Thursday, February 24, 2011


I took over a mindfulness group that meets once a week at work shortly after beginning working in substance abuse treatment. While meditation is virtually impossible in our environment--most of my clients would simply fall asleep--I try to introduce some mindfulness technique to my clients. I relate the concept of being aware of triggers with mindfulness. I also work with them on how to recognize stress in their bodies and how to use that awareness to their advantage. It's gotten to be a fairly popular group (clients only show up once, unfortunately, when they are required to take a group in order to earn privileges).

So it's taken me two years to make time to really research mindfulness and think about applying it to my own life. I've used meditation in my life for a long time. Studying Wicca requires it. But I'm now learning to use it more fully. Tonight I decided to check out youtube to see what it might offer. I really like this guy and thought I would share. He does a good job of just getting a person reoriented to breath work and mindfulness.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stepping Outside the Social Grid

The Bali people's daily living takes shape around a system of ritual where Hinduism and agriculture meet. People in Bali depend upon an agrarian system to keep them fed. They work in rice paddies, and their survival depends upon each member of their society knowing exactly their role. Their rice growing society depends upon communal service: "Rice terraces require an unbelievable amount of shared labor, maintenance and engineering in order to prosper, so each Balinese village has a banjar--a united organization of citizens who administer, through consensus, the village's political and economic and religious and agricultural decisions. In Bali, the collective is absolutely more important than the individual, or nobody eats" (Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert).

Balinese people know exactly where they fit in the culture, from birth order to their place in the 13 rites of passages that mark their lives. The balance of their civilization depends upon conformity. So when you walk down the road and someone asks where you are going, you cannot reply "I'm just wandering" without distressing the inquirer. It is better to make up an answer than not offer a reply that fits their expectations. If someone inquires, "Are you married," it is better to reply "not yet" even if you are a lesbian, rabid feminist, 80-year-old nun.

On the one hand, what a comfort to always know exactly where you fit in your culture, your work, and your family. On the other hand, "different" disrupts their social grid to the point that they are distressed simply because you are not married. Or Hindu. Or fill-in-the-blank.On the other hand, what if you don't fit? What if your soul feels the urge to fly? Or to love someone of your own sex? What then?

And how different is that, truly, from our own culture? I live in South Carolina. I've lived in the Midwest or  South for 37 years. I struggle for authenticity in my life, claiming it as a banner. Waiving it around as my hope for salvation in a land of Christian fundamentalists and Southern culture. Yet I work in a place where the only Southerner is the owner. We have employees from Boston, California, and South Africa. We see a client base that is also "other" because of addiction. I've considered changing jobs, but don't dare do so. I'm lesbian. Not a safe to be publicly gay working for the local school system. The Christian fundamentalists won't tolerate it.

Cameron and I dream of living in a place where we both can find authenticity. As Cameron progresses along her path, identifying more and more as male, we both know transitioning here simply won't work. She has too many links to the past, to family, to those who won't understand. And while I was truly encouraged at the measure of support that came to the demonstration last week at Converse College, I also know I can't call five of those folks by name. They aren't present in my daily life offering support and strength. Moreover, we've not found our nitch spiritually here, either.

Guess we've stepped so far out of our cultural, social grid that we're having to define who we are, not by societal exceptions, but by our own intuition. But there are still many places that's not acceptable. Many places that still depend upon a social grid to provide identity and direction.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moments of Bliss...and Unconditional Love

So I'm reading EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert. I deliberately choose not to see the movie, at least until after I experience the book. Not that I have anything against Julia Roberts, but I doubt she can achieve what I need to experience. Yes, I love the book so far.

I've reached about the middle when she talks about people coming to the Ashram from all over the world for a week of silent medication. Now I don't know about you, but the flashes of silence I get in mediation are an incredible relief. My mind races, worries, constantly. My limbic system got wired for constant emergencies at my mother's knee. Literally. I would not say I'm good at silent meditation. I would say that I've been practicing for a very long time...since I started studying Wicca, actually. And I need a lot more practice. It does come easier in my late 40s than it did in my early thirties.

I've also done one short, silent meditation. I took a 24 hour period to go to The Snail's pace, in Saluda, NC the day before my third degree ceremony. It was awesome. I've been craving an opportunity to return and do it again, but have never found the right time. Funny how chosen silence brings out so much "stuff." I've had enforced silence, going up to four days at a time without speaking to another human being on a regular basis because my life had become so isolated. Nothing restful there. More like I was verging on insanity.

