Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My American Dream

I have an American Dream. Part of it is finally realized! I am a homeowner.

The homestead
This is our Conestoga Wagon. We are pioneers. We are going boldly forth, traveling west into the relatively unknown, to make our own way, to create our own reality, to stick it to the man, if you will, and be real people, true to ourselves and our passions. 

Some have said we're out of our minds. Some think we're going to break down, and if that happens, the authorities will come take the kid. Because yeah, of course, every time a car carrying children breaks down on a road trip, it is considered neglect, and the kids are confiscated. Sheesh. Gimme a big ol' break. 

'But how will you make money?!'
Have you SEEN the art my husband can make?! Have you seen the art I can make?! Apparently not... But we can make some sweet art, and we can sell it at art fairs, and music festivals, allowing us to travel in the summer, and hunker, making art, in the winter. Also, did you know that they pay people to ride their bikes along with bicycle tours to make repairs to the bikes of other riders? Because my husband can do that with his eyes closed. He does need both hands, or I'd say with one hand tied behind his back. His toes are pretty nimble though, so maybe...

'But that's delusional! You're not in your 20s! It's a midlife crisis! You need a reality check!'
We're not delusional. We wanted to do this in our 20s. We were scared to take the leap. All the messaging from our families and society assured us that we were delusional, and if we wanted to support our little family, we needed to straighten up and fly right. So we went to college, and got educated, and got a whopping debt. That was our most salient take-away from college. Our debt. A degree is not a guarantee, folks, of money, or happiness, or anything like that. 
So, if a kid in their 20s wants to do something like this, you tell them they're delusional, they need to grow up and get real. If a couple of 45 and 50 want to do this, you tell them they're not kids, they're having midlife crises, and they need to grow up and get real. What could be more real?!

'You won't have room for ANYTHING!!!' 
Exactly. We as a family, and we as a society, have too. much. stuff. I am sick to death of stuff... needing stuff, wanting stuff, storing stuff, having stuff get covered in pet hair, and my hair, and actually losing my glasses to a tribble the size of Rhode Island for a freaking month. The less shit I have, the less shit I have to maintain, the more space I have in my head and my heart for the people I love. The more time I have to play my dulcimer, or draw with Connor, or go for walks, just because.  

'But what if this?! What if that?!'
Well, we'll deal with it if it happens, as we've dealt with everything else that the universe has thrown our way for the last 23 years that we've been together. We have faced down some mighty demons, let me tell you. We've been hanging out for almost 30 years. This will be easy. This will be healthy. This will be good.

'But you have to have a job...'
Why? Who says? We can be creative and crafty, just like all those writers and photographers and artists that are on your list of 'admired people'. We may not make much money, but hell! We don't make much money now! 

Connor can go to school. Or not. If it doesn't work for him, he'll not go. We're perfectly capable of facilitating some high-quality learning, if maybe not in the most conventional manner. And, having taught college for several years, let me assure you all that going to school in no way assures that a young adult has the ability to do research, to write, to actually think. Which is sort of a prerequisite for learning. 

Jim watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a couple weeks ago. One line summed it all up. 

"Well, we tried going straight. Now what?"

Yup. We tried going straight. Now what indeed. Going straight didn't work, hasn't worked, isn't going to work. We are not straight. We are creative and analytical, we are unconventional. We are not happy trying to be straight. Jim is not happy when he's not making beautiful things. He hasn't made something to completion in years. He needs to cut glass with Miles Davis playing loud. He needs to play guitar. He needs to go stand in a beautiful river with a fly rod, whether or not he catches anything, or keeps anything he catches. I need to sit in front of a wood stove and knit. I need to cook, and preserve, and maybe even have bees and/or chickens. I need to sew, and set Connor loose with glue and sticks and pine cones. Connor needs to get muddy, turning over rocks, looking for frogs and bugs, he needs to learn how to skip rocks and build forts.

And really, isn't this the true American Dream folks? Self sufficiency? Making your way, making your life, using your own two hands? A friend posted a Ben Harper song , My Own Two Hands, a week or so ago, asking her readers what we would do with OUR own two hands. Well, here's my answer... I'll make my own American Dream, I'll make my own life, an authentic life for my little family, and I'll do it with my own two hands. And Jim's own two hands. And Connor's own two hands, because you know what? Those little hands are mighty capable too. They can knead bread, they can draw, they can give some killer hugs. We will build a life, a true American Dream, not this material success bullshit that is empty and hollow and spirit-killing. We will build the life WE dream, the life we choose, not the life that somebody somewhere hands us the blueprint for and says, "This is how it is done. This is what you 'need', these are the things you 'want', this is how reality looks."

