Girl with a Pearl Earring

One of the benefits of membership to our local PBS station is that they sometimes have a ‘free member day’ at local museums. Several years ago, that took us to the SF MOMA to see a Picasso exhibit, and Maya and I spent a lovely day in San Francisco together.

This time the ‘free member day’ was for the de Young Museum, one of two fine art museums in San Francisco. They have several exhibits, but the current Special Exhibit is a collection of paintings from the Mauritshuis in Holland, which is a museum that is being expanded and is under renovation until mid-2014. While they’re tearing up the place, they sent some of their paintings on tour, the most famous of which was the Vermeer painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. I read the novel several years ago, and was excited to see the painting for free, so those of us who were willing to get up early and be there 1/2 hour before doors opened (I remembered how crowded the Picasso exhibit was, and that was on a weekday) hopped in the car and went. That means Ted and I. Maya is at that teen age when it takes something more important and exciting than a once in a lifetime chance to see a famous painting in person to rouse her out of bed and be out the door by 8am on a Saturday. We got there at 9, doors open at 9:30. As sometimes happens in a long line, we struck up a couple of conversations with those around us. I was actually pretty impressed that people will make such an effort to see art. The couple ahead of us had driven up from Cambria, spent the night in a fancy hotel, and were spending the day. They were also members of PBS. Then there was a guy behind us, who had flown down from Portland to see another exhibit, on famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, which is leaving in a few days. I was thinking about that, and about how people with certain interests and a certain income level are willing to spend a certain amount of money for such high minded things. If you don’t have the income level to see the exhibit ($25 per person), or to donate to your local PBS station, but you do still have the interest in art, many museums have free days, when you can see the exhibits for free, one day a month, though that won’t get you in to see the Girl and her fancy earring…that’s extra.

The highlights of the exhibit, for me, were Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was so much more lovely in real life than online, and Rachel Ruysch’s Vase of Flowers.

We toyed with buying framed prints of these two paintings to display in our home, but decided that it might seem sort of weird. So I bought some magnets instead. Our fridge is getting arty.

We also saw the exhibit called Rembrandt’s Century, which was comprised of a few paintings and a lot of etchings, both by Rembrandt, and by his 17th century contemporaries. I was glad that I overheard the gentleman behind us saying he had flown down from Portland specifically to see the Nureyev exhibit, because it was well worth seeing, and I don’t know if I would have known about it otherwise. There were photographs and videos of Nureyev dancing, but the most spectacular parts of the exhibit were the costumes, which were dazzling.

There were tutus and costumes from many famous ballets…Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadere, and Giselle, among others. They were sumptuous and so detailed. Just beautiful. I would go and see them again, if they weren’t leaving this week. So glad I got to see them.

After our museum visit, we decided to go out for Chinese food. Just in time for Lunar New Year! Our first thought was to dine in our old neighborhood, Clement Street. The parking gods were not with us, however, and we left, discouraged. Not to be thwarted, we decided to drive a bit further out into the avenues, and get Dim Sum. When we lived just off of Clement, there was a tasty and reliable Chinese restaurant near us, Ton Kiang. They have a sister restaurant further out, that has good Dim Sum, so that’s where we went. We were able to park pretty quickly, and only 2 or 3 blocks from the restaurant, which any big city dweller will tell you is fine parking indeed. The good thing about Dim Sum is that, if you’re hungry, there’s no dilly dallying around with a menu and waiting for your food to be prepared. You sit down, and waiters start coming by with trays of food. You take what you want, and not what you don’t. We ate a bit more than we should have, because we were quite hungry and there was a lot of dumpling and starch involved, so we were pretty full by the time we left. I’m not sure of what all we had, but I do know we had bbq pork buns, shrimp dumplings, eggplant stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and chilies, asparagus, spinach, little riblets, shrimp and rice noodles, and maybe something else. If I could do it over, I’d swap out the ribs and get the salt and pepper calamari instead, but by the time that came around, we were far too full. That’s the down side of Dim Sum. You shouldn’t be greedy and eat the first things that they bring (like we did), and instead, bide your time a bit. Next time perhaps.

Now I’ll finish off this long winded post by telling you that when we got home, I had the overwhelming urge to re-read Tracy Chevalier’s novel, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring‘, which is a completely fictional story, supposing that the girl in the famous painting is a maid in Vermeer’s household, and what her life might be like. Luckily, my copy survived the loathsome book purge of 2007, so I curled up on the sofa and devoured it. I finished before bed, which pointed out to me the difference between a book that completely draws me in, like this one, and one that fails to do so, like ‘Lincoln’, by Gore Vidal, which is sadly not holding my interest. Now I kind of want to see the film version. I think I saw it when it came out in theaters, but I’m not positive, and that would have been about 10 years ago. Maybe time to make a stop at our local video store.

Overall it was a lovely day. It would have been nice if Maya had come into the city with us, but on the other hand, it was quite lovely to have a date with my handsome husband in our favorite city, doing things we love together, just the two of us. I’ll call that a success and not complain a bit.

Dirty Little Secret

I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m an atheist, and that I was raised that way. I’m a little less open about the other lie that we don’t participate in….Santa.  To me, they are very similar.  Stories that bring lots of joy and comfort, but that are just that…stories.  Being an atheist seems somehow safer, culturally.  You can tell people that you can’t reconcile the pain in the world, the natural disasters and mass murderers, with an all powerful and all loving God, and people will respect your view, even if they do not agree with it.  But if you tell people that you are not raising your child with the myth of Santa Claus, somehow it makes you a Grinch of some sort.

Here’s the thing.  Childhood is not magical. Childhood is part of life.  It has its wonderful times, its sad times, and its painful times.  But there is truly no magic, no matter how much we want that to be true.  Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel…all magical stories.  All not true.  Childhood is perhaps a time when our logic hasn’t developed so much as when we are older, so we are more easily fooled into believing whatever we are told, but that doesn’t mean it is magical.

In fact, I think that telling children that there is a Santa, and that it is he who brings gifts, can be confusing and upsetting to them. I know this will be unpopular amongst my readers. I know that people will say that the belief is somehow important to keeping our children innocent, etc. But really, I think the opposite is true. There are far too many real life experiences where a child, especially a poor child, doesn’t get a gift. Or the gift that they do get is not at all what they wanted. Then they go to school, and their friend got not only exactly what they wanted, but also many other gifts as well. All provided by Santa. When I was a child, there was one year when we were so broke, so darned broke, that my mom took the money my Grandma had given her to buy us gifts, and spent it on rent and food. I know, the selfish horror of giving us a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, and not somehow trying to convince us that there was a guy in a suit bringing us toys.  Whatever.  I would rather have food and a warm bed, and a mother who loved us completely and absolutely.  That was a horrible Christmas for her.  It was horrible for us, too, but not so much because we didn’t get gifts…it was hard because we saw how much it hurt HER that we didn’t get gifts.

