Monday, July 27, 2009

Practicing health

I've incorporated a few new health practices. The first was prompted by my finding a lump--well, I like to call it a knot--in my right breast. It's been checked out and diagnosed as a cyst, aspirated, and I've been given a clean bill of health by the outstanding Virginia Piper Breast Center at Abbott Northwestern. There is a reason why City Pages readers voted it the best place to get a mammogram. This was the most intentional, appropriately woman-centered care I've ever received. And it was organized and efficient without seeming at all robotic or cold. They served tea in china cups and saucers and had all their display materials and literature translated into at least five languages. They even had a Spanish-language edition of Self. We got waffle-weave white robes and a warm blanket during the short wait from ultrasound to doctor's visit.

Booking an appointment at the Piper Center was my first step in practicing good self-care, good breast health. You know, in the past I am ashamed to say that I sometimes suffered from breast cancer overload. I frequently sign Walk for the Cure pledge sheets, buy raffles and wear pink ribbons, get my painful mammograms, and do my own check of the girls monthly. I sometimes wearied about all the vigilance. And then, silly and self-centered as this sounds, I find my own knot and suddenly all that advocacy and education is hugely important. You must be diligent. Early detection is one of our best defences.

I felt such solidarity with all the women in the waiting room; some I know had battled cancer; some were there, like me, with brand new issues; others, regular healthy patients, were there for their annual check-ups. Each one of us were kind and thoughtful to each other as were the nursing staff, volunteers, and physicians.

If you live in the Twin Cities, or simply want a spot with some good links, check them out at

Now, just in time to include any male readers in the crowd who might be wondering what else they can read, I also took in my first "financial health day." I must have read some recommendation along these lines and so I set aside half of Sunday to tackle some of our family budget and financial issues. I made a pot of tea and had gathered a lot of our bills and documents and planning sheets around the computer workstation. This is what I did in the course of three hours, all of which is going to save us about $200/month:

1. Canceled Netflix. School will be starting soon and we'll be too busy to watch movies so regularly.

2. Changed our cell phone family plan, reducing our minutes to better match our usage. I checked through our last three billings and then checked our home phone service and found that we have unlimited long-distance calling on the land line. Noting that both my husband and I could call our out-of-town families with our home phones (which have clearer reception anyway), I reduced our cell phone minutes by half. I kept our features the same, including the amount of text messages the kids get. Tim is just now entering text message heaven as a 15-year-old so no use worrying he'll go over his limit.

3. Called Comcast to inquire about saving money. Turns out just by calling we could save on a new "bundle" promotion. That call alone--without reducing our service--saves us $40.00/month.

4. Found a new everyday credit card with lower interest rates and no annual fees.

5. Found a separate new credit card to which I can transfer our balance for a 0% rate for 12 months. I'll aim to be diligent about paying off that balance and not use the card for anything else.

6. Secured my daughter's last year of undergraduate student loans.

So there you go. In the name of breasts and pocketbooks, my work is done for the day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Midsummer classic

Does the MLB All-Star game mean that summer is half over?

Mauer got a double and now Nathan is pitching. I love watching Joe Nathan. He has more nervous tics than an introverted teen boy on his first date. I love it when he motors his lips on an exhale, shakes his head, mutters to himself, pulls back his jersey, hikes up his belt, then fires in a perfect slider.

I think nervous tics are endearing. My favorite aunt bites on her inner cheek. My dad pushes up his eyeglasses with his middle finger. My son twists his mouth to the right when he's upset with a situation.

I parked my car up on Summit Avenue and walked in to work this morning. Summit Avenue is a bike freeway because of that long grand bike lane so I have plenty to watch between the bicyclists, the front lawn flower gardens, the turrets and balconies and wraparound porches. My colleague decided he wanted to live near Cathedral Hill when he first visited St. Paul some years ago and heard the St. Paul Cathedral bells chime on the hour. He said, "I want to live within striking distance of those bells."

And, of course, I had that nice little stroll on my way home tonight. A little bit of fresh air to bookend the workday does wonders. So did noontime yoga. And a turkey avocado sandwich and a "Pot of Pickles" from the Cheeky Monkey Deli, courtesy a colleague.

We've just lost 30% of our staff and are picking our way through a reduced operating budget on top of that. Any respite from that hard work is welcome. I spent all morning coordinating our new phones, moving office furniture, deciding on new office protocol (who will be our technology coordinator and our emergency situation liaison?). We had a design intern come in for an interview today and normally our office manager would have written up a parking pass for him but now she's gone so I had to track down the paid slips and then I didn't know what to do for a purchase order so I just wrote in "P.O. to come" and told the candidate to try to float that by the parking attendant.

Still, it's midsummer and the fall lies ahead full of promise and opportunity. Fall is the publisher's bonanza--Gift Season. We have a good deck of offerings and this afternoon talked through our big conference plans this afternoon. There will be author signings and giveaways and web marketing and special orders. It's like the opposite of back-to-school; we don't dread its coming, we anticipate it!

Is the recession on its way to being over? today says yes, according to experts they polled. Job news seems grim but personally, we're starting to spend a little more money ourselves this summer. A few more dinners out, a new tie for Ken, talk of house repairs. Nothing glamorous, but a little loosening.

I worked on my tan Sunday. I got out the Hawaiian Beach suntan oil, my book and a pink beach blanket and brought it all out to the backyard where I lay in the sun for an hour or so. I hadn't done that since vacation last summer. I left an index fingerprint of oil on a few of my paperback book pages.

Half of us at the office bike in to work regularly. Bikes are kept in each individual's office because people are afraid of their bikes being scavenged out in the unprotected bike lock area. It's nice to hear the clicking of wheels and spokes coming down our office hallways and then office doors shutting as people change from their tee-shirts and shorts to work clothes. It's a comforting summer ritual.