Reality is not a singular noun. It is a plural verb. It is fluid, it is different for each person. Bucky Fuller wrote a book, "I Seem to be a Verb". Genius, that man. Too bad they thought he was crazy. But that is the curse of the creative, of genius. The masses, the people who live in their narrow, prescribed 'reality', think the creative and the geniuses are nuts. Too bad for them.

With my own two hands, I'm going to make that crazy old RV beautiful! It's going to have a yellow and purple kitchen. It's going to have glow-in-the-dark stars on a black ceiling above the bed. It's going to have pretty cushions, and braided rag rugs. It is my homestead, my frontier. I am going forth boldly into my future. Maybe we'll rent someplace when we get where we're going. Maybe we'll live in the RV. Maybe we'll do a combination. Maybe we'll get some jobs, maybe at the health food store and the bike tour company, and save a little bit of cash to buy a couple acres, and build an earthship or a yurt. Who knows? 

What I do know is that this isn't right. This doesn't feed my mind, body or soul. This shit only steals from my essence. It crushes who I am, it makes me a nervous, cynical, unpleasant person. I am none of those. 
The only things that truly matter in life are the people that we love. This version of somebody else's 'reality' steals people away from one another in the name of taking care of those very same people. Screw that, man. Seriously. Screw that. There is no beauty there. There is no love. In my American Dream, it's all about the beauty and the love and the truth. That is our reality. That is the reality I choose. 

Newsweek Says...

... that Grand Rapids is a dying city. There are groups now dedicated to countering this claim. Many who live here love Grand Rapids with a passion. I actually pretty much loved it too when we moved here, and have considered it coming alive rather than dying myself over the 10 years we've been here. But this article got me thinking about what I loved about it then, why I cannot freaking wait to leave now, what it has that is vibrant and wonderful, and what it needs to keep it moving forward.

I don't think it's dying. I have to say, Newsweek, I think that you maybe looked at some things that aren't really here, or were looking for things that used to define the city that no longer do so. Jim was born and raised here. He was a kid here when there were innovations in education, and when Grand Rapids became the first city in the USA to floridate the water supply. He was a teenager in the late '70s when all the businesses moved out of downtown, and businesses boarded up their windows. He watched this city die. It looked nothing like it looks today, as it has started getting some CPR.

When we came here in 2001, Jim had been gone since 1979. There were tract houses and chain restaurants where he used to play in the woods, where his dad used to go hunting.  There is now a large arena right downtown. It accommodates major concert tours, including Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney and Ozzy Osbourne. Businesses and restaurants are opening in downtown. Businesses are open on Sunday, and just this year the law changed to allow alcohol sales before noon on Sundays. Yay for mimosas at brunch! Or hitting Costco for a cheap case of Sierras while the populace is still at church.

When we came here, I really loved it. We'd come from Seattle, where the cost of living was astronomical, we didn't know our neighbors, because nobody came out of their houses for walks or bike rides or a smoke on the porch. Because we didn't know any of our neighbors, I didn't really let the kids out to play on their own much at all. They certainly weren't allowed to ride their bikes in the neighborhood, or walk to the park. Not that there was a park to walk to... but you get the idea. The day that I opened my car door, and a syringe fell out OF MY CAR, apparently the leftovers from someone who walked up from Aurora, the dingy main drag about 5 blocks east, I knew it was time to leave. As I looked at the thing in horror, I noticed my door. The door that my nice landlord had been kind enough to install a cat door in. I walked up on the stoop, lay down, and stretched my arm up through the cat door. Yup. It was tricky, but I could turn the deadbolt. I'm 5'4". Arms any longer than mine would have no trouble with it at all. My kids, at ages 8 and 10 spent many hours at home alone, as Jim and I worked a combined 130 hours a week to pay the rent and bills. I counted the tips I was saving for Disney, where they've still, at 18 and 20, never gone, and discovered we could move with what I had. We weren't planning on Grand Rapids, but this is where we landed. And it was great!

