I’ll be out of touch with you all for awhile. My dear father passed away on January 5.
Category Archives: Family
Health News on Huffingtonpost.com|Amanda L. Chan
A new study of Bolivian villagers shows a link between having a younger brother and slightly increased blood pressure levels later on in adulthood, though the Brandeis University researchers did note that the effect seemed to diminish with age.
They found that the study participants who reported having a younger brother had as much as 5.9 percent higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels, than those who didn’t have a younger brother.
Therefore, “in a large family, the number of younger brothers may exert an impact on an individual’s blood pressure,” the researchers wrote in the Economics and Human Biology study.
Dear Youngest Brother,
Well, it turns out that it wasn’t the salt in my diet. It’s not the extra pounds I’ve got hovering around my waist. It’s not my job, my bank account or my extra gray hairs. It’s you, all YOU.
When you forced me to lower the amount of salt I consume in foods, I complied. I did! Gawd almighty, does food taste like crap now! That change alone has kicked up my stress level. I can no longer look at a potato chip without weeping.
This summer, before I insulated my home to R54,006, you “recommended” that I record the temperature of every wall and floor in my home and compare it with the outside temperature. I agreed to the task. Your detailed explanation on thermal imbalances was instructive. I tried to concentrate and listen, but all I could do was fret over the millions of molecules of expensively cooled air escaping to the outside. Just the mere act of walking around with you while you pointed your Fluke 561 Infrared Thermometer at each wall and floor in my home elevated my blood pressure.
And when you hooked up your MURATA – ACM20-2-AC1-R-C – AC POWER METER, 85VAC to 264VAC to every electrical device in my home to measure the power drain produced by each, I gritted my teeth and steeled myself against the stress of finding out that along with the billions of ions being sucked out of my electrical outlets, dollar bills were floating out of my bank account like a major butterfly migration. Al right. I suppose I don’t need to leave NPR on for my two dogs to listen to while I’m gone during the day.
I bought my freezer without having you there to check the kilowatts used per hour per year. But then I was so worried that the one I purchased wasn’t energy efficient enough, I was prepared to create and then paste a fake energy usage label over the one it came with. Look, little brother, my freezer uses .0000000000000000000001 kWh/year! Hey, I’m producing energy for the nation!
Why do I still tell people that gardening is relaxing? It was once long ago, when you lived full time in that desolate and desiccated area of Texas, unable to grow anything but cacti, rocks and scorpions. But after you moved a few blocks away and began to plant your own Gloating Victory Garden, things changed. I can’t possibly compete with someone who lovingly repositions his tomato plants every half hour to give them the full advantage of the sun’s rays. And who actually assists in the pollinating process. Telling me that your plant, which was potted just two days ago, now has 88 tomatoes on it sends my blood pressure up the giant’s beanstalk. Yes, of course, little brother, your beanstalk is much taller.
I can’t put plastic in the microwave anymore. I’ve been robbed of that convenience. Your admonishments about cancer causing agents leaching from the plastic has added significant seconds to my mealtimes. And now I have to wash an extra dish. Geez. If we’re going to go all formal like that, I might as well sit down at the table to eat instead of standing at the sink.
Thanks to you, younger brother, recycling is now my new religion, the altar, my recycling bin. Watch me dive into the trashcan to fish out a 1 cm x 1 cm piece of cardboard that accidentally fell into it. Watch the grocery store clerk glare at me when I toss a dozen apples onto the conveyer belt because I can’t bring myself to use the store’s plastic bags. Look at my collection of furniture and trinkets I made out of Styrofoam because I can’t bear to throw it in the regular trash.
Ignorance was bliss. And, it was less stressful. Now that you’ve helped convince me that global climate change is here, I cannot touch the thermostat, the light switch, any power-on button, or drive somewhere in my car without hearing that little brotherly voice of reason and reproach. I sweat in the summer, freeze in the winter, squint my eyes in a dimly lit home, and I walk everywhere. It could be worse. I could be living in a yurt in the middle of Idaho’s hinterlands.