I feel like arguing for Santa is like thanking God for sparing you from a disaster that has claimed someone else’s life.  How is it OK to say that God is good and kind for sparing you and your family, when your neighbor drowned in the flood? How is it OK to say that Santa brought you just the perfect shade of red bike for Christmas, when your neighbor got nothing?

This is why we raised Maya with no Santa. My experience, and also Ted’s…he was raised with Santa, and was truly devastated when he found out that Santa wasn’t real. There was no magic in it for him, no ‘beauty of keeping the magic alive’ for younger kids. Just a lie that made no sense and made him cry.

What if, instead of teaching our children that the magic of Christmas is that a guy in a red suit travels from the North Pole and leaves them gifts, we instead taught them that Christmas is the time of year when we all celebrate the love of family and friends, when we come together and express our love and try to be our very best selves.  What if the Christian amongst us talked about the joy of Christ and his birth, and the others amongst us celebrated the fact that the joy of that celebration can include all of us?  That the traditions that have merged from many cultures together into Christmas can be wonderful and inclusive?  What if we taught our children that the world we live in is indeed filled with wonder, love, beauty, generosity, kindness, devotion, and friendship, and none of it has to be tied to a lie to matter and be worthy?  All of these wonderful things can be found, intact, inside the human heart and soul?  That, to me, would be a far better lesson for our children.

Giving Tuesday

The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, the day when retailers hope to move from being in the red to being in the black.  It has also become a day when shoppers go forth, hoping to find great deals, either for their Christmas and Hanukkah shopping, or perhaps for themselves.  There is also Small Business Saturday, when shoppers are encouraged to frequent small, locally owned businesses, rather than the big box stores that are so popular on Black Friday.  Yesterday was Cyber Monday, when shoppers go online and shop while they’re supposed to be working.  A person can supposedly get really good deals on this particular Monday, though I find offers of such deals to be somewhat suspect.  (I saw a deal on Amazon for a gift I am intending to purchase, and it was 1/3 of the regular price.  But it was not available, because all at that price had been snapped up.  I have no stomach for such games.)

Now there is Giving Tuesday, a day when we are encouraged to stop worrying about buying gifts and so on for a moment or two, and give some thought to non-profits.  I do not, could not, and will not, offer a gift guide of shopping suggestions.  However, I do have some giving ideas, if you’re looking for help in that arena.  You can give goods, time, or money, whatever fits your situation the best.


  • Food Banks – You can donate in several ways.  You can write them a check (or donate online).  You can put food in the barrel at the grocery store (peanut butter and canned tuna are always popular options).  You can volunteer to go to the food bank and help sort food, which will be delivered to local soup kitchens, or picked up by those in need.
  • Soup Kitchens – A lot of people come out and serve food on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and maybe Easter.  Why not call them up and see if they’d like your help another time of year?  I’m guessing they would.
  • Schools – Public schools depend more and more upon foundations to support not only extracurricular activities, but also art, physical education, and science.  Increasingly, this support funds teacher incomes, not just them staying late to tutor our children.  I’m not sure how much this is a factor outside of California, but here, because of stupid Prop 13, it’s HUGE.
  • Child Abuse Prevention Council – Again, both volunteering and monetary donations are welcome.  A donation in your child’s teachers name might mean more to them than a mug or a box of candy.
  • Meals on Wheels – They can always use more volunteer drivers.  They also need people to go and visit the elders once in awhile, and of course, they can always use money to help them provide this needed service.
  • Toys for Tots – If you really really like shopping, and you want to do some good at the same time, you can contribute to a local toy drive.  Toys for Tots is the most famous one that I know.  One year, my company supported ‘Adopt an Angel’, and my kid wished for a warm coat.  He was 9.  Gah, a 9 year old that wants a coat instead of a toy or a book or a game…it broke my heart.  And duh, I bought the warmest coat I could find.
  • Animal Shelter – All animal shelters can use cash donations.  Some animal shelters use volunteers to help socialize animals, or to clean out cages, and so on.  Some accept donations of food and animal toys.
  • 18,000 other local organizations – There are undoubtedly plenty of other local non-profits that would be grateful for your help.  Perhaps a group of kids that create cards that they sell, and use the money to buy sleeping bags and clothing for local homeless folks; a group that collects and sends care packages to soldiers deployed overseas;  perhaps a dog rescue that brings in dogs for your particular favorite breed, cares for them (sometimes very expensive), and finds them home.


  • American Red Cross – The Red Cross can use your help in so many ways. They are the first responders when natural disasters like the ’89 earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy hit. They are also there for smaller disasters, like house fires and floods. They collect blood for emergencies, blood which is needed by so many. People with cancer, people in car accidents, people having surgery, and so on.  My grandma received a transfusion during her recent medical stay, and I’m thinking this weekend will find me donating at our local blood center and thinking of her.  Want to help? You can donate money, you can donate blood, and I’ll bet there are plenty of ways for a person to donate time as well. Speaking of Superstorm Sandy, if you’re interested in helping out, the Red Cross is probably not the best place for longer term help. NPR had some other ideas, here. I was especially impressed by the organization of Occupy Sandy volunteers.
  • Planned Parenthood – I don’t know if Planned Parenthood has much use for volunteers, but I do know they can use financial help.  Planned Parenthood is sometimes the only healthcare women receive.  They provide cancer screenings, birth control, and treatment when needed.  They were there for me when I needed birth control, but did not have medical insurance.  They are there for so many.
  • Medical Research and Advocacy – The list is seemingly endless.  Organizations devoted to research to end breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, just plain cancer cancer.  Then there’s AIDS, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Down’s syndrome, on and on and on.  There are groups working to help burn victims, children with cleft lips and cleft palates, spina bifida, any group you can think of, they surely have a worthwhile organization that can help, and that needs your money.
  • NPR/PBSNational Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System, they both produce wonderful programs for children, adults, everyone.  If you believe in the mission to bring this information to the public, if you listen and watch, this might be a good place to plant a few dollars.
  • ACLU and/or Southern Poverty Law Center – These organizations work to defend the civil rights of Americans.  The ACLU focuses more on the right to free speech and due process, and the SPLC focuses on protecting the civil rights of those who have been wronged, and bringing those who commit hate crimes to justice.  They are both very worthwhile organizations.
  • National Center for Family Literacy – Their mission is towards whole family literacy, because when the family and community are literate, the circumstances for the entire community improves, and the children have a better chance of graduating from High School.
  • 18,000 other National Organizations – There are so, so, SO MANY worthwhile organizations out there.  Think about what is important to you…the arts, medicine, animal welfare, hunger, poverty, civil rights, alcohol abuse treatment, etc.  Find what you care about, and then find an organization that helps.  Give them money, or time, whatever you have more of.