We found a place for $450/month including utilities. WTF?! We'd been paying over $1000/month just for rent, and our bills were easily another $1000/month. So that was just amazing! We could work less, and have more disposable income. We could eat out! Go to movies! Buy books! Pay for activities! The kids found friends in the neighborhood (!), the neighbors came and introduced themselves (!), and gave us a phone list of the folks on our block and the next. The kids started going to the park with their friends. They skated, they walked to different playgrounds, some in the parks, some at local schools. They went trick-or-treating in groups. Without us. Their friends parents invited us for bar-b-ques and New Year's Eve parties. Those people remain my friends today, 10 years later. But it was also much more conservative than anywhere I'd lived in years. Maybe ever. I'd never lived anywhere really where one of the first questions I was asked by many people was, "Have you chosen a church yet? I'd love to invite you to mine!" Grand Rapids has lots and lots of churches. It is the world headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church. These are the Dutch Calvinists. Calvin College is here. Hope College is here. It's kind of intense. And yet, these most irritating things seemed to be also the nicest things. I felt the kids were safe, people knew each other, they looked out for their neighbors and their neighbors' kids. We all knew who every kid belonged to, and where they lived. That seemed largely to grow out of the religious community mentality that permeates the place. But, I had that in college, with a bunch of atheist/agnostic, pro-choice, liberal friends. We watched each other's kids, we went trick-or-treating in groups, we had bar-b-ques, and we looked out for each other. But it seemed, at first, that I would be able to build community, and be happy here. It seemed that way for several years. Then, our lives changed irrevocably, and we have seen the 'other side'.

When Cassady got pregnant, our friends were great. Very supportive of us and her. When she couldn't do it, at 16/17, and we took over with Connor, they were verbally supportive, and some of my friends have remained very supportive of ME, as an individual, but not US so much, as a family in and out of crisis, trying to find our center as grandparents starting over. I've been ill this winter, and what I've needed more than anything is help with Connor. No one has offered that other than one friend who took him for one day, another friend who had him for a sleepover with her girls, and his wonderful preschool teachers, where he only gets to go the two days I'm sick in bed because we're so broke from my not being able to work, who took him one day over winter break. Four months. Three times I've received help in the most-needed area. This winter, and our travels the last two summers, have really brought into focus what is missing in my life, what is missing IN THIS CITY, to truly make it come alive, and keep it alive.

Or maybe it's me. Maybe I just need to suddenly decide that I will become Christian, go to a conservative church, vote Republican, and I'll have friends who'll help with the kid? Hah!!! That'll be happening exactly NEVER!!!

So, this is what I have sifted from my really thinking about Grand Rapids and this article. It reminds me, in it's own way, of when The Utne Reader named Arcata, where I lived at that time, as a Top Ten Green City. No recycling, nobody stopped to let cyclists cross, even a 6 year old girl with her dad, no community garden... not really a lot other than a leftist idealism among the student at Humboldt State. And a really good co-op. My thought then, as now, started as, "They really should actually visit a place and see what the reality is. You can't determine stuff like this from what the numbers on a spreadsheet indicate." And now, as then, it really got me thinking... what is good about this place? What makes it not work at all for me now, why do I want to get the hell out of here soooooo desperately? And this is what I came up with...

Grand Rapids has some great stuff going on. There are new restaurants, we have the first LEED certified Art Museum building in the world, there are good bars, and a good brewery. There is a vibrant underage/punk music scene, which has been amazing for my son. Coming from Seattle, music capital of the '90s, where you couldn't go to live music until at least 18, once in a great while, that was a wonderful thing. Cheap, safe venues for 14 year olds to go hear and play music. The arts scene is growing and vibrant. The DAAC, UICA and their new building. ArtPrize is freaking stunningly wonderful and innovative. The moves toward getting the rapids back in the river are promising, and moving forward. The farmer's market is pretty great, I like that it has a dedicated place, and that it has been around for so long. I hate hate hate that people are actually allowed to sell produce like bananas that they obviously buy on closeout from the grocery stores and simply resell at the farmer's market. Talk about missing the point. Rob Bliss may be a tool, but he makes cool shit happen here. There is stuff for unencumbered adults to do. Art movies at UICA, workshops at Institute for Global Education, low-cost theater. But it's soooooo limited! Finding food... it's like, "We have Harvest Health!" so the need for a health food store is met. Ummmmm... NO it's not! C'mon! I really don't want to drive the 60 miles to effing Kalamazoo to buy bulk food from actual bins with actual scoops, but that's the closest, best place to do so, so occasionally, I make the trek.

And yet, there is nothing for me to go do without finding, and finding a way to pay for, a babysitter. For instance, even with the music venues? We're driving to Detroit twice in the next 6 weeks to see the two tours we'll probably see all year, same as we did in '09. These folks don't play GR. The arena is too large, the bars too small. We can go to Chicago or Detroit, and if I never drive the Dan Ryan through Chicago again, it'll be too soon. Also, this situation most certainly increases the cost of seeing a concert... 3 hour drive each way, food... turns a 2 hour concert into a 10-12 hour odyssey, requiring childcare for that whole time. Thank goodness for an awesome teenage son who does what he can, and doesn't charge. He'll save me a whole butt load of money, even though his work schedule doesn't allow him to the whole stint.

