it Human Chow!" I said, sitting on Will's futon next to him.

"They do make Human Chow, didn't you know?" Will teased. "It's called Reese's Puffs."

For a long time after that, we'd always scope out a box of Reese's Puffs whenever we'd take a trip to the grocery store. But in the last few years we've been trying to eat healthier, so except for special occasions, we rarely eat our beloved Human Chow anymore.

Until today. I was shopping at Whole Foods. You know, the one that advertises itself as the country's healthiest grocery store. Since it advertises itself that way, it must be right, right? There, in the cereal aisle, to my surprise, I see they now sell a healthier alternative to Reese's Puffs:

Healthy Human Chow
Now available at Whole Foods Market!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ruby Bridges

I became an aunt when I was ten. I've been baby-crazy ever since. Around this same time, I gave up begging my mom for another sibling and began planning my own motherhood. My friends and I would draw pictures of our future families. Mine always included a husband and our ten children. I began babysitting when I was twelve. When I was in high school, I helped a woman who ran an in-home daycare when I'd get out of school in the afternoon. I was a nanny for two different families during two summer breaks from college.

When I found out I was pregnant with Katie, I began fantasizing about how wonderful motherhood would be. I was so excited to be a mom, to care for and love a person from my own body, to have someone I can teach with enthusiasm all the things in the world that interest me.

What I didn't expect until I actually had a baby is that kids teach parents just as much, if not more, than we teach them. I'm constantly amazed by the things Katie teaches me. I hear other people complain about "kids today". Each generation complains about the next generation. What a bunch of lazy, ungrateful, moody, ego-centric beasts kids are today. I disagree. I see our society evolving into a better place year after year after year. Music and fashion changes, but kids are still kids: open-minded, open-hearted, ready to make the world a better place.

Since I was a kid myself I've had a fascination with African-American history and the Civil Rights Movement. As a white kid growing up in the self-segregated suburbs of Kansas City, I had few black friends. My first experiences with black friends came from mostly TV when I was a young child and books in my teens. Sesame Street. The Electric Company. Soul Train. Good Times. The Jeffersons. The Cosby Show. Black Like Me. The Color Purple. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Most of my experiences with black people came from my own interest in their stories. Not from school. Not from my real, day-to-day life. Still, compared to most white people I knew, I felt quite knowledgeable about African-American history and The Civil Rights Movement.

Then came my daughter, who teaches me every day that just when you think you know so much, you find there is so much more to learn about life. My seven-year-old spawn brought home this drawing she made at school:

"Ruby Bridges" by Katie Carleton, age 7

"Who's that?" I asked, pointing to the brown-skinned girl in the pink dress.

"That's Ruby Bridges," Katie explained.

"Who's Ruby Bridges?" I asked. Sometimes I ask Katie questions I already know the answer to, just to see what she thinks on her own, but this time I honestly had no idea who she was talking about.

"Ruby Bridges was a girl. Is a girl. A woman. I think she's still alive today," Katie explained.

"Oh yeah. How do you know her?" I asked.

"I learned about her at school," Katie said.

I scanned my brain for any information I could retrieve on Ruby Bridges, but it kept sending me that annoying "buffering" message. I think it's time to defrag my brain.

"What did Ruby Bridges do?" I asked, feeling rather frustrated with my ignorance.

"She was a girl. A six year old girl. And she was very brave..." Katie began.

"Oh! Was she one of the first black kids to go to an all-white school?" I guessed. 

"Yes!" Katie exclaimed like I'd won the game-show prize.

"Oh, cool." I picked up Katie's drawing and studied it some more.

Katie pointed to the white men in the drawing and said, "Those are the marshals who had to walk her to school so she wouldn't get killed!"

I dropped the drawing on the table and clasped my hands over my mouth. "Oh my gosh!" My voice was muffled, so I uncovered my mouth. "That is horrible! Why would anyone want to kill her?"

This, I already knew the answer to, but I wanted to see how much Katie had been taught already at school.

"I don't know!" Katie exclaimed. 

But she did know. She pointed to the background of the drawing, the peachy-white blob with black squiggly lines and two squares that say "witie oney" and "kill RB!"

"Those are the mobs of white people in the background," Katie explained. "Those are their signs that say, white only and Kill Ruby Bridges."

At first I didn't know what to say. I was thinking to myself, Wow, Katie's too young to know about these horrors. But then I realized Katie's a year older than Ruby Bridges herself when those marshals had to protect her from the angry white mob. I said, "Can you imagine how horrible that would be to have grown-ups threatening you for just trying to go to school?"

"I know!" Katie said. "She was very brave."

"Yes, very. Wouldn't that be crazy if the black kids at your school weren't allowed to go to your school just because they're black?" I asked.

