Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I recently spent an hour of one of my afternoons volunteering in our school's food pantry. It's open twice a month on a regular schedule, and by appointment if/when needed, as a local extension of the Food Bank of Iowa. One of the women waiting in line was a woman who I would guess is in her mid to late 60s. When it was her turn to gather items she had a few questions since it was her first visit. She also had some age related physical limitations, so I stayed near her to help her as she needed. Her eyes lit up when she saw the case of apples that were available that day and asked if I would help her by picking her out a half dozen or so of the not so nice apples so she could make an apple crisp with them. She said she wanted to leave the nice ones for families with kids who would eat them fresh. At one point as I was helping her, she apologized for having so many questions. She then explained that she was a survivor of domestic abuse and that until her husband's recent death, she had not been allowed to go many places and never alone. She felt overwhelmed by all the choices and she couldn't get over the feeling that when she reached out for something she was going to get in trouble. She was so sweet, and so thankful, and I wish I would have asked her name to validate her as an individual, not as someone's property to control, as she had been treated for so many years.

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I could be the poster child for birth control options given my history of use. I have inserted, injected, and ingested the whole range of hormonal birth control options. I've had side affects from frequent bleeding (every 7-10 days for over 2 years), to a systemic allergic reaction (which made it nearly impossible to pick-up my 9 month old for a couple of days), to mood swings so sever I felt like I was going out of my mind. Frequent condom use tends to give me irritation and UTI infection issues. So after Brea's birth, when we were pretty sure we were done having kids and open to long term birth control, but not sure we were ready to chose a permanent option, my doctor suggested a non-hormonal IUD. I'd have to visit Planned Parenthood to have one inserted, but both she and I (and my close friend who is a physician) felt it was a good fit for my needs. I will admit, I was nervous visiting Planned Parenthood because, growing up in a small town, I had preconceived notions about WHAT Planned Parenthood was and WHO went there. I asked a friend to go with me for my appointment, partially because I didn't know if I would be up to driving the hour home after the IUD insertion, and partially because I didn't want to go alone.


The level of care I received that day was top notch. From the receptionist to the care providers who performed the insertion, I was treated with kindness, respect, patience, and friendly smiles. And as I watched how the staff interacted with every person who came to the clinic that day while I was there, I realized that was just the NORMAL way patients and visitors were treated. Period. While I have always tended to be pro-choice leaning when discussions were had about Planned Parenthood, on that day when I was a patient in one of their clinics I realized it's about SO MUCH MORE than just the hot button topic of PP and abortion services. It's about affordable, accessible, respectful, safe, friendly care for EVERYONE who walks through the doors of Planned Parenthood regardless of financial need, age, skin color, or services required. It allows women who otherwise might choose not to care for their own health needs because of cost, accessibility, or the shame caused by other's opinions, to care for their own health needs.

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Over the past 20 years I have had 3 women in my life share their sexual assault stories with me. Three women spanning 3 generations in age. Three women that represent white, middle class, small town America. Women who were all assaulted by well known acquaintances. Some would have even called those acquaintances friends. Friends who were known not only by the women themselves, but by their families. Women who buried the secret and shame of their sexual assault, sometimes for decades, until their souls could no longer carry the weight alone. Women who have not let their assault define them, but who have gone on to do amazing things. Knowing them well, I know they will continue to do so until their final days.

According to a 2010 survey report published by the CDC, 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I'm sure none of the women who have trusted me with their assault story expected to be the 1 in that frightening statistic. I don't know a single woman who would wish to be the 1...or who are willing to extend much trust or respect towards anyone who through their actions, or their words, contributes to a culture that allows that statistic to be the reality for far too many women.

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I have sat down to finish and publish this post several times over the past week as my heart has grown heavier and heavier with worry about the direction our new administration is driving our country. Today's news that will directly affect the education world, a world I have found myself digging into deeper and deeper over the past several years, was the breaking point for me to sit down and complete my thoughts for publication. I need the therapy that comes through the process of reflection for writing.

Since the day after the November elections I have consumed news from a variety of outlets in volumes I would have never dreamed I could consume. Life has seemed a bit surreal over the past 10 days as I've watched the political divide in our nation growing ever wider. As I have watched millions of US citizens, leaders of many other countries, and the citizens the world voice their concerns that mirror so many of my own. As I have watched issues that are important to me, issues that I feel have no business being politicized...education, science, our environment, religious freedom, healthcare, basic rights for everyone regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation...become tick marks in the win column for an administration that seems more interested in "winning", no matter the cost, than respecting the diverse nation for whom they are playing.

As a young child, I moved often with my family. From the time I started kindergarten, until the end of my elementary school years in 6th grade, I attended 6 schools. So even though I grew up in a mostly white, mostly conservative, entirely heterosexual (as far as I knew), almost exclusively Christian part of our country, I am far from a carbon copy of that environment. As much as I have struggled with not feeling rooted to a past that I can call my "home", I am increasingly thankful that my childhood experiences did much to strengthen by ability to extend empathy towards others. As a shy, somewhat awkward introvert who was constantly finding herself in the roll of the new girl in the class, I know very well what it's like to feel alone. To feel different. To feel like less than those around you. To feel like an easy target for bullies. So while my experiences may be different in both scale and scope, I can empathize with those individuals who are feeling marginalized in today's political environment. I don't have to share skin color, or religious beliefs, or sexual preferences, or anything more than the fact we both belong to the human species, to have compassion for my fellow humans, and to understand how much it TOTALLY FUCKING SUCKS to be bullied simply for BEING.

