Monday, November 19, 2012

In the kitchen

I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen the past  few days. We knocked out two batches of jelly this weekend (a chai apple jelly, and a rosemary mint lime jelly- recipes courtesy of this book) , and I whipped out some cranberry sauce and a chocolate peanut butter pie for Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Cooking always seems to settle me, and I think it's less because I enjoy it and more because I can feel my mother's presence in the kitchen. Most of my memories of her are of time we spent  in the kitchen...making endless batches of  oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, washing dishes, and her supervising as I tried out recipes from the Klutz Kids Cookbook  and the Mandie Cookbook .

I'm not a good cook....neither was my mother. In fact, I cook a lot like she did - I'm a recipe cook, who's unafraid to try new things. Occasionally I can pull together a meal by throwing a bit of this and that into a pot, but that's far more the exception than the rule. I measure carefully, and sometimes I may tweak a recipe a bit, but I'm not creative. And, like her, I cook lots of legumes (mostly chick peas, lentils and lima beans), and try new vegetables often. My dad wasn't the greatest fan of my mom's cooking...I think his exact words were "She was just starting to be a pretty good cook when she died." Either the people around me are kinder (very possible) or my palate is a little more sophisticated (thanks to living abroad for 10 years, and international travel in college+grad school - also very possible), but I use this same approach and it seems to make people happy.
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These are the mints my girlfriends, husband and I made for our wedding- the same as she used to make every year at Christmas (except that hers were bells,wreathes, and Christmas trees in red and green). She loved the end of the year. My parent's anniversary was Dec 18, then Christmas followed a week later on the 25th, and New Years another week later, on the 1st (interestingly, we got engaged on Dec 11).
It's been nearly 17 years since she died....she'd be turning 59 in January. "It gets easier" is crap - I miss her more every year.

Friday, September 28, 2012


A while ago, one of my favorite bloggers wrote a post about how peaches make her feel rich. And it made me realize that my garden,such as it is, makes me feel unbelievably wealthy and privileged.


That's a snapshot after watering a few weeks ago... We're lucky to have this small space on our covered porch where I'm able to keep a handful of plants growing.  It may not look like much....but some days, I have the luxury of being able to step outside, and pick what's for dinner.


Glossy green spinach malabar  quickly becomes "spinach" white bean soup.


Or a round mauve eggplant


becomes homemade baba ganoush.


These are  moments I savor- when I'm able to just step outside the door, take something growing, and turn it into something that nourishes us. To eat food that you've grown yourself feels like both the greatest accomplishment and the greatest indulgence. When you're a pair of busy graduate students living in an apartment in the city, those feelings are magnified.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A letter.

Dear Scott,
I didn't dream about you last night. After all of the dreams about our conversations, about you, the weird metaphorical dreams about your death, this one was about the rest of us- your friends, your grandparents, your sister, trying to sort out your death. Stringing together our memories of you, keeping odd tokens to honor you in our lives, trying to figure out what went wrong and how it could have been different. It was a strangely painful dream, because it's been the story of my waking life since the moment I got that phone call. And I'm not the only one.

I don't know if you know this, but there are a lot of people still missing you. There's a young blond woman in Louisiana who drops flowers in a stream every year on your birthday. There's a curly-haired young man in South Carolina who still dreams about you, and still wonders about that call he missed from you days before you died. There's a redhead who can't pass a single life milestone without looking around for you and crying that you won't pass these same milestones, and she won't be able to be there for you. And so many more, I'm sure.

You were special, my friend. I see it more, now that I'm older, now that I've worked with college students. You laughed at my fear of large crowds, but whenever the band paraded through the school hallways for spirit days you made sure to stand between me and them. And that's who you were with many of us-laughing at our neuroses, and yet quietly protecting us from them.

When I moved to that crazy small town in Tennessee, you were the first friend I made- the first person who chose to talk to me because we had things in common, and had fun together instead of because I was the  new pastor's daughter and the church youth charity case. You were a transplant, like me. Like me, your mom died suddenly, long before she should have. And the two of us, we were crazy gifted and determined to make something of ourselves and get out of that small town.

There was a lot of laughter during our 3 1/2 years of highschool....when we fiercely competed over the top grades in all of our classes together (except math, because I couldn't possibly keep up with you there), when you called me "Cripple-me-Elmo" as I hobbled around with a sprained ankle, when you almost missed the busses for the school field trip, the two of us sorting through the pile of college recruitment mail, you reminding me that loving travel was not a good enough reason to join the Navy ("Charis! You're claustrophobic, you can't do that. People in the Navy live on ships."), while we skirted the safety regulations as chemistry partners.

We had our triumphs too- you on my arm as I escorted you for your national honor society induction ceremony, me winning the science award, our last dance at senior prom. Then, there were the days when we looked at each other with fear in our eyes, because we'd given life our absolute best shot and it wasn't working out in our favor.

After you died, a lot of people didn't understand why I was upset. College friends, the school counselor college friends forced me to see, my parents, accused me of overreacting....but  no one who knew the both of us has questioned my grief. I'm reminding myself of this as I've come to question whether that special bond we had might have just been in my head. We made a pact our junior year - when we figured out where we were going to college, we were going to pick a spot in the middle, and if life ever got completely overwhelming, if one of us couldn't handle the world, we were just going to get in our respective cars and drive until we were together. And yet we never picked that spot....

People asked me why I wasn't angry with you for taking your life. I couldn't tell them the truth - that it could just as easily have been me, that I'd spent many a Friday night alone in my dorm room plotting my own suicide. I couldn't hold you to a standard that I couldn't meet myself. I still don't know....what the difference was, what pushed you over the edge, what held me back.

Few things have changed my life as completely as your death. I keep my phone on at all hours of the day. I've answered it at 3am more times than I care to admit. I'll never put off another phone call to a friend who's weighing heavily on my mind. Heck, if I have a bad dream about someone, I'll text to make sure they're okay. And yet, your death is why I will never doubt that there is something after death. Your story wasn't over that night you died. I've found that friendship is stronger than death. You are still remembered, you are still missed, you always will be. Those of us who loved you still fight each day to trust that God really can care for you better than we could. The last time I saw you, we parted with a hug...that last phone call ended with a promise to talk soon. Four months later, you were dead. "Soon" has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, but someday, we will laugh about that.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A year ago today

This time last year, I was in the middle of prepping for a colonoscopy, 24 hours before a diagnosis that would change my life.
It's been a year, and I don't think about it every day.I usually manage to remember a good 2/3 of my meds, and I've figured out how to actually afford both my medicine and rent. I'm slowly learning how to feel comfortable in my own skin again, my marriage hasn't completely fallen apart and I haven't dropped out of school.
I'm grateful to have come this far, to have survived and lived the best I could have.
I don't know what to say...
I am still so fearful of so much. If a day goes by that I don't think about colon cancer and the possibility of having my colon removed, it's the exception.
But I am here, and have come this far. There are more years to live, with a disease that is far from predictable. There is grace, and hope, and fear and pain.
It is life.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Qualifying Exams and Homemade Champagne Jelly

I survived my doctoral qualifying exams. And, apparently, now I make jam...and sometimes jelly.

We took a quick trip for our anniversary weekend (the beginning of July), and after getting back , I spent between two and eight hours a day studying, up til the exam. And then, it was two six hour days of sitting in a freezing cold computer lab typing as fast as possible. It sounds worse than it was. Or not....

At any rate, I decided that the best way to unwind from the exams was to indulge in my latest hobby- canning. I'm still figuring this out, but thanks to the internet and a couple books, I seem to be managing. I have fallen deeply in love with Liana Krissoff's book Canning for a New Generation . The recipes are creative and delicious (and I love that they rely on pectin from green apples, rather than commercial pectin).

What struck my fancy upon the conclusion of my exams was the recipe for champagne jelly. This starts with a green apple pectin stock.

 Take 3lbs of Granny Smith apples and remove the stems. Cut the apples into eights, and put them in a large  pot or pan. Pour in six cups of water, cover, and bring them to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally until the apples have broken down and peels have separated from the pulp, about 30-40 minutes. Then strain out the solids - this guy placed over a mixing bowl worked quite well for me.