We still live in the suburbs of Kansas City, but they are not the same suburbs of Kansas City I grew up in. When I was Katie's age, all the kids on my block were white, and probably 95% of the kids at school were white. The others were Asian. I had one friend in sixth grade whose mom is white and dad is black. This biracial girl was the closest thing to being my first, real life black friend. 

Katie's suburbs are different. There's tons more diversity. About half the kids in her class have white skin and about half the kids have brown skin. Katie has a range of friends of many racial and ethnic backgrounds. My school never taught us about African-American history or the Civil Rights Movement when we were in second grade. I don't remember learning about it at school until ninth grade, and even then it felt progressive. This was the same year the TV news was reporting that Arizona Governor Bruce Babbit, a Democrat, ordered the state to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday by executive order and later reported the executive order was repealed as soon as his Republican successor, Evan Mecham, took office. My lily-white ass, sitting in my bedroom reading Black Like Me, felt like a radical act in 1986.

Now, in 2014, my second grader is teaching me about key figures in the Civil Rights Movement.


I've since done some research on Ruby Bridges. Here's a good introductory biographical article about her courageous life. This part blew my mind:

Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach Ruby. She was from Boston and a new teacher to the school. "Mrs. Henry," as Ruby would call her even as an adult, greeted her with open arms. Ruby was the only student in Henry's class, because parents pulled or threatened to pull their children from Ruby's class and send them to other schools. For a full year, Henry and Ruby sat side-by-side at two desks working on Ruby's lessons. She was very loving and supportive of Ruby, helping her not only with her studies, but also the difficult experience of being ostracized.

Ruby Bridges was the first black girl to attend an all-white school in the South. In 1960. Not that long ago. I never learned about her in my schools growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, fifty-four years after the fact, my seven-year old daughter teaches me her great lesson.

Parents: listen to your children. They are wise, with uncluttered minds, ready to learn and to teach what they know.

Ruby Bridges, age 6, escorted from school by US Federal Marshals, November 1960
image source: Wikipedia 


"OK. Spring Break begins now," I announced as we entered the house after our walk home after school. "What's the first thing you want to do on your Spring Break?"

Katie pointed her finger to her chin and thought a moment. "I wanna watch 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2'" she said, then took it back. "No, I wanna watch 'Ruby Bridges.'"

Katie walked over and put in the DVD that I had brought home from the library the other day after she showed me her drawing of Ruby Bridges. 

I had intended on writing while Katie was watching the movie, but I became entralled by it--a great story of a brave girl and the faith and family that help her overcome the overwhelming racism and hatred inflicted upon her by white neighbors in New Orleans in 1960. I highly recommend it for parents who are looking for an inspirational film of faith and courage to watch with your kids.

Katie drew these pictures after we finished watching the movie:

"My Hero Ruby Bridges" by Katie Carleton, age 7

"I Hate Segregation!!!!!" by Katie Carleton, age 7

Monday, March 10, 2014

Afghan Girls, Bob Ross, and Will Carleton

As I've written before, I have severe musophobia. It's not like I just have an over-active startle reflex or something. It's a severe psychological disorder. When I see a snake or a spider or something similarly creepy crawly, sure, I jump. I might even shout out a breathy, "Ugh!" But once I realize what it is, a relatively harmless creature, my breathing slows down, my heart stops racing, and I can go about my day as normal.

When I see a mouse, I freak the fuck out. My heart pounds in my chest. My throat starts to close. I'm choking. It feels like someone is shoving the rodent down my throat. I'm sobbing. My body wants to flee but my feet are stuck in my neurotic muck. Even though rationally I know a mouse, like a snake, or a spider, is a relatively harmless creature, my breathing does not slow down, my heart does not stop racing, and I can't go about my day as normal. It's not a panic attack. It's a panic bombardment. I'm not the same for days. I'm still extra twitchy weeks later.

I've traced my musophobia to a traumatic incident that happened when I was a kid. I was at an age where most kids could have been left home alone, no problem, but I was uber-sensitive and anxiety prone. I remember, even as a preschooler, my mom's nickname for me was "My Little Worry Wort". I hated to be alone in the house after school, but I was too old for a babysitter and my sister Jenny was off with her boyfriend or at work and didn't have time for me. So I'd get home from school and lock the door and sit on the couch and eat a bag of chips and watch "Scooby Doo" and "Tom and Jerry" and After School Specials and wait for my parents to get home from work, one eye always on the clock. If they were more than five minutes late, I'd begin to imagine they'd been in a car wreck and were dead on the side of the road. A minute later I'd hear the sound of the electric garage door opener and finally I could breathe again.

One afternoon I was home alone when I heard a loud, "Snap!" I immediately knew what it was. The mouse trap behind our TV. We lived in a house that was infested with mice. We had mouse traps all over the house. I once saw a mouse in my bedroom closet. My brother Pat and sister Kitty once found a mouse that had gotten trapped inside a popcorn bowl on our kitchen counter. They heard a funny noise and went into the kitchen to see popcorn flying out of the bowl as the desperate mouse tried to climb up the sides.

