Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sawyer and Thatcher: Snuggle Buddies

Here's our dog Sawyer and our cat Thatcher, a couple of snuggle buddies:

Messages on the Bathroom Wall

I found this on our bathroom wall this morning:

Looks like Katie decided to join our conversation. 

I'd asked our guests to write on our bathroom wall during my fortieth birthday party three years ago. Now it's become a tradition. Whenever we have guests over, they leave us messages. Over the weekend, we had some friends over. I noticed the next morning they had been razzing someone about their butt size:

How'd you fit your butt here?
I work out!
I was born skinny!
Also, it's an adjustable toilet seat! Ms. Smallbutt

It's all in good fun, and I know they're just teasing, but I can't pass an opportunity to share my message of body love. So, I wrote above their bathroom wall conversation my motto: 

Start a revolution. Stop hating your body.

Our guests had already gone home. I didn't expect anyone would notice my contribution to the conversation, but it made me feel better to have those words up there, sticking up for big butts everywhere.

Evidently Katie noticed, and she's decided to join the revolution too.

Parenting tip of the day: If you want your kids to pay attention to your words, write them on the bathroom wall.

Monday, April 28, 2014

An Artful Life

Here's what I created this weekend. I hopped on here to share it. That's when I saw that This Ambiguous Life has hit 75,000 page views. It happened sometime this weekend while I was too busy having a blast with my husband, my daughter, and good friends to log on and check the stats. What happened to the insecure blogger I once was, spending countless moments checking to see how many more page views my latest post had garnered?

I can't tell you how grateful I am for your support, dear reader. But I'm also proud that I'm so satisfied with my writing life that it no longer interferes with my real life. I used to think my life would be so much better once I became a "real writer". A real writer is not a blogger, but someone who has published a book and earns a living off the royalties. Hogwash. Now I understand that a real writer is someone who uses her talent to express herself in a way that best suits her daily life.

I no longer think of my art as being separate from myself. No longer beholden to one goal of being a published writer, I live an artful life, expressed in myriad ways. The soft kiss on my daughter's cheek. The simultaneous laugh I share with my husband. The energy given to and taken from friends as we enjoy our time together. Sharing these thoughts with you. Art is not defined by how much you get paid, but by how much value it gives your life.

Thank you for joining me on this amazing journey.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" --John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy"

Friday, April 25, 2014


While Will was painting her bedroom walls, our seven-year-old daughter, Katie, made dinner the other night while I was at work. Baked pork chops and microwaved sweet potatoes.

She's already a better cook than I am.

Will called out the instructions to her. He asked her to peel a potato, and she peeled a sweet potato, but that's a simple misunderstanding. He let her poke holes in it and put it in the microwave. She got to unwrap the meat and stick it in a baking dish. He let her put it in the oven and turn it on, but he took it out for her so she wouldn't burn herself. She's only seven, after all.

She felt proud of herself and told me all about it first thing this morning. I'm too much of a worrywart to let her use the toaster in my presence. Will encourages her to make a meal.

Will's an amazing parent. He has the rare ability to walk the fine line between protective parent and overprotective parent.

Parenting is hard. I think Will's so good at it because his dad was a good role model. My dad was a great provider, but a distant dad. I've had to learn how to parent well through my own trial and error. I've learned so much more about myself and the world around me since I had a kid. You'd think parenting would suck the life out of you, but I find it adds meaning to my life. Before Katie was born, when I'd fantasize about what it would be like to one day be a mother, I thought I'd be the teacher who has all the answers. I had no idea how much I would learn from my kid simply by seeing how she models my behavior. I think hard about my behavior and how it influences my child.

One thing I feel I've done right as a parent, modeling good behavior for my child, is reading. My parents were good role models in this area too. We went to the library several times a month, and both my parents checked out a sack full of books each time. They talked to each other, and to me, about the books they read. Instead of going to preschool, my mom took me to story hour at three separate library locations.

It no doubt influenced my career choice: my paying job, what I do when I'm not writing and taking care of my family, is at the public library. Even when I'm not working with books and people who love books, I'm constantly reading at least three books at a time. My favorite thing to do with Katie is reading together. Long before she could read, when she was just a few days old, I read a book to Katie and I never stopped this daily habit. She can read to me now, and she often does, but I still love our time together, when she's on my lap, when she still allows it, as I read to her.

My dad never changed my diaper. He worked outside the home and came home grumpy at night. But in the early years he read a book to me every night before bed.

My husband Will is much more involved in Katie's life. When she was four weeks old I went back to work full time. Will stayed home with Katie while I was at work and went to work nights and weekends when I was off work and could care for Katie at home. We switched off a few years ago. Now Will works full time and I'm part time, but one of us is always home with Katie, no matter what time of the year. It's a schedule that works great for us. It gives us ample time to be good role models for Katie, and since Will and I have to sneak in a date here and there since we work opposite shifts, it helps us to not take each other for granted. I ADORE spending time with my husband, which is saying a lot for an introvert like me who generally is drained of all my energy after spending a few hours with someone. Not Will. Will's one of the few people on the planet who actually restores my battery. I crave spending time with him.