So I'm reading my book, the TV is off, I don't listen to a lot of music, and the only sound in the house is the crackle of the fire and the sound a fan (gotta have a fan if you want to burn a fire and have hot flashes). The author writes about the sacred bliss that comes when we claim our inner perfection, our inner sacredness. And I looked around my humble home, and thought about the anxiety of the earlier part of the day, and as I watched the fire, and the cats, I thought, "this is it." I am, in this moment, blessed. I wish I could keep this moment of certainty, of connection, of love when the cat pans need doing, and I get up at 3:30 in the morning to go to work, when anxiety rules my moments.

One little note of serendipity. As I made my way through the section where the author reconciled her losses in relationships, including her ex-husband and a boyfriend, I had my own moment today. I married a man when I turned 30 from India. While I had known him for five years, during which he pursued me relentlessly, I didn't know I had also married a psychopath...a dangerous story for another day. I got my own affirmation for good decisions today while reading about the reconciliations to the past. I received a notice that the condo my ex and I owned together was about to be auctioned off for unpaid taxes. I did some quick research and made a phone call or two. Turns out he's still a computer programmer, working for a company with world-wide name recognition. He's probably making $100,000 a year and hasn't paid an accumulated $3,000 tax debt. He kept our condo out of spite when we divorced because he knew he I wanted it. He's probably let it go to move himself and his Indian wife (arranged marriage) into his parent's condo across the street...and rather than pay the debt, characteristically let it go. He always said he didn't care about money. Actually, he did. But only for the power it gave him over others; he paid his parent's and brother's bills while letting his own go so that he could have power. Yep, I got the Universe's confirmation of good decisions on a day I needed to hear it...

I don't know about you, but keeping  unconditional love for myself is hard. I certainly didn't have it this morning when I wailed about my shortcomings. I didn't have it for my wife when I got all impatient because she didn't "get it" the instant I thought she should. Or maybe I did. When the hurricane is gone, and we are left in comfortable silence, when we know our place in the universe and trust in the love we share with the people in our lives, and when my wife still loves me no matter what I twit I have been; maybe that is also sacred, blessed, and filled with grace.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Budget Cuts and Planned Parenthood

Anyone else noticing the antics of our lawmakers and the contradictions of their actions?

The House of Representatives just voted to cut all screening, prevention and family planning funding from Planned Parenthood. Apparently our lawmakers believe that if they remove all funding from Planned Parenthood, they can prevent funding abortion.

Hello? Research? Proof?

In case our lawmakers aren't paying attention, people are not going to stop having sex. Unwanted pregnancies can be prevented with condoms and education. Rather than providing services to low-income persons who otherwise will have yet more children they cannot afford to raise, our lawmakers preach morality and refuse to provide services. Meanwhile, they drive nice cars, live in the burbs, and have health care coverage.

Moreover, the consequences are far more expensive than the prevention of unwanted, unintended pregnancies. According to Reuters, raising a child costs $291,570. This price does not include childbirth or college. So for the lack of a condom, our nation will assume the cost of education, medical and other needs. And if the child lacks attachment figures and other needs, thereby winding up in the legal system, the cost increases even more. A quick Google search suggests that housing an inmate in the legal system $20,108 per year or about $55 a day, not including building maintenance, staff, etc.

I've been through four layoffs in my lifetime. I'm familiar with the end of the year push to salvage this year's numbers to justify next year's existence, regardless of the consequences. It horrifies me that we run our country that way. We look so closely at the final bottom line number for this year that we refuse to read the fine print indicating consequences for the next year, the next ten years or the next generation.

To add fuel to my rant, this is one of those things from Facebook that I posted on my wall:

Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP's War on Women

1) Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't yet. Shocker.
2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."
3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that couldmake it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)
4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. 
5) In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life. 
6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said.Women should really be home with the kids, not out working. 
7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.
8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
9) Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.
10) And if that wasn't enough, Republicans are pushing toeliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Joy in the Day

I want to live joyfully. I want to be present in the moment and joyful in its touch, sound, and taste. I want to treasure the roses on the table my lover gave me Monday because she loves me. I want to taste my fresh cranberry orange bread and celebrate that I made it today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Anatomy of Hate: White Supremest

Last night I attended a viewing of "The Anatomy of Hate", aired at Converse College. When I heard that it would be aired and that the Westboro Baptist Church was coming, I had to go. I'm glad I did. But I have to admit that some of the images are haunting me today.

Meet one of the interviewees of the film. This is Billy Roper:

Billy Roper, head of Arkansas-based White Revolution, a racist organization that promotes cooperation between white supremacist groups, is devoted to unifying the disparate and fractious racist right. In fact, White Revolution's inception is due, in large part, to Roper's outreach efforts as an official with the neo-Nazi National Alliance (NA), where he first made a name for himself. His vision of a unified white power front conflicted with the NA leadership's conception of itself as an elite vanguard poised to carry out a "white revolution." Roper's views led to his dismissal from the NA in September 2002 and his founding of White Revolution a few days later. Roper used the skills and contacts he had cultivated as NA's Deputy Membership Coordinator to jumpstart White Revolution.