I'd see dead, frozen mice in my dog's water bowl outside. We had them in the vent that went from our clothes dryer to the outside and from there they would drop into my dog's water bowl and drown. I don't know why no one ever thought to move the bowl so we wouldn't have to break the ice into chunks and fish out the dead frozen mice.

Inside our house, the traps would snap and Dad would go get the poor dead mouse, carrying it by its tail, and flush it down the toilet. I was always paranoid a zombieified mouse would come crawling back up the toilet and bite me on the ass. I never thought to ask why he didn't throw them in the trash or whatever else it is people do with dead mice they find. It never occurred to me that flushing dead mice down the toilet was in any way odd.

That's how it is when you're a kid. Your family is all you know. You don't know that your family's ways are any more peculiar than other family's ways until you get older and make friends and get introduced to foreign ideas, like pest exterminators.

That one afternoon when I was at home alone and I heard the mouse trap go "Snap!" behind the TV, I sat frozen in my chair for a long time. I didn't know what to do. I could hear the poor mouse squeaking. It was an awful, dying sound. At this point in my life, I was creeped out by mice, but they didn't yet induce a full-onslaught of panic bombardment until after this particular afternoon.

I wanted the mouse to stop making that sound but I didn't want it to die. I didn't want it to be in the trap, but I didn't want it to be in my home. I didn't know what to do. I felt like I was the one trapped.

I got up to investigate. I poked my head around the console TV and saw the hugely pregnant mama mouse. I looked away and grabbed my neck, choking, strangled, just like that mama mouse with her neck caught in the trap.

We finally moved out of that house when I was twelve. Within a few weeks of living at our new place, I thought I saw a mouse run across the living room floor. My parents didn't see it, but I swear I did. I also understand it could very well have been a hallucination. The brain is odd that way, the difficulty it has deciphering reality when it gets over-taxed by anxiety.

I spent the summer locked inside my bedroom during the day when my parents were at work. I wouldn't even leave my room to use the bathroom. I told my mom it was my fear of the mouse I saw, but I also understand it could very well have been my fear of being alone.

We moved again at the end of the summer and got a cat. No more mice. Thank God. But my parent's marriage was worse than ever, and the more I learned about the world the more I argued with my dad, and I had mad crushes on people at school who ignored me, so the mice-free living was nice and all, but I was still an emotional basketcase.

Time really is a powerful salve. Once I moved out of the house and got away from my parent's bad marriage, I began "working on myself." I actually began working on my self when I still lived at home, when I was 17. I remember because I called a psychotherapist on my own, without my parent's knowledge, like a teenage girl going to Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, and I went to the appointment and the shrink saw on my chart how young I was and said, "Wow, I'm impressed with your independence. It takes a lot of guts to try to get help for yourself when you're only 17."

It didn't work out with the shrink. I hadn't factored into the equation that I'd have to pay for my appointments, and on my part-time salary at Pier 1 Imports, I simply couldn't afford to continue going to therapy. But this particular therapist did end up helping me, even though I had to cut our relationship off early. He's the person who recommended that I read Dr. Harriet Lerner's book The Dance of Anger, which has had a profound impact on my life.

He was also the first person to compliment me on my independence. The baby of the family, scared to be home alone, I had always thought of myself as being an overly-dependent person. It was helpful to step back and look at myself through the eyes of a neutral third party. I've long since learned that there is a remarkable difference between how I feel on the inside and how I appear to others. My friends are always surprised to hear how insecure and introverted I think I am.

"That's crazy! You act so confident and gregarious!" they say.

I think people confuse "independent" with "confident and gregarious". Since I moved out of my parent's house, I've followed my own path and discovered that speaking my mind instead of holding by thoughts inside is therapeutic. So although confidence and gregariousness don't come to me naturally, I've learned that holding back is much more detrimental to my mental health.

People who don't agree with my thoughts and opinions might think of me as a "mouthy bitch" but I prefer to listen to my friends who think I'm confident and gregarious, even though all of them are wrong and I'm really just a person on a journey of her own.

In my early adulthood I lived with a few lovers, but by the time I was twenty-three I had had it with them. I moved into my own studio apartment and spent the next decade living alone. At first I was scared. I slept with the lights on for a week. But eventually I discovered I loved it. It was a luxury to have so much quiet, alone time to piece together my thoughts and write and read and do things on my time, beholden to no one.

Beholden to no one but my cat Zach. Zach was born on August 26, 1986, the same week I started high school. When I moved out of my parents' house (some might say got kicked out of my parent's house, but is it really being kicked out if you mom stands there and gives you half their stuff and makes sure you have enough money to get by and has this look on her face like oh honey, I'm so sorry, maybe this is a mistake and you should just stay) I brought Zach along with me and he remained my sidekick for fourteen long years. He sat in my lap and helped me feel warm and secure. The mice were gone. My parent's ended up getting divorced and my mom was out on her own and "working on herself" and finding her own independence. Things were getting better.