The recipe states that you should have about 5 1/2 cups of juice, which you should return to the stove and cook down to about 3 cups. Since I only had a little more than 3 cups of juice, I skipped that step.

And then on to the champagne jelly itself....the recipe states that you don't need an expensive champagne, so I went with my bubbly of choice for festive occasions on a graduate student budget.

1 (750 ml) bottle Champagne or sparkling white or rose wine
3 cups green apple pectin stock (see above)
1/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
3 1/4 cups sugar

It takes FOREVER to heat water for water bath canning, so it's wise to start early, in order to have jars sterilized and ready to go once the jelly is done.

Pour the wine into the pot and boil until it reduces to about 2 cups (around 20 minutes)
Then, stir in the pectin stock, lemon juice, and sugar into the wine. Bring to a boil,and cook stirring occasionally. The book advises you to boil the mixture until it registers around 220 on a candy thermometer, or until a small dab of it spooned onto a plate and placed into the freezer for a minute wrinkles when nudged. I haven't yet acquired a candy thermometer, but the wrinkling jelly on the plate from the freezer trick seems to work decently. According to the recipe, this should have taken 25-30 minutes, it took approximately 40 minutes for me. Then, pour the hot jelly into sterilized jars, place the lids on, and boil for 5 minutes (the recipe says 5, but I have a paranoid husband who wants to be sure things are sterilized and properly sealed. So at our house, we boiled our jars for around 10 minutes).

And ta-da! Five jars of champagne jelly.


I've passed along a couple jars to my studying buddies. The jelly is delicious- sweet and tangy, delightful on scones. I think this (or the quite similar Cabernet Sauvignon Jelly) may well become my trademark housewarming or graduation gift. And I'm quite optimistic that this interest in preserving food and making things that can be spread on bread will become a way for us to provide friends and family members with Christmas gifts that fit in a graduate student budget and don't suck.


Monday, July 30, 2012

About A Severed Wasp

I've been re-reading A Severed Wasp in small chunks around studying for my qualifying exam. I love Madeleine L'Engle, so much. I know she's been accused of being pompous and unrelatable, and maybe what draws me to her, and her work is those same unlikeable traits in myself.  But why am I apologizing for my taste in literature on my own blog?

It's very possible that A Severed Wasp is the only one of L'engle's adult fiction novels that I've read-I tend to take long soaks in her nonfiction, and her young adult novels.  Not too long ago, I discovered that it was the sequel to A Small Rain, which I'll likely pick up in the future. And I was intrigued to find that Suzy Davidson in A Severed Wasp was once Suzy Austin, who I rather liked (possibly because I find Vicky Austin to be the absolute most irritating character of L'engle's that I've ever encountered).

One of the things that draws me in is the Cathedral setting, with its musicians, priests, and bishops. Like L'engle, I'm one of those lucky people who breaks bread regularly with priests and bishops, at the Eucharist and in Starbucks. As a clergy kid and clergy friend, I appreciate it when people with religious vocations are presented in literature as real people, rather than just their occupations.

In some ways, this book is a mystery, in some it's a crazy soap opera. I love the way the story's told - both through Katherine's memories and her present. The way the details connect and pull the story together is absolutely masterful. But what resonates most with me right now is an undercurrent in the novel - a lengthy discussion about talent,  vocation, and practice. There are so many different extraordinarily gifted people in this novel - Madame Katherine Vigneras (the main character), doctors Suzy Davidson and Mimi Oppenheimer, Bishop Felix Bodeway, young violinist John Davidson, for starters.

This is one of those things I love about L'engle, incidentally- she respects the creativity and gifting of scientists and physicians. One of the earliest official definitions of public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" (Charles Winslow). I'm honestly not sure where the line runs between art and science; I think that quite often the line is thin and blurred.

A Severed Wasp is full of characters who have proved themselves great, those whose gifts are mediocre (Dorcas the dancer, for instance, or Felix the Bishop, who once was a violinist), and those who are still waiting to find out whether this thing inside them- "this one talent that is death to hide", in Milton's words- is enough.

Madame Vigneras practices incessantly, even though she's retired. This reminds me about how L'engle writes about her own practicing - the finger exercises for piano, and the writing that is their equivalent. It's that notion of practice that keeps me focused these days- course papers, and even qualifying exams are finger exercises in their own way. And I practice - some times as though my life depends on it, sometimes resentfully.  Because at least here- practice doesn't exactly give clarity on what your potential is. As great as class projects are, there's this rather immaculate, "testtube" quality about them. Outside the School of Public Health, there are people, problems, stakeholders, ideologies, and competing interests all interacting. I want to be good at Health Promotion - this is what I've been blindly stumbling towards ever since I was a 7th grader who wanted to be an epidemiologist. When I read A Severed Wasp, and hear  Katherine ask herself if she would have been able to accept it if her talent were second rate, I find myself asking "what if I'm only mediocre?" I think perhaps the greatest test of character in my life will be this next decade- as I move through this doctorate, and establish myself outside the walls of my dearly-loved university. If I prove myself great, can I keep from being proud? If I find myself lacking, can I accept my limited abilities with grace, and use them the best I can? In another ten years of practice and hard work, we should know.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Things NOT to say to someone with Crohn's, part II

(Because mocking wellmeaning people on the internet is better punching them in the face)

1)"Well, at least you're thin. That's so stylish"
WTF? Not even going to comment on that.

2) Not a statement, but seriously the WORST gift imaginable for someone with Crohn's: Wraparound Pants. Yes. Do you even want to imagine how that's going to work out when I'm running to the bathroom 10x a day?

3) "I read this book about someone who cured himself from Crohn's, using diet and natural remedies. He's not undergoing any medical treatment- you should check it out." I strongly respect everyone's right to make decisions about their own treatment. However, consistent medication use is linked to lower rates of colon cancer (and, since 1 in 5 Crohn's patients develop colon cancer, that's a big deal). Crohn's is a disease that can look radically different from one person to another- I happen to have a great GI, who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease. He's seen hundreds of patients over the last couple of decades (bonus: my doctor has a medical degree!). When my doctor's advice conflicts with some trendy book, I'm going to lean towards going with what my doctor says.

4) "Obamacare is evil." Sorry, but I kind of like the idea of not dying in a ditch from a treatable illness. And if I happen to find myself dying of colon cancer in 30 years, I'd rather not be homeless because of it. Yes, there are conversations to be had about whether this was the way to do healthcare reform, and how much it actually accomplishes (personally, I think the maligned public option should be the core of any reform). But if you're just out to spew hate towards "socialized medicine", you'll have to find someone else to listen to you.

5) "I was misdiagnosed with Crohn's X years ago, I totally  know what you're going through." Generally followed by "I had to take these medicines, and they had awful side effects, and I quit taking them, and eventually I got a second opinion and my doctor decided I must have just had colitis/a bacterial infection/ etc.
No. Just No. You might understand the fear of chronic illness, and the expense of treatment, but the actual physical exhaustion and pain is a big part of my experience too. It's lovely that nothing happened to you when you were noncompliant with your meds- I tried that, and it was completely debilitating. My doctor did countless bloodtests, a colonoscopy, a biopsy and a CAT scan while I was being diagnosed. I'm sorry yours was less thorough and made a mistake. Come talk to me when your ankles swell up so much that you can barely walk, and we'll chat then.

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm sitting at my desk, hands clenched around a mug of rooibos tea, trying desperately to make my heart stop racing. One month from today I'll be in the middle of my doctoral qualifying exam, and right now I really want to strangle Pierre Bourdieu. I'd rather do anything than study....and, after trying to work out how to pay for next semester's tuition, I'm inclined to run away screaming.
I won't.
I'll take a deep breath, brew another cup of tea, and brace myself.