  • Heifer Project  – The Heifer Project works to alleviate hunger and poverty, both nationally and internationally, by giving animals to families in need.  A goat that provides milk to a family, perhaps enough that they can sell some to neighbors.  Perhaps they make enough money so that their children can go to school rather than working.  The first offspring of this goat, they must donate to another family in their town or village, who must also pay it forward.
  • Mercy Corps – The Mercy Corps works to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.
  • International Red Cross – Again, a first responder, there in times of crisis, to help people through the most difficult times in their lives.

There are so many more organizations that you can help out.  Give blood.  Put some peanut butter in a bin at the grocery store.  Go serve food at a soup kitchen, or sort at a food bank.  Visit some old people at a nursing home, donate flowers to make things more cheerful there.  Adopt an animal, if you’re ready for an addition of love and laughter to your household.  There are so many things you can do.  Do them.  Today and every day.



I’m a volunteer driver for our local Meals on Wheels, which means that one day a week, I take a long lunch (thanks to my kind company, that agree that I’m adult and if I can get my work done, they don’t mind me doing this…in fact, they encourage it), drive to the Senior Center, pick up 16 meals, and drive them to senior citizens who are on fixed budgets and are unable to get out and shop for themselves, or are unable to cook, or both.  They are in varying degrees of need, but I don’t think anyone goes on Meals-on-Wheels unless they are needing some assistance.

I started volunteering for MoW a few years ago, when I was unemployed for a few months.  I was motivated by my father, who has been delivering for MoW in Portland for several decades now.  I was surprised at how much I enjoy it…it’s lovely to get out of my home office and see people, people who have no real demands of me, other than to be friendly and bring a meal, and sometimes change a light bulb or assist with a hearing aid.  I like driving, I like listening to the radio in my car, I like the feeling I get knowing that I’ve helped someone in a very real way.

Well, today I want to quit.  I just do.  The demand for services has increased so much, and their waiting lists are so long, that they are having to tighten up their rules for who is eligible.   If you have someone who could shop for you, off you go.  If you have a car and could possibly get yourself to the grocery store, off you go.  There are just too many people on the waiting list who are home bound and in greater need of the services.  It’s triage.  It’s not that the people that they’re bumping don’t need their services, it’s just that there are too many people on the waiting list who need it more.

Today’s delivery brought me to Dana’s house.  Dana who always has a kind word, asks after my family, remembers when I tell her that I’m going on vacation and asks how it was.  Who gives me a box of Chocolates at Christmas, and a plant for my yard in the spring.  Who gave me a Christmas Card that said, “Thank you for helping me to stay in my home.”  She’s off the route, because she has a car.  A car which she shouldn’t drive often, because she’s old and her reflexes are not what they once were.  So now she is going to have to figure out how to cope with the grocery store, with the impatient people who don’t want to be stuck behind an old woman who can’t find the canned tomatoes.  She’s going to have to come up with the money to pay for groceries, while before she received her meal from Meals on Wheels.  I had an extra meal that another client didn’t want, so I brought it to her, and asked her if she had been dropped.  She started crying, because she has, and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.  She understands that there are those out there who need this service more than she does.  But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still need it.  I hope that she and her neighbor, who was also dropped from my route, might find a way to make it over to the senior center, where they serve hot meals Monday – Friday, and you don’t have to pay if you cannot afford it.

I came home, disheartened and sad, and I was telling Ted about it, and I started thinking about how much the need for services like this is going to increase, as more baby boomers begin to retire.  Some of the people on my route are in their 80s and 90s, but some are younger, in their late 60s or 70s.  Life doesn’t deal us all a fair set of cards, and some people are forced out of the workplace earlier than others…by health reasons, by the economy, whatever.  Some people have families near by who are able to help them, but others do not.  The demand is going to continue to increase for services for the elderly…and where is the money going to come from to support them?  I’m sure I don’t know.

I won’t quit.  I will make new friends on the route as they add new people.  I will continue to stop and check in on Dana sometimes.  There will be good days doing my delivery route again.  But today just wasn’t one of them.

UPDATED 11/15/12 to say that I had an extra meal again today, and went to drop it at Dana’s house. I also gave her a flyer for the Senior Center, and talked to her about going to lunch there, if she’s able to drive. Then when I got home, I looked up her neighbor Sandy (the one who was also dropped from the program), then called Dana and gave her Sandy’s contact information. Hopefully, they can go together and get lunch sometimes.

Cindy Sherman


This last Monday was the final day of the Cindy Sherman exhibit at the SFMOMA. I’ve been wanting to go for a few months now, but finally we hit a day that worked for all of us. If you’re not familiar with Cindy Sherman, she is an artist who explores identity through photography. She does the makeup, lighting, modeling, clothing, background, all of it. She is the photographer and the subject. The earliest works on display were from the 1970s, and the most current were very recent.

I really liked the exhibit. I liked how DIFFERENT all of these identities were, and yet how you could tell so much about the characters by the clothing, the hair, the body language, and the expression on their faces. How a person chooses to represent themselves to the world can tell us so much about them, so much of who they are, or at least, who they want you to think they are.

Ted liked the exhibit OK, and Maya was completely creeped out by it. There were some very strange pictures in there, so I can see that. After leaving the exhibit, we walked around the MOMA’s permanent collection, and I was struck by how many really different ways there are for an artist to express themselves.

I almost wish we had gone sooner, so I could go see it again.  Thank goodness for the internet, where you can do a search for her, and find most, perhaps all of her photos online.  Still, seeing them grouped by era and topic certainly gave the exhibit a cohesiveness that you won’t find online.

The exhibit is off to Minneapolis next, so if you find yourself in the area, consider checking it out.  There are some disturbing pictures, so think twice before bringing young ones.

The Right to Choose

Never Again(image found here)

So there’s all of this fuss right now about Todd Akin’s asinine comment about how if a woman were ‘legitimately raped’ (vs. what, date raped? Raped by her husband? Asshat.), her body would put up its defenses, making pregnancy impossible, and thus, no need to feel badly for the poor woman who might be coming in for an abortion, because, clearly, she is a slut and needs to honor the life of the unborn child before her own. She was not raped. At least, not legitimately. This is a strawman that covers the main issue. The main issue is, can I get an abortion if I want one.

Make no mistake…that is the issue at hand. And we need to stop tiptoeing around it. We should stop saying, “If a woman gets pregnant because her birth control fails her, or she wasn’t using any, it’s all her fault, and she therefore doesn’t have the right to decide whether to have a baby or not, which she will then either have to give up for adoption or raise herself …because abortion is murder of an innocent life.  HOWEVER, if she had no say in the matter, if she were raped, then suddenly, it’s NOT the taking of an innocent life.” That’s bull. I say, make up your mind, and ignore idiots like Akin, who want to pull us into these side issues.