OF COURSE our little sister has the blood pressure of a reptile sleeping in the shade. Or of a pillow. She doesn’t have a younger brother. She can compete with you, argue with you, get peeved with you, but HER stress level remains subterranean. I’m her stress bag. You, younger brother, are the lightning, sister is the kite string, and I am the metal key and Mr. Ben Franklin.
But let me say this last thing: Everyone, EVERYONE, would benefit from having a younger brother. The benefits far outweigh any disadvantages. I can do without the salt, the AC, the illumination and all the rest. I can’t do without a younger brother.
This Thursday, finally, with much relief, Idaho’s legislators called sine die and left town. On Friday, many of my coworkers, including me, were back to wearing jeans. We’re forbidden to do so while the legislators are in town. I hear it’s a “showing respect” thing. Hmmm.
My sister returns on Monday night (finally!) after an extended stay with our parents in Texas. She did all the things a good daughter would do, at least the kind of daughter who hopes to gain the upper hand with our parents and knock her big sister off the Favorite Daughter pedestal.
- She took our father to the store and helped him pile $40 worth of chocolate candy into the cart. That’s enough for at least 4 meals for him. I’d have gotten him double that amount AND made him some chocolate fudge. You said you couldn’t find any See’s Candy? Well, there’s a package on its way from ME.
- She made dozens of meals for them that are now proudly perched in their freezer, lined up like the over-eager thunder-stealing children they are. Sorry, sister. I could have told you Dad wouldn’t like the eggplant casserole, but you didn’t ask. I’d have made him a nice juicy filet with a side of chocolate candy, because I know he doesn’t like his foods all mixed together into an indistinguishable mass trying hard to hide a VEGETABLE.
- She played Dominoes with my parents and let my Dad win. I’d not only have let my Dad win, I’d have rewarded him with a piece of chocolate every time he placed a domino AND asked, “Whose turn is it?”
- She helped Mom put together a cute little basket filled with homemade goodies to take with her to her bridge club. How banal. I’d have filled the basket with money. Those bridge-playing folks can get all the homemade goodies they want, but a couple of Jacksons would buy them all the Scotch they need and desire.
- She cut both my Dad’s and Mom’s hair. For free. I’d have not only cut their hair, but given them a massage, a mani-pedi, facial, a Rolfing, and some chocolate. I run an upscale boutique, not a sleezy corner barbershop.
- She stayed up until midnight watching a movie with my Mom and Dad. Okay, this one’s tough, but a couple of Red Bulls and a lengthy nap in the afternoon would probably do the trick for me. So, I not only would stay up that late, but I’d prepare a delightful breakfast for our late rising parents who she tried to wear out.
- She became my Dad’s personal bartender, turning every late afternoon into an alcohol-laced, Jeopardy-watching happy hour. I’d have done that but I’d also have provided hors d’oeuvres. And not a single one of the appetizers would contain vegetables. There’d be a box of Cheez-its among the buffet along with chocolates and plenty of alcohol.
- She gave Mom two pairs of pants. Hand-me-down-pants, however. I’d have gone online and ordered every pair of elastic-waist pants available and had them delivered that day along with matching blouses.
- She went to the store and bought them a new, user-friendly thermostat. I don’t care if the thing only has two buttons to operate; any fool would know that the number of times you can punch the up and down arrows is INFINITE. I’d have never wasted the time and money on that. I’d have bought Mom a personal, portable, battery-operated fan and Dad some nice, thick, cozy sweaters, bedroom slippers, and some more chocolate.
- She made dozens of desserts for them and put some in the freezer for the future. Now, that’s just unfair, prejudicial, and stacking-the-deckish. I’m going online to See’s Candies and setting up an account.
I look forward to my sister’s return. I know she has lots to tell me about the last 2-and-a-half weeks. I enjoyed the word-a-day emails she sent and I’m grateful that she could spend that much time with my dear parents. I owe her.