BUT. What I saw in summer of '09, and summer of '10, has brought home, as it were, the glaring shortfalls and shortsightedness of Grand Rapids, brought it into sharp relief.

What I have discovered really missing the last couple years, as we have had our grandson living with us and he is growing, are, for one thing, family activities that are affordable, and inclusive. Also, as much as it was easy to make friends when my kids were 9 and 11, with a small child, even one who has been in the same preschool for 2 and a half years, we have NO FRIENDS with kids his age. When my own kids were his age, we shared dinners at least once week with other parents. We trick-or-treated in groups. We watched each other's kids. We had community. Maybe it was because we lived in northern California. But no. I've seen this community exist elsewhere. In fact, our relocation choice is based on the existence of that community.

Here, our neighbors won't speak to us. Here, on our block, filled with kids, our grandson has no one to play with. I thought, when we moved in last November, that in the spring we'd go for bike rides and walks down the block, and we'd meet our neighbors and their kids, and he'd have kids to play with. How hopeful and naive. Literally, moms have taken their children by the upper arm and escorted them into their own backyards when we've gone out for walks, all while giving me the stink-eye, and not saying even 'hello'. Three families with similar aged kids have moved out since we moved in.  The only thing I can figure is that because we don't fit the mold, we are threatening to them. We don't go to church. I have long hair that is occasionally quite purple. Connor will be 5 in May. He got his first haircut just before Christmas. My husband has long hair too. We wear tie-dyes. We have Grateful Dead stickers on our car. And yet, even the folks across the street with Dead stickers and dreads don't talk to us. Of course nobody else talks to them either, but still...

And there's nothing to do as a family other than go to a cheap movie at Woodland Mall, or walk in the park. I live right by Riverside Park. I was so excited to be so close to a park with a bike/running path and multiple playgrounds! But I can't take my grandson to the playgrounds there, because they get vandalized, and they are not repaired. We drive to Jenison, to Hagar Park, if we want a nice playground. That's 15 miles.
Community pool? Closest one is in Holland. Almost 30 miles.
Pools in summer? Only if some philanthropist pays for one, then community members raise funds for a couple more... the city will happily provide trailers with extra police in the summer, which is good if they don't open the pools, because those bored kids too old for day camp are gonna create a need for those cops if they have nowhere to go. We had 5 pools sit empty last summer. The wading pools had grass growing up through the cracks.
Swimming lessons? Closest ones are in East Grand Rapids, and cost almost 80 dollars for 5, 25-minute lessons.
Children's museum? Not bad! But you can only go there just so often, or it gets 'been there, done that' for the kids.
And again, none of these things, other than a community pool, are family things. They are places you take your kid, which is different than doing family stuff.

Where we're going, there's a kick-ass outdoor community pool. There's a kick-ass indoor community pool. Lessons? 25 dollars for eight weeks.
There's a skate park. Free. In one of the many parks.
There's a killer playground, which the community built, with volunteer labor, in 9 days. Next to it is a carousel, built by and for the community, with volunteer labor.
The city as a whole values and has written into the mission statement that every citizen be close to a neighborhood park, and have easy access to bike routes and paths. There is a partnership that focuses on getting kids outdoors with their families, and has even written a bill of rights for kids' access to the outdoors, to nature. And they back it up, yo. Free activities monthly, like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, camping, swimming in lakes. With guides, instructors and gear included in the 'for free' category.
New Year's eve is a 12 hour, family-friendly extravaganza, with art-making, music, theater, shuttle buses, crafts, dance...
There are also great music venues, breweries, and restaurants. An amazing art scene. A university.

The kicker? GR is 3 times larger. Where we're moving offers 10 times more for where we are in life.
If GR wants to truly be a growing city, a vibrant city, get people here and KEEP people here, there will need to be a focus on stuff for families. Give the kids things to do. But I can tell you right now that won't happen, and I can tell your right now why... families here are very isolationist and self-protective. They don't want those 'other kids' (read dark and poor) to 'take advantage' of resources that 'we' pay for. Of course all parents want to keep their kids safe. These parents do that by keeping their precious snowflakes in private playgrounds in back yards. They take them to supervised, indoor activities that cost bank. They take them to supervised, outdoor activities that cost bank. They don't utilize the resources this city does offer, and resultantly, those resources go away rather than strengthen.