I got on Zoloft for my depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, I worked with various therapists on my issues surrounding the early childhood sexual abuse and other traumatic events I experienced as a child. I read tons of self-help books. I discovered a way to finally get over my 35+ year eating disorder. This "working on myself" had turned out to be so good for me. I have overcome so much.

And yet I've never gotten over my musophobia.

I'm forty-three now, living with my amazing husband and our fantastic kid, our two dogs and our cat. I'm still terrified of mice, but I'm getting better. Naming it and sharing my feelings about my phobia help me navigate the anxiety better.

It also helps to have a plan. Because mice happen. Rodents have lived around humans since the Agricultural Revolution. I can't flee from them entirely, in reality, but I can prepare my brain to go to a "happy place" when I do encounter them. Kinda like how Will wore his Bob Ross T-shirt during my labor with Katie so I'd have something to focus on and go to "my happy trees place". Something to focus on to get outside of my head long enough to calm down.

Turns out my "happy place" is in Afghanistan.

About two years ago I saw a mouse in our house and I had to call in sick because I couldn't come down from my panic attack. This time was different. When I saw a mouse in our basement the other day, I managed to talk myself through the panic attack and make it to work on time.

Sure, I ran screaming up the stairs. I started crying and breathing too fast and my throat started to feel tight. But I ran straight to the medicine cabinet, grabbed my bottle of clonazepam, took a pill, and went into the living room and sat in my comfy chair. I self-soothed by rubbing my hands together and focused on my breathing. And then something inside me pointed my thoughts to the Afghan girls.

The day before, Katie and I had watched a fascinating documentary about two girls who live in Afghanistan, one in a rural area and one in the city. Both girls had hard lives compared to our lives. I couldn't stop thinking about them after I saw the mouse in our basement. For some reason, their struggles gave me confidence that I could overcome my struggles.

At first I berated myself inside my head. "Oh Jesus Christ, Becky! It's just a mouse. It's not going to hurt you. Think of those Afghan girls and how much harder their lives are than yours. What would those girls do if they saw a mouse? This is a first world problem. Get over yourself!"

But the more I thought about them, the less I beat myself up inside. "Struggles are struggles, no matter how well off or poor you are. No matter what government is in control of the area where you live. No matter what anyone else around you says. Your struggles are your own, and yet they are also universal. We all struggle. All of us. We can help each other overcome our struggles.

I sat in my comfy chair and rubbed my hands together and took deep breaths and I thought about these girls in Afghanistan and their struggles and I thought about myself and my struggles and the clonazepam kicked in and I got over it. Within an hour I was up, getting ready for work, and going about my day as normal.

I still haven't been back into the basement yet. While those Afghan girls are hanging up their laundry to dry, I can rely on my husband to do the family's laundry until I feel safe enough to enter the basement again. My shrink was right. I am independent. I have overcome so much by "working on myself" and yet I am human and I must rely on others for support when I need it. Afghan girls, Bob Ross, and Will Carleton. My happy places.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Earl Got Pre-Wash Duty

Will baked tilapia for dinner tonight. Earl got pre-wash duty. At first the pan was sliding all over the kitchen floor. Then Earl figured it out: it's easier if you step on it. Hold it down so you can get a good lick out of it. Mmm. Tilapia juice.

A Pickle

My friend and I were talking today about the health benefits of fermented and pickled food. I had never heard of such health benefits, but I was glad to hear it. I love tempeh (fermented soybeans), sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), and beer (fermented sugar from barley or wheat). I also love pickles. And I'm not the only one. Today I found this in our refrigerator:

I asked Will if this was his doing. He laughed and said it was not. Since it's just us three in this house, Katie's the likely culprit. I couldn't ask her though, because she had fallen asleep on the couch. She's just getting over a few days of having a fever and no appetite. Guess what she asked for when her fever broke and her hunger returned?

A pickle.

My friend who was telling me about the health benefits of pickled and fermented food mentioned that they are full of probiotics, which are healthy for our gut flora.

I think Katie's kind of a weirdo for liking pickles so much, being only seven and all, but I'm happy to see she listens to her body's natural cravings that help her heal naturally.


Three days later, I notice someone has written "pikies" (pickles) on the grocery list in her best second-grader handwriting:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Even Jesus Spent Time in the Wilderness

My church shared this post about Lent. This part especially resonates with me:

At Grace Covenant, some of us choose to give things up—like chocolate, social media, or something else. Some of us take on a new practice in service to others. All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity.