Because the green paint on my office wall is the same color as the shirt I'm wearing today...because the paper lanterns from my wedding are dangling overhead....because the woman who's the closest thing I've got  to a parent is just a few doors down the hall, and she believes in me....because my officemate is working on her dissertation a few feet away, proof that this can be conquered.
This too shall pass. And I will breathe, and write about social capital.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

When the bubble shatters

I think many of us start life in a bubble- protected by the love of our family and friends, seeing nothing but wonder and beauty in this world.  I always picture this bubble a sort of rainbow glass shield, encompassing grassy fields, flowers, oceans, sunsets and puppies, and laughing children. The bubble is warm, safe, peaceful, and happy, but what I remember most about it is the moment it shattered.

It was one of the first afternoons in February, 1996, sunny and glorious, like many afternoons in Arequipa. I was just lately eleven, playing in the back yard with our doberman, when my sister came running out to tell me  there had been an accident. A car accident late at night, on a winding mountain road with our family's best friends. Details flowed in slowly...desperately needed, and terrifying. Uncle Wade and Marcus were comatose, and not expected to survive. Aunt Nancy and Marcus were being airlifted to the States, Josh's injuries were minor. A horrible hush set in as we cried and prayed, hoped and feared, and tried to make sense out of the updates from the mission board, and tried to keep life as normal as possible.

February 29th....just 28 short days later, my mother was returning from a meeting in Lima, and pilot error and engine failure combined to create a fiery collision between the commercial airliner and the side of a mountain, just a kilometer or so from the airport. My memories of the next months are cold and blurry, but eventually Marcus woke up from his coma, went through physical therapy, made it back to school. It's estimated that he made about a 90% recovery.

Months later,Uncle Wade surprised everyone by waking up. He communicated at first by eye blinks, and then slowly, learned to talk again. Dad visited often during those first few years-he was going to seminary in Memphis, where our friends were. Uncle Wade struggled to communicate after the  accident-his speech was slurred and hard to make out and  he typed short sentences in all caps. After the accident, he couldn't be the great adventurer and joker that he was before, but he continuously tried to reach out to people - through funny email forwards, through facebook, and any other way that he could. After the accident, Uncle Wade fought to recover enough to return to Peru....

My Uncle Wade died this week-wheelchair bound and hard to understand, but with an amazing smile.
We who are his friends, in many ways a family, have been reaching out across time and space. It's easier now than in 1996; there are more tools than long distance phone calls and fax machines. We are shocked, and hurt again. He was 56, which seems so young to me- sitting  at home reading, Wednesday afternoon,  it seems either his heart gave out or a blood clot. I am grateful that he is free from his wheelchair. I'm pretty sure he's done an eternity's worth of running, laughing, and sharing stories already, and that he and my mother have had some much-needed catching up. But I miss them, and I can't help but remember the days when I couldn't imagine anything bad happening to them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On making room

I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: We Anglicans need to learn to acknowledge each other, and to come to terms with the fact that our unique movements and perspectives are all a part of the Church of England. I want to see a ceasefire between the Continuing Anglican movement, ECUSA, and the growing ACNA. Each Sunday we say the same prayers in church (or rather: the sentiment behind them and their meaning is the same, regardless of whether your English is 1928 or 1976 or whatever the AMiA is currently putting together). Christ is not limited to the Bread and Wine in our own enclave- He is present with all of us.

At the same time, I find myself grateful for that diversity, because it doesn't exist in other faith communities - e.g. the Latter-Day Saints, or the Roman Catholic Church . However, Election Year Madness is upon us, and it's becoming clear that the lines that divide our politics run through our churches too. Two of my favorite bloggers have had some especially great points: Jonathan Martin on how often political platforms have been wrapped up as items of faith and Justin Lee with a call to see those we disagree with as real people. There's not much that can be added to their excellent thoughts.

I see a need to learn how to make room for people to disagree with us - as I've discussed with my nonreligious officemate, I do think this applies to society as a whole, but I think it applies even more to the Church. It's hard for us to accept that someone can love Jesus and disagree with us about Calvinism, women in the ministry, gay rights, etc.

It's simplistic....but I think there *are* guidelines for how we judge others and how we should handle disagreements.

  Galatians 5:19-26. "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery;idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh style with its passions and desires.Since we live by the Spirit,let us keep in step with the Spirit." 

 Romans 14: 13-21 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

All I can say is that I've seen fruits of the the Spirit on both sides of the debates- but rarely in how the people on opposite sides treat each other. Can we make room for each other in the Church? Is there room at the foot of the cross for all of us?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Coming out of the closet....

The other day J and I had a get-together at our place. An old friend of mine came- one who I went to high school and then college with (then, I finished college and went on to grad school, while he dropped out, and eventually tried to complete his bachelors degree at another small Evangelical university in my new city. Yeah, there's a little more to the story.) Anyway, he was talking with grad school friends, and questions came up (like "how did you survive high school?" which might be a topic for another post). He mentioned that lately, he'd been solidifying his beliefs on evolution and women in the church and the crisis he'd faced realizing that there was more than one Christian perspective on these issues.

Now, evolution and women in the church, or gay people in the church, honestly, are not hills I'm willing to die on just yet. Partly because I think that HOW we treat other Christians who disagree with us is far more important than what we actually think on these issues, and partly because they aren't things that come up at work/school every day. I think I'm still more uncertain than I'd like to be about these things, but wherever I come down on any given day will never cause a faith crisis.

But there's another issue that has shocked me with what I really think, and that I've struggled to accept that I (and the vast majority of the Christians I know) come down in radically different places: not only am I pro-contraception, I am pro-choice. Yes, my small handful of readers, I am outing myself as a pro-choice Christian- a combination I didn't even think was possible a few years ago.

There are a lot of things that changed my mind- partly, the reality that pregnancy is a lot more nuanced than the way it's portrayed by the anti-abortion community. Most women who choose to terminate a pregnancy are already mothers, for instance, not irresponsible teens. Pregnancies take place in women, who live in families, which are part of communities- we can't just look at a pregnancy as woman vs fetus. And there are so MANY possible outcomes to a pregnancy- it's not just a choice of terminating a pregnancy or  happily raising a healthy baby - there are adoptions, miscarriages, stillbirths, women who die in childbirth, gestational diabetes, post-partum depression....that's a lot of risk to ask someone to take on for a potential life. I'm not comfortable with making someone assume that risk unwillingly. And also- late term abortions? Usually, they're for medical reasons. Women generally don't let a pregnancy progress to 20 weeks on a whim, and I really don't think the government has any place in the midst of an already heartbreaking decision on between a woman, her partner, and physician

I think about the stories Christians celebrate- the stories of Tim Tebow, for instance, or the families who knew their child would not make it to term, or would not live for more than a few hours. And what makes these stories inspiring is the *choices* those people made. These women and families took on superhuman burdens, because of their faith and convictions and were sustained by God in the process, and it's beautiful. But should that burden be imposed on those who do not choose it? I don't think so, particularly given the insanely high costs associated with extraordinary medical care.

And it didn't help that my friends who are most opposed to abortion are the same people who are most opposed to social programs and policies that make it easier for  low-income women and couples to raise children.

I learned about the risks associated with unsafe abortions , and this changed things even more.

Also - abortion and contraception aren't specifically addressed anywhere in scripture. I've done enough research on the use of traditional plants as contraceptives and abortifaceants that I'm pretty darn sure the Israelite women were using them- and this practice isn't addressed anywhere in Scripture. I have to think that if God really cared about this, He would have *specifically* addressed it in Scripture, rather than allowing there to be room for misunderstanding.

Finally, there's the reality that if I *were* to get pregnant today, I don't know what would happen (This is why we use three methods of birth control). My husband and I aren't sure we ever want to be parents, because we're not sure we'd be any good at all at parenting. On top of that, we're graduate students, and the financial stress we face is pretty incredible. If we chose to have a child, it would have radically life-changing consequences. But even more than that- I'm in really lousy health right now, thanks to three months with no medication. My body's not a terribly hospitable place for ME to hang out at the moment, let alone a fetus. My own tissues are destroying themselves, and I'm reminded of this by the  frequent waves of nausea washing over me, accompanied by stabbing pain. I'm not sure it would be physically possible to carry a pregnancy. I don't know what my husband and I would decide if we did find ourselves pregnant- but whatever the decision, it would be hard-won, through prayer, conversations with priests and doctors, and honest soul-searching. And  I would be grateful that there *would be * a choice - that our course of action would not be constrained by regulations that know nothing about us or our situation.

