30 April 2008

Finding equilibrium

So, what's next??

I spent a good part of the day yesterday researching diabetes. I know quite a bit about it already, since I once did a series of informational articles about the disease and about the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association. In addition, my Dad developed the disease in the last 10 years of his life. So I felt like I had a good grasp on what this diagnosis meant for me.

And I do, intellectually. But viscerally, I feel sucker-punched.

In June of last year I stopped smoking. I went on the South Beach Diet. In July, I started walking several times a week, at least two miles each time, more often three and sometimes five. I lost 28 pounds. Following the diet instructions, I started adding, in small amounts, those forbidden carbs in the form of the “good” kind: whole grain bread, whole wheat/grain pasta, brown rice, occasional fruits, a few more vegetable varieties. My weight loss guttered out and stopped. I kept walking and, though I lost my momentum and my motivation, I continued to be careful of what I ate. I stuck to protein, ate lots more veggies than I’ve ever eaten in my life, and limited carbohydrates to the “good” ones and only very, very rarely the “bad” ones.

By January I’d gained 10 pounds back.

I’ve managed not to gain back any more, and while I haven’t been a Pillar of Dietary Perfection every single day, I’ve continued to eat healthily.

So the diabetes diagnoses was a real blow.

I haven’t heard from the VA yet regarding a new, and sooner appointment for the mammogram. That “density” is like a lead weight on my psyche right now, so I’d like to get that cleared up ASAP, one way or another. I know what to do about the diabetes as far as what I can do myself, without drugs – step up my dietary vigilance several notches and increase my exercise level.

So right now, I’m going to make a healthy, high-protein breakfast, and then I’m going for a walk.

29 April 2008

40/50 - Up for the next round ...

I’m reeling.

Yesterday I had one of those ooky female medical exams, part of my first yearly physical with the VA. During the breast exam, the doc found some “density” along the outer side of my left breast. She asked if I had a mammogram scheduled. I do, in mid-May.

“No,” she said, “it has to be sooner. I’ll fix that.”

The “density” in my breast could be nothing, she said, so I shouldn’t worry. While I was digesting that, she looked at my blood test results and informed me that I’m diabetic.

I believe that’s called a “one-two” punch.

23 April 2008

39/50 - It's raining, it's pouring ...

One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is the sound of rain outside an open window, pattering on new spring leaves, tippling the old sidewalk, filling the air with a gentle shush and the most sensual, fecund scent. As usual, I’m amused: the weather widget on my desktop has been red-flagging this quiet rain I’m listening to in the minutes before dawn for days now, warning of severe weather. How odd that in the 21st Century, a little rainstorm equals “hair on fire.” Ah, the rabble of robins in the laurels wake up. And yes, there’s a wren.

22 April 2008

38/50 – Worst. President. Evah.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans think that George W. Bush is doing a crappy job as President. The other 28 percent – that’s 28 out of 100 Americans – thinks he’s doing just fine.

They are obviously dunderheads.

The truth is, Bush let us down. Instead of providing strong, capable leadership with honesty and integrity, he lied to us, he cheated us, he stole money from our pockets, he sent our friends and family members to fight and die in an unnecessary war and he laid the whole, stinking debt for it all on future generations of Americans.

Can we arrest him now?

Wisdom from war, ignored

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient
because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what cracking pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

-- Brian Turner
"Here, Bullet"

37/50 - Does heaven have a taste? Mine does.

It’s close to noon. I haven’t eaten. I’m the sort of neglegent person who rarely eats breakfast. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it takes three or four hours after I wake up for my stomach to wake up, too. I’m just not hungry. If there aren’t evil donuts or pastries laying around to tempt me, I don’t eat.

Now I’m hungry. I make my favorite sandwich: Dense, cake-y whole grain bread, light mayo, slices of ripe red tomato with a generous shake of sea salt, and two thin slices of provolone. Simple. Tastes like heaven.

36/50 - Silence of the flimmers

Got behind on my 100-words-a-day-for-50-days self-challenge. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to write – indeed, I’ve been writing a lot. More than 100 words, too, so there.

Frankly, my 100-word posts, no matter what the subject matter, don’t seem to be getting much of a rise out of all youse guys out there. My guess? You don’t like them. True, Blue Wren doesn’t draw many readers. But 30-60 people a day do stumble in, most of them by mistake while searching for “blue flim”. Does anyone say anything? Nope. Days pass in Internet silence. And I lose interest.

20 April 2008

Only the black notes.

Truth. Pain. Faith. Hope. Humanity. Even an old pagan like me can be moved to tears by these intertwined concepts, so profoundly and beautifully presented.