But she owes me for putting up with Satan, I mean, Carmella, for all that time. She owes me for lost sleep, lost productivity, and for that one pillow her dog gutted. Their reunion will be nauseatingly affectionate. I certainly hope that my sister appreciates the effort it took to help Carmella lose a few pounds while she was a member of Jean’s Boise Fat Camp. Her dog no longer sports the bloated, pyknic physique she did a few weeks back.
Helping a dog lose weight isn’t easy. Sometimes the weight comes off unevenly. Oh, well.
If I could hear what people are thinking, the words, “Were you raised in a barn?” would land at the top of the list of questions heard most often.
I’m not a dainty creature at all. That and the fact that I lack certain graces and refinements that most women enjoy make enduring the occasional social engagements uneasy at best and downright embarrassing at worst. But, needing some lame excuse for my behavior, I blame growing up in a big family. My formative years spent among four siblings left me with some crosses to bear. They’ve also left others with some mockery to dispense. Most of the shame I experience has everything to do with dining and mealtimes. Here follows a few unfortunate shortcomings I contend with.
Mealtimes in a large family can bring out the beast in some of us—hungry beasts who eat hurriedly and ask questions later—questions like, “What did I just eat?” and “Is there any more?”
Picture this: There are seven people around a dinner table and 13 breaded veal cutlets (bacon isn’t the candy of meats, a veal cutlet à la my family recipe is). Mealtime with my family wasn’t an episode of Survivor, so I couldn’t vote anyone out of the dining room. And, I’m not a magician, so I couldn’t conjure up one more veal cutlet to make it an even two apiece.
What’s left to do: Eat quickly, don’t stop to chew.
Years later, I’m still eating as though I were a child around my family’s dinner table. Sometimes I look up after finishing my meal, see the nearly full dinner plates of my companions, and feel acutely embarrassed and self-conscious. Sometimes I eat so quickly I can’t remember what I just ate. Entire meals depart unnoticed save for the nearly pristine plate upon which the just finished meal sat.
I’ve tried all the techniques to slow myself down. Chewing food until it’s the consistency of puree is annoyingly time-consuming and unnecessary, unless you’ve got an esophagus the diameter of a sparrow’s.
Putting one’s fork down after each bite results in wasted energy. Proof of that: Putting a shovel down after each shovel-full of dirt makes the gardening chore last much longer and prevents one from moving on to more enjoyable things, like dessert.
Taking a sip of water after each bite hydrates a person to the point of balloon-bursting uncomfortableness. And it makes you feel all sloshy inside. People can hear those gurgles and the waves breaking on the shore, you know. Taking a sip of wine after each bite only leads to drunken dinner conversation and worse table habits, like picking up the plate and licking it clean.
Inadequate or Absent Mealtime Conversation
Mealtimes among my family were frequently tense. Someone was always angry at someone else. One of my siblings was usually feuding with another sibling. My father, suffering from severe allergies, could be quite cranky and frequently taciturn. There would be no talking permitted. Just eating and tension.
And eating while tense is a certain pathway to speed chewing and choking. It also doesn’t lend itself to friendly and relaxed mealtime conversation. So, to this day, mealtime conversation for me is a forced exercise. It took me years to go beyond the words, “Are you going to eat that?” to discussions about the weather.
Difficulty Using Utensils Properly
When a fork is too often used in the manner of a shovel, the finer, more dexterous, muscular skills suffer. Sadly, embarrassingly (and expensively), I seem to lack the basic knowledge of how to eat with a fork. Occasionally, I stab my mouth with the tines. The second try is usually a success. No harm done. But once in a while, harm does occur, resulting in a chipped tooth. After a series of mishaps involving chipped teeth and a fork, I finally replaced my worn and whittled picket fence with veneers.
Then, this week, I chipped one of the replacement front teeth. On a fork. Later on that day, my coworkers gave me the inservice on how to properly eat with a fork. I learned that the job involves using the lips rather than the teeth to pull the food from it. It was an expensive lesson. I’m contemplating switching to chopsticks for everything except soup. That I can slurp. I’ll need to buy a pair of safety goggles, though.