I am a pro-choice Christian...this doesn't mean that I support abortion as an "easy out" in all cases, but that I, as a voter, do not want the responsibility of making anyone's decision for them. And let me add that I'm in favor of preventing as many abortions as possible- through contraception, through social programs that support families, through reforms that make adoptions feasible for more families.

But....this is all extraneous to my point: I feel like that voicing this position would result in people praying for my salvation and kicking me out of their churches and circle of friends, regardless of how much I have thought about it, or why I hold it. And that is hard.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I can't tell you how old this man is....all I can tell you is that I seem to see him once a week or so during the school year. He stands silently in front of the student union with  his shaggy hair and  long beard. He carries signs, and pamphlets, with things like "Yahweh is the way" "Do not be persuaded by false gods," and scripture verses from Romans. He drives an old grey truck, covered in bumper stickers that say the same thing- I saw him passing through my neighborhood as he was leaving campus one day.

At first, when I saw him, it made me scared and uncomfortable - I've had more than my fair share of bad experiences with Christians, especially the Evangelical and Pentecostal flavored ones. So I'd duck my head and  make a wide, cautious circle around him to avoid any chance of being handed a pamphlet

 One day, it dawned on me. "He must really love Jesus, to stand here, every day, holding this sign." I quit walking so far out of my way to avoid him, and then, I started whispering a prayer- just "God, you know him. Be with him." I started having crazy visions of asking him to grab a cup of coffee with me. A couple weeks ago, as I was running late to a meeting in the library, I screwed up enough courage to make eye contact, and smile at him (yes, I am that much of an introvert). He smiled back, and the smile lit up his whole face- somehow, I knew  he was just glad he had been seen. 

I don't know how this story ends. All I can say is that I hope, one day, to offer him that cup of coffee, and to ask him about his story. I'm not the sort of person who talks to strangers easily - my friendships begin cautiously and slowly. But this man loves my Father, and that makes him part of my family - this crazy, mixed up family that is the church, holy and catholic (yes. Lowercase c here). That knowledge is changing me. 

And that's all I have to say...that I am haunted by this man, who looks crazy, but who I know deeply needs God's love. And that I'm learning how bad I am at simply giving God's love to others. I have come to see Jesus in him....and so far, I've been able to do nothing but cry and pray.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A story of home

In the sixties, my great-grandparents purchased a few acres in Colorado, with a house that's smaller than my current apartment, and a good barn. This corner of land was named "The Pea Patch." My mother and sister went to college not too far away, and spent their weekends with grandparents. The barn was famous for sleepovers and family dinners, and grandchildren brought home many friends who had no where else to go for weekends and holidays. My great-grandmother served everyone on styrofoam plates, and loved them like family. However, if you defaced your styrofoam plate, you would face Grannie's wrath - after each gathering, she carefully collected the styrofoam plates and washed them in the dishwasher (without the drying cycle) to reuse.

 In honor of my great-grandparents' 80th birthday, their friends and family came together for a huge party- and brought recipes. This became the first edition of the Pea Patch cookbook. Time great-grandfather died, my great-grandmother wasn't doing so great on her own, and my grandparents moved to the Pea Patch. There was a massive celebration of my great-grandmother's 90th birthday, with a second edition of the Pea Patch Cookbook, and of her 95th birthday, when there were t-shirts for all family members. She was 97 when she died, and utterly beloved.

 My grandparents remained at the Pea Patch, where grandchildren slept in the barn and played in the yard at every opportunity. There were horses, Shelties, a compost pile almost the size of my bedroom, a vegetable garden, and a storm cellar. My grandparents had six meals a day- Breakfast, Coffee Break, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Supper, and Bedtime Snack. During these meals, family and friends came together, and my grandparents served things they made themselves. Homemade yogurt, topped with homemade granola and homemade syrup was what we had for breakfast at Grandma&Grandpa's. The garden supplied enough corn, green beans, and peas to be frozen and used through the year.

 In recent years, it's slowed grandfather developed Alzheimer's, and has been in assisted living for almost two years now. My grandmother still lives at the Pea Patch. A grandson and his friends managed some much-needed repairs on the roof last summer. Her letters continue to be packed with details about the weather, what's growing, what needs to be fixed, and what the grand-kids are up to. When I was in my early twenties this bothered me- because I felt that I didn't know my grandmother, that these were things you'd talk to a stranger about. As I've gotten older, I've realized that these details are in many ways, the foundation of life: home, and the people who gather there. Home is the place we come together,the place we prepare to nourish others (through growing things, fixing things and cooking, in my family's case) the place we share our food, the place where we welcome strangers and transform them into friends.

 There's another story that could be told here...the story of my parents and how they created a home with their missionary friends, and the Peruvians they ministered to , in a place far from their families and radically different from all that was familiar. Maybe I'll tell that story one day. But for now, I'll leave you with my husband and I,trying to make our graduate student apartment home. We're here, throwing slipcovers over 20 year old furniture, growing odds and ends of vegetables and herbs on the front porch (presently kale,parsley,cilantro basil, arugula, and eggplant), hanging pictures and drinking tea. Every chance I get (which isn't often) I have a cooking frenzy and invite a crowd of graduate students and other youngish adults to our apartment for the sake of breaking bread and drinking wine together. And on the top shelf of my bookshelf sits a copy of the Pea Patch cookbook - containing the mints my mother made each Christmas, my Aunt Kimberly's oatmeal cookies, and my grandmother's date pudding (as a bonus,the Pea Patch cookbook also tells me how to make library paste, play-dough, and wiper fluid).
Here's my husband, in our kitchen, trying to make great-grandmother's buttermilk candy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Another home project: The beaded lampshade

When I moved to my first apartment after college, I didn't have a lot of stuff. My priest at the time decided to send out a call to parishioners who had old furniture they were willing to pass on. One of those pieces is a large green and blue striped lamp that I absolutely adore. In the course of moving to my present apartment, the lampshade got demolished.

Unfortunately, because this lamp is probably older than I am, finding an appropriate new lampshade was easier said than done.


This was what we picked out at Lowes, as a starting point. The next step was to make many beaded tassels.


Here's a closer view. These are pretty basic- 24 gauge wire, threaded through sz 11/0 seed beeds, with a bicone bead at the end.


Then, I stitched the tassels to the lampshade, and hot glued some ribbon in place.Note: I've always used a low-temp hot glue gun because I'm clumsy, and don't want to burn my fingers off. However, I've been getting frustrated with how quickly the glue cools, so I'm realizing it may be time to switch to a high temperature glue gun.

And ta-da! Custom lampshade
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It's a long way from own mediocre craft skills definitely show up here, as does my lazy measuring. But it's mine, and I love it, and I'm finding it  a helpful  lesson in wabi-sabi. As human beings, we have the ability to choose and create our own habitats- probably more so than any other species. But we're often careless with this gift, choosing to stuff our homes with mass produced Chinese factory goods from Target or Ikea. So here I am, in my small way, choosing to make my space my own.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
GOD hath brought His Israel
Into joy from sadness
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.

 'Tis the Spring, of souls today;
Christ hath burst His prison;
 And from three days’ sleep in death,
 —As a sun, hath risen.
All the winter of our sins,
 Long and dark, is flying
From His Light, to Whom we give
Laud and praise undying.

 Now the Queen of Seasons, bright
With the day of Splendour,
With the royal Feast of feasts,
Comes its joy to render;
 Comes to glad Jerusalem,
Who with true affection
 Welcomes, in unwearied strains,
Jesus' Resurrection.