Either a woman has the right to decide to continue her pregnancy, no matter how it was conceived, or she doesn’t. For those who say she doesn’t, for those who see that abortion as murder plain and simple, then I don’t see why there should be exceptions. All in or all out. Me, I’m all out. I do admit, sadly, that abortion is the end of a life. Murder if you want to use that term. It’s just that we have to decide…whose rights are paramount?  Those of the unborn child, or those of the pregnant mother. To a woman who is faced with an unintended pregnancy, I cannot say, “Too bad, you had sex, have a baby. Too bad if you aren’t ready. Too bad if you have 5 children already. Too bad if the father is a guy you DO.NOT.WANT. in your life forever.” There are so many different reasons that people go through this. None of them are easy and pretty. In a perfect world, these women would be able to transfer their babies over into the body of a woman who wants one. But they’re not. I honestly do not believe that anyone should have to go through pregnancy if they don’t want to. It’s horrid. Or at least, it’s difficult.

Anyway, to get back to the meat of it…we have to decide…are we pro-choice, or not? If so, then it doesn’t matter how the baby got there. If not, then it doesn’t matter how the baby got there. Either way, rape isn’t the issue. It’s ugly and horrid and monstrous, and rapists should go to Hell (said the atheist who doesn’t believe in Hell), but it’s not a factor in abortion rights. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Looking Good

My mom was a big believer in reading. She was addicted to it. She read more than anyone else I have ever known. She loved to read everything, almost any genre, almost any book. LOVED it. When she was trying to figure things out, she would read to find a solution. Recipes, career advice, whatever. Parenting style. She loved her parents dearly, and she firmly believed that they did their best. But she also thought that they could have done better. So when she found she was going to have kids, she wanted to find out how to do things better than her parents had done. For the most part, I think she did an amazing job. She taught us so many things. To love your family and put them first. That people are not for hitting. That knowledge is more important than grades. That honesty is a value to be respected and honored, even if that means letting go of some much cherished lies. That a good book can be more important to you than a bad friend. That a good friend can be more important to you than a bad family member. That a good family member is worth doing anything for. I don’t know how much of this she got from books, how much she got from her family, and how much was just her. But I have felt really lucky in my own parenting, that I don’t often have to think ‘my mom goofed this up, how can I do it better?”

Of course, no one is perfect, and no parent is perfect. My mom made mistakes. She sometimes said one thing and did the opposite. She trusted her books too much sometimes. Anyway, I heard an author on the radio a while ago talking about a parenting book, about not putting excess stress on your kids by over praising them. Much of what he said resonated with me and I agreed with, but one thing he said reminded me of how we do not grow up in a vacuum, and that how our friends’ parents raise them also affects us. He said that you should not tell your kids, especially your girls, that they are beautiful or pretty, because it puts too much pressure on them to be pretty, and if they don’t FEEL pretty, it puts them in a strange situation of wondering if you’re lying. It gives them the idea that the most important thing that a girl can be is pretty. That if she isn’t pretty, she’s not worthwhile. That a better way is to tell them things you like about them. My mom raised me this way. She would say, “I love the way the sunlight reflects on your hair”. “I like your wrists…they’re so delicate and elegant”. “Your smile lights up your face”. All fine and good, but because my friends all were told they were pretty, in front of me, and I wasn’t told that, I grew up wondering if perhaps my mom thought I wasn’t pretty, and these compliments were just consolation prizes. Like, ‘too bad you’re plain, but at least you have elegant wrists.” See how good intentions sometimes don’t work so well? Sigh. So I grew up not knowing if my mom thought I was pretty or not. A girl should really think that at least her parents think she’s pretty. Yes, the pressure is out there, the pressure to look good. It’s not as important as how you treat people, as your sense of humor, as your brain or your heart or your soul. But it’s all over the place and very much there. I confessed to her how this method made me feel, once, when she was telling me the theory behind it. I think her heart broke a little, and she felt like a failure to a certain degree. But even then, I wondered, had she thought I was a pretty girl, a pretty child, or was she just trying to make me feel good? Maybe there’s no way to really make a girl feel confident in a culture so obsessed with looks, I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if she had told me I was pretty every day. Perhaps I wouldn’t have believed her.

But back in November, I went through her boxes of books. All 55 of them. Looking for some books that Richard had said he wanted, some books that I could send him for his birthday in early December. Her books are still at Kate’s house, as she’s planning on selling them on ebay, and we don’t have room for them here, and they’re covered with cat hair, which would probably kill Ted. So I went to Kate’s house, and she and I and dug through box after box after box. One thing I found was my baby book, which was pretty awesome to find. I haven’t seen that since I lived with my mom, back when I was 20 or so. Maybe before that even. Another thing I found was a set of binders, where she was trying to work out issues she had with her parents, my Aunt Colleen, that kind of thing. I skimmed them, and decided I didn’t want to try to bring that much frustration and pain into the house, and that she had gotten a lot of that stuff out of her system on her blog, which I can read any time I want to. So I didn’t keep them. But as I was flipping pages, I found one page, written when I was maybe 15 or so…and all it said was…

“Julie is the most beautiful girl in the world.”

I carry those words in my heart now. They fit just right, and they feel good.

Friday Randomness ~ 11/11/11

First off, let’s take a moment to thank all of the Veterans this Veterans’ Day, for their patriotism and service.  There is a sad, lovely poem written during the First World War, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and surgeon, after he witnessed the death of a friend.  Lieutenant Colonel McCrae died of pneumonia during the war, in 1918.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

The picture is my Great Grandfather, Percy Herndon, in his WWI uniform.  This is before he married my Great-Grandmother, and the woman in the picture is his sister, my Great Aunt Julia, for whom I was named.  Aunt Julia died before I was born, but she was a large and important presence in my mother’s life.  My Great-Grandfather served in Russia, and came home safely.  He married my great grandmother, and they had 5 children, 3 of whom lived to adulthood, and all 3 of whom are still alive today.  (My Grandma and Great Aunt, who live together in Stockton, and my other Great Aunt, who lives a bit north of Sacramento.) I didn’t know him growing up, as he died right after we moved back to California from Alaska. But I know him through stories, and I wish I had known him better.

Next is Happy Birthday to Little One, my friend Chrissy’s daughter, who is 3 years old today.  Little One was born 3 months premature, and her first few months outside of her mommy were harrowing indeed.   But now she’s a gorgeous, healthy, strong, opinionated, sweet little girl.   I hope you’re having a great celebration, Chrissy, John, and Little One!