Will's not just a good parent because he knows how to balance between being protective and overprotective. Will reads a lot too. He consumes a steady diet of about a book every two weeks. He can't wait until Katie's old enough to appreciate The Hobbit and Harry Potter so they can read them simultaneously and discuss what they've read.

It's no wonder Katie is a voracious reader with such good reading role models around her. She routinely reads more books by herself in a month than all her classmates combined. And that's not counting the books she fails to jot down on her reading log for school.

Seeing Katie flip to the back cover of a book, I ask "Are you going to write that one down on your reading log?"

Katie sighs dramatically like I've asked her to go pick up the dogshit from our back yard. "No."

"Why not. You read that whole book, didn't you?" I ask.

"Yeah, but I already wrote it down on the reading log a couple of months ago when I read it the first time," she argues.

"It doesn't count the second time you read a chapter book. That's a lot of effort for it not to count, isn't it?" I ask.

"Not for me," Katie says, picking up another book.

When I catch Katie finishing a book she's read for the first time and I ask her if she's going to write it on her reading log, she sighs in the same dramatic dogshit way and says, "I guess." Then she counts how many words are in the title of the book and lets out a sigh in size relative to the amount of words she has to write down.

Katie loves to read. Katie hates to document what she reads.

I think in Katie's ideal world she would go to a school where she could hang out with her friends and eat lunch and take PE, music, and art, and have recess, and field trips and all the fun social stuff, but one in which all the instruction she'd receive was mostly self-instruction. To be left alone in a corner to read every book in the library. Not to have to listen. Or follow directions. Or keep track. Blech.

I'm happy with Katie's public school education, and for the most part, Katie's happy with it too. She has her days where she wakes up and wishes she could just check-out of reality and spend the day on the couch binge-watching cartoons, but don't we all? On most mornings she awakens excited to go to school.

Especially this morning. She wants to get back so she can read a book the teacher loaned her. She has to keep it at school. She can't bring it home and binge-read it like she likes to do.

Katie's second-grade teacher assigned an extra book report to four enthusiastic readers in the class. She picked a different book for each child, according to their individual taste. She assigned to Katie Matilda by Roald Dahl. Katie said her teacher handed it to her and said, "I think you're really going to like this one."

I'm excited to see what Katie thinks of it.

First, I need to see what I think of it. I put a hold on a copy of the book at my library. After I logged off, I thought to myself, Katie is so lucky to have parents who are interested in her education. My parents never read the same books I was reading to see what they were all about. I'm not just interested in what she's reading. I want to read it too. I smiled at myself, because I know the cycle of crappy education in my family is broken.

My parents never asked me if I had any homework when I was a kid. In fairness, we hardly had homework until seventh grade, and even then I mostly got it done in study hall. But my dad, especially, was completely indifferent toward my education, if not out and out cruel in regards to it.

When I was in seventh grade, after we had moved to a new school district and I knew no one, I mentioned to my parents one night at the dinner table that there was an "open-house" at my school if they wanted to stop by and meet my teachers.

My dad slammed his fist on the table. He burped out his rant about being too old to be my father. How he didn't have time for this "bullshit".

I will never tell my child her education is bullshit. I will see the beauty in it, right along side my child.

From what I know about this Dahl book, Matilda, it's about a girl who loves to read whose father does not see her worth. She seeks revenge by pulling pranks on him, something I was never brave enough to do as a child myself, but I'm certain I would have LOVED to read about a girl who was brave enough. Unfortunately the book was written when I was already an adult, but I'm going to read it anyway. For Katie. And for myself.

They say the best revenge is a life well lived. I say it's a life well read. I'm so glad to share a lifetime of reading with my child.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ken Wilson Makes the Case for Evangelical Christians to Welcome Same-Sex Couples

Ken Wilson, pastor of Vineyard church in Ann Arbor, makes a case for welcoming LGBT people into an evangelical church community by illustrating how one Christian leader handled the request to marry C.S. Lewis to a divorced woman back when most Christians considered it sinful to do so:

"C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century, fell in love with a divorced woman, Joy Davidman. Her husband was an alcoholic (and not a Christian) and their marriage fell apart. Lewis had never been married. His beloved Church of England, hewing to the biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, refused to sanction this union on the grounds that in marrying Joy, Lewis would be marrying another man’s wife, making them both adulterers."

Wilson continues:

"But there was one priest who was willing to go against the grain, Father Peter Bide. Lewis turned to Bide, a former pupil who had become an Anglican priest, after the bishop of Oxford refused to marry Lewis and Davidman. Bide knew that Lewis was asking for something that wasn’t consistent with the teaching of the Church of England. But this naïve priest prayed about it. That’s right. He asked Jesus what he should do. What a concept! As if Jesus were alive and might talk back! And he felt led by the Spirit to perform the wedding."

I especially like this part:

"During the ceremony, which took place in the hospital room where the bride was battling cancer, he placed his hands on her and prayed for her healing. She went into an unexpected remission almost immediately and Lewis and Davidman had a blessed reprieve in which to enjoy their union. They had what so many of us long for, including people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender: someone to pair bond with, someone to cuddle with at night, someone committed to care for the other should the other — as so many of us eventually do — get sick and die."