Neither might the gates of death,
Nor the tomb’s dark portal,
Nor the watchers, nor the seal,
 Hold Thee as a mortal:
But today amidst the Twelve
Thou didst stand, bestowing
That Thy peace, which evermore
Passeth human knowing.
-St. John of Damascus

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I love messy liturgy

Now, let's be clear: There's a difference between "messy" and "sloppy" liturgy. For the sake of this post, I'm defining "sloppy" liturgy as liturgy that is poorly written, unrehearsed, or otherwise lazy. It's what happens when we're not careful, when we don't plan. I'll throw out the first Sunday of Lent about three years ago as an example....I was attending a new Anglican church, meeting in a museum auditorium, and at the close of the service, they flashed up a powerpoint slide that had alleluias. I gasped, and the guy in front of me muttered something dismayed. His girlfriend or wife shushed him, noting (accurately) that Sundays are always feast days. But still- this was sloppy. It was unintended, inappropriate, and distracting. (Seriously. I've attended another Anglican church where they had a service to BURRY the alleluias at the start of Lent).

But things don't always go as planned. Sometimes a four yearold shouts "Yay!" at the end of the Gloria. Sometimes a priest topples off a stage in a museum auditorium . Sometimes an acolyte has stomach cramps and has to step out midservice. Palm Sunday comes once a year...leaving  girls scrambling to finish palm crosses, and distribute them through a congregation before Mass starts. And we find ourselves in a pitchy, offkey rendition of  "All Glory Laud and Honor" as we march through the parking lot and step in through the narthex to find the rest of the congregation singing a completely different verse.  It's messy...but we live in the middle of mess. I'm pretty sure the crowds at the first Palm Sunday weren't perfectly in step with each other. Our liturgies, these events we celebrate in the life of Christ and the Church....they are real. Real in a historical sense, in which they happened, in a way that wasn't prewritten and rehearsed....and real, in an ongoing sense, in which we re-enact them, and take them into our lives. I find  L'engle's notion of Kairos and Chronos is helpful here....that sense that we have chronos (wrist watch time- that encompasses history books and calendars) and kairos- (God's time- which holds everything present at once). is the the trips and stumbles, the noisy child, that jerk us into kairos and out of our own neat and perfect expectations and plans.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One of those days....

Deadlines collided this morning, which left me with two papers to write....which led to me getting 3.5 hours of sleep. I bribed myself to leave the house with the promise of oatmeal at a favorite coffeeshop, and made it to class about 15 minutes late. Met with a research participant, met with my boss, brainstormed ideas for FINDING more participants, shuttled+walked home, dropped some stuff off at post office, currently prepping for a guest lecture tomorrow.

Somewhere in the sleep deprived state, it clicked: I'm grateful. Grateful to be a research study coordinator- this is a pretty small study, but I'm good at this and it excites me. Grateful that I can teach, and I love it. Today I got to talk about ovulation, cervical fluid, and sperm....tomorrow I get to lecture about infant mortality. Three writing projects are in various degrees of progress right now- one about fighting HIV/AIDS through promoting gender equitable beliefs, one about promoting low-technology cervical cancer screening in developing countries, and one on gender expectations and contraceptive use. Yeah, everything's pretty scattered...but I'm learning, I'm growing, and I'm happy.

No, I didn't plan to be 27 and still up at all hours with school assignments. I know I'll feel that more tomorrow.But even though life can suck, I love it. And that's all I really want to say.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Greg Mortenson, Take 3

As this piece points out, it's been 10 months since the news of Greg Mortenson's alleged fraud broke. I've written about this, here and here. It's a hard thing.

At the end of the day, it matters, and why and how matter. I don't think Greg Mortenson intentionally set out to get rich off of schools in Pakistan. If so, that's an entirely different matter, and downright criminal.

But. What he did was irresponsible, dangerous, and thus, completely inexcusable. He built an organization around his story- not the stories of people who's lives he was trying to change. I'm sure Mortenson thought no one knew the community he was working with (or his mission or his contacts, or whatever) as well as he did. All of us think that way, and Mortenson had more reason than most. But still....this is pride, pride at its worst. I can't think of a more dramatic example of how our sin can affect others. And it lives in us all.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote about this in A Circle of Quiet...she writes about a quotation from G.A. Young a student brought to one of her workshops: "The compulsion for me to get my cotton-pickin' fingers on my fellow man is the natural result of my belief that I have the word. If I do have the word and feel surrounded by unmolded clay, I have no choice but to mold. When I do this, I begin playing God, and as a result usually raise the devil." L'engle responded with a quotation from George MacDonald: "Am I going to do a good deed? Then of all times,-Father, into thy hands: lest the enemy should have me now."

L'engle, with her characteristic clarity, identifies the difference between the two statements: "George MacDonald implies that as long as we put ourselves into God's hands, then maybe something good can happen, not because of us, but because he helps." Being a lifelong Anglican, she continues"I've just remembered another quotation: this one's from the Psalms. Whenever I'm going to teach a class or give a speech, I always think of it, and hold onto it: Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give the praise; for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth's sake."

This is where hope lies. We each, like Mortenson, have the ability to destroy the good we set out to do...we can devastate our own compassion. But there is grace, there is Christ, and therefore, we don't have to. Greg Mortenson is neither monster nor hero, but a man made in the image of God, a man who needs forgiveness.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's worth saying again.

This is why I'm getting my doctorate: .

Incidentally, it's also why I support Planned Parenthood.

I've done a good bit of writing this semester in support of low-technology cervical cancer screening, and given the realities of the developing world, I don't know why more people aren't on board.

And I should say something snarky about Republican shenanigans related to women's health, but I'm too sad and angry to manage words anymore.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bokashi compost and apartment gardening

We had a big day here in our little household today. It was time to empty our bokashi bucket! To backtrack quite a mother's people grow things. Her grandparents retired to a tiny farm in Colorado they deemed the Pea Patch, and hosted giant celebrations in their barn. My grandmother still lives there, and up til a couple years ago, she and my grandfather were still filling a freezer each winter with veggies from the garden. When my mom was in high school, she and her dad experimented growing chrysanthemums under fluorescent lights in the winter, and when my mother moved to Peru, she brought zinnia seeds. I can't not grow things- it's just in my blood somehow. Unfortunately, graduate school doesn't lend itself well to acquiring plots of land, and I'm limited to what I can fit on a porch. In addition to the gardening and tea drinking bugs I've inherited from my grandparents, I also can't stand to throw things out, particularly when I know they could be useful. For years, I've been longing for an affordable house to rent that will let me have a flower bed, a vegetable garden, a clothes line, and a compost pile. This year, I learned about bokashi composting, and I don't have to wait for my compost pile. Being the odd creature that I am, I asked for a bokashi compost system for Christmas. My sweet husband complied, (though he also got me something small and sparkly- dear man!). The system was fairly simple to master...chop food into small pieces, sprinkle the bokashi mix (special wheat bran treated with microbes that promote fermentation) over the food, close up the bin, and drain off the "tea" every couple days. Our bin has mostly been vegetable scraps,tea bags,and leftovers that have started smelling funky, although a few other things have been added also (a compostable takeout counter,the round pieces of cardboard that come with frozen pizzas, and Scotchbrite scrub sponges). The bokashi system pretty much eliminated the smelliness and drippiness of our garbage. It also reduced the amount of garbage we threw out (and after emptying that bucket, I'm tremendously impressed at how much stuff was compacted into it!). The kale, lettuce, and mint on the porch seem to thrive off of diluted bokashi "tea." While some people rave about bokashi "tea" as a drain cleaner, I didn't notice much difference in drain function, though drains definitely smell better (our apartment is old enough that there's still lead paint in the building, so this might just be an issue with our plumbing). 012

 We filled our bokashi bin almost two weeks ago. Since filling the bin, I've been draining off MUCH more liquid. Seriously, at the beginning, I could drain off the "tea" once a week and only get a few teaspoons of liquid. I've probably drained off at least half a cup each day the past week.This is the bokashi bin contents today, when I opened it up to empty them. They were not terribly smelly. "Fermented" or "pickled" sure, but not the smell of death that rotten food waste develops. A prior tenant at my previous apartment had left a 5 gallon cat litter bucket in the outdoor closet. I kept it when I moved, because buckets come in handy. I put potting soil in the bottom of the bucket, then attempted to tip in the bin's contents. This was rather messy, wet, crumbly and sloppy, but I managed. The kitchen definitely needs mopping. Then I threw the bin in the bathtub and ran hot water over it . Added a bit more potting soil to the top, and then closed up the lid. 013
 I imagine that this will need some more dry stuff added to it the next couple weeks (we've got several more frozen pizza cardboard bases sitting around), and I anticipate opening it up in a week or so to be sure the soil and the food scraps are well mixed. And hopefully, about the time the tomato seedlings are ready to go outside, the bokashi mix will have turned into beautiful soil for them.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saul Alinsky, Frances Butterfoss, and Advocacy for Christians, I

I never like to be too specific here...because the last thing I need is for a potential committee member or employer to stumble across my attempts to explain the universe, faith, sickness,hope, and change to myself. In this particular conversation, there are things I'm trying to leaving out, because they would make me too identifiable, and if these musings are a bit more scattered than usual, that's probably why.