One of the most troubling images of the film was the greased pig chase. Now, I've never attended a greased pig chase, nor have any desire to do so. For me, it is a metaphor rather than a reality. Before I go any further, allow me to say that I did a little research and greased pig chases don't usually end in the death of the pig, unless the winner slaughters the pig after they go home. This was different.

During a summer white supremest festival, children were extremely excited  about a greased pig chase. I was unprepared for the small pig, more like a piglet, to be so cute. He was released and really had no fear of humans. Children chasing him and pushing him around finally got him to run. Until the taunting children brought him down. Beat him down. Kicked him down. Viciously, brutally killing the small pig one blow, one kick at a time from small hands and feet. I hope you are horrified as I am. I hope you are even more horrified when I report a father encouraging his four-year-old son to kick the poor thing until it died. Then the father cut the belly and I couldn't look after I saw entrails spill out. A later image showed an older child holding up the gutted carcass.

Besides the animal rights issues, which we can all agree upon, I have another one. I grew up in Arkansas. My pardon to his son and his wife, but I'm telling you that folks from Arkansas can be mean. An Indian friend once told me it's because the displaced Indians cursed the soil. I have another theory. By the time settlers reached Arkansas, the fertile hills and valleys of Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana were gone. It took hard scrabble settlers to settle hard scrabble land. I remember when parts of Ar got electricity in the '70s.

So this summer festival, held by white supremests encourages children to kill animals, devaluing life. Surely killing comes easy when a young child learns such valuelessness of life and is praised for callous cruelty. And in a world where white supremests disdain "other", killing other just got trained into the children as I watched. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Burnout, Vending and Reflection

Cameron chatting with my coworker,
who was vending in the next booth.
As many of you may recall, last year was Designs by Dreamweaver's first year vending at festivals. We learned quickly that vending in downstate SC is a waste of time. People don't have the money to spend. We did a lot better in NC, and had thought we might just do a few festivals there this year.

However, we are a year older. I'm still recovering from last year's burnout. And I was very surprised to learn that the studio stays a little colder than I like for working polymer clay in the winter. I've barely been in there for last several months. Worse, Cameron's hip continues to deteriorate. Don't tell Cameron that I've told you, but I don't think she can make it a season toting a tent and setting up and tearing down a booth. Indeed, I'm not sure my knees will, either. While my coworker is making plans and inviting us to festivals, I am finding myself back peddling. While he was searching festivals, however, he found the following pictures from Chesnee, SC taken last May:

Yep, that's me. I actually like this picture. fairly flattering.
As a kid, my parents never took me anywhere and certainly not to a carnival. The little kid part of me delighted in the rides, the lights, and the smell of cotton candy. I don't honestly know how I managed to work eight hours, come home and work six more making pendants, and spend the whole weekend vending. I also had to flip my sleep schedule every weekend since I go to bed around 8 every night. It was crazy!

The carnival lights are one of the best things about vending.
So this year any festival attendance will be by pleasure rather than necessity. I'm glad we did it, but I don't have it in me to repeat the experience this year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What the Hell am I Doing Here?

So Cameron's car is in the shop and her hips won't let her drive a stick shift. So I offered to drive her to school tonight. It's about 40 minutes each way, so it didn't make since to drive home for only an hour before heading out again to pick her up (not to mention the gas money). I brought the computer with the idea of going to Panera Bread for the their wi-fi. I'm not sure if that was a good idea or not...

I set up just inside the front door. It's a bit breezy here, but the people watching is good. How is it that virtually all the people having supper at Panera Bread are skinny??? I've been sitting here for two hours and only seen one woman who is heavy as I am...of course, I'm newly sensitized to the extremity of my size having visited Ross' just before coming here. The good news is that I found an awesome pair of work pants (why is that plural if I bought one?) and the bad news is full length mirrors. 'Nuff said.

So I'm sitting here bravely resisting the call of sweets and treats. I won't even buy a drink because I'm convinced the chocolate will attack me. I talk myself around to a comfort zone when I see a huge influx of people dressed for church. Wait, it is Thursday night. Why??? Yep, I pegged it right. There's a bible study going on in the corner. They are passing a book and taking turns reading a paragraph each.

Well, alrighty then. Guess they have the right. So can I bring Starhawk's book and have a study group too?