Last night at Gay Christian Fellowship at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, without any knowledge of this article by Ken Wilson, as we were discussing how strange it feels to have Christians, who are commanded by Jesus to love all people, not accept us, I mentioned that it's hypocritical of evangelical Christians to allow divorced heterosexual people to remarry in the church when they don't allow LGBT people to get married in the church.

Not to mention people who wear polyester, people who eat shellfish, and people who do not believe that women who engage in premarital sex should be stoned to death.

But comparing someone's fashion, diet, and biological urges to how they go about committing to a spousal agreement is silly. Apples to oranges. Or, apples to forbidden fruit? It's certainly better to compare similar things: marriage between two consenting adults to marriage between two consenting adults.

The argument that the Church should allow consenting same-sex adults to marry each other is hard to invalidate when you compare it to the argument that the Church should allow consenting divorced adults to marry each other. They both consider monogamous sexual relationships that some parts of the Bible condemn. Parts of the Bible many kind, reasonable people ignore, chalking it up to historical, cultural differences between the times the stories of the Bible were written and today.

When I was in second grade I woke up from a terrible nightmare. My mom came into my room and held me while I cried.

"What was your dream about?" Mom asked.

"I was in Hell! And I was burning. There was fire everywhere," I cried.

"Oh, Honey! Why would you have a dream you were burning in Hell?" Mom asked, clutching my head on her chest.

"I guess 'cause Lisa* said I was going to Hell," I explained. Lisa was my best friend at the time.

"What?!" My mom exclaimed. "Why would Lisa tell you that you were going to Hell?!" Mom rarely got mad. It was both exciting and scary when she did. I could tell she was not mad at me though by the way she continued to stroke my hair.

"She said I was going to go to hell because I was born from two adulterers, since you and Dad were both married to other people before you got married and had me."

It was good to get all that off my chest. I didn't understand all the words, even, but I knew they were heavy. I felt like what I imagined it would feel like to be inside a confession booth, sharing your bad secrets with a priest who would say comforting things. I had never been to a confession booth, but Mom talked about what it was like back when she was Catholic, when she was married to her ex-husband. It sounded nice.

"Oh, that's nonsense! Someone from their parish must have told Lisa that, but it's ridiculous! Don't believe things like that!" Mom commanded. Mom was very Maria Montessori-like in her parenting style: let kids do what they want as long as no one is getting hurt. She rarely insisted we do anything except love people. She was doing the same thing then, only with her voice raised.

I've never had another nightmare that I'm burning in Hell, even though I've had a lot more opportunities for so-called Christians to tell me that I am going to.

Thank God for my mom. She raised me to be my own spiritual guru. She taught me to love everyone, trust my gut, and ignore the details.

*Name changed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask by Katie Carleton, Age 7

"The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" by Katie Carleton, age 7

Serenity Prayer Before Dinner

The next time I'm asked to say grace before a meal, I'm going to say the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Today, health guru Dr. Linda Bacon shared this article on social media, "3 Behaviors Matter More Than Weight". This part is intriguing:

Good news from the REGARDS study is that they’ve found three behaviors that indeed matter more than weight in preventing another heart attack or death in patients with coronary disease. 

1. Physical Activity
2. Actually Following a Mediterranean Diet 
3. Staying Smoke-free.

I don't know what "actually" following a certain kind of diet means, but I suspect it does not include downing a bag of Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips. Too bad.

No, seriously, I'm glad to see studies that help people understand that behaviors they can somewhat control--body movement, eating wholesome foods, and abstaining from cigarettes--are indicative of good health more than body shape, something largely beyond our control.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference


Good Boy Earl: Our Miracle Mutt

Above is a picture of Earl as a seven-week-old puppy in the flower frame I put it in, back in March 2001. When I brought Earl home from the animal shelter, he was so filthy I thought his fur was yellowish brown. It wasn't until we gave him a bath that I discovered his beautiful white fur. Over time, the silver hair Earl's aquired blends nicely with his black and the white fur. For a thirteen year old dog, Earl is still a beautiful boy:

Earl,13, and Thatcher,11
March 2014

Earl, 1 1/2, and Thatcher, a few weeks old
Fall 2002

Earl today, age 13, still on Guard Duty after all these years

When Katie plopped down on the couch after school, Good Boy Earl slowly made his way from in front of the door over to a spot on the floor in between Katie and me. Doing his best to guard us to the bitter end. He likes to nap in the middle of wherever we are so he can keep his ears open for danger. His hips and legs are failing him, but his ears are as good as a puppy's. His bark's as loud as a canine with fresher lungs. 

Good Boy Earl, age 13. 
Our Miracle Mutt, April 22, 2014

Since I've been old enough to think I know better, I stopped believing in miracles. There's a scientific explanation for seemingly magical events. But it sure made me smile when, after Katie informed me that she had prayed for Earl's healing, we both witnessed Earl climbing up onto the couch all by himself.

Last night, I shared with my friends news of Earl's failing health.

I asked for prayers, healing thoughts, and good vibes. It feels weird to make such requests for a dog. How could God have time to answer prayers for a dog when there is so much human suffering on the planet? Doesn't God prioritize by species? There are so many other living beings that need God's healing attention. Why would God care about one dog when there is vast suffering on a mass scale, competing for divine intervention?

But prayer is not reasonable. It's a desperate cry for help.