I'm a Dr.P.H. student. In theory, a Dr.P.H. is different from a Ph.D. Bluntly put,a Dr.P.H. is not supposed to lead to jobs in academia. The accrediting agency for schools of public health has been tweaking the requirements for the two degrees, so that they're more different. Parts of these changes have resulted in a number of schools of public health (including mine) launching courses in public health advocacy, in order to better prepare Dr.P.H. graduates for community work.

Conversations about change, advocacy and leadership, in public health (at this university, at least) seem to end up almost always including two people: Saul Alinsky and Frances Butterfoss. These are two very opposite approaches, and they've both yielded major positive impacts. Alinsky's work has been around longer, and he's inspired people like Barack Obama, Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Tea Party, and the Occupy Movements (Though, I think Obama's work also expresses some of Butterfoss's approaches...which probably means the two are not as mutually exclusive as I feel).

I think the recent Fluke-Limbaugh interactions have provided a decent example of some of the  differences between  consensus-based organizing (Butterfoss) and  conflict-based organizing (Alinsky) .

This is even more interesting to me, because both identify as Christians- specifically, as Methodists. It's an election year, and it's fascinating to see how our civil discourse seems to have become more and more "Alinskian" (based on threats, ridicule, fear, and personal attacks) in the almost ten years I've maneuvered this country as a voting adult. When I see people who openly identify as Christians operating in an Alinsky-dominated  framework (e.g. focused on negative messages about opponents, and "ends justify the means") to accomplish change, it hurts me. Personally, the vast majority of my Christian  acquaintances supporting these approaches are Conservative, Evangelical, Tea Party identified - this probably is just a reflection of living in the Southeastern United States. One of these friends once remarked "I don't care if someone votes against Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon (or Hillary Clinton because she's a woman), because they're doing the right thing, and the reason doesn't matter if the end result is a better candidate being elected....." I found myself floored, because in my world, it matters a heck of a lot if people are voting out of prejudice. I have a dear friend who is a conservative Mormon - if people are not voting for Romney because of his religion, well, that tells me that my incredibly smart, talented, compassionate friend is going to face this same discrimination throughout her career. Likewise, ( I (like many of my friends) am a woman who is part of an ongoing fight for justice around the world- if Hillary Clinton is disregarded because of her second X chromosome, this shapes my life. Because of this context,  I want to carve out some time to explore my own thoughts around conflict vs consensus based organizing and advocacy, particularly in light of the Gospels.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Apparently not giving up politics for Lent.

Although it might make a huge difference for my sanity. Some fights you don't choose, they choose you?

Rush Limbaugh on Sandra Fluke's testimony:

All I have to say is that if Ms. Fluke were my child, I'd be incredibly proud.I'd be That Mother...the one who sends her kid a ginormous bouquet of flowers, and won't let a single mail clerk, officemate, or grocery bagger escape an encounter without hearing about my offspring.  Heck, I imagine that if I did have a child, he or she would be much like  Sandra Fluke.

And just because:

If you find Rush Limbaugh's comments offensive, disgusting, or otherwise inappropriate,  there's a petition to have Speaker Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor denounce them . If you're not a Democrat, you'll probably want to be sure you get off DCCC's email list, but I wanted to put this here, since Rush Limbaugh resentment is a bipartisan issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Invalidated wedding reflections? Part 2

See part 1: We disappointed people.

Part 2: Our values were different (from the values of those around us).
I knew this from the moment my sister got misty-eyed as I was drowning in a pile of tulle. In many ways, I'm a placard-waving freak,while my husband sits in the background, commenting on the typography and grammar of my placard. And ultimately, I bought a dress with an emmotionless click on Ebay ("Ooh. Ivory vintage Harry Kaiser cocktail dress that one can actually move in! My measurements! $176 plus shipping! It wasn't made by abused seamstresses in China, and I can actually afford it!").
So, we started planning our wedding in a way that was frugal, respectful of others, and socially/environmentally conscious. This quickly turned into tiptoeing through a minefield. I'll also add that we were paying for this wedding out of savings, primarily funds left to me by my deceased grandmother, so it's not like we were taking other people's money and spending it in ways they disapproved of.

My stepmother latched on to the "informality" of our summer afternoon ceremony, and decided that we needed paper table clothes, plastic plates, plastic flatware,wedding dress cutouts, and goofy plastic bride and groom stick figure picture frames (something like this), all while I strategized about how avoid contributing to the growth of the Pacific Garbage Patch And she was insisting on making Swedish meatballs for the reception ( 1) I've been a vegetarian for 3 years now. 2) I haven't touched anything resembling a Swedish meatball since working at camp summer of 2001...the uneaten freezerburned Swedish meatballs were recycled, causing "Swedish meatball" night to become salad night for all staff). Not cool....not cool at all.
(After weeks of her ignoring my protests, one of my grad school girlfriends got fed up and called her for a "Come to Jesus" meeting. Grad school girlfriends are the bestest.)

Then....there was the Church Organist. I have a feeling he's still off somewhere complaining about how my husband and I ruined his wedding.  Well....we initially contacted him 8 weeks out from the wedding. Two weeks later, we still hadn't heard back from him, so with some frantic finagling, I came up with another organist. Church Organist was offended that another organist was playing a wedding at his church, so he called her to cancel (Note to anyone planning a wedding or other event: if you decide NOT to use a musician/vendor, etc, do NOT tell them who you are actually using). What then ensued was a three-week battle over a HYMN we had selected for our ceremony. Church Organist was grieved that our music choice was came from a "revivalist" tradition, and that our wedding would be ruined by including "a Wesleyan altar call." I wish I'd had the presence of mind to point out that the Wesleys were Anglican... Church Organist's passion for Pure Anglican Worship overflowed into everything. I got emails asking who was serving as acolyte, and whether we were going with the English order of attendants (I flew into a panic and told the Bishop "I didn't realize I needed to think about this stuff!" Bishop's response: "You don't").  Before putting together our program, we had a liturgical consult with the Bishop, to be sure everything was going in the appropriate places, and people were sitting/kneeling/standing at appropriate times.  After program was drafted, it was emailed to Bishop and Church Organist, so that Bishop could check liturgical elements and Church Organist could check music... Church Organist sent back several scathing critiques of program, including the order of the ceremony, and the explanatory notes. Church Organist prioritized his time and gas above our comfort and refused to come to wedding rehearsal. Which meant that ceremony did not go as expected, but hey! At least Church Organist got his Saturday evening off.

And then, there was communication.
I'm a graduate student, have been for three years now. Maybe it's the roles I've played (be it student/research assistant/instructor/whatever), maybe it's the departments and program I've worked with, but there are some pretty clear expectations around communication. There's some pretty simple rules:
1) Send clear messages
2) If you are confused, ask for clarification
3) Respond quickly
4) If you can't/won't/don't want to do something, say so honestly and as quickly as possible
5) When you take on a task, get it done quickly, and communicate that you have done so.