Now I wonder if any of you have any tips for getting a stubborn old dog to take her medicine?  Poor Gen is on so many pills now, and she hates them.  HATES them.  Two days this week, she took them easily, just wrapped in salami.  I felt like I had won the lottery, it was so easy.  Seriously, I should have gone and bought a ticket.  Yesterday she refused, and I had to shove them down her throat, which I’ve done with cats before, but Gen is bigger and stronger than a cat.  It worked in the morning, but when it came time for her evening pill, she clamped her jaw shut on my finger.  She’s been bragging about how fierce she is, that she bit Medium Boss, but really, she was just trying to not take her pill, and she didn’t even draw blood.  Not as fierce as she likes to pretend.  So Maya and I figured out that if we packed the pill in grated cheese, and gave her a treat RIGHT AFTER, she would eat the pill and not spit it out.  That worked last night, and again this morning, but our experience thus far has been that she’ll take the pills well once or twice, and then get a taste of one (one particularly is VERY bitter), and refuse that method from then on.  So I’ve tried mixing the powdered pill into sugar water, which she liked a little bit but not enough.  Peanut butter, cream cheese, salami, all worked for a little while, but not consistently.   Any sure fire tips out there?

Tomorrow I’m going to get my hair done.  Always an adventure, since I go to a beauty school to save money.  They do a decent job, but sometimes my hair comes home a different color than I intended.  That’s happened at the expensive salon too, come to think of it, so whatever.

The whole Penn State scandal got me pretty riled up.  I think everyone involved should have been fired, and I cannot for the life of me understand the reaction of the students who rioted in protest.  These men think they’re above the law, and that their football team and department are more important than the lives of disadvantaged boys.  It’s disgusting.  And how much more damage have they done to the department and school than if they had called the police when they first learned of the crimes?  Ugh.  It makes me sick.  Some people need a lesson in ethics.

Thanks to Nance for the link to this article, explaining the anger of Occupy Wall Street.  The problem isn’t that the poor and middle class hate the rich, or are envious.  The problem is that we’re pissed off at the fact that the Wall Street folks gamed the system, they cheated, and they don’t think there’s a darn thing wrong with that.  They think they were smart to think of it, and they’re busy planning how to do it again. And again.  And as long as people make money at it, if their 401(k) goes up and the value of their house rises, they don’t care that it’s not sustainable.  That’s the problem, and it’s not just Wall Street.  Some of it is Main Street as well.  We need to get angry and stop trusting these a-holes.  That’s what the Occupy movement is about.

I guess that’s it.  I could start in on what an idiot I think Herman Cain is, and how I wish he’s just go away, and that I think he’s a lech and he still thinks he can get away with it, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Friday Randomness

Nothing earth shattering today, so we’ll dive on in, OK?  Just a bunch of randomness that’s been swimming through my brain a bit.

Happy Gen.jpgWe’re trying Genevieve on a new drug.  She had stopped eating, which had us really concerned.  Or, to be more accurate, her eating was very sporadic and unpredictable.  She didn’t want her kibble, so I started making her some homemade food.  She liked that for awhile, but then seemed to tire of it.  We’d try to hand feed her, and she’d just turn her head away.  She was always happy to eat dog treats, cheerios with milk, that kind of thing, but not regular dog food.  She has been pacing a lot lately, and gets stuck in corners, circles a LOT before laying down, and has been kind of distant and not as engaged with us.  And she’s losing her beautiful coat.  So we took her to the vet, fearing the worst.  I have a pretty flexible schedule, and the vet is very close to home, so usually I take her on my own.  This time Ted and Maya wanted to be there, just in case the vet said she was in pain and needed to be put down.  They wanted to say their goodbyes.  The good news is that she doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable or suffering.  The vet said she has a form of canine dementia, and there’s a drug that’s proven pretty helpful for that.  It takes about 30 days to really get in their system, and we’re 1 week in, so it’s too soon to tell if it’s helping or not.  We gave up on the homemade food, though, and started giving her 1/2 kibble mixed with canned dog food, which she LOVES.  So that’s a relief.  Hopefully before she tires of it, the drugs will have worked to stimulate her appetite and all will be well again.

Speaking of food, this coming Tuesday is the second annual Bay Area Dine Out for Meals on Wheels, which is a fundraiser where you go to a participating restaurant on a certain day, have a delicious meal, and they give a portion of their proceeds to Meals on Wheels.  Well, I’m a  huge fan of the organization, and I deliver meals for them once a week, so I’ve been planning on going.  Then last week, I saw an episode of Check Please Bay Area, where they talked up a restaurant in a neighboring town, The Peasant and the Pear.  The food looked really good to me, and as I’ve complained before about restaurants on our side of the tunnel, and how many of them are just so-so, I was eager to try it.

Next thing you know, The Peasant and the Pear showed up on the list of restaurants participating in Dine Out for Meals on Wheels, and suddenly it felt like kismit.  So we’re going to go give it a try.  I’m thinking fondue and salad, a glass of wine, and a pear tart for dessert.  YUM.

Speaking of Meals on Wheels, this last week when I was delivering food to a couple on my route, their son came out to get the food.  He’s a nice enough guy, and the parents are very friendly as well.  I asked him how he’s doing, and he said, “Tired.  Tired of Living.”  Wow.  I patted him on the shoulder and told him to hang in there, it will surely get better.  Then he said, “Well, I’m an addict, and the whole thing is a cycle.  I use for awhile, and it’s horrible, and I get tired of living.  Then I muster the strength to quit, and I’m off for years at a time.  Last time it was 15 years.  Then I start up again.”  I said, “Wow, that’s a terrible burden to have to carry.”  And he said, “Yes, but it will be a lighter burden once I stop using.  I just have to get there.”  I’ve thought this many times in my life, and more often in the last few years stopping at people’s houses to deliver them meals…it’s amazing the different lives people lead behind closed doors, isn’t it?  And amazing that he was so burdened that he felt like he needed to tell SOMEONE what he was going through, even a complete stranger.  Poor man.  I wish him success, that he can quit for good this time, and find peace in his heart.

GambleI recently read a new mystery, Gamble, by Felix Francis.  Felix Francis is the son of the late Dick Francis, the former-jockey-turned-mystery-writer, who managed to keep racing and horses as a theme in all of his books.  Dick and his wife had a lovely life of it, traveling the world together researching his books, and after she passed away, Felix stepped in and helped his father, first with research, and then with writing.  They wrote a few books together, and now that Dick has passed away, this is the first book to be authored solely by Felix, though confusingly enough, the title seems to be “Dick Francis’s Gamble”, which made me wonder if Dick were somehow a character in the book.  He’s not, so I guess it’s just a way to make sure people know of the connection.  I have to say, he did a very good job, and the transition to writing on his own was fairly seamless.  Yes, the voice is different, as it should be, from his father’s.  But it was a fun, fast read, and I was HOOKED, as always with a good Francis mystery.  I’ll be looking forward to more from him in the future.  One bonus is that my aunt is also hooked, and she pays attention and puts the book on hold at the library.  She then reads it so quickly, there’s plenty of time for me to read it before it’s due.  So I don’t have to do anything but live my life, secure that Auntie will get the next book to me when it’s ready.