Hat-tip: Andrew Sullivan, who found and posted it first today. As he said, you won't forget this rendition.

18 April 2008

35/50 - Compelled to drift

I’m drifting, floating, swirling slowly down into that strange, compelling state that immediately precedes sleep. It’s only a few minutes after 10 p.m., but my eyelids are almost impossibly heavy. I’m sitting up in my green corduroy office chair, and each time I let go and drift away into that fey country of disembodied voices and sudden images, my head tips off my neck and I flail awake, afraid I’m falling.

I’ll stop fighting it now. I’ve been up since dawn. My body is compelling me to be quiet, curl up snug, close my eyes and fall asleep. Nighters …

17 April 2008

34/50 - Kisses in time

The trauma room clock, which reminds me of the clock above the blackboard in my fourth-grade classroom, tick-tocks lost time into the antiseptic air over the young soldier, prone on the gurney before me.

I gaze at his fine, dark face, his strong neck, his buzzed hair, the gold band on his finger, and the gristly mass of flesh that was once his belly.

His mother blew gentle raspberries there to make her baby boy laugh. His wife kissed him there in love and desire.

The exhausted trauma team is watching me, waiting.

“Time of death,” I say, “0914 GMT.” 

16 April 2008

33/50 - Won't hurt a bit

VA medical center today, first appointment. Doc’s an old lady hippy, quick and lithe with long gray hair and a sweet smile.

The New Rules, good for arthritis hands and hot flashes: No more coffee. No sugar. Take fish oil and grapeseed extract, magnesium and whole foods.

Give up coffee? I swallow hard.

“It will help.”

Hands x-rayed. The reservist who jabbed me with pneumonia vaccine joked about the “shot lines” in basic training. “Remember that?” he asked gleefully.

Oh, did I. Imagine: A gauntlet of hypodermics, each one for your two arms. Left, right, left, right.

I’m still smiling.


15 April 2008

32/50 - Going back to bed

Wake up thoughts this morning:

Where is Knut Gingrich? (shudders)

We all know what a slimeball Joe Lieberman is. Imagine: He could have been elected as VP with Gore. What in the world made Al choose Joe?

Foreclosures on American homes are running about 20,000 per week, according to the New York Times editorial board this morning. Here on my street, a bank auction sign has now replaced the For Sale sign in front of a neighbor’s home. It’s an old place, very small, probably built in the early 60s. The lot is large and pretty, lots of trees.


13 April 2008

Fat, dumb and happy? Um ... not.

As the weeks pass, I grow more and more impressed by Obama. He’s articulating things that most of us would never think of saying, yet these are things that are part of our daily lives and always will be. They need to be said, need to be examined, need to be discussed.

His speech on race and the way blacks and whites think of and regard each other – spoken or unspoken – was stunning and truthful. And now, what he’s said about people being bitter about lost jobs and missed dreams, and so they turn their attention to the things that matter to them most -- that was the truth, too. Excuse me Mrs. Clinton and St. John: There was nothing “elitist” or “out of touch” in what Barack Obama said.

Now, I have some opinions. (No! Really!?):

In the real world, where we live, I think most Americans are practical. They aren’t very concerned about gay marriage and indeed, most people probably wouldn’t even think about it if it weren’t being shoved in their faces. Gays want to marry? Well, why not, if marriage will give them happiness? Isn’t a little happiness all any of us want?

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how John and Mike, loving each other so much that they want to marry and spend their lives together as a couple, nurturing each other and sharing their property, caring for each other and for their families, will threaten anything or anyone at all. Certainly it can’t threaten straight families. Sheesh. Straight couples will always marry and have children. It’s nature. And gay couples will marry and perhaps adopt children. There’s joy in raising children, and no matter the gender of the parents, or whether there are one or two parents, or whether they’re male and female or the same gender, they’re all families. If they’re nurtured, cared for and raised with love, most kids in most families turn out just fine.

This thing about gun control: The people I know who don’t want to give up their guns are the ones who hunt or keep a handgun for protection. These days I question the utility of both – these folks aren’t hunting for sustenance, but sport, and having to defend one’s home from bandits is exceedingly rare. That could change, of course. But as it is, bearing arms isn’t a necessity, it’s a choice. I’d be more comfortable in a world without the damned things, but if they want to have a rifle for deer hunting and a Smith & Wesson for the nightstand drawer, well, OK. I’m appalled by accidents with guns, mainly because they so often involve children. But I guess as Americans, we all have a right to take that risk and face up to if we choose to own guns.