Unwillingness to Let Others Have a Taste
This characteristic ties in with the reason I learned to eat quickly. Throughout my adult life, I’ve dated men who think it’s acceptable to take food from my plate without asking—while I’m heavily engaged in wolfing down my meal. This habit that some people display annoys—no, enrages—me. I shelter and guard my plate with the protectiveness of a stray dog over a sparsely meated bone.
Once I even heard myself growl over my plate as I was stabbing my date’s hand with a fork. Now there’s a good use for a fork!
My saving grace is that I’m rarely, if ever, invited out to dine, unless it’s with my coworkers, and they don’t count. But whatever skills and artfulness I lack in mealtime etiquette, I largely make up for by entertaining my dining partners. It’s the closest any of them have ever gotten to being present during mealtimes in the wild kingdom.
Oklahoma, like Nebraska, is a fly over state, so why anyone would feel inspired to create a musical about the place escapes good sense.
This past week my mom and I went to see and hear the musical, Oklahoma! The name of the musical feels entitled to an exclamation point. What with the furious enthusiasm displayed throughout the play, I suppose it’s justified.
During intermission, I leaned over and whispered in my mom’s ear, “This is the most insipid thing I’ve ever watched.”
But not just insipid — implausible, embarrassingly silly, and just all wrong. It’s part dark comedy and part fantasy. No one gets up in the morning in Oklahoma and sings about how beautiful the morning is. That happens in Hawaii, or California, and perhaps Oregon, but not in OK. What was Curly, the lead, looking at that could have inspired a four minute croon? Cornfields? Prairie dogs? The edge of the world?
All that happy singing, combined with the love story between Lori and Curly, juxtaposed with the sinister role of the antagonist, Judd, who at one point tries to rape Lori, was disturbing. And then add the bit of slapstick between Will and his slutty girlfriend — well, it was quite jarring. I think the actor who played Judd, the spurned ranch hand, was inspired by the role Jack Nicholson played in the Shining.
Anyway, I’m here in Texas visiting my parents. My oldest brother and his family live next door, so I’m thrilled to have been able to see them, too. My mom and I have walked to Target a few times, for exercise and ingredients. She has a good, sturdy cart she bought to carry her purchases. She doesn’t at all seem to mind not driving.
I recaulked the tub in the guest bathroom, I made a chicken soup and beef pot pie, I changed the batteries in two smoke alarms at 3am, and I scrubbed the kitchen appliances. I added one more label to the ones stuck to all the kitchen cabinets and doors to identify the contents within. Mine was “Toaster.” And I met the neighborhood psycho, who called me an SOB for no apparent reason. It’s been a wonderful visit.
At one point my Dad asked me if I’d ever consider moving in with them. I said, “Sure, but you know that would include my two dogs.” He answered by making a face.
Well, that’s that, I guess.
I wasn’t raised on a farm. I’ve never even been on a farm, frankly. I’ve seen farm animals up close, but only at the State Fair.
I’ve read about farm animals—much of my knowledge comes from James Herriot’s series of books and the PBS series, which gave me almost all the information I needed. He writes honestly and lovingly about the farm animals he helped while working as a veterinarian in England.
Of all the farm animals, I’ve got a singular fondness for sheep. They seem so sweet and unassuming, yet can be driven to extreme and valiant measures if threatened. This information I got from watching Wallace and Gromit’s “A Close Shave.”
Emboldened by the vast knowledge gained from these reliable sources, I entered the world of wool this weekend. This latest interest of mine has nothing to do with fashion, mind you. I can’t tolerate the feel of wool against my skin. I might as well be wearing an outfit made of cockleburs—the sensation is that unpleasant. No, instead, it all has to do with Christmas ornaments.
The other day I bought a charming bird ornament made out of a felt ball. See how adorable this is!