I had no idea that's what Lent was all about. I figured Lent was just a time to get back on the diet you gave up two weeks after you made your New Year's Resolutions. I didn't see how observing Lent was for me. I long ago gave up dieting (and approximately thirty-five years living with an eating disorder) once I read Dr. Linda Bacon's life-changing book, Health at Every Size.

I've been reading about Jesus' time in the wilderness, and I can totally relate. In my lifetime I've spent what seems like more than forty days and forty nights under the covers in bed, struggling, sobbing, unable to get up and face the world. Mental illness is the devil I face. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, whatever you want to call it, I know what it's like to spend time in the wilderness of my soul.

Reading the story of Jesus--the Prince of Peace, the one who told us to love each other, including our enemies, to spend our time serving "the least" of our earthly brothers and sisters--reading about him, alone, out in the wilderness, suffering and tormented by his devil, and finding a way to overcome it, that--that gives me hope.

I'll share some of the text and some of the art images I've found that especially resonate with me. I hope they give you hope too.

Matthew 4:1-11
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Temptation of Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

"Christ in the Desert" by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, 1872
image source: Wikipedia

"The Temptation of Christ" by Juan de Flandes, circa 1500
image source: Wikipedia

I especially like how, minus the horns, Satan looks human. I personally don't believe in a devil incarnate. I don't believe in "the Devil made me do it" thinking.  When I was growing up, we didn't go to church much, but my mom read parts of the Bible to me, and she shared stories she'd pick up in magazines and on TV talk-shows. I remember Mom told me that the word "hell" also translates to "burning trash dump" and that if someone was told they were going to hell, it meant they were exiled to the outskirts of town, the place where the community burned their trash.

I don't believe in good guys and bad guys. I don't believe in Good Vs. Evil. I don't believe an evil being called Satan is trying to get me to come to the dark side, just as I don't believe Darth Vader really exists and wants Luke to join the Empire with him. But these stories we share with each other are important. They help us feel less alone in our own struggles. They give us hope.

"Jesus Tempted In the Wilderness" by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894
image source: Wikipedia

"Jesus Ministered to by Angels" by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894
image source: Wikipedia

I like this one because it reminds me of how I feel as I'm writing a challenging story. I do not believe writers and other artists work alone. The best artists figure out a way to get in touch with their muses, their inner angels, who help lift the stories out of the depths of their souls.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thin Mints Serving Size

Someone needs to alert the Girl Scouts that there's a typo on their boxes of Thin Mints. It says the serving size is 8, but when I opened my box I found only two pouches inside. They certainly don't intend for me to just eat 1/4 of a pouch and then stick it back into the box, do they? That's nonsense. The leftover cookies would get stale.

Haven't the leaders of the Girl Scouts seen this epic Paula Poundstone bit about how to eat a box of Pop Tarts?

"I eat the last two just to tidy up, really." --Paula Poundstone

Throwback Thursday: Sawyer and Thatcher

Sawyer (dog) and Thatcher (cat), circa 2003
They were born about four days apart. They are about six months old.

Sawyer and Thatcher, March 6, 2014, age 11
They play less and nap more, but they're still best buddies.

Throwback Thursday: Becky, Age 2 and Age 3

Becky, age 2 (August 1973)

Becky, age 3 (August 1974)

During this time in my life, I lived in St. Joseph, Missouri with both my parents, my brothers and sisters from Mom's first marriage, and our "outdoor" dog:

Glen Burton (age 46, 47)
Beverly Burton (35, 36) 
Jay Kerner (15, 16)
Kitty Kerner (13, 14)
Pat Kerner (12, 13)
Jenny Kerner (10, 11), 
Becky Burton (2, 3)
Tiger (1, 2) 

I named Tiger after the dog on The Brady Bunch, a show I could relate to with its blended family. My sister Glenda (18, 19), my dad's daughter from his first marriage, was in college at MU by this time, and before that she lived with her mother, Shirley. I only got to see her on holidays, so it was always special whenever she was around.

These are a few of my favorite things to do when I was 2 or 3:

--watch TV with my family ("Mary Tyler Moore", "The Partridge Family", "All In the Family", and "The Waltons")
--watch TV by myself ("Sesame Street", "The Electric Company", and reruns of "The Mickey Mouse Club")
--play with my Little People School House
--eat peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches on white bread and Campbell's Vegetable Soup for lunch while my siblings were at school and my dad was at work
--help my mom fold the laundry and load the dishwasher
--have someone read to me from my favorite book I Can't Said the Ant by Polly Cameron
--attend three different story times at three different public libraries each week
--play with my best friend Kristin
--have tea parties with my mom
--have my brothers and sisters teach me, anything, everything
--lie under the attic fan in our hallway and drift off into a glorious nap under the constant whirring noise
--eat dinner with my whole big family at the table and listening to everyone talk
--watch my dad pop popcorn on the stove
--roast marshmallows with my big brothers and sisters in the fireplace in our family room
--explore our back yard with its grape vines, tomato plants, and apple trees
--visit with our next door neighbor, Barbara LaBass, who would give me fresh mint leaves to suck on from her garden and let me give her dogs buggy rides
--color and draw pictures of all the stories inside my head

Throwback Thursday: Earl and Thatcher

Earl (the dog) and Thatcher (the kitten), October 2002
Earl was 1 1/2, Thatcher was a few weeks old

Earl and Thatcher, March 2014
Earl is 13, Thatcher is 11

Need Affordable Health Insurance? Here's Help

Need affordable health insurance? There's still time to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace. Deadline is March 31, 2014.