Speaking of family, I’m going to Rutherford tomorrow evening to a fancy wine and appetizer reception with my beloved Mother In Law (heretofore shortened to MIL).  Really kids, remember that when you marry, you marry the whole family, so be careful.  Happily, I married very well, and I love Ted’s family and feel very close to them.  So my MIL invited me to this lovely evening, and I’m looking forward to getting a bit dressed up, having a nice drive up through wine country together, and enjoying the winery.  It’s supposed to be very pretty, and it’s my MIL’s favorite.
Lastly, I know this makes me an old fogey, but I am not happy about the current trends in shoes.  I have a cute pair of short boots that I like to wear with nice slacks.  But they are dying, and I need a new pair.  So I went to two stores today, to try to find a replacement pair in time for the semi-fancy reception tomorrow, with absolutely no luck.  I’d see a pair that I thought was cute, but then I got close, and they have a horrid wedge heel.  Or a super skinny spiky heel that will kill me within 20 minutes.  Or that platform thing on the bottom of the shoe, combined with the heel.  I know, Lady Ga Ga and all of the young hip people in the know LOVE the look.  Some of my most stylish friends LOVE the look.  Me?  I think it makes your feet look heavy and gloppy, and I’m not going to do it.  So I’m either going to have to go look for a new pair at different stores tomorrow, or wear my old pair, and hope no one notices that they’ve seen far better days.  At least it won’t rain, because they leak.

Friday Randomness

Tacky wineI don’t have a lot to say, but I feel like I should say something…I mean, I like blogging, so I need to blog, right?  OK.  Here are a few random thoughts coming through my head right now.

Is anyone else exhausted by the coverage of the anniversary of the attacks on September 11th?  I know I am.  That day will never be forgotten…it was a horrid horrid day, and it was captured on video, played over and over again for all to see.  I don’t want to see those buildings falling, or people jumping to their deaths, or people covered in ashes, or the desperate ‘have you seen this person’ signs that surrounded the World Trade Center in the days and weeks following.

I don’t mean to suggest that we should forget, or ignore, or somehow diminish those who lost their lives on that day, or those who have lost their lives in the years since, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s just that it’s exhausting.  The pain is still raw, and I honestly don’t want to be reminded every time I turn around of what happened.   Every single channel seems to be determined to spend the day talking about it, about what it means, what it did to us, what we’ve learned, what we haven’t learned, what we should have learned, what we shouldn’t have learned, from those attacks.  And maybe that’s important to some.  I’m just exhausted by it, and to be honest, I haven’t even been watching much at all.  And this wine gives me the heebies.  And, by the way, Liz at Mom 101 said this better than I did…and she has the double whammy of being a New Yorker, and September 11 being her birthday.

Ahem.  Um, I started a new book the other day, The Forgotten Garden.  So far, I’m totally sucked in.  I’ll give you a full report when I finish, as always.  Along the line of books, when I picked up The Forgotten Garden from the library, it meant I had to put aside Gone With The Wind, which I was re-reading for the elevety billionth time.  This time, though, I had decided to go back and start at the beginning, and read it all of the way through.  I’m a bit of a cheater when it comes to re-reading, especially books I’ve read as many times as I’ve read GWTW.  But that’s cheating, and you really do miss things.  And since I’ve not read it this way in probably a few decades, I have a different perspective on some things.  Yes, I still adore Scarlett for her strength and stubbornness, and I still want to slap her to sleep for mooning about over Ashley when he’s perfect for Melly, and she’s perfect for Rhett.  It’s annoying.  And I’m still horrified by the racism, and glad to put those days of slavery further behind us with every passing day.  But I feel like I understand the parents a bit more, and some of the side characters seem a bit more real to me now.  Kind of interesting.  Almost like I’m reading it for the first time, though obviously I’m not, and I know what’s going to happen and all of that.  Still.

It’s been hot here.  Mid 90s, which is hot to me.  But it’s not a heat wave, up over 100, and it’s a dry heat, and it’s been cooling off at night, so I won’t complain.  Much.

Genevieve isn’t doing very well.  There are a few conditions that she may have, but I don’t really want to spend the money to have her tested, because we’ve decided not to treat her for them.  The treatments aren’t easy, and for one possible condition, I think the treatment would probably kill her.  So we are just watching our sweet baby get a bit more confused, and lose her beautiful fur, and sometimes turn her nose up at her food.  Very unlike her up to this point.  And she has good days and bad days.  And we’re wondering, how do we know when it’s time?  How do we know that she’d be better off gone?  I need to make an appointment to talk to the vet, I think, to at least have that crappy discussion.  I trust her vet, and I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I’d be surprised if she makes it to see 14, and none of us want to watch her suffer.  Sigh.

School has started for Maya.  No cheer this year.  She’s concentrating on school, which is smart, because she’s got a hard load.  She’s taking an AP European History class, which I never knew was different than an honors class, but it is.  It’s also a LOT of work.  Plus Chemistry, Algebra II, French III, and Sophomore English.  So it’s a heavy load.  Thank goodness for PE and Art to break up the day a bit, huh?  Anyway, that means a lot more homework for her.  Sigh.

Ted’s teaching a radio broadcasting class at a local community college this semester.  The challenges thus far seem to be completely different than the challenges he faced teaching more academic classes like Political Science.  I’m not sure he’s loving it.  As a matter of fact, I’m sure he’s not. But it’s still early in the semester, so I’m hoping it will get better.

Sunday is my Father-in-Law’s birthday party (today’s the actual birthday…Happy Birthday Danny!).  We’re having an ice cream social, where everyone brings their favorite flavor, and we all share and enjoy.  I’m wondering if I should make some toppings.  Or buy some, if I know what brands are good.  Also, I’m torn between coffee ice cream, which I love, and cherries jubilee, which I also love.  Decisions, decisions.  At this moment I’m leaning towards coffee ice cream, with some heath bar chopped up and mixed in, and then some chocolate sauce and nuts on top.  Mmmm.

My friend Cherry brought me some tomatoes the other day, and I made some delicious marinara sauce, which I then put over some pretty gourmet seeming raviolis that I got at Whole Foods.  It was delicious.  I roasted the tomatoes on the grill, which gave them a real smokey flavor.  I’ll probably post that recipe soon, too.  Just seems like my blog has turned into recipes and book reviews, and while that’s fine, I feel like it’s not enough.  Sigh.