I remember once standing in line to register my daughter for summer theater camp at the Children's Theater. Ran into a mom from her school. She remarked, "I'm so glad we can finally do this! He's wanted to be in theater for so long! (the kid was probably 12), but it's so DANGEROUS down here, I could just never ever have sent him to a class downtown! I always worried, with the location, that he'd get shot, or I'd get carjacked dropping him off! But now that the police station is across the street, I'm sure It'll be okay. Of course, I'd still never do it in the winter. But in the summer, I can sit on the bench by the police station with a book." And I remember thinking... "Shot!!! Carjacked?!?!?! At Monroe and Library Circle?! Are you effing kidding me?!" Sheesh... have these people never been to a CITY?! Maybe one with an actual BAD NEIGHBORHOOD?! Detroit? Chicago? Columbus? Indianapolis? Fer Pete's sake, ya'll.

The fear is completely insane, and completely unfounded, but it permeates everything about parenting a young child in this city. I've taught 20-something students who, when enrolled in a class at the downtown campus, are driven to the city by their daddies, who wait in the car outside the building, because their daughters are simply in too much danger, at 23, to be downtown alone. TWENTY-THREE?!?! Students from small towns who are allowed to go to Grand Valley on the condition that they NEVER go into Grand Rapids. What if they take the wrong bus? The 50?! Really?! It's kinda hard to screw that one up, and even if you do, you stand there for 5 minutes and POOF! Another 50! Like magic.... whoa...


This place has made me cynical. I've felt socially isolated and often unwelcome. I have lost much of my positivity, my ability to find every silver lining, no matter how thin and tattered it may be. The drenching of the culture in this specific religious tradition has pushed me closer to atheism and out of spiritual. And I don't recognize myself, my spirit, after 10 years here. And I don't like that, so I'm changing it. I'm going to reclaim and empower my artistic, spiritual self. But, like getting off drugs required leaving the environment that encouraged that mindset behind, I have to leave this environment to leave this negative, stagnant mindset behind.

So, no, Grand Rapids itself is not dying. But it's not fully alive either. It's got some personal growth issues to attend to.

Like me. I'm not dying, but I'm not fully alive either, and the energy of Grand Rapids has really stolen something from me that I want back. I feel like the frog in the pot of water. It was comfortable when I got in. It got uncomfortable so slowly, I didn't even notice until all of a sudden it was REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE, and I couldn't live in it anymore. The water boiled a year or two ago. Okay. Really ready to jump the hell out of this pot now. Four and half months... I have enough purging and packing to keep me focused on the going, finally, and get over the ick of the staying.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The AT&T wringer

That's what the nice guy I finally talked to in Kalamazoo called it last Friday.

"My god. You've talked to everyone on the planet."
"Yes. Yes, I have. I'm glad you can see that!"
"You've really been through the AT&T wringer."

Yup. Eight hours of prepaid cell minutes. That would be $60 of minutes cards, plus the cost of the cheapest Tracfone I could buy. Why? Because AT&T gave me an on-date of January 10th. When did I get my internet? Today. January 19th. When do I get my phone? Supposedly now tomorrow, January 20th. What transpired between the 10th and today is, to put it mildly, unbefreakinglievable.

When finally yesterday, having gone to my bff's house to use her landline, where it took yet another 2 hours (total time on phone: 8 hours, 20 minutes. Total number of calls: 12. Total number of people talked to: at least 20. Total number of reasons given: at least 10) to finally get some explanation and resolution. I totally lucked out and got a woman who knew both the phone crap and the internet crap, and was able to look at everything that had happened, and figure out what to do.

Somewhere along the line, my phone order had been cancelled! And yet, accounts showed that my phone service was waiting on a deposit. Which I then 'paid', but not really, because the order had been cancelled. My internet, so the story goes, had been whatevered by the tech who came out to set the house up because the gate to the backyard was closed and 'client not home', which I was, halfway watching for him. He didn't knock or ring the bell to be let in. So, then, my internet turn-on was cancelled. They changed my due-on date 5 times. FIVE TIMES!!!

While I had little hope going into today, I did have hope, because the nice woman at AT&T who seemed to actually know what the hell she was talking about gave me hope. And lo and behold!!! A tech showed up just after noon, for an 11-1 appointment time, and got me up and running in about half an hour! So now I really have hope for the phone going on tomorrow night.

Let me just say how incredibly relieved I am to have my netflix for my day in bed tomorrow. Holy smokes, people!!!

In other news, Mr. Nic Mann, generous sperm donor of my darling and beloved grandson, has done it again! There is a new young woman expecting his daughter on May 19. Connor will be 5 on May 14. I know I know... how hilarious is that?! And, even better, she's not the girl he's been with since Cassady was pregnant, and is still with now! Nope. She's a summer fling of not-girlfriend status. My attitude about not jamming him up too much more by trying to get his child support increased (I mean, it did get set when he was a 17 year old high school student, and as a 22 year old man it is the same measly little pittance) has completely shifted. New babymama will for sure sue for child support, and will get more, as he is an adult with two jobs, so I will be going in to see what we can do to get Connor's support increased before the new bebeh comes about.