Need help enrolling? Certified Navigators are available to help people enroll at these sites in Johnson County, Wyandotte County, and Douglas County, Kansas*:

Johnson County, Kansas:

Johnson County Health Department
600 Lamar Ave, Suite #140
Mission, KS
March 6
9 p.m. - 5 p.m.
For more information call 913-730-3687

Johnson County Central Resource Center
9875 W. 87th St.
Overland Park, KS
March 7
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
For more information call 913-730-3687

Wyandotte County, Kansas:

Wyandotte Health Department
619 Ann Ave. 
Kansas City, KS
March 6
9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
For more information call 913-3719298 ext 2

Kansas City Public Library
625 Minnesota Ave.
Kansas City, KS
March 7
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
For more information call 913-541-5012

Memorial Hall
600 N. 7th Street
Kansas City, KS
March 8
9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
For more information call 913-541-5012

Memorial Hall
600 N. 7th Street
Kansas City, KS
March 9
10 a.m. - 3 p.m. 
For more information call 913-541-5012

Wyandotte Health Department
619 Ann Ave. 
Kansas City, KS
March 10
9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
For more information call 913-3719298 ext 2

Wyandotte Health Department
619 Ann Ave. 
Kansas City, KS
March 11
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.  
For more information call 913-3719298 ext 2

Wyandotte Health Department
619 Ann Ave. 
Kansas City, KS
March 12
9 am-2 pm
For more information call 913-3719298 ext 2

Wyandotte Health Department
619 Ann Ave. 
Kansas City, KS
March 13
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
For more information call 913-3719298 ext 2

Douglas County, Kansas:

Lawrence Memorial Hospital Auditorium
325 Maine St.
Lawrence, KS
March 7
1:30 p.m.
For more information call 785-841-7297

Lawrence Memorial Hospital Auditorium
325 Maine St.
Lawrence, KS
March 10
5:30 p.m. 
For more information call 785-841-7297

*For a list of other locations in Kansas, check out Not in Kansas? For further assistance, see the Health Insurance Marketplace website:

What to bring:
1. Active email address and password.
2. For everyone in your household:
     birth dates
     social security numbers
     income information (W-2s, pay stubs, self-employment records, etc.)
     immigration documents
     any information about employer-offered health insurance

If you have any questions, call 913-730-3687 or text InsurKs to 69866 to learn more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Giving Up Navel Gazing Lint for Lent

My mom is Catholic, but she didn't raise me Catholic. I was born during the time in her life when she had left the Catholic Church.

Mom had attended an Episcopalian church when she was a kid. Her dad used his work truck to drop her brother and her off every Sunday. She'd sit in the bed of the truck on top of all the wrenches and other plumbing tools, wearing her best Sunday dresses. After my grandfather dropped them off, he'd return home to piddle around in his workshop while Mom's mom lazed in bed reading. Not the Bible. My grandmother had been raised Catholic, but for some reason she left the church sometime in her young adulthood. Her marriage to my mom's dad was her second marriage, the first ending in divorce, so maybe that's why my grandmother left the church, since divorce is a big no-no from what I hear. I'd think divorcing your husband who beats you would be a legitimate reason to get to stay in the church, but what do I know? Again, I wasn't raised Catholic.

Years later, when my grandmother divorced my mom's dad and remarried another man, a Catholic man, she joined the church again. I don't know how that happened. I suspect it has something to do with annulling the first marriages and saying a few prayers on the rosary like my mom had to do when she converted back to Catholicism on her third marriage, too.

Needless to say, when my mom was a kid, my grandmother would not read the Bible in bed on Sundays while her kids were in church, but instead, she'd devour her favorite paperback romances and pulp magazines. My grandmother's intellectual father had named her Jean Valjean after the protagonist in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, but it didn't seem to influence her appreciation of literary fiction.

As the years passed and technology evolved, and each Sunday my grandfather would drop Mom and her brother off at church, my grandmother switched from only reading pulp fiction to also listening to her radio programs and then onto also watching her favorite TV shows.

My grandmother probably couldn't tell you the Twelve Apostles' names, but she could rattle off the twelve most popular American celebrities of any era.