Oh, I went to Stockton last weekend to see my Grandma and my Great Aunt, and along the way I stopped for coffee with a couple of friends from High School.  Sandy was a good friend, and I haven’t seen him in about 18 years, at my brother’s wedding.  He’s the guy who would take me to donate blood.  I fainted on him once, and he thought I was kidding around, and pushed me.  I hit the floor.  The nurse was HORRIFIED.  Poor Sandy.  He looks so different, and yet still exactly the same.  He’s a sweet guy, with a lovely wife and two beautiful kids, though it’s shocking to me that other people’s kids are getting older, too.  Anne, the other friend I met, lives around the corner from Sandy, and they are very good friends.  I remember her from High School, but not that well.  We didn’t hang out together.  I know her more because she dated my brother for a few months.  She was a great girlfriend, and I’m glad he dated her.  She reminds me of his wife, in some ways.  I’m glad he married Kathy, but I think Anne was the first girl friend he had who was really nice to him.  We all get a few frogs along the way, right?  He had his.  I’m glad he also had a few princesses.  Anyway, she’s all grown up now too, and married with a 17 year old son.  Wow.  Again with the kids growing up thing.  Between that and the gray hair, it’s getting more difficult to pretend we’re all still 18.

Grandma and Aunt Flo are both well.  It was great to see them, and they enjoyed the Baked Scampi that I made for them, and the yummy bread from Boudin Bakery (who knew Stockton would get a Boudin?  AND a Peets?  Crazy.  I wonder if it’s all those Bay Area transplants…).  I tried to get them drunk on wine, but they only had about 1/2 glass each.  Oh well, maybe next time.  I’m just so fortunate to have them both, and to be able to visit them and hear stories of the old days, and what distant cousins are doing, all of that.  My grandma…I love her so much.  She’s 88, and I know she won’t live forever.  Damn it.  I just want to enjoy her while she’s here.

Have a good weekend folks.  Commemorate September 11th in your own way.  My thoughts will go to those who have died, especially Mr. Abad.  My thoughts will go (thankfully) to those who didn’t die that day, but who could have.   I’ll put my flag outside.  And I’ll be eating ice cream.

Who Put the Labor in Labor Day?

We did, that’s who.

When I think of labor day, my mind first thinks of the end of summer…the crisp fall weather on the horizon, the cool weather clothes, school starting up again, the return of the good TV shows…

Then there are the Labor Day celebrations…one last bbq of summer, maybe a trip to the beach, the lake, or the shore…

For some people it is a chance to get caught up with some chores around the house, to enjoy a 3-day weekend by sleeping in one extra day, maybe see some friends.

I agree with all of these things. Not a thing wrong with any of them. But at the same time, it’s a good time to remember what the heck Labor Day is…unlike our other holidays, like Veterans Day or Memorial Day, it doesn’t commemorate war or those who fought for our freedoms. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and Easter, it doesn’t commemorate any religious significance. Unlike Thanksgiving, it doesn’t commemorate a coming together or the fall harvest, or the brief friendship between the pilgrims and the Native Americans.

Instead, Labor Day commemorates us…it commemorates the worker. People who get up every day and go to work, jobs that we love as well as jobs that we hate. Jobs that we do so that we can gain fulfillment, to make the world a better place, to provide a needed service, to simply pay the bills.

Labor day was created by the labor movement, and is dedicated to you and me, American workers. I know that many people have issues with the labor movement, do not like unions and what they represent. They claim that unions are corrupt and do very little to benefit workers, or that they make doing business too expensive for the employer. I would beg you to dig a little deeper, and look at what labor unions have given our country:

  • Eight-Hour Work Day
  • Five-Day Workweek
  • Health Insurance
  • Good Pensions
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Fair Treatment for Women, People of Color and Workers with Disabilities
  • Higher Wages
  • Overtime Pay
  • Job Safety
  • Paid Holidays
  • Job Security
  • Severance Pay
  • Paid Vacations
  • Family and Medical Leave

So even if you have never belonged to a union in your life (I haven’t), let’s please stop for a moment this weekend, and thank the unions for what they have given to our country. Also, take a moment to recognize the strength and character of the American worker, upon whose back our economy and democracy rests.

And if, looking at that list, you see some items that don’t apply to you, like a 40-hour work week, a pension, or fair treatment, remember that the labor movement is made up of people who have fought for these things, things that don’t come easily, things that can easily be taken away from us. Fight for these things. Fight for what you believe in, and to make our country stronger.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

*Repeat…originally posted on my blog September 2, 2006, reposted in September of 2008.

Dieting Sucks

It’s interesting to me that at the same time more and more information comes out about how diets simply do. not. work., we seem to be just as obsessed with trying the next and newest, in our attempts to control our bodies and our weight. Think about it. Have you ever known anyone who went on a diet, lost weight, and then moved on with their life, never to need to diet again? I haven’t. Dieting messes with your metabolism, and sometimes your mind. For a small percentage of us, it triggers eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia. For most of us, it means that we can gain more weight while eating less than if we hadn’t dieted to begin with.

What does work? Letting go. Stop obsessing about your weight. About food. About how many calories are in your lunch, and how much exercise you might have to do to work it off. Instead, try to relearn what should be natural to us all. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Eat a variety of food from all of the food groups. There is no need to omit entire food groups from your diet. There is no need to resort to gimmicks like protein shakes, diet pills, juice fasts, etc. I would argue that these products are far more interested in making money off of you than they are in promoting actual health. And indeed, the diet industry is booming, even as our collective waistband continues to boom right along with them. Coincidence? Somehow, I think not. I think as our culture becomes more and more obsessed with being thin, we spend more and more money on diets and products, and we mess up our metabolisms again and again, making it easier and easier to gain more weight, in turn making us more vulnerable to those ‘before and after’ pictures, causing us to sign up for yet another diet plan, making someone somewhere more money. This is one ride we should all hop off of, and the sooner the better.

Revolution in Egypt!

Egyptian Celebrations
Like so many, we’ve been watching the events in Egypt unfold these last few weeks. What the future holds for the region, it’s too soon to say. For now, I say, we all celebrate the power of the people to bring down a dictator, and the hope of more freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Look at the joy on the faces in this picture, cribbed from the AP.

And, on a more personal level, and in honor of the amazing revolution currently occurring in Egypt, (and the overthrow of the dictator in Tunisia a few weeks ago) I decided to change our dinner plans tonight from burgers and fries, to spiced burgers and couscous, from Real Simple magazine. Amazing. Truly amazing events taking place. To the people of Egypt, we stand with you! Celebrate!