It's working, friends. We know our miraculous mutt Earl will not live forever. But he's doing so much better today. Last night he could barely pick up his hind end. Today he's able to stand up and walk around. Slowly, but slow is better than nope.

We feel blessed to have more time to soak up Earl's love and prepare ourselves for his departure. Last night I was making plans in my head for how I'd get Earl to the vet to put him out of his misery. Today he's moving around better. Using the bathroom outside. And climbing onto the couch unassisted. It's as if dogs are also tapped into that inner energy that connects all living beings and he's communicating his needs to us. Today Earl's needs are to hang out with us on the couch.

Thank God.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Selfies #nomakeup

In eighth grade, I started wearing makeup every day. It wasn't until Will and I had been dating for a year or so that I stopped wearing makeup daily. Will doesn't like the taste of lipstick. So I stopped wearing lipstick. I look pale without lipstick on when I wear foundation that evens out my rosy, rosacea-scarred skin. So I stopped wearing foundation. My eyeliner looks odd without foundation and lipstick to balance everything out. So I stopped wearing eyeliner.

When I was in eighth grade, I walked to school. As soon as I stepped into the building, I walked straight to the restroom to check my makeup and powder my nose. I remember at the time reading an article that said twenty percent of women interviewed didn't wear makeup on a daily basis, and I couldn't believe anyone could be that brave.

Now I'm that brave. Selfies, #nomakeup.

This one below is not a selfie. My six year old niece took it. But it's #nomakeup. I wish I could show it to my inner eighth-grader, who was so anxious about her appearance, so she could see how beautiful I am:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Crucifixion of Jesus in Art

It's Good Friday. Or Sad Friday, as Katie calls it. This morning I've been looking at art depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. Here are some of my favorites:

 "Crucified Christ" by Fra Angelico,1434

"Crucifixion" by Antonello da Messina,1475

"Crucifixion" by Sandro Botticelli, 1497

"Crucifixion" by Michelangelo, 1540

 "Christ on the Cross with Two Maries and St. John" El Greco,1588

"Crucifixion" by Jusepe de Ribera,1620

"Christ Crucified" by Diego Velázquez, 1632

"Crucifixion" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo,1682

"Compassion" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1897

"Crucifixion" by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1904

There are quite a few other works of art in this genre that I like, but I can't upload the images due to copyright. Like this one by Marc Chagall. Do you have a favorite work of art depicting the crucifixion of Jesus? Please share it in the comments section below. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sad Friday

Last Sunday Katie and her fellow second-graders at church attended the Communion Awareness Workshop. They got to practice holding the communion tray full of wine and juice and offering it to their family members. They got to decorate stoles that they'll wear during their First Communion next month. They got to see how the communion bread is made and each child got to knead his or her own portion of it. 

While we were waiting for the bread to bake, one of the church elders brought out some wooden figures and reenacted the story of The Last Supper for the children. When she finished the story, she asked if there were any questions. Katie's hand shot up.

"Yes, Katie?" the elder said.

"I just want to know whyyyyy it's called Good Friday when it's the day Jesus died? It doesn't sound good to me."

I remember when I was about Katie's age thinking the exact same thing. What kind of freaks celebrate the death of Jesus? Jesus did nothing to harm anyone. He taught people how to love everyone--including our enemies. He's the Prince of Peace. The Lamb of God. Why would anyone in their right mind call the day he was crucified Good? I knew about death. I'd witnessed my gerbil, Darth, die in his cage one night. I knew death was not good. Not for my pet gerbil and certainly not for my buddy Jesus.

"It's called Good Friday because Jesus died so we can have eternal life," the elder explained.

I could tell Katie still didn't get it, but the smell of the warm bread out of the oven was distracting enough that she had no further questions.

Later, when we were home, she asked me the same question.

"Mom, why is it called Good Friday if it's the day Jesus died?"

"Yeah, that's a tricky one. I used to think the same thing when I was your age. It's weird to think of death as a good thing, isn't it?"

"Yeah!" Katie said emphatically like thank you - finally someone understands what I'm talking about!

"But people who believe that Jesus died for our sins think it's a good thing. Jesus allowed his body to be sacrificed so his spirit would go to Heaven with God and live forever, and so would our spirits when we die," I explained.

Katie sat silent for a moment. Then she said, "Mom, what are sins?"

"You know, big mistakes," I said.

"Like if I killed someone?" she asked.

"Yes, killing someone is definitely a sin," I said.

"Then why is it called Good Friday if that's the day Jesus was killed?" she asked.

"Yeah, I know. It's hard to understand," I said. "See, a long time ago, before Jesus was born, some people thought you had to sacrifice an animal to show how much you love God."

"What's sacrifice?" Katie asked.

"When you give up something that is important to you. People were very poor back then, so they would slaughter--"

Katie interrupted, "What's slaughter?"

"Kill," I explained. "People would kill one of their animals, like a lamb or a goat or some kind of animal that they would normally use to sell for money or to eat. They'd kill that animal and offer it to God to show how much they loved God." At this point I was talking out of my ass, trying hard to remember how my mom explained it to me when I was Katie's age. 

Katie had an expression of disgust on her face. "Why would God want people to kill an animal?"