She seems like a nice girl who wishes she'd had a perspective on Cassady and Connor that didn't come from Nic prior to being where she is now. We're going to have lunch soon, she and I and her mom. She and Cassady have bonded over Nic's douchiness, and she reached out to me on facebook. Man oh man. Curveballs! BattahbattahbattahSWING!!!

I got five years under mah belt here with jackassedyness on the part of babydaddy, his scary mom, and his nice but disconnected dad. None of whom know his current predicament. Isn't that cool! He's such a big boy, he hasn't mentioned to any of his parents (his 'team'... ya'll may remember... the 'team' who informed me that I needed to pull parent rank and haul Cassady down to the abortion clinic?) that another one is on the way.

Ya'll, somebody call Maury. Sheeee-it.

Is it bad that I find this all highly amusing?

** apparently, he did tell his mom, who, unsurprisingly, tried to pay for an abortion. She was turned down. **

Monday, January 3, 2011

Change is afoot!

So, in the next few days, the first smallish but significant steps will be taken toward the simpler life I want to create. Partly it's because we just can't afford the stuff anymore, but it's also because I was very hesitant to get it in the first place, and I am actually looking pretty forward to the demise of the electronic tether and brain sucker.

The cell phones and the satellite television are going away this week! I am getting a landline for the first time in about 5 years, and over the next few months we'll get a Roku box or two so that we can Netflix on the TV, but the laptops will do just fine for the interim. I am actually excited about this! We can maybe all focus on more real stuff. I largely got the satellite service because I knew I was going to be on medication that was going to make me sick, so the option of vegging in a brainless manner was quite attractive, and also because once we moved to this house, the little converter boxes that the g'vmt made us all get the other year no longer worked, so I wasn't even going to be able to veg on real crap, like Maury and Divorce Court. We had a rooftop antenna at the old place, not one here, and even though we are directly across the river from one of our local stations, and not more than 4 miles from the others, all we were able to bring in over here were 5 crystal clear televangelist channels. Not PBS, not NBC, nothing. So, we got the stupid satellite, and I've hated it from the beginning. It's so damn easy to get completely hooked on the 250 channels of absolute garbage, ya' know? Jeez, even the History Channel is almost all Ancient Aliens, and Proof of Extraterrestrial Seeding of Planet Earth, and other complete junk science. And the commercials! Gawd, the commercials! Hate hate hate the commercials!!! Even PBS is annoying me with their Chuckie Cheese sponsored kid programming. Cannot express the distaste I have for my grandson telling me that,

"We have to go to Chuckie Cheese, Gramma, because I am a kid, and Chuckie Cheese is where a kid can be a kid, so we have to go there!"

Okay. It's cute. He says some very cute things! He's 4! But it's more insidious. My gut reaction is more on the level of oh yuck. Really PBS? Chuckie Cheese? Video games and crappy pizza? Isn't that kinda antithetical?


And all because Curious George and Sid the Science Kid need funding. And I get that, I do! I love and support public television and radio, but jeez luhweez! Can a kid be a kid at the damn park please?! It's like my thing with moving to the mountains. Okay. For one, I grew up at the base of the Colorado Rockies, in Denver. I was lost in ideas of Pike's Peak from my swing set. If I could just get high enough, I could jump from the swing, and fly all the way to the tippy top. We went up up up nearly every Sunday. Squaw Pass, Berthoud Pass, Brekenridge for waffles, Everygreen for chicken, Georgetown for tumbled rocks and geodes. I love so many mountain towns in Colorado, but man... it's as expensive to live in Nederland as it is to live in San Francisco! I couldn't afford San Francisco in '83, let alone now! And the other thing that really struck me last winter, while watching my loved Planet Earth DVD set, is I want to go for walks in mountain meadows and look at wildflowers instead of putting in the 'Mountains' DVD to watch the meadows of wildflowers be passively shown to me in hi def (right. Like I have hi def. My tv is so old, both sides are cut off because the screen is still SQUARE!! Aren't I quaint?!) but you get the point. I don't want Connor to experience the world through the filters of screen and electricity, and I don't want to experience the world that way either.

Tonight while reading Corduroy, when little bear friend went up the escalator and thought to himself that maybe this was a mountain, Connor said he'd like to climb a mountain, but that the escalator was not a mountain. He'd like to climb a real one.