And it drove me to coveting more. I wanted far more than one of these. I wanted an entire covey, a flock, a gaggle! Whatever a gang of bird ornaments is called, I wanted more. Of course, I didn’t want to pay for them. When faced with limited funds, but an enormous amount of creativity, pluck and clumsy skill, I tend to make my own objects of my desire. I decided to make felt bird ornaments much like the one I have.
But first, I needed felt. I didn’t even know what felt was before I started this adventure in crafting. I thought felt was the stuff bought in small, tidy, colored squares at JoAnn Fabrics. Silly me.
Thanks to Google, I discovered an entire world of felt—wool felt roving, in particular. But woe is me! Woe, woe, woeful day! Where was I to find felt roving? Of course, I could purchase it online! But those prices! My goodness! Is the wool felt roving I found online gathered from the Queen Mum’s sheep?
This wouldn’t do. I couldn’t embark on yet another craft that would inevitably require much of one paycheck to develop into a profitable sideline.
So, in great discouragement and frustration over having craftiness and an entire set of felt bird ornaments thwarted, I gave up … sort of. I decided to stop by some thrift and antique shops in the hopes of finding ornaments made of felt balls that I could take apart and use for my darling little birds.
After an hour of searching, it was clear that I wasn’t going to find the raw materials for my new project. And my two Boston Terriers were becoming fidgety and annoyed. I said, “Okay, girls, we’re going home.” And as soon as I said that, I decided to stop by an antique store on the way back to my house. I was certain that I’d find an ornament or two made of felt balls.
Not so. But upon entering one small vendor’s area of the store, I noticed a wall of craft materials. I bent closer. Closer. On the bottom of the wall hung a very large plastic bag packed with wool roving. Fortuity! Coincidence! Providence! Whatever. I grabbed the bag, paid the dollar for it and hurried home.
In my studio, I opened the bag of wool roving and began to pull it out. The sensation was unpleasant. The wool was quite greasy. Okay, no biggie. Sheep = lanolin. It all made sense. Following the directions from one web site, I managed to make this one felt ball.
Imperfect, yes, but I knew that I could do better. I went back to the large bag and pulled the entire contents out onto my painting table. The sensation then was one of pure horror and revulsion.
This was not clean wool. This was not the wool you’d purchase online. There were things in it. Brown, clumpy things. The smell was horrifying. Imagine sweating sheep roasting on a tanning bed. Imagine sheep being dipped in lanolin, left out in the sun for a month. Imagine Satan’s breath.
But I couldn’t give up now. After all, I only paid a dollar for the stuff! So, I tried to wash it in my utility sink. I didn’t turn the lights on in the utility room because I couldn’t bear to see this mass of wool up close. The smell was overpowering. The water turned dark, dark brown.
I gave up on that method. I didn’t want to touch it anymore. I gathered it up, threw out some of the larger chunks of brown unmentionables and put the entire mess into a nylon bag. I shoved it into the washing machine with ample detergent, turned the water temperature to high and prayed that my washing machine would tolerate the stink and not spit it all out onto the floor in disgust.
After taking it out of the washer, I put it aside to dry. The next morning, I removed the mass from the bag and saw this:
Pretty, huh? And it doesn’t smell bad at all.
I proceeded with the next steps in felt ball creation, using a different method, which involved dipping small masses of the wool into soapy water, rolling them into balls, tying nylons around each one, and then tossing them into a grateful washing machine. After the cycle completed, I have this:
This is not what I expected. There is work left to do to get a nice compact ball. But, hey, I’ve got 364 days to work on this.
This is my last post before Christmas, and besides wishing all of you a wonderful holiday and my everlasting gratitude for having you all as readers, I leave you with this thought:
Seize 2012 by the scruff of the neck. Don’t be thwarted by negative comments and opinions; don’t be waylaid by negative people nor events. Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do what you set out to do.
My mother was, throughout my youngest days, quite generous with my childhood memories, more than willing to bestow them upon strangers.
Because of this innate charitable inclination of hers, little remains of Christmas decorations from my childhood. Certainly the accumulation of five children would have resulted in a huge collection of ornaments and other memorabilia. But where are they? And what were they?