I finally gave up and answered her question honestly, to the best of my ability: "I don't know," I said, shaking my head. "It's a weird thing for us to think about because we don't sacrifice animals in our culture today. But back then, it was a normal thing to do. Then Jesus came along and said, you guys don't have to sacrifice animals to prove your love to God anymore because of me. I am the ultimate sacrifice. I am the Son of God. Sacrifice me and then when everyone who believes in me dies you'll all go to Heaven."

Katie still looked disgusted. I didn't blame her. People and our weird traditions are pretty fucked up if you think about it.

"The point of the story is that Jesus put a stop to all the earlier traditions and all the rules and customs people had to follow. He told us to forget all that and just love each other. It's as easy as that," I explained, hoping it would clarify things and put an end to the difficult questions.

Yeah, right.

"If we love each other, we shouldn't kill each other," Katie argued.

"Yes, you're right," I said, and left it at that. The difficult questions will never end, but have eternal life inside our children's amazing brains. It's the sacrifice every parent makes.

Last night when I got home from work, I walked into the kitchen to write something on our family's calendar. I couldn't help but smile when I saw Katie's handwriting on the 18th:

"Sad Friday" by Katie Carleton, age 7

I like how she renamed it Sad Friday, not Bad Friday. Often we think if something is not good, then it's bad. Katie's on the path to a deeper understanding of life--and death--now that she realizes that something can be both good and sad at the same time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Uncategorical Splendor

I'm obsessed with personality assessments, or what I lovingly call Sassy Quizzes.  Sassy was a 1990s-era magazine published for the type of teenage girls who were sick of Seventeen. Not girls who were searching for the trendiest prom dress, but girls who were searching for their identity. Not girls who had questions about how to properly apply false eyelashes, but girls who had questions about the meaning of life. And wanted to ask Evan Dando, who Sassy Girls might argue is the meaning of life.

I turned 20 in 1990, so technically I was too old for Sassy. I would have been too embarrassed to buy a copy from the local bookstore myself. Fortunately, I worked in the Periodicals department of our public library at the time, so I could read Sassy whenever I wanted (during breaks of course, if you are my manager who is reading this post.)

I once joked with my old boss that part of the interview process should be taking a Sassy Quiz. If I'm going to be working with this person forty-hours a week, I need to know who they really are, not just who they lie about being on their resume. I could think of no better way to figure out what kind of person I'm dealing with than to administer a Sassy Quiz. Somehow my boss didn't understand the validity of my argument. She had been pretty and popular during high school, no doubt.

Today's BuzzFeed Quizzes are similar to good ole Sassy Quizzes. Silly, and yet insightful. A good way to get you thinking about both the meaning of life and the absurdity of life. A fun way to get to know yourself and to know you're not alone in your weirdness. Pretty soon I expect to see a BuzzFeed Quiz called "Are You Addicted to BuzzFeed Quizzes?" and I already know what my answer is going to be:

Yes! You are most definitely addicted to BuzzFeed Quizzes. You rock!

Because that's how all BuzzFeed Quizzes end, whether the answer is yes, no, or maybe: You rock!

Isn't that what all personality assessments do: validate our existence? You are weird and wonderful! You are important.

My workplace human resources team likes to administer lots of personality assessments. I've taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator at least twice at work during training sessions, and a handful of other times when I was at home on my computer having a discussion via social media with friends about personality types, just to double-check. My first result was ENFP, but my "E" and "I" were so close the instructor told me I was really an XNFP. All the other times I've taken it, my result was INFP. "E" stands for extrovert. "I" stands for introvert.  "X" stands for ambivert, or, a mixture of both "E" and "I". Don't ask me why "A" doesn't stand for ambivert because I don't know, and I don't care. I'm down with ambiguity. Which I guess makes it likely that I am an XNFP.

Makes sense. I'm in the middle. At 43, I'm middle-aged. I live in the Mid-west. I'm middle-class. I'm attracted to both men and women, so I'm bisexual. I play basketball left-handed but I write right-handed, so I'm ambidexterous. I was able to have one child with the help of a fertility specialist, but I've been unable to have more children, so I'm subfertile. In my daily life I eat little meat, but sometimes I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally ham, so I'm a flexitarian. I go to church, but I don't believe in Hell, so I'm a Presbyterian. My blog's called This Ambiguous Life, for godsakes! I seem most suited to the grey areas of life with no easy answers.

And yet, I'm obsessed with self-assessment. You'd think pegging myself wouldn't interest me, but instead, I'm compelled to slap labels on myself. Am I an ambivert? Or simply a gregarious introvert? Or perhaps an insecure extrovert?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

I love surrounding myself with people, but after too long my energy gets drained and I must return to my cocoon of social-deprivation. I love to share my life, but generally only in writing, when I'm more in control and I have time to figure out what I want to say. In person, I can come off as awkward or reserved, especially if I'm sober, which, unfortunately, due to my desire to live a long life, is most of the time.