Spiced Mini Burgers

Spiced Mini Burgers with Couscous Salad

  • 1 10-ounce box couscous (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 scallions, sliced
  • 4 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 seedless cucumber, cut into half-moons
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 8-ounce container hummus (optional)


  1. Place the couscous in a large bowl and pour 1½ cups hot tap water over the top. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork.
  2. Form the beef into 12 small ½-inch-thick patties. Sprinkle with the cumin, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the patties and cook to the desired doneness, 4 minutes per side for medium.
  4. Toss the couscous with the scallions, tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice, remaining oil, 1¼ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  5. Serve with the burgers and hummus, if using.


Give this dinner a Mediterranean accent by using ground lamb for the patties and stirring ¼ cup crumbled Feta into the couscous salad.

Brave Girl Eating

Brave Girl Eating“These days of keeping Kitty close represent an oddly peaceful interlude in the surreal world we now inhabit, Jamie and Emma and I and this new Kitty, with her pointed chin and enormous eyes and will of iron. I try to remember my daughter as she was just a few months before, dancing through the house, laughing and affectionate, talking on the phone or going out with friends. Already this new Kitty, gaunt and tense and slow-moving, seems normal. Human beings can adapt to anything, from infinite riches to the horrors of Auschwitz. I don’t want to adapt to the way things are now. I want to scream, howl, tear the hear from my head in mourning and rage at what’s happening to my daughter. I can hardly muster the energy to cry.”

Brave Girl Eating is Harriet Brown’s memoir of the year her family spent battling the demon that came to live in their house, the demon that attempted to kill their daughter ‘Kitty’, in the form of anorexia. When Harriet and her husband, Jamie, first began to worry about Kitty’s health, they hoped that her weight loss and obsession with food were somewhat normal teenage girl behaviors. All too soon, it became clear that there was something seriously wrong, that they needed to find a way to help their daughter.

Traditional treatment for anorexia is to treat the underlying causes first, the family dysfunctions, the girl’s (and increasingly, boy’s) psychological issues and fears with growing up, anxieties and perfectionist tendencies. Traditional treatment says that food is not the issue, control is the issue, and you only make things worse by trying to make your child eat. Harriet and Jamie started out following this traditional method, though it went against everything that felt right to them. They separated themselves from the recovery process, tried to allow her to cope with her issues and fears on her own. All the while, watching as she became worse and worse. And the more and more that Harriet read about the disease, the more she felt that her family was not represented in the typical psychological descriptions. Yes, they were a family in crisis.  But because of the disease, not before it came and invaded their household. She was not hyper-controlling, her husband was not distant or critical. They were a close and loving family, supportive of Kitty and her younger sister, Emma.  They started on this path, but felt increasingly helpless and frustrated, as they watched their outgoing, loving daughter withdraw into herself, ignore her friends, and appear to divorce herself from life.  Kitty became obsessed with food, with cooking, with what was going to be served for dinner.  But while she was interested, she would not eat.  She continued to lose weight.

Then Harriet read a book, Eating with Your Anorexic, and she felt as though they had been thrown a lifeline. The book described the Maudsley Method of treatment, otherwise known as Family Based Therapy. The idea is that your child cannot think rationally about this issue until their bodies are pulled away from the brink of starvation. So you become agnostic about the cause of the problem, at least at first, and you feed your child. Easier said than done, and yet Harriet and Jamie found that if they stood up to the disease and fought with it, rather than pleading with her and trying not to make ‘food the issue’, their daughter was thankful for their help, and surprisingly, complied with their demands that she eat. Slowly, she recovered. They saw their pediatrician weekly, measuring her heart rate to make sure that she wasn’t in danger of having a heart attack. In fact, she was hospitalized once or twice with dangerously low heart rate, which can lead to a fatal heart attack. 20% of anorexics die. It is the most dangerous mental illness, killing far more children that bi-polar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. 10% die from malnutrition, heart attacks, etc. Another 10% die from suicide, as the demon inside of them convinces them that they are weak, stupid, evil people for succumbing to their hunger and eating a few grapes, an apple. As time went by, they had to feed Kitty more and more calories. The starving body is a body with a metabolism completely out of whack, and when it first gets access to food, it puts it all towards restoring the reserves and internal organs that have been shrunken. Including the heart. The brain. So they were feeding her 3,000 calories a day, and she wasn’t exercising, and still, no weight gain. Very frustrating, very scary for them all.

But over time, they began to see their daughter come back from the edge. They had many awful fights with that demon, the ‘un-Kitty’ as they called it, who would look at them with her eyes, speak to them with her voice, and say cruel and painful things, anything, in an attempt to trick them into not forcing her to eat. Because as Kitty grew stronger, the demon grew weaker and weaker, and Kitty became more outgoing and fun loving, affectionate and laughing again. They had their daughter back.

Harriet tried her hardest to try to figure out what had brought this on, what could take her healthy daughter and bring her to the brink of death so quickly. Her search was ultimately unsatisfying, as there are many, many theories, and no real solutions. Her best guess seems to be that some people are susceptible to eating disorders, due to brain chemistry or heredity or both. And if you take those people, and present them with a ‘perfect storm’ of a society obsessed with thinness, calorie consumption, doctors who would be happier to see a patient 5 lbs underweight than to see one 5 lbs overweight, when the greatest fear anyone can think of is the ‘obesity epidemic’ and the coming onslaught of type 2 diabetes, then someone who is already susceptible might trigger themselves by something as simple as going on a diet, trying to lose 5 or 10 lbs, something most of us can do with no real problem (other than the frustration of losing 5, gaining 10). Someone this susceptible cannot lose weight without their brain chemistry, their metabolism, whatever, is triggered, and they find themselves on a hellish journey that only the very strong and brave can overcome. Kitty is indeed a brave girl, and with the support of her family, she fought the demon until it subsided. Though perhaps it still cowers in the corners of her brain, waiting for another opportunity to strike out.

I heard Dr. Brown (I’ve been calling her Harriet to personalize her, but she’s a professor of Journalism in New York) speak about her book, and the family’s battle with anorexia, on To The Best of our Knowledge, which is how I came to be familiar with the book. (You can listen to the podcast by following the link. There’s also a wonderful discussion of the joys of international adoption, which my friend Tracy might enjoy) It struck me that so much of the Maudlsey method of therapy is based on, or at least influenced by, the Minnesota Starvation Study, which my mom wrote about here and here. Her last two blog posts before she went into the hospital with her heart attack.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the physiology of metabolism, anyone who knows someone who might be going through a struggle with this horrific and ever more common disease. Dispel yourself of the outdated and somewhat cruel idea that anyone would choose anorexia. As Harriet Brown says, you don’t choose anorexia. It chooses you.