Really, it’s those other guns I worry about. You know, the assault rifles with long-distance, deadly precise scopes, the ones that fire a hundred rounds in a few seconds, or maybe those evil, armor-piercing bullets. Those types of guns have only one use: To kill people. They aren’t used to shoot Bambi or Daffy Duck. They aren’t defensive weapons, either. They’re offensive in every sense of the word. Ban them? Oh, please. Let’s do. The sooner, the better.

Stem cell research: Can we just get on with it, please? The zygotes used in the research, and later, to extract the stem cells that might save lives, are doomed to the dumpster in any case. They will never be babies. They’ll always be unviable eggs. So rather than waste their potential life-giving properties, let’s use them. Maybe I’ll never get Alzheimer’s, thanks to them. Maybe my future son-in-law will never suffer Parkinson’s. Honestly. Let’s just get on with the research. Religious crazies are welcome to keep their eggs to themselves, but believe me, if it happens that stem cells can cure disease and save lives, they’ll gladly reap the benefits just like the rest of us. You watch.

That brings up religion. Personally, I don’t have any and don’t want any, thanks. If you do, good for you. Believe how you wish – just don’t expect me to believe it too, just because you say so. Practice your religion and teach it to your kids privately. Go to church, mosque, synagogue, temple, whatever, and be religious to your heart’s content. But please, keep your exclusive beliefs out of our collective government – they do not belong there. Our government affects all of us, equally, no matter what religion we practice and even if we don’t practice one at all. To inject religion into government changes it in the direction of that particular religion and eventually forces everyone it touches to kowtow to it, regardless of how or what they believe. That is, simply, bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Like America’s founders, I’m all for separation of church and state.

All these are issues that we, as Americans, have been force-fed for the last 25 or 30 years, and most intensely during this last decade. Each of them are legitimate issues by themselves, and worthy of reasoned debate. But except for the last one – separation of church and state – they aren’t issues that have much relevance or urgency in most Americans’ everyday lives.

Obama is absolutely right.

What most Americans are concerned about is getting by, day to day. We’re concerned with surviving. Making sure our kids are cared for. They are, after all, our future. Ours are everyday concerns, shared across the board by nearly all Americans, regardless of race, color, culture, gender, sexual preference or social standing.

What concerns us? Well, even with insurance, we’re worried about how we’ll pay for medical care, should a personal catastrophe hit. Health insurance is horrifically expensive, and it doesn’t cover everything.

And if we don’t have health insurance, we have to forego preventive medical care and are forced to live in terror of illness or injury -- and with good reason. We don’t want to saddle our relatives or our society with such astronomical expenses. We don’t want to lose everything we’ve worked a lifetime for to a couple of MRIs, cancer surgery and treatment. We don’t want to impoverish our children, our loved ones.

So a great many Americans – and more all the time – are looking hard at universal health care for all Americans, period. It simply makes sense. It’s humane. It means everyone will get the medical care they need, and that care will be at least as good as what we’re getting now. Better, in some cases, since with universal health care, no clueless health insurance corporation hack is going to turn down a life-saving procedure so the CEO can buy another yacht. What’s so bad about that? Let’s get on with this one too, please. Most western countries all over the world have already proven that it can be done.

Americans worry about the high price of gasoline, and not because we’re particularly spoiled or selfish, but because in these times, our whole culture, our whole infrastructure, has been built around the idea that everyone has a car. That’s not our fault – it’s just the way it is in America. I don’t know about you, but I was born into this culture. I’ve never really known anything different.

Was it poor planning? Sure. Pie-in-the-sky thinking? Yup. But we have to deal with it now, because the world is running out of oil and there just aren’t any good alternatives. That’s reality. We need to start thinking in terms of remaking things smaller and with more practicality. We need to start re-laying rail and building more trains to move people and products between towns and cities and states, and start bringing communities closer together. Five miles from the McMansion to the nearest grocery store isn’t going to work when gas costs $4 or $6 or $10 or $12 per gallon. Commuting 60 miles to and from a job each day for a livelihood won’t work either. We need to think about these things, start working on solutions. We have to create jobs that can support us closer to home. Yes, it will take time, but ignoring the problem in the hopes that it will disappear, or throwing tantrums over our entitlement to our cars and our stuff is infantile and, I’m sorry, stupid.

Americans worry about the cost of food, which continues to rise and is tied directly to the price of oil. I cringe at my grocery bills – and I only purchase food for myself and Mr. Wren. If I were still feeding a full family, the cost would be crippling. If there’s a bright side to this, it may be that the obesity epidemic (with its accompanying diabetes epidemic) may soon be over.