Part of this is due to being social science/public health researchers/practitioners, I think....we're acutely aware that the "socially desirable" response is NOT the one we actually want. I don't want to know whether you know oral health is important and you really do mean to visit the dentist...I want to know whether you actually went to the dentist. When you tell me that you visited the dentist and you didn't, this is a major problem, so I spend my time trying to figure out ways to make you be honest with me and figure out when you're not.

It's also partly due to deadlines and interdependence. If it's my job to figure out effective ways to recruit participants, and it's not happening and I don't tell my boss about it...well,we won't get participants, data won't get collected, and the next time we try to do this, we probably won't get a grant (never mind the lack of publications craziness that defines academia).

Guess what? This is NOT how my family communicates. I'm not sure why...maybe it's just that they're not social scientists/academics...maybe it's that this blunt, straightforward approach to communication is taboo in the South, maybe it's something else. So "You committed to doing x, how is that coming?" emails/phone calls often received no response (and ended with me frantically trying to figure out how I was going to do x) or a response of "Oh, I don't care about x, but I'm doing y and z." I've learned that the facts that I can write well enough to pass my classes and lecture well enough that my students learn are apparently completely irrelevant to my ability to communicate messages and establish shared meaning outside of the classroom.

Symbols are a particularly challenging part of this "shared meaning" thing. Time and time again, when my husband and I did things our way, we confused others by failing to choose the "right" symbol. There's an emerald on my left hand, for instance....or my dramatic rebellion against "weddings are supposed to be formal and have tuxedos and long dresses." To everyone's credit, most of the time they chose the "if you can't be nice, don't say anything at all" approach. But not infrequently, someone would point out that I'd gotten the symbol wrong. "That's a Fall fabric, not summer", "You need to choose a Theme", "You can't have your siblings stand next to you, you have to have boys and girls separate." I pretended not to hear most of these statements, because I didn't understand (or care about!) these symbols.

That, I think, is the heart of the matter. Communication, and how we hold our symbols, in particular (and, like I often do, I've written myself to the limits of my understanding, and I'm fumbling for words here). I'm not willing to say that symbols are entirely neutral. And it's rare that something is "just" a symbol. But somehow...we all want to be right. Not just to be right, but to be Right in a way that stomps out opposition. It takes a great deal of strength and grace to balance our own thoughts in a way that gives others room for their own. I consider many of the gestures that made up our wedding our own small way of making the world a better place. Perhaps, in some ways they did, but realistically, seven thousand dollars isn't even a drop in the bucket of the wedding industry. I desperately want to live in a way that honors the world I live in and the other lives that are here...for me this meant absolutely not buying a brand new wedding dress off of a rack in a store, not wearing a diamond, choosing wedding party outfits that could be (and have been!) reworn, buying flowers from Ecuador and California (vs Colombia ) and a thousand other things were choices that reflect and display my values. When my father pulled me aside to whisper in horrified shock "One of the tablecloths has a spot on it" and I shrugged saying "Yeah, I expected that. I bought them used on Ebay from a catering company that was going out of business. Just put something on top of the spot" our lapse in communication was based in symbol: my father saw the spot as something sloppy, dirty & inappropriate while I saw it as a natural result of trying to have a responsible wedding. Likewise, when Church Organist fought with me over including a Protestant hymn, it was because my personal desire to acknowledge my spiritual journey and the religious tradition in which my husband and I were raised conflicted with his beliefs about worship that is beautiful, pleasing to God, and reflects Anglo-Catholic heritage. Are these conflicts inevitable? Perhaps. Do they have to become increasingly hostile and devastating? I hope not.

At the end of the day...I am married, to a man who has shared my heart and my journey and watches with enthusiasm as I work out my hopes and values in ways that include gardening, composting,refurbishing furniture, cooking,writing, studying, and more.

DanielKuykendall 988
(Photo by Daniel Kuykendall)

We're going to communicate poorly in the future- both with each other, and with others. I hope we'll learn to identify inadequate communication and fix it, quickly. I hope that we will learn to hold our symbols a little more loosely, and to give grace to others when they cling tightly to their own symbols.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Non-academic projects (AKA Hobbies): Decoupage bookshelf

I'm one of those lucky people who get to do what they love. This is why I stayed in grad school, honestly. People should think long and hard about their reasons for getting a doctorate...I'm not sure I thought enough, but I knew that there wouldn't be terribly many other opportunities to get paid to do what I love, get better at doing what I love, and live in the same city as my husband.

That being said...when I watch movies, when I read the news, when I eat, when I walk across campus, I'm in public health mode. It doesn't turn off- it's a part of me. This is why I'm good at what I do- because it's who I am. It's also what makes me crazy sometimes. So projects and conversations that *aren't* directly public health related, while often challenging, are often deeply restorative. 

Last week, we decided to move a bookshelf that was taking up room in a narrow hallway into an empty spot in the living room. When we made that decision, the bookshelf looked like this:


I'd found it out on the side of the road a couple days after moving to this city. I pulled it into my then- apartment, cleaned it up and unloaded a box of books on it. It was the most flimsy, ugly piece of furniture imaginable, and could NOT go into our living room.

I started digging around for things to do, and realized we had a stash of scrapbook paper that had been intended for cupcake wrappers for our wedding. My stepmom ended up buying cupcake wrappers (some battles you don't fight. Particularly when they mean more work for you). So we made a trip to Hobby Lobby with a giftcard we'd gotten for our wedding to grab a container of Mod Podge and a couple spongey brushes, and a couple more sheets of scrapbook paper (to change up the color scheme a bit). I spent every evening for a week cutting paper, wetting paper, covering it with Elmer's glue and/or Mod Podge and smoothing out wrinkles.


Eventually, this was what I ended up with:


We rearranged the books, so our "serious" (mostly academic) books are on our big bookshelf, and the fun books on this one. Now we've got a not-hideous bookshelf, and a cozy reading nook in our living room, and two fewer boxes of books sitting on the floor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two things

1) NOTHING sets my blood boiling like people who state in passing that emergency contraceptives and IUDs are abortifaceants. Medically, biologically, a pregnancy is defined as beginning when a fertilized egg has attached to the uterine lining. If you're going to disagree with the medical community's working definition, the burden is on you to explain why. And if your explanation is "fertilized eggs have souls" my next question will be whether you think all women of reproductive age should have their menstrual cycles monitored, to be sure that all fertilized eggs have the absolute best chance of implanting, because that seems like the next reasonable step to me. Followed by causing women to take pregnancy tests daily, so we can monitor and investigate extremely early miscarriages. Because otherwise, I'm not so sure that you're serious about sticking up for fertilized eggs.

2) I'm officially off my maintenance meds. Took the last pill Sunday (Feb 12) According to the dosage my doctor wants me to take, I should have run out on January 12th....I figured my better bet was to keep some Asacol in my system as long as possible. And now I'm out...(and, at $660 a refill, I'm going to be out until my new coverage year starts in August). It's been two days. So far- it's wonderful. I feel like a balloon that's just escaped from a child's hand, a kite that's been loosed from its string.  There are no reminders that I have a serious condition. I have this irrational desire to claim that my doctor doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. I suppose they call this denial.

My joints are aching a little more than they have been. It's probably just the cold weather. I'm nervous, but here we go.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My right to (sexual and reproductive) health.

(Every time I log into Facebook, one of my friends has posted something infuriating. I need my blood pressure down, and I need to not engage in pointless flame wars. So I'm going to say quite a bit here, both today and probably later)

A few weeks ago, a blog post on the right to decide when and how to start a family caught my eye. This is something my husband and I are pretty serious about. Between two doctoral programs, the assortment of jobs we juggle between the two of us (I think we might be down to just two jobs each now. Maybe), and a newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, now is not the time to get pregnant. (When you have a whacked-out immune system that likes to attack your own tissues, there's a definite possibility it will recognize a fetus as foreign and just try to get rid of it). If you walked through our house, you'd find my pack of birth control pills in the kitchen, condoms in the nightstand by our bed, and emergency contraception in a drawer in the bathroom. I'm grateful to be at a university that takes family planning seriously and is top-rated when it comes to providing sexual and reproductive health services to students. Each month when I refill my birth control prescription, I'm handed a $15 clinic pack, and this makes our lives a lot easier.