I don't talk much. Unless I know you well, or it's a topic I'm fascinated with, or I'm drunk at a party in my own home. Then I'll talk your ear off. Or if I'm using social media. Then I'll write your eyes out. I'm a total show-off in many ways (see: this blog), but I stutter when I try to make small talk. I love to write about my opinions and openly share my life with the world, but face-to-face, unless I'm under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I'll often nod my head in agreement not because I think the same way you do but because I can see your point of view and my brain switches off when I attempt to verbally argue my point. Unless I'm a teenager and you're my authoritarian dad, in which case I won't flee from a fight. Or you're an ex-girlfriend. Or I'm off my meds.

That gets me wondering: who am I, really? If psychotropic drugs alter my personality--if I'm calmer and more patient and less moody when I take my daily sertraline--does that mean personality is not fixed, not set a birth, but something more fluid?

Of course it is. Isn't everything?

I recently took another Sassy Quiz-type assessment at work for an up-coming team-building in-service. It revealed that out of four options--Director, Thinker, Socializer, and Relater, I'm a Relater. Not someone who will sell your home, but someone who likes to relate to others and have them relate to me. Someone who craves harmony. Someone who likes to share stories of my life and listen to stories of your life. A "People Who Need People" kind of person.

I wonder what I would have gotten if I had taken the test last year, when I wasn't taking my sertraline, when I was constantly fighting with everyone around me, when I wanted nothing more than to sit in my basement in a state of constant navel gazing? I think I would have gotten Thinker. But maybe I'm over-thinking things. Maybe I'd still be a relater, just one with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whether or not it's due to the meds or due to my innate traits, I love to analyze people, myself and others. Here's what I see these days:

I live in an imperfect world with wonderfully imperfect people, myself and others, and I'm quite satisfied with that. There will be both good days and bad. Both the sertraline and the self-assessment helps me get out of bed each day, out amongst my family and friends, to experience the world in all its uncategorical splendor.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

100% Human

"When you ask your white friends what their cultural heritage is ... they never just say white, they give you a math equation .... "

--Hari Kondabolu

I'm excited to see more from this brilliant comedian. His timing is impressive. His writing is crisp and witty. But the most amazing thing about this video is how simply Kondabolu explains the absurdity of race--the thing that divides us. When we realize there is no such thing as race, humanity will be on the path to stamp out racism.

In case you're wondering, here's my cultural heritage math equation: 

43.75% English (from both Mom and Dad)
18.75% German - Christian (from both Mom and Dad)
12.5% Welsh (Mom)
12.5% Swedish (Mom)
6.25% German - Jewish (Mom)
3.125% Spanish (Mom)
3.125% French (Mom)
100% American
100% Earthling
100% Human

Categorizing people is interesting. It allows us to share our rich cultural heritage with each other. But we must remember that no matter what category we fit into, all of us belong in one group: humanity.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Happiness Cocktail

I feel great. I can feel the endorphins pumping through my body. Like you do after you eat a big salad for lunch or go for a hike on a warm, sunny day. Or have amazing sex with someone you love. Or swing on the front porch with your kid as you talk about the meaning of life. Healthy and intensely alive.

I've noticed I've been in--dare I say it--a good mood for the last week or so. If I weren't such a skeptic, I'd trace this elevated mood back to the moment Pastor Jonas sprinkled my head with holy water, but the explanation couldn't be that simple, could it?

Could the ice melt from my crotchety cold heart so fast? Could religious conversion change my attitude so instantaneously? I'm not one of those people who falls for such nonsense, am I?

Apparantly so, because try as I might, I can't seem to shake this good mood.

I also can't figure it out. Like, what do I do now? How am I supposed to get all worked up about something to have the energy to write about it? It's hard to write about past trauma when you currently feel so good.

As someone who has battled depression since I was four years old, it doesn't seem weird to hear myself say "I wonder why I'm in such a good mood?" like it's the oddest thing I'd ever encountered. When I say these words aloud in front of other people they laugh like I'm joking or look at me with pity. They don't get it. Most of the people in my life, thankfully, are far more emotionally stable than I am, so they don't question their good days like I do.

Sometimes the thirst is more familiar than the water, so when life offers us a drink we hesitate to accept it.

In defense of reason, spring has sprung. I'm not saying I have seasonal affective disorder, although it wouldn't surprise me since I'm predesposed to depression, but doesn't everybody just feel more alive when it's sunny outside? It's gotten warmer and sunnier in the last week. It had been a long, grey winter. I spent too long hybernating inside. Now that it's warmer, I've been walking outside more, soaking up the vitamin D, feeling the heat and the breeze on my skin, and listening to the birds sing. That's gotta cheer up any ole grump.

It's weird, though. It feels like the reason for my good mood is deeper than a change of seasons. Joining a religious community feels a lot like becoming a mother for the first time. It's shocking how instantly you feel connected. How instantly you fall in love. Like opening a gift you'd held in your hand for so long you forgot it was there. Like reaching inside and pulling out the little girl who learned to distrust others and have her heart fend for itself, and holding her hand tightly so she knows you'll never let go.

I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy being around other people. I was brought up in a large family. I was born on a Sunday and brought home on Thanksgiving day to a house full of relatives: five much-older siblings, my parents, both sets of grandparents. I tried pooping on everyone's parade but managed to only soil my frilly pink dress. Everyone thought I was adorable and passed me around like a living doll.