This is the south. I'd probably be lynched before I made it to my car. I really gotta move.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fox News and the Middle East

For quite some time I have joined much of the world in watching events in the Middle East. My oldest son did a tour in Iraq and I worried for his safety. I joined much of the world as Iraq held their first election. When Allawi won, I joined the world's confusion as Malaki jockied for power and delayed forming his government until he had a power base formed. Cameron and I watched the day the UN broadcast Iraq's release from Chapter 7 sanctions. We also witnessed the forming of their government (since they were speaking Arabic, we were really confused when Allawi got pissed and walked out with twenty other parliamentary members). But I digress from where I really wanted to go.

As the sudden civil unrest mounts in Egypt, Cameron and I have watched the news with great trepidation. It's not the underclass protesting conditions. Instead, it the educated, the professors, the white collar workers who can't find a job, who can't feed their families, who have no hope while their leader flies ice cream and yogurt in from France and has 80 billion in private holdings. but I digress...

I identify with the educated people in Iraq and Egypt who thought getting an education would provide them with a solid future. I bought into the same promises. I have a $250,000 student loan and the monthly payments are more than I bring home. Indeed, my wages of gone down substantially while the interest has added to that loan. I only make $28,800 and Scrooge hasn't given raises in two years. That's $8000 less than the job I moved to SC for. That's $14,000 less than I made as debt collector before the company closed (only needed a high school diploma for that job). And a fraction of the $64,000 I made as a technical writer in the '90s before the .com crash and the loss of that career. But I digress...

So this morning Cameron tells me that Fox News can't seem to use a correct map of the Middle East. Here's what they put on the news:

CLASSIC: Fox News Egypt FAIL

Hmmm...I thought Egypt was part of Northern Africa...And looks like they lost Iraq all together! LOL Here's a correct map:

Moral of the story: Maybe this over educated technical writer / substance abuse counselor should have gone to work at Fox news so they can use the right map.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Food and the World's Greatest Spaghetti Sauce

Have I mentioned that I am compulsive overeater? No, really. Card carrying. Even attended 12 step meetings in my twenties when I still lived in Ar. I've struggled with my weight all of my life. Deprivation and abuse as a child can do that to a person. Enough said about that today, as that's not the point at all.

When I turned 40 I moved to SC (chasing Cameron, and caught her too!). I didn't know I was perimenapausal. In my late thirties I weighed 169 pounds, was a size 16 and quite satisfied with my weight. Changing metabolism, depression, sedimentary job and my weight went up. Did the Atkins thing for a while, got back to a size 18, and then became a debt collector. Have I mentioned I hated that job, although I was very good at it: "Hi, I'm calling on behalf of Dollar General and have your return check here in my office. We are scheduled to send it back through your account on Friday for $207.69 including the return check fee. Will your funds available or do you need me to wait until Monday?"

I topped out at 291 pounds. That's a lot of weight for someone who doesn't quiet make it to 5-04. Worse, being broke is not conducive to healthy eating. Fresh fruit and veggies are expensive. And stress and depression don't help.

Things have changed a little. I'm in a job I love, even if I do work for Scrooge (please have another lump of coal? Running the air conditioning when it's 20 degrees outside should be illegal). I've had a little discussion with my body about portions (half what it used to menopausal women really don't need a lot of food...damn). Cameron's student loan came in, and I tackled our kitchen. Yes, there really was a can from 1999. And if people generously have brought us food on occasion, out of kindness upon seeing our empty cabinets or frig, I'm still not eating the gift of black eyed peas.

All out of date cans cleared from the shelves, I had room to organize. And then I changed how we eat. We've cut our portions. And I get one desert a day. Every day. No cravings, no deprivation, no guilt. And if I screw up, no starting over, I just keep going.

Today I weigh 277 pounds. I've still a long way to go, but it's happening. And food is going from my little secret to my public pleasure. So don't be surprised when my favorite recipes, some borrowed, some created, show up here.

So here's the most awesome Spaghetti Sauce Recipe I've ever made:

Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

In the crock pot, combine:
3 cans Hunts diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
2 cans tomato paste
1 20 ounce can crushed tomatoes
Brown sugar
In a skillet combine:
                2 pounds hamburger
                1 stalk celery diced
                1 large onion diced
Drain the hamburger and combine with crock pot. Cook till dinner.

This makes tons...we ate lunch. And dinner. And I've a spaghetti casserole (top with mozzarella cheese and bake) for tomorrow. Cut those leftovers into servings and freeze for another day. A reasonable serving size, and little salad, and a desert (lemon bars today).

Oh, and the day I make deserts? Usually about once a week -- I get two! Rewards for sticking with it. LOL I also freeze any deserts not planned for the day. And they do not come out of the freezer until they are to be defrosted for the follow day. Oh, and I get to eat my desert first! Usually an hour or so before supper. Pretty cool, huh?