Right there with ya', dude. lets go find us a mountain, and climb it together. Lets take take the time to stop and look at the flowers, and the creeks, and the fallen leaves. Lets go! Into the wild blue yonder!
We'll go climb some mountains, and conquer some challenges, and be alive and free in the real air. And we'll start with whatever hills or valleys or parks we can find around here. Real air, real world, real life, here we come!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year!

Welcome, 2011!!! I am so frickin' glad to see you! 2010 was not my favorite, not by a long shot. You, 2011, you I have high hopes and expectations for. You will bring new starts, new changes, new chances. You will bring new friends! You will carry me back to the Rockies. And you will not pull any rugs out from under me, okay? Can we shake on that? Alrighty then.

New Year's Eve was a very chill event this year. Really, it usually is. We don't go out in the crazy crowds of drunken revelers. Some years, we've spent drunkenish revelry safely at a neighbor's house while kids sledded the teensy hill at the end of the block. But mostly, we're major New Year's Eve homebodies. This year was amplified by it being Friday, and I had done quite a bit more than usual on Friday this week, and I was tired. I got some silly string and some sparklers, some orange juice to mix with my icky-tummy Fresca. We mixed some virgin mimosas, toasted with Connor, chased each other around (well, me and Connor) with the two cans of silly string, then swept up the carnage, got him in his pull-up and his puppy-footed jammies and froggy boots, and out on the deck we went with sparklers. It was about 7:30. We yelled, "Happy New Year!!!" and hooted and hollered and danced about with our sparklers (one each. It went quickly). I'm sure the neighbors suspected we couldn't tell time... but who gives a rip?

Then back inside, I retreated to my upstairs domain of Tylenol and cough syrup, Connor went to bed shortly thereafter, Jim came up at 11:59 and we counted down from 10, the end. Yay! 2010 goes into the books. 2011 is HERE! I have been so anticipating 2011. Why, you may ask? So many things are in the works for this year! And when I can say, "This year we're going to ________________" it just feels so much more imminent and real than saying "Next summer we're going to ________________". I'm going to try out a few of these, just to demonstrate...

This year, we're leaving west Michigan!
This year, my treatment will be over!
This year, we are moving to Montana!
This year, Connor will be 5!
This year, I will sew, open an Etsy shop with the MI-Ties, and begin to rely on my craftiness rather than the establishment for my income and well-being.
This year, Connor will go to kindergarten! (Holy holy holy shit!!! Already?! Finally?! Time is sooooo weird watching a kid grow.)
This year, I will learn new outdoorsy skills. Maybe kayaking? Maybe whitewater rafting? Definitely skiing once the snow falls in Montana.

See? See how much more imminent and real it sounds when you get to preface a statement with 'this year'? And I get so much hope and energy and motivation from those words: 'This Year'.

Also this year, no resolutions. Only resolve to remember some things...

I can trust the universe.
I am capable.
I am talented.
My life is more full when it is more simple.
Taking care of myself IS taking care of my family.

Accept the challenges that find their way to me with grace
Take risks
BE fucking PRESENT

I will turn 45 this spring. That feels like a nice, solid, strong number-place from which to launch into the world again. A good place to go find my bliss, my grown-up bliss this time. My authentic, true, honest self. And having made that determination... I feel free, and alive, and purposeful.

Wishing all good things for all those that I love, those that I know, those that I'm going to meet on this next leg of my journey.

Yay yay yay!!! Good News at Last!!

So, on the 29th, I had my first appointment with my gastroenterologist guy since starting interferon. I had gotten blood work done the first week of December, had to go back a week later for a redraw as one got sent out to Mayo and the clinic didn't send enough blood... jeezuhs, they take about enough to power at least a rodent! But, went back, got the more juice sucked out, Dr's nurse called to tell me that the blood work looked really good. It was a viral load count. She said I was responding spectacularly. Yay!

So, better yet... When I went to my appointment and spoke with my Dr., he told me that I had actually tested negative! The hepatitis was all gone! At 13 weeks into treatment! He said I could stop now if I wanted, or if he was ruining my life, but that he's pretty anal, and would like me to do one more round, that being 4 weeks. As I had already ordered my next shipment, I was totally fine with that. But seriously?! I was stunned! Stunned I tell you! Holy hell! I thought for sure I was on this shit until the end of April. End of January!?!? No problem!

And the following Wednesday, the first Wednesday without an injection since the 15th of September, we have tickets to the Decemberists. February 2nd. Happy Day! The last pills will have been downed, and I will be free! Free to get a job, free to start clearing out the house as I will have some ENERGY! Oh man, I am just ecstatic! I am virus-free! My life, my future, just turned the corner back toward positive and hopeful.