My mom says that I was rarely set down, that someone was almost always holding me. Even at night. I shared a bedroom with two of my older sisters, who were 11 and 8. Each night when I'd cry, my sister Kitty, the 11 year old, would rise, change my diaper, give me a bottle, and bring me back to bed with her so she could get back to sleep and go to school the next day. To this day I credit her kind caretaking for much of my confidence and ability to connect with others despite other childhood trauma (sexual abuse, a shaky relationship with my narcissistic father) I experienced. When you are an infant and you cry and someone picks you up and holds you til you fall back asleep it feels like you're not alone in the world and your brain learns to trust others more readily. I firmly believe being held in my sister's arms at night, someone I loved responding to my needs so quickly, has helped me thrive emotionally just as much as talk therapy and psychotropic medicine.

Another explanation for my good mood could be the sertraline has finally kicked back in. I was on it when Will married me. Then I went off it when I was pregnant. Then I went back on it when I had post-partum depression. Then I went back off it when I decided to try more natural approaches. Then I went back on it when my brother died of liver failure. Then I went back off it when I read a book about natural treatments for depression. Then I went back on it when my doctor said to me as I sat in her office sobbing last fall, "You have post-traumatic stress disorder. Your brain developed differently because of early childhood trauma you experienced. You'll most likely need to take medicine for your anxiety and depression for your whole life."

I don't like to think my brain is so different that I have to take medicine to get out of bed in the morning. But why don't I question the same thing about my allergies? Sure, I've tried honey and tea and all kinds of supplements to treat my mold allergies, but if my eyes and my nose won't stop running and I can't stop coughing I take the medicine my doctor prescribes to treat my allergies, and I don't give it a second thought because suddently I can see and I can breathe. Why can't I feel the same way about my psych meds? When I feel a noticible improvement in my mood, why can't I embrace it? It just feels weird to embrace Big Pharma, but I'd be lying if I said I don't feel much better when I pop their pills.

Sertraline helps me see that not everything in the world is so black and white. And depressingly grey.

The fact that I survived the times off my meds is a testament to my husband's amazing strength and devotion to our family. During my down days Will picked up the slack. I'd be too sick to get out of bed and he'd take Katie to school, go to work, pick Katie up from school, come home and help her with her homework, make dinner, do the laundry, get her ready for bed, all of it by himself while I laid there feeling helpless. He never once complained. He treated my bouts of mental illness as gifts to him, ways for him to show that love is an action verb.

I have a feeling my sudden boost in mood has to do with all of these things: the love of my husband and daughter who are my immediate family, the newfound support of my church family, the old foundation of love that was applied by my birth family, the sun, the drugs, blogging, all of it.

I started this blog because I discovered that writing about my life helps me understand it better. I often don't know how I feel about something until I write about it. The act of arranging my thoughts into words and sentences and paragraphs and stories organizes them into a manageable way so I can distill wisdom from them.

I haven't been blogging as much since I got baptized and joined a church. Part of it is time constraints. I used to spend my Sunday mornings writing. Now I'm hauling our seven-year-old Katie to church at 8:30 in the morning so she can sing at both services and attend Sunday school in-between. Then I get home and it's time for lunch. Then it's back to church again for choir practice. Pretty much my whole day is lost to God.

And I'm totally fine with that.

In fact, I love it.

I miss hiding in my basement blogging, sharing my story with the online world, much less than I thought I would. I'm too busy out in the real world sharing my love. I used to feel compelled to write every hour of every free moment I had. Like a born-again Christian espouses her faith at first. Writing helps me feel better so I'm going to do it all the time!!!

Now I see I have other things that help me. Love from my family. Walks in the sun. Cheap pharmaceuticals. Writing to you. A little less often, but hopefully more flavorfully. Writing, like family, the sun, and drugs, is an as important ingredient that adds just the right mix to my happiness cocktail.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Vacation Bible School at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church

I'm going to be a preschool storyteller at Vacation Bible School this summer! Never thought those words would leave my fingertips.

Registration is open to all until May 3rd. Forms can be downloaded from the website or picked up at the church. If you have any questions or need more information, please contact our Director of Children’s Ministries at cindy.huston@gcpc.org.

Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
Vacation Bible School 2014 – WOW!
Workshop of Wonders – Imagine and Build with God!
June 2 – 6, 2014
9AM - Noon

I'd love to see your kiddos there!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Help My Brother-In-Law and Sister-In-Law Win a Kick Ass Wheelchair-Adapted Van!

I married into the most amazing family. The Carleton Clan is full of strong women and the incredible men who support us. I've written extensively about my own awesome husband, Will Carleton, who has helped me through my struggles with post-partum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, body acceptance, childhood sexual abuse, a shitty dad, and crazy bouts of thinking I can get by without my meds. Will is my backbone. He keeps me chugging along life's sometimes trecherous path.

Will's brother, Chris Carleton, is his wife Dale's backbone too. Only it's an even more apt metaphor for them.

See, spinal cancer literally broke Dale's back. A few years ago, Dale started experiencing horrible back pain. At first she tried chiropractic care and massage therapy, neither of which eased the agonizing pain. She turned to her doctor. After months of tests and surgery and more tests, it was discovered that my sister-in-law is actually the one-in-a-million person we all think she is: she has an extremely rare kind of cancer, Epithelioid Hemangioendothelioma (EHE). Not only is Dale's type of cancer rare--EHE accounts for less than .01 percent of the cancer population--most of those cases are primarily in the liver or lungs. Having EHE of the spine makes it even more rare. Less than 1 in a million.