You might be wondering about my mom's dad's religious faith. I don't honestly know much about it. He was pretty quiet about it. He was a plumber, an inventor, a tinker-er in his workshop. He read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and pulp mysteries. He never went to church or talked about God that I knew of, so I would have suspected he was agnostic had it not been for the time, when I was anorexic, and he said to me, "You shouldn't say bad things about your body. God created all people in His image, so if you insult your body you're insulting God."

Those wise words from my not-very-churchy grandpa probably helped heal me of my eating disorder more than the shrink my parent's were paying for. I barely went to church as a kid, but still, who wants to mess with insulting God?

When my mom married her first husband, she quit going to her childhood Episcopalian church and converted to her husband's Catholic faith. Mom always says she was a "better Catholic" than her husband ever was, even though he had been raised in the church. Mom religiously got all four of their children and herself ready for church each Sunday morning and arrived on time. Her husband, if he bothered to show at all, would stagger into the back of the church, still half-drunk from the night before, and stand with the other husbands who showed up late and would be the first to leave.

When Mom found out her first husband was cheating on her with his secretary, she divorced him and quit going to church. Mom never stopped believing in God or Jesus or any of that. I suspect she just got sick of the hypocrites at church, so she stayed at home most Sundays with her feet propped up on the ottoman. Her feet were always hurting since she had to get a full-time job as a dental assistant, standing on her feet all day, staring into people's mouths, making enough money for her and her four kids to eat bologna sandwiches and sausage burgers most nights.

Mom married my dad in 1969. They were not married in a church, but inside the home of a minister. Or was it a judge? Even if it was a man of the cloth, I don't know what kind of minister. Not a Catholic priest, I know. But I'm not sure if he was Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc. My dad's mom played the organ in her Methodist church, so dad attended it regularly growing up, but as an adult he preferred to stay home and watch professional golf to attending "those boring sermons that will put you to sleep." I feel sorry for someone who gives a sermon so boring people would rather stay home and watch professional golf. Jesus Christ, that's boring.

When I was a kid, our family would go to church sometimes, but mostly we stayed home on Sundays. Mom read the Bible nearly every day, and she read me part of it from time to time. I kinda got a Cliff's Notes version of the Bible. The big thing I got out of it was this:

1) Love God.
2) Love people.

Pretty simple. Even I could remember that.

Mom didn't only read the Bible. Both of my parents are voracious readers. I rarely went to church growing up, but we went to the public library at least once a week. When I was really young, before kindergarten, Mom took me to storytime at three separate libraries three days a week. No wonder I'm a librarian. I wonder if I had been taken to church as often as I'd been taken to the public library if now I'd be a nun? Probably not. I like sex and kids too much.

Both Mom and Dad love to read bestsellers. Dad especially likes mysteries and thrillers. "As long as there's not too much blood and gore," he says. "I can handle the language and the sex, just not the violence. What can I say? I'm a lover, not a fighter," he'd say, reclining in his La-Z-Boy, his popcorn littered chest hairs poking out of his wife beater.

As a teenager I didn't like to laugh at my dad's rare jokes, because that would contradict the angst I felt around him, but even I would laugh when dad would talk that way.

Mom loves mysteries too. She's read every Perry Mason book ever written. She also likes Janet Evanovich and Lisa Scottoline. She likes romances and other "chick lit" by authors like Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, and Barbara Delinsky.

Like her mother before her, Mom doesn't just like to read. She's a TV junkie. Mom grew up listening to radio dramas such as The Shadow. When she was old enough to walk to the local movie theater with her brother, and later her boyfriend, she saw every movie released. Unlike her own mother, Mom could probably name all Twelve Apostles in the Bible, but she could also name the twelve most popular American celebrities of any era. You do not want to play Trivial Pursuit against this woman. You will lose.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do when I wasn't off getting drunk with my outcast friends was sit on the front porch with my mom and chat. We talked about how our day went. We talked about our favorite TV shows and our favorite books. She was always trying to get me to read one of her Harlequin romances and I was always trying to get her to read whatever my current favorite book was.

"The Color Purple?" Mom would ask. "What's it about?"

"Oh," I'd swing my leg and graze my bare toe through the dirt of her wildflower garden. "It's about a poor black woman during the thirties who gets beaten and her kids taken away from her and she learns how to stick up for herself."

I'd look up and see my mom's face. It looked like I'd just told recommended she read a book about child pornography or bondage or devil worshipping or something.

"I want to write a book like that when I grow up," I'd say.

"You should write romances or mysteries. They'd sell better." Mom would say, but not in a nagging way. Mom never nags. She does her own thing and lets her kids think for themselves.

"The Color Purple is a Pulitzer-Prize winning book. It's made Alice Walker famous and I'm sure she's made lots of money off of it. She probably gives it to charity. That's what I'm going to do when I make money off my Pulitzers," I said. My teenage self so earnest and sure.