I marched because issues that directly affect people's well-being should not be political playing pieces for our government's officials to push around in their ever shifting power game.

I marched for the world I am passing on to my daughters.

I marched because I believe in the power peaceful protest.

I marched because I believe love is greater than hate.

I marched because in this crazy world that makes me feel anxious and scared more often than I'd like to admit, I needed to take care of myself mind, body, and soul. I needed to feel, if even just for a few hours, that even in the face of the political chaos swirling around us at the moment, it's gonna be okay.

I marched, because I have to believe that in the end, it's gonna be okay.

It has to fucking be okay...


Sunday, January 8, 2017

A New Cup...

Many moons ago, when I worked for Grinnell College, I got this cup...

I love this cup. It's large. It's heavy. It's red. It's a shape that feels good cradled in my hands. Everyone in my family knows this is Mom's cup.

When we moved to Carlisle, this simple cup served as my daily comfort and connection to a place I had so loved. To a time in my life when I learned so much about myself and what truly nurtures my soul. Over the years it has become somewhat of a security blanket. My security cup.

Santa left me a new cup in my stocking this year...

My kids at school love books by Mo Willems. Mo's books are silly, and witty, and his Elephant & Piggie series are some of my favorite read aloud books. This cup makes me smile every time I pick it up. I have grown to love my little school library space, and although it can be frustrating and exhausting at times,  I'm glad to have a job to go to that I feel makes a positive impact on the students entrusted to my care there.

Admittedly, I have a bit of a thing for coffee cups, so event though we have more than plenty in our cupboard, I could not resist adding this cup to our collection when I randomly ran across it at Marshalls a few days after Christmas...

While different in shape, both of these cups are large, and weighty, and feel good when cradled in my hands. Since being added to our collection, these two cups have spent very little time in the cupboard as the frigid temps of Iowa winter ha required many warm drinks.

It seems fitting that new cups of comfort have made their way into my hands as of late as I have also felt a bit of the fog that has hung over my heart for the past few years starting to lift. During one of the darkest parts of the year, a time when the air is cold, the nights are long, and my inner grizzly wants to hibernate until spring, I've been feeling quite sunny.

I'm sure a lot of people in my life want to roll their eyes and tell me to just "get over it" when I say I don't know that I have ever really found my sunny side since we moved 6.5 years ago. Yes, I know, it's been 6.5 years. I SHOULD just move on and get over it. Trust me, I'd LOVE it if my heart found it to be just that simple. That doesn't mean that I haven't had sunny days. Life has continued to be lived. Some great memories have been made. Lovely people have been added to our tribe. New passions have been discovered. Life goes on, even on cloudy, foggy days.

Two and a half years I ago I stopped trying to "tough it out", realized I wasn't going to be able to just "choose to be happy", and admitted I needed some help dealing with the depression that had been unraveling the comfortably knitted warmth of my life. Clouds had taken over my inner environment, and I needed some help finding the sun. For about a year, I was experiencing brighter days on a pretty regular basis. Talking to close friends about needing some extra support, and getting a little pharmaceutical help in keeping my serotonin levels balanced, helped me to keep a better perspective on life. It helped me more fully enjoy the sunny days, and remember that when clouds blew in, they wouldn't being hanging around forever.

Then in August 2016 a BIG storm rolled in on a very scary, very surreal night I never expected to experience as a parent. For weeks we were in emergency clean-up mode. As is the case with any rebuilding after a major storm, recovery takes time. Sometimes there are set backs. It was a rough, rough, LONG year and my inner emotional environment did not fair well through it all.

(I have not written much about this particular struggle mainly out of respect for the fact it is not only my story. In fact, I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about here because I don't want to give the impression that the storm, and the after math, were about me. I only mention it because of how the events of that 6-9 months have affected my own mental/emotional well-being.)

There are a lot of areas of life when struggle and failure does not bother me for very long. As confident as I can be going into just about any adventure I decide to take on, failure does not surprise me. Self sabotage much? Yeah, probably. I will own up to that. And when it comes to most failures in my life, I'll own up to those too.

Failed business? I could have done more to promote my services.

Failed friendships? I'm sure I said something or did something to push the other person away. (I mean I even think I'd be exhausting to be friends with!)

Financial struggles? Yep, probably largely my fault as the keeper of the budget and payer of the bills.

That being said, I think I've always been able to accept my weaknesses and failures because there's one area of my life where I've generally felt like I totally have my shit together...being a mom. So when something happens that makes you question every decision you've ever made related to something you felt like you generally really do pretty well, your world kinda falls apart. In my case, a huge dark cloud hung over my inner world for a very long time. A cloud full of sadness and frustration and anger and worry. In hind sight, I should have probably been a bit more responsible for taking care of my own emotional needs as we worked on making repairs in the structure of our family. I should have probably participated in some counseling to help me find some peace, and keep perspective, with all that was going on.

Slowly over the past few months, that dark cloud has been lifting a bit. With time, we've been able to repair much of the initial damage created by that storm. There will always be scars, but life has gone on to find a more comfortable rhythm again. The general mood in our family environment, the center of my life, the holder of the dearest parts of my heart, is lighter. I'm starting to remember what it's like to have more sunshine in my life. Part of welcoming those sunnier days is simply accepting what has happened in the past is the past. Those events can not be changed and lessons have been learned. What we can look forward to is the potential of the future of finding a new place of comfort in the present.

It's kinda like being open to adding the comfort of a new favorite cup, or two, to the cupboard.