And as for race relations: Americans came a long way in the 60s, working for civil rights. Then we stopped, mostly, figuring everything was fine and dandy. Well, it wasn’t, it isn’t, and it never has been. I was fortunate that I was able to serve in, and later work for, the military community, because it truly represents America’s melting pot. I worked with, played with and lived close to blacks, Asians, Hispanics and everyone else in between, and they worked with, played with and lived close to white-skinned me. We were equals and treated each other that way.

I’m glad I was able to raise my daughter during her formative years from within that fascinating melting pot and while overseas, in the midst of another country’s culture and people. The experience turned us into very accepting and tolerant individuals, something I can only see as good. There are legitimate issues between races and cultures in America. Obama is right to talk about them frankly. We need to join the discussion with open hearts and minds. We need to work out our differences and find common ground. This is another issue where we have an excellent example of success right under our noses. Why wait?

All of these are things that our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten about while they freak out over gay marriage, shore up corporate malfeasance and go all godly and righteous on us about stem cell research. Are the rest of us bitter? Oh yes. Mr. Obama is dead-on right about that. Is he being “elitist,” talking about it directly and, yes, painfully? No, of course not. He’s being refreshingly honest. Hillary Clinton and St. John McSame are the “elitists,” assuming from their comfortable, insulated worlds that we’re all fat, dumb and happy down here on Main Street.

Shame on them.

The truth is often hard to face, but it’s time that America stands up and faces it, square on. We’re big enough, old enough, and smart enough to pull together to figure out lasting solutions to our problems. And you know what? I sure like the way Obama is leading us toward reconciliation and reminding us of our commonality, humanity and community. I’d like to see the man win the presidency. But no matter what happens between now and November, good on him.

10 April 2008

31/50 - Global warming

Fingers ache. Knees ache. Stomach feels a bit off.

It’s the weather, or so they say. One day rain. Then the next, the sun blares alone in a blank sky dry of clouds and it seems like everything else, too. The bewildered birds stay put in the trees. There’s shade in ‘em.

A body can’t hardly get used to changes that fast. The sun is out now, roasting the pavements and wilting dandelions, but in my fingers it’s still drizzling, and in my knee, it’s raining like hell.

My stomach? I think we can put that down to global warming.

09 April 2008

30/50 - Hurling

It was our sixth call that night. The dispatcher told us where to find our man, and I remember saying to Drew, who was driving the ambulance, that he was probably another drunk. We get a lot of them here.

When we found the dark lump in the middle of the hurling pitch, my guess seemed even more sure. Bloke had probably drunk too much black and wobbled off for home, got lost on the pitch and decided to have a little nap. He wouldn’t be the first.

Pity it never occurred to me that it could be an ambush.

Update: Find more of this story here.

08 April 2008

29/50 - Inspirational cranes

This Chinese bottle, painted on the inside by an artist using a tiny brush, sits on my desk here at home. It's one of my most treasured small things.

Update: Oh, it's a story now! One-hundred more words:

Dawn comes, gray as a pigeon’s back. I dress, wrapping the warm skins, fur-side in, around my bony feet, lacing them secure with gut. I throw my boiled wool cloak, embroidered by my mother with bright silk thread from the old stores, over my shoulders and walk down to the river to wash the sleep from my eyes.

There are no cranes in the shallows.

Except for the river’s burble and clash as it runs down the wide steps of the mountainside, and the breeze whispering in my ears, there is no sound. Even the birds have stopped singing ...

07 April 2008

28/50 - What if cranes ...

What could it mean, if the cranes don’t fly home this year? What if these high mountain meadows never hear again the odd croaking of our beautiful, large, long-legged birds? What if they don’t stalk the reedy, peaceful shallows of the clattering river, spearing small fish with their beaks like lightning-quick warriors? Will the real warriors, those cruel, ugly men with grimacing faces, descend upon us instead of the gentle cranes? Will the people of the mountain be forced to take up defensive arms and embrace the black stain of violence? Through tears I search the cloudless skies for wings. 

06 April 2008

27/50 - Homely things

I’m back. The cat cusses me out for leaving him. The dog glares in silence, aloof and standoffish, pondering whether to forgive me. The Sierra spring came along while I was away. There are honeybees, now. The volunteer apple and cherry trees are bursting with small, pink, delicate flowers. The deep blue-purple irises are open, their yellow beards glowing, and there are red-streaked, yellow tulips open in the little bed by the back door. The day is bright but chilly, the breezy sky studded with maybe-it-could-rain clouds. I have soup bubbling on the stove.

Oh, it’s good to be home.