I haven't yet swum in a lake this summer so I say the season isn't half over but that the best is yet to come. We head to Gull Lake near Brainerd this weekend where we'll watch the boys play in the AAA state tourney for fifteen-year-olds. We'll bring our sunflower seeds and coolers of ice and Gatorade, our camp chairs, and I'll tote along the Hawaiian Beach. Might as well work on my tan while I'm cheering.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

If Jim Harrison can crank out poems so easily

why can't we?

Heart murmurs and
and reckless hearts and the
heart of the matter.
Get to the heart of the matter.
What is it?
Quit yer yappin'--what is it?
Are you listening?
Those are coos you hear.
Wing flaps. My body

~PJM, July 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

4 Days into July

Summer is here in Minnesota, finally. Except it is 69 degrees and cloudy today, the 4th of July. The Twins lost to Detroit last night after 16 innings. I watched innings 9 through 13 but then fell asleep. At least I made it upstairs to bed. Tim and Ken fell asleep on the sectional couch.

The neighbors have dressed up their houses for 4th of July parties: flags are hung, the sidewalks have been edged, all the flower beds are groomed. We have neighbors on two sides with backyard pools and they draw a lot of friends and families. Yesterday, as one set of neighbors worked on their yard, their young son Sasha, whom they adopted from Russia this winter, was playing in the back with another friend. We heard a yelp and then a wail and then, "Sasha bit me!" Sasha's dad, the corporate lawyer, went running to the back and gave his four-year-old son an earful and a spanking, too. Ken and I went inside to give them some privacy; also, I thought I might get the giggles because of the YouTube video-gone-viral, "Charlie bit me."

Sarah Palin, the idiot, resigned her post as Alaska's governor. I didn't listen to one word of the press conference. Still, couldn't she have waited until July 4 to announce? What symbolism is there in July 3? Who advises her anyway? Her hubbie? Maybe she didn't want to be upstaged by our Independence Day froo-la--or Michael Jackson.

We hung a flag yesterday. Ken came home with a deluxe nylon American flag from Home Depot. And then, wanting to save money, he scrounged around in the basement for a pole, and also a pole holder he must have bought at a flea market for 10 cents. He knew it was down there somewhere. Our basement, you should know, looks like it belongs to Sanford and Son. So then he comes up from downstairs with a copper plumbing tube and some black hockey laces and his drill. He has me hold the tube in place against the picnic table while he drills holes for the flag's grommets. I'm trying gently to remind him that if he got such a nice flag at least he should give it the dignity of a good pole--with eagle top--and not jury-rig the thing. This makes him mad. I think about pulling out my West Virginny accent to emphasize my point. He reminds me he really didn't want to spend more money. I tell him the flag deserves it. Finally, with a frown on his face, he heads over to S&S Hardware and comes back with a $14 flag set, with cotton flag and pole, and eagle end cap. As we put that together, substituting the deluxe flag for the cotton one, I say to him, "You drive me nuts sometimes." He says, "It goes both ways."
When I asked him why he bought a flag, thinking it might be because of our neighbors' flag-dressing, he told me it was because of a story I had told to Megan the night before. Megan was home for a day and a night from her summer work as guide in the Boundary Waters. We all really missed each other and were gathered on the porch telling stories. I told her that one night Tim and I were talking (Tim is 15; Megan is 21; I'm 47; Ken is older than all of us) and Tim said, "Megan is a liberal." Yep, I told him. I said that I thought most people were from the ages of 17 to 22. He said, "I know, I know, she wants to change the world." I chuckled. He was thinking hard about something.

"Did I ever tell you why I got kicked out of Mr. Bakke's class in 8th grade?" I said no, then thought it remarkable I hadn't pressed him for an explanation back then. Second-child syndrome, I guess.

Tim told me the story. A girl in his class, a bossy-bossy-pants girl who was always running her mouth and giving out her opinions and criticizing others announced in class that anyone who joined the Army was stupid. That only stupid people joined the Army, that they had nothing better to do with their lives, and that our country took advantage of that. Tim said he could feel himself getting really angry. My dad joined the Air Force after a year in college. He had, in fact, run out of money, didn't have a functioning parent to guide him, and didn't know if he had other good options. My dad, however, is a very smart man. My Grandpa Teubert was drafted into the Army during WWII. He survived the Battle of the Bulge. My cousin needed funds for college; he was planning to be a firefighter when he graduated. Being one of masculine brawn and skills, he thought the Army Reserves would be a good choice for him. Six years later he was sent to Iraq for a long and brutal tour. He survived the storming of Basra. My Aunt Pat, striving to leave the backwoods small Wisconsin town of her youth, tried to join the Navy. She passed all requirements, except the one for weight. She needed to weigh over 100 pounds and she was under. So my grandma sewed silver dollar coins into the waistband of Aunt Pat's skirt and also into the lining of her hat and Aunt Pat, holding up her skirt with one hand, passed the 100-pound mark on the scale.

Tim comes from a line of military men and women. And he lives with a couple of liberal-minded citizens. He weighs these worldviews with serious consideration. He is a serious kid. The girl in his class kept talking, and no one, including the teacher, reproached her. She said, "The only reason people go into the military is so they can learn to kill people. They're stupid and they're inhuman."

Tim had had enough. He pushed himself away from the table and jumped up. "Fuck you," he said to her. "Fuck you," is all he said. The teacher asked him to leave the room. Tim did, gladly. And, in telling me the story that night, Tim looked over at me and said, "I was so mad at her it just came out. It was the worst thing I've ever said in class."

So when I asked Ken why he bought the flag he told me, "Because of the story you told about Tim last night."