I’ve heard many people talk about their childhood Christmases, the gifts they received, the traditions their family shared, the decorations in their homes and what Christmas Eve was like. I know people who can remember their 3, 4, and 5-year-old selves! I often wonder what’s wrong with me—there’s a lot, I know—but one of the most troubling flaws is the fact that I can’t remember a thing earlier than the age of 12. More than a decade is missing from my memory centers! I have borrowed and stolen memories from siblings whose brains are clearly better at storing those things. So, I have a faux memory of my 4-year-old self being the only sibling left behind in our Alaska home while the others went off to star in an episode of Romper Room. And I have a faux memory of my siblings and my 6-year-old self gathering golf balls off the course near our home in St. Louis, Missouri.
Yes, it certainly doesn’t help that Mom had a propensity for giving away our childhood stuff. My more mature self forgives her; after all, what with five stair-stepped brats and having to move every three years, it’s understandable that she’d get sick of packing up dozens of dolls, stuffed animals, train sets, Tinker Toys and so on. It was so much easier to take them down to the thrift shop and walk away with a nice little pocket-sized receipt.
My stuffed animal, a lamb that I cleverly named “Lamby” is long gone. When I’d ask about it, my mother would, as a way to atone for her sin, tell me that she gave it to a poor family. That was, and still is, her standard answer when any of us children ask her what happened to a childhood toy or the Christmas ornaments. I suppose it doesn’t help matters that we ask my mom these questions in a tone of insufferable indignation. But loss hurts! I can’t even mention the story about my sister’s first Easter basket without listening to her fifteen minutes of sobbing and recriminations towards my mom. The feeble Easter basket substitutes that my mother attempted throughout the years were just that—feeble.
I have raw, piercing envy over the tales of people who claim to still have their childhood Christmas ornaments. Seeing them lovingly photographed and displayed on blogs is simply hurtful. Hearing people talk about them on the radio is like having an apple corer shoved into my eardrums. Stop.
I want to ask my brothers and my sister if they have any of our old Christmas decorations. But I doubt for a minute I’d get an honest answer. Most likely I’d hear the same answer my mom gives. They’re all in collusion to deprive me of my childhood memories! One of these holidays I’m going to sneak into their homes, march right up to their Christmas trees and find the ornaments of my childhood perched lovingly on the branches. Until then, at least I have these photographs.
Notice that my brother, Joseph, has two Christmas stockings? Was this done to make up for the year he received a lump of coal and nothing else? Oh, and take a look at that stocking with the name “Jean” on it. I have a REPLICA of that stocking. Now that really hurts. Makes me feel like the character in that movie whose entire set of youthful memories were placed there by a mad scientist. You know that movie. That one.
That giraffe thing? Which one of you siblings has that??!! And look at that adorable little crib! I’m going next door while my sister is out of the house and I will tear her place apart until I find that thing.
But most of all, notice the tree ornaments. I see some charming, endearing little elf ornaments wearing pointy hats. Are you telling me, mom, that you gave those to a poor family? Couldn’t you just have given them some money or your toaster?
And, in this next photo, you can see even more clearly the enormous adorableness of those ornaments. You can also see me, on the far right, thinking, “I better grab those ornaments now before they get sent to live with a poor family.”
Thank goodness for photos. At least I have some evidence of my family’s Christmas ornaments from long ago as well as evidence that I existed as a 5 year old at one time.
I noticed the other day, after I stopped my selfish blubbering long enough to do the search, that a person can buy old, vintage ornaments from various websites, including ebay. If I ever find out that my family’s Christmas ornaments from days of yore are being sold on ebay, there will be hell to pay.
Gravity … The pull of mass toward the planet’s surface or a state of serious import.
In both senses we fight against a force and, at the same time, live among the force. We can choose to fall down and not get up. We can choose to let the weight of the world keep us from seeing the wonder and magic around us—from trying to make this place of such temporary-ness make sense, to be meaningful. We can choose.
I dedicate this watercolor to a dear friend who lost his mother this week. Be at peace, Brett.