But that $15 prescription does a lot more than make sure a pregnancy doesn't happen before it's time. While my periods started out light and irregular, sometime in my early 20s things changed. Thanks to my handy Diva cup (which was the only feminine product that could stand up to my heavy periods) I know that between the first two days of my period, I generally lost around 120 mls of blood. Your period is considered normal if you lose between 10 and 80mls during the ENTIRE time. This meant that I essentially lost a week of my life each month to menstrual exhaustion, for lack of a better term. I was hesitant to go on the pill because of concerns about artificial hormones...two months later, I was shocked at what a difference it made in terms of my quality of life. I'm trying not to waste time kicking myself for not going on the pill years earlier. Oh, and bonus: my birth control also includes iron, something I tend to be low on, thanks to being a vegetarian and having Crohn's. You want me to give up these pills? You'll have pry them  from my cold, dead fingers.

When it's time to make healthcare decisions, the conversations that matter are between me, my husband, and  my doctor  (Except when it's about Crohn's. Then we have to factor in my lousy prescription coverage, which is another post in itself). This right has been under attack at both the state and national levels lately. My state senate is still considering a bill that would allow healthcare providers to deny any services for any reason they feel like it. Yes, as this bill is written, your phlebotomist could say "I don't like to draw blood on Monday, it ruins my week. Go somewhere else." Nationally, there's this uproar about the contraceptive mandate, and what it means for those poor little hospitals and universities, which receive millions of dollars in federal funding.  Usually, this is tied up with angst about emergency contraception (for a good overview, go here). Which I don't understand AT ALL. We have no data estimating how often fertilized eggs fail to implant, and really, if people are so concerned about emergency contraception, are they going to start trying to prosecute women with short luteal phases? Because that's what would seem consistent to me. Catholic universities have a history of making decisions that do not have the best interests of female faculty and students at heart (If a student has to have her ovary removed because you obstructed her access to birth control, you have failed her. To put it lightly.)
Respecting religious freedom is when you allow women to work out their convictions with their doctors and partners and choose medical care which fits their beliefs. It's unethical for a hospital or university to refuse to allow a student or employee to act in accordance with his or her individual conscience. It's been clearly outlined that institutions will not have to pay for services they object to . Now shut up. It's time to quit endangering women's health (and lives) to make a point.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On image and constructing identity

I'm starting my third year in grad school, and this has prompted a number of reflections, about things both serious and frivolous. Things are different now, and one of the fastest ways to know things are different is to look in the mirror or open my closet door.

I was a biology major in college, and school and work were my life. My standard uniform was a beaten up pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt, or a green button-down with sulfuric acid holes from TA-ing chem lab. I also didn't shower all that much (because, if showers take ten minutes, and you go a week without showering, you've just saved yourself an hour, and those hours add up.). It's also fair to say that especially my last two years, I was carrying a pretty big chip on my shoulder, and the yuck probably resulted in fewer verbal "screw you"s being dealt out.

My first job after graduation was interning in a molecular tox lab. So I added showers into my routine and phased out the cruddiest of the jeans. But frozen tissue samples don't really care what you look like, so there were many, many days of burrowing under my lab coat.

Then, there was grad school. And I swear, cardigans, skirts, colorful flats and heels have been breeding in my closet. Part of that is the influence of colleagues and mentors - I didn't know a single woman who actually wore pencil skirts or pointy-toed shoes before I started my masters, and all of a sudden, I was spending every day with three of them. Everything about this is filled with tension- well described here. The tension of not wanting to buy into gender, as it's constructed in this country. Like many American girls, I had thoroughly absorbed the notion that you have to choose between being Smart and being Pretty. Somewhere, I learned that Smart girls could fend for themselves, and therefore, no one wanted to be around them, and they generally wound up successful, but alone. Pretty girls on the other hand, were always surrounded by friends and admirers. While they were helpless, their visual appeal and dazzling conversation skills ensured them the admiration and assistance of everyone they encountered. However, as a Pretty girl, you were forever at risk of losing your looks with age, or, heaven forbid, that someone prettier come along and steal the partner on whom you were dependent. Faced with this dichotomy, I chose, quite reasonably, to be a Smart girl.

Then, I wound up in grad school, surrounded by professors and classmates who were both Smart and Pretty. To borrow from Judith Butler, I learned that there were more than just these two separate ways of doing femininity. I saw something admirable in how my Smart and Pretty friends and mentors did gender- they were beautiful, bright, comfortable in their own skin. They managed to signal that they were competent and approachable. Occasionally, I tried out their approach, and eventually it changed something about me. Not so much my inner self, but the signals I send to others. In this vein, I choose to select the messages I send with my appearance.

I choose to look like someone who puts effort into how she presents herself, who considers others (e.g. showering!). When I teach, I don't dress in a way that I'll be mistaken for a student, and I will not look like someone who is currently debating about whether to go off their maintenance meds or start buying them from Canada. It is my choice how the world sees me, and when I put on my lipstick each morning, I tell the world that I will not be seen as a sick, pitiful, graduate student.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Invalidated wedding reflections? Part 1

In the last few days of break, I've been wrapping up some of the leftover odds and ends from our wedding. I've blogged about it before, and not terribly long ago, our wedding was featured on my favorite wedding blog.

It's interesting to me...that in all the note-writing,photo-album building,and smiling acceptance of congratulations,there are only certain reactions that are acceptable. When you talk about weddings,it's acceptable to lightly dance over the stress of planning,but to suggest that anything was difficult or unpleasant about your wedding? Well, that makes you a bridezilla, unless your wedding included some you-tube worthy disaster, in which case you're allowed to tell the story to a room full of people simultaneously laughing and cringing. To say "my wedding was really hard,and I don't think I'd do it again" isn't allowed. That's considered the height of selfishness. I find this even more intriguing after reading a recent column about how women's emotions are often dismissed out of hand.

For whatever it's worth,I'm going to attempt to talk about the ugly parts of our wedding, and the wedding planning process. Because, guess what? They hurt! And they hurt far less when they are acknowledged, considered, and learned from.

We disappointed people.
Six weeks after we got engaged, we finally picked a date for our wedding, after choosing a location, adjusting for the impending due dates of a potential photographer and my closest friend (yep, two different people, two babies), and dodging a youth conference. What we didn't know: My cousin's wedding in Oklahoma City was scheduled for two weeks before ours in South Carolina. Her sister called me to express concern over this, particularly out of her fear that because of the closeness in dates, some family members would choose to come to our wedding instead. Then, my aunt sent a panicky email, informing me of my cousin's terror that our wedding was going to change her catering numbers. So I assured both aunt and cousin that my partner and I would be at my cousin's wedding, and told them that I didn't expect them to be there. I didn't hear from anyone on this side of the family for another two months....when my dad forwarded an email from his sister's husband telling him how hurt and worried his sister was because she hadn't received an invitation yet (This was the end of March. We were married in July....this was THE WEEK BEFORE we sent out invitations).

My sister showed up in early January for a weekend of "wedding planning help." Pretty much the first thing out of her mouth on arrival was "But it's not a diamond!" (I think my reaction was pretty much "yeah, so? Diamonds are evil.")She then proceeded to list all sorts of stuff she wanted us to buy or do, to which my response was basically "Nope. Can't afford it" or "Nope. We think that's dumb."
Then, the crowning indignity: she dragged me to David's Bridal. And started to CRY when some pushy bridal consultant stuck a veil over my ponytail while I was freaking out over being immobilized by a heavy train. Ultimately, I managed to convince pushy bridal consultant and my sister that I was NOT wearing a long dress,pushy bridal consultant asked if I needed my MOTHER to see a dress before I could purchase it(I managed a blunt "she's been dead for ten years"), and eventually left the store, with my sister whining over my inability to afford a $500 dress.