Now to get someone to draw me a tattoo design of a fabulous, majestic, Pegasus, winged warhorse of vengeance. My medicine is called Pegasys, I kid you not, and I said, when I started, that I was going to envision this icky poison as the winged horse of vengeance, stomping the shit out of the virus, and if it was successful, I was going to get a tattoo. So, guess it's already time to think about the art. So amazing! I feel so relieved and thankful. And so glad that it's almost over.

Thoughts about holidays...

So, this comes from a novel-length comment I left on the blog of digthischick and her thoughts about Christmas, traveling for Christmas, taking on a bunch and forgetting 'important' things, and finding the actual importance of 'things'. And list making to help the forgetting things thing.
Mostly those of you reading this know me IRL. You know that I don't do ginormous present giving, but I like to decorate a lot, and I like to cook and feed people a lot. And you know about my health challenges this fall, and can reach the conclusion that I was totally off my holiday game. And that this was hard on me, but I found great freedom in letting go. Just, accepting what I was and was not able to do, and finding peace with that. So, some of my thoughts and lessons learned with illness over the holidays.

This year, I have learned a whole whole lot. This year, I’m not healthy, and the treatment for my not-healthiness makes me tiiiirrrred, and sick much of the week, and really unable to do much of anything. Including have a job, which means we’ve cut the income by over half. Which means, with those things combined, both Thanksgiving and Christmas were extremely low-key events. For the woman who makes a dozen pies, muffins, rolls, cookies and a cake just to get started, usually for about 5 or 6 people, coming up with 3 pies, and going all vegan for my son with very simple food, was great for Thanksgiving. And nobody had any less enjoyment of hanging out. I laid down in the living room, and listened to my lovely son play his dad’s guitar. The kid’s got chops. I napped happy.
Christmas, I managed to get boxes in the mail to 2 households in CA (well, 3, but 2 are neighbors… my mom, brother and sil, so one box for them, yay! and one for SoCA) on TUESDAY!!! They got to them on Christmas eve. No cards. No wrapping. Gift bags with tissue that I had in the ‘save for projects’ area of the basement. Wrapped Connor’s gifts, with help from Papa, didn’t make tags, used last year’s left over paper. Rolled up Morningstar Farms sausage links in Pillsbury crescent rolls. Twice. Once for us, and once when the lovely son came over, and rolled up the rest.
The tree, which is pink tinsel this year, to make dealing with the whole tree thing easy for the sick girl, had 4, count ‘em 4, ornaments. I couldn’t find the box, and I don’t have the umph to dig. I found 3 of the 4 on Christmas eve. Usually I am miss Tall Live Yummy-smelling Tree. Nope. Saw the pink tinsel in September, and snapped it up before they were going, anticipating exhaustion and no interest in searching for just the right tree in December. Thank goodness. Phew! And dudes, it was freakin' after Soltice before Connor finally drug the thing up from the basement and said we NEEDED to put it up. Yeah, suppose it was time!
And, ummmm… house decorations? Hahahahahahahahaha!!! Yeah, my orange, cranberry and chili pepper garland from last year is the extent of it. I ALWAYS get garland, and hang lights and baubles from the garland, and the live tree, and decorate the tree in the front yard with pine cone bird feeders and disco ball decorations and ribbon, and the mantle has candles and sparkly stuff, and branches, and it is beautiful!!! And, I’ve learned, totally not a necessity. I felt bad, I felt totally off my game, I felt as though I were disappointing my family. Nope. Turns out they just want ME! They want me relaxed, and healthy, and taking care of myself and not thinking so much about what I think they ‘need’. Huh! Who knew?
And thus I learned… I learned, again, that Christmas truly is in the being with people who matter in your life. This year, it was just the four of us; me, Jim the hubs, Jorma the son, Connor the grandson. And it was perfectly fine. It was relaxed. It was calm. There was no rushing anywhere. The bigger folk hung out, talked about books and what schools Jorma is going to apply to. We talked about work, we talked about how nice it was to spend a quiet day with each other, the little one playing new games and doing new puzzles, and the tech-free teen enjoying a rare evening of television.
This was perhaps the first year that I haven’t stressed, I haven’t rushed around needing one. more. thing! to make things just. right. I let it go, I let it unfold, and it was all just as good as any other. Maybe even better.
And just before Christmas, as I was putting my sweet boy to bed, he grabbed me in a fierce hug and said, "The best present is having you for a Gramma. I love you sooooo much." You know what? We're doing just fine. We don't need the trappings and the things. We have love. We have home and food and snuggly beddies with cozy-warm blankets. Truly all we need, all that matters.

I am so glad that I was reminded of these things. There are blessings in hardship, and I am grateful to be reminded of that as well.