Chris and Dale have manged the best they can since the cancer was discovered. "Whatever it takes," is their family motto. Dale lost her ability to walk, and then through tons of effort regained it again, although she has limited mobility. You can read more about Dale's journey on her inspirational blog, Falling Down Gracefully.

Dale's confined to a two room area of their house because she can't manage stairs. Chris works during the day, then comes home and takes care of most of the housework and cooking. I don't know how he does it. I complain if I have to work a 3 hour shift and then come home to load the dishwasher.

They have three amazing elementary school-age children (who I try to steal as often as I can for sleepovers at our house). Dale helps the kids with their homework and when she's feeling up to it, treats them to homemade pancakes. She can stand in the kitchen for short periods, but she needs to keep a wheelchair close by in case the nerves that were damaged from the spinal tumor spaz out on her.

Dale would like to help Chris more. Things most parents take for granted. Complain about. Dale would love to have a chance to do mundane things like chauffering the kids to school and activities, going to the grocery store, and running endless errands for the family, things Chris has had to do since Dale first became sick. But she's stuck in the house, in her two rooms, most of the time. She can drive, but she can't load her wheelchair onto the lift by herself.  Wouldn't it be awesome if she had one of those adapted vans that have a mechanical lift where she could just ride her chair up into the van by herself? Then she could take care of the household errands during the day while Chris was at work and the kids were in school.

With three kids, it's challenging for the whole family to go anywhere with their limited transportation options. There's barely enough space for all of them, plus Dale's chair, in the minivan. The other night Katie and her second-grade classmates gave a music performance at school. She was so happy to see her Uncle Chris and Aunt Dale and her three Carleton cousins in the audience. I know how much of a pain in the ass it is for Chris to load Dale's chair into the van, how much more planning and time it takes to get everyone out of the house and strapped into the car, so I appreciate that they made the effort to come. Wouldn't it be awesome if they had one of those adapted vans that would fit two adults, three kids, and a wheelchair easily? Think of all the fun family outings you get to do without so much as a thought about how easy it is for you all to hop in the car and take off toward your destination.

The problem is, kick ass vans that have been adapted for people who live with a disablity are crazy expensive. I can't even afford an ordinary new van, let alone a new wheelchair-adapted van. Neither can my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They have huge medical bills. They live on one income. With three kids. During these tough economic times. They need a break.

Fortunately, there's a way we can help them. Because of all the amazing things Chris does for their family, Dale nominated him for a "local heroes" contest through The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding mobility options for people with disabilities. The grand prize is an NMEDA-approved wheelchair-adapted van!

Every day you can go to their website and vote for Chris Carleton. Make sure to click "extra vote" first. If you answer the question correctly, you'll give Chris two votes for the day. (Psst! If you follow Dale on Facebook, she gives away the answers each day, so you don't even have to do any research.)

Let me know what questions you have in the comments field below. Thank you so much for supporting my family! May the love and support you share with us be returned to you in magical ways.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jesus Loves My Robe

So far being a Christian has not thrown off my affinity for robes. In fact, I'm starting to notice that many religious leaders, no matter what faith or denomination, wear robes. No wonder they're so tranquil.

If being more Christian means hanging out in my robe, I can dig it.

Jesus says come to me my child and follow me. I say, sure, let me grab my robe.

Peanut Butter and Honey Banana Dog in 8 Easy Steps

We had some leftover hotdog buns from our after-baptism party this weekend. Will invented this creation:

The Peanut Butter and Honey Banana Dog:

Step 1: Spread peanut butter onto a hotdog bun:

Step 2: Add the banana:

Step 3: Smile at your dog while she awaits the goodies you could drop on the floor:

Step 4: Pour on the honey as you sing, "Pour Some Sugar on Me!" by Def Leppard:

Step 5: Admire your creation:

Step 7: Eat it!

Step 8: Decide whether or not to lick the plate clean or leave it for the dog:

Enturtle Live

When we moved into the house in 2004, I had plans to paint our white bathroom walls periwinkle, but I never got around to it. In 2010, tired of our bare walls but too lazy to paint, at my fortieth birthday party I passed out colored markers and asked my friends and family to write a message on our bathroom walls. The response was awesome!

With all the humidity in the room over the years, most of the original messages have faded. Ephemeral beauty at its best.

Last year on my birthday I reintroduced the markers so my friends and family could add more messages. 

It's only been a little over four months and those messages are already starting to fade. I think we accidentally used Katie's washable markers. 

At Katie's and my after-baptism party last Sunday, I got smart and left out a permanent marker. Here's the messages our loved ones left us:

We love our bathroom wall messages. Katie was inspired to leave her own:

Even if we use permanent markers to write our messages on the wall, with enough time they fade. We can't just write down our messages and expect them to remain forever intact. We must live our messages, carry them in our hearts, and love each other as much as God loves us. 

May we get in touch with our inner-energy, our inner-seven-year old, and be that person once again who feels infused with Love and blessed with an awareness that "enturtle live" is there for us if we believe it will be.