05 April 2008

26/50 - California here I come...

Last day in New Mexico. Itinerary: Pack, drive the two hours or so to Albuquerque, stop for lunch. Maybe one more chance to eat a wonderful molé before I go. Then to the airport. I will do my patriotic part to prevent terrorism by removing my shoes. Strengthened by molé, I will board the plane and we’ll bump into the wind and bounce home to California. We’ll land, preferably in a soft manner. I’ll start breathing again. And then, homeward over terrain that’s as familiar as the back of my hand.

Back tomorrow, friends.

04 April 2008

Storms over New Mexico

Photo taken at the Overlook in White Rock, NM.

25/50 - Please. No more lies.

Hillary jokes about Bosnia misstatement on Jay Leno

Hillary kicked off her appearance yesterday on The Tonight Show with a joke about the Bosnia gaffe that has caused her a lot of trouble in the polls lately: "I was worried I wasn't going to make it. I was pinned down by sniper fire at the Burbank airport."

After getting the joke out of the way, she then explained the gaffe as having been a case of faulty memory due to her grueling campaign schedule.

Let’s be clear. It wasn’t a “misstatement” or a “gaffe.”

It was a calculating, stupid lie.

02 April 2008

24/50 - Taos flutes

We’re walking toward the old Plaza in Taos, when I stop and cock my head.  “I hear flutes,” I say. “Live, not recorded.” I listen again. “They’re over there.”

Mom and sister sigh as I make a beeline toward the ethereal, birdsong-like music.

I find the musicians: A white man and a Native American woman, playing a duet that wrenches my heart.  I love this music, always have. There’s a bench near them. I sit. “I’m going to listen for a while,” I say.

“I don’t like that music,” sister says. They wander off to shop while I listen, rapt.

Not part of the 100 words: The man playing the flute is Paul Jones, composer, recording artist, maker of gorgeous Native American flutes, and educator. His wife Grace Jones plays the flute and guitar, the Native American drum and is an accomplished artist. You can visit their website at www.kokopelliflutesoftaos.com .

01 April 2008

Struck by fragility

Mid-morning in Los Alamos: I’m walking among the prickly pears.  Pinon pines. Bush-size and tree-size junipers. It’s too early in the Southwest spring for wildflowers. All around me but well hidden are horny toads, sidewinders, diamondback rattlesnakes and lizards of huge variety. Bobcats walked here while I slept. Pumas, too. Elk and deer. 

Under my feet: Red dirt. Tan dirt. Brown dirt. White dirt. Everywhere is rock of all shapes and sizes: blackish-red volcanic boulders contrasting with smooth basalt. Crumbly, melty, mesa rock in wavery stripes of pink and coral.

Above my head: Red-tail hawks soar interconnecting spirals in a cloudless, china-blue sky.

In my ears: A chorus of birdsong, which starts at sunrise and doesn’t end until nightfall; the shush of the unimpeded wind and suddenly, a shocking, huge ka-boom -- the sound of an explosion.

“What was that?” I ask, startled. My sister and I are walking the soft, sandy bottom of an arroyo in the wilderness near her house.

“Oh, the lab blew something up,” she says, unconcerned. But I’m curious, so she points to some nearby mountaintops. A brown plume rises into the air above one of them. It starts to shred on the wind and is nearly gone before I can prepare my camera for a photograph.

 “They do it all the time,” she shrugs. “You live around here for a while, you don’t even notice anymore.”

It’s easy to forget that it was in this very desert that busy scientists with pencils and slide-rules came up with and tested the nuclear bomb. Yesterday, I teared up, moved by the sublimity and grace of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, viewed in the hush of the Santa Fe gallery with her name. 

The blast is an abrupt, ugly reminder of the human hell we create even here, surrounded by this wild, fragile beauty.  

23/50 - Cold again today

“They said it’s going to be really cold again today,” my mother says as I shuffle puffy-eyed to the kitchen and the coffeemaker after a long night wrestling with the Staffie over the bedcovers. Asleep with amazing determination, he’s a 350-pound dead weight.

Still sleepy and slow-brained, I stop. “It was cold yesterday?”

“Well, all that wind,” Mom says.

“Ah,” I say. It reached the low 70s in Santa Fe yesterday, with an occasional cool, gusty wind. It was perfect and refreshing. My cold-blooded mother and sister complained bitterly about the cold all day long.

We’re a family of opposites.

Update: Erk. Sister corrects me: Rocky is a Bull Terrier, not a Staffordshire. Her OTHER dog is a Staffie. She also assures me vehemently that it did not reach the 70s yesterday.  ;o)