"Well, to start out, to make a living at it, you could try writing a romance. You'd be so good at it. Way better than these published authors, I'd bet." Mom would look over at the stack of paperbacks sitting next to her lounge chair. She would read each of then, return them on time, and checkout another stack. When I was thirteen, I used to be embarrassed by my parents whenever we'd go to the library. They would each carry in a sack full of books to return, and reuse the same sack to check out just as many more books again.

My parents are such nerds! I worried to myself when I was thirteen.

My parents were such a good influence! I think to myself now that I'm a professional librarian.

I wasn't just around books growing up. Ours was the household where the TV was on, whether or not anyone was in the room, all day and all night until mom would finally turn it off as she went to bed. Sometimes she'd just fall asleep on the couch with it on.

My mom is such a TV junkie, it was not rare of her to come knock on my bedroom door and say, "Becky, quit doing your homework and come watch Dynasty with me. This is a good one!"

My parents were also big movie buffs. Each year around the Academy Awards my parents would haul me along with them to whatever movie was up for Best Film that year. When I was was a kid, if you asked me what my favorite film, unlike most girls my age who would say "Annie" I'd say "Annie Hall".

As much as I come from a family so heavily influenced by pop culture, I'm often embarrassed by my ignorance of things others in our culture think is such basic knowledge. Once, in my early twenties, a friend of mine made fun of me for spelling lent with an "i".

"Lint?" he laughed. "It's not the stuff you pull out of your belly button. It's Leeeeeent. The time you give something up to show your devotion to Christ or some such dogma."

My friend was not a strong adherent of the faith, and yet even he knew more about lent than I did.

I remember my mom celebrating lent a couple of times when I was a kid. She always gave up chocolate or fried foods or pie or something, but it always seemed to coincide with the times she had decided to go on a diet. We never talked about why she was giving up something she loved for forty days. I figured "lint" was just another crazy weight-loss plan.

Well, now, you know, I'm going to church. And I'm learning things about the Bible. It's the weirdest thing.

This morning, I logged onto Facebook and followed a link to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church's website, which has this information about lent, or, oops I guess it's capitalized: Lent.

Lenten Season

Lent is about knowing something deeper.  At Grace Covenant, some of us choose to give things up—like chocolate, social media, or something else.  Some of us take on a new practice in service to others.  All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity. (emphasis mine)

This Lenten season we also give special focus to prayer and the significance of that most beloved prayer in Christianity, The Lord’s Prayer.  We invite you to “Go A Little Deeper” with us to prepare your spirit for the message of Easter. Join us for these special services and for every Sunday in Lent.

And whatever each of us chooses to give up or to do in service, may it be life-giving, healing and a sign of God’s presence in the world.   

Ash Wednesday Service               March 5, 2014 6:30pm

An intentional reflection of what this season means for each of us

Palm Sunday Service                      April 13, 2014 8:50am and 11:05am

Mama Rosa the donkey returns for the parade of palms!

Maundy Thursday Service            April 17, 2014 7:30pm

 A solemn celebration of the Last Supper

Good Friday Service                        April 18, 2014 7:30pm

Chancel Choir presents Kansas City composer Mark Hayes’ Requiem

Easter Sunday Service                    April 20, 2014 8:50am and 11:05am

Celebrate the day with deep joy, glorious music and symbols of rebirth and hope!

I was blown away by this sentence:

All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity.

Power in pursuit of wealth and popularity. That's what I struggle with daily. That's been my main worry since I first decided I wanted to be a novelist, way back in the days when I'd sit on the front porch with my mom and play Initials.

"ESG," Mom would say.

"Easy: Erle Stanley Gardner," I'd reply. "HL," I'd say.

"Uh...not the lady who wrote that Mockingbird book you she has a masculine sounding name, but not George, HARPER LEE!" Mom would say. "Now let's play with movie and TV stars. That's easier. I'll start. JS."

"Jimmy Stewart!" I'd guess.

"You're right! You're so good at this game."

I was good because it was our favorite game to play together next to Scrabble. It was special mother-daughter bonding time.

So I understand now, thinking back on it, that the reason I'm so down on myself for, at the age of 43, still not achieving my goal of being a Pulitzer Prize Winning author--not even a fucking Harlequin hack--is because I've been indoctrinated by our popular culture to think that the more fame and fortune I acquire in my pursuit of publishing, the better. I must subconsciously think giving my mom bragging rights about having a famous, published author for a daughter is better than doing things my own way, following my own path out of the wilderness.

I'm no famous author. I'm no movie star. I'm no celebrity. But that's OK.

This navel-gazer has decided to give up staring at her belly lint for Lent. I will try, for forty days and forty nights, to not worry about why I'm not a Pulitzer Prize winning author and instead, focus outward on the world I can help heal with my words.

Instead of using my writing for power in pursuit of wealth and popularity, I'll do my best to use it to love God, and love people. It's as simple as that.