Saturday, July 24, 2010

Best Week Ever!

Let's start with the CrossFit games. They were held last weekend in Southern California, and streamed live all over the world via the internet. Basically it's the international competition to determine who are the fittest man and woman on the planet. I got so sucked into watching my buddy Cheryl Brost kick some serious ass that I neglected my children for two days. She ended up coming in 13th! The 13th fittest woman in the world?! And I work out with her! Crazy.

When you see someone achieve something amazing, you cannot help but be inspired to try a little harder in your own life. I ended up going to five sessions of CrossFit this week; that's a new record for me. Not only did I go more, I worked harder too. Watching the games gave me a major paradigm shift. This stuff is fun, and I'm going to go in there and kill these workouts! And I did. I performed better this week than I ever have. There was no belly-aching and no half-assed performances. I went in their with the attitude that this stuff is a piece of cake (compared to what Cheryl had done,) and I was going to tear it up. That's a pretty awesome feeling.

Today was a team workout with 3 other women. For the first time, I felt like they didn't have to carry me because I wasn't as fast or as strong. I did more than my fair share of the work, and it felt fantastic to have them say, "Good job, Jen. You really helped us on the lifts." That's a first for me too, being thanked for my effort. I helped them achieve success.

On the home front, I was determined that Griffin would be a bike rider before he turned 11 on July 26. He's been afraid of it for years. Last Sunday, I worked with him slow and steady, doing one skill at a time: first learning to take off, then making turns, breaking, etc. As an incentive, I told him I would take him to the movies any time he wanted if we rode our bikes. By the end of that first trip he was feeling comfortable, and we've been out a total of 5 times this week. The last couple of times were by Griffin's request. It's a miracle what the promise of a movie or a favorite restaurant can do. Although, my bank account is shrinking rapidly.

The weather has been spectacular, and I went sailing twice this week. I can't say enough how much I enjoy being out on the water in the sunshine. It is exhilarating. One night we were out pretty far at sunset and decided to stay out after dark. Sailing in the moonlight is a whole other level of wonderful. Next week I'm on sail duty and have to start mastering the hard stuff. It feels so... I don't know... alive to be outside and using your body in nature. It just feels gratifying.

I even volunteered for some brush clearing on my parents property this week because since getting more fit, I enjoy the feeling of physical labor. My dad and I are starting a massive tree-house project together. I'm actually looking forward to the manual aspects of carrying lumber, hammering, sawing, etc. I can't believe I just said that.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Write Like Stephen King

Somebody posted a link on Facebook to a website that analyzes a writing sample and spits out which author your sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, etc. is most like. To my infinite delight, it spit out Stephen King for me. What I call "Classic King" is my favorite author. "New King" is kind of a hack.

The year I turned 13, a movie came out called "Stand By Me;" famous around here for being filmed in Brownsville. Besides introducing me to the boy-god River Phoenix, that movie really resonated with me and what I was experiencing right then with my friends. My mom told me it was based on a short book, and she had a copy of it at home. It was actually quite a big book with four novellas collected in it. She adamantly insisted that I not read one of the other stories, "Apt Pupil." I remember her describing it as violent and evil. I devoured the other three and went in search of more.

King wrote 10 great novels before he went off the rails. He also wrote some short stories that are hit and miss, and he wrote a couple of crappy novels under the name Richard Bachman. Then by the end of the 80s, he had basically turned into a parody of himself. I picked up a new one a couple of years ago and it read like a bad King knockoff. But his Big 10 are all classics, and I used to own lovingly dog-eared paperbacks of them all. I can definitely say they made intense impressions on me during my teen years.

Both "Carrie" and "Firestarter" shaped my budding feminism. "Cujo" redefined my understanding of real monsters i.e. divorce and affairs and domestic violence. I contemplated justice, duty, and nobility with "The Dead Zone." I wouldn't call these horror novels. I've never understood how he got that label. They weren't scary or even graphically violent like horror movies. I would maybe call them fantasy, certainly thrillers, but they never evoked horror. Well, except maybe "Salem's Lot." That was a good old fashioned scary story. But even that had grand themes about facing your demons both figuratively and literally.

The two grand-daddies are "It" and "The Stand." Both of these beasts are over a thousand pages and tackle no less than the nature of man and the existence of good and evil. There is no doubt in my mind that these books formed my idea of what it means to be honorable, kind, brave, and strong. My firm belief that we are all in this life together to stand with each other in times of disaster comes from King's epic stories. Any evil can be overcome when we love and take care of each other. Also, "The Stand" introduced me to the love of my life.

Stu Redman is a factory worker from a small town in Texas. He gave up college to support his younger brother when their mother got sick. His brother repaid him by getting as far away from Texas as he could. Stuart married his sweetheart, only to have her die of cancer a short time later. When the novel starts he is alone, hanging out with guys who are clearly his intellectual inferiors, but he cares for them. He's intelligent but a good-old boy, he's tough but a romantic, and he treats everyone, including women, with the utmost respect. He's a poet-cowboy who is good with his hands and his mind. Oh yeah, and he leads the fight against the devil's army in order to save humanity! Man, did I fall hard for him! I'm still searching for Stuart, the perfect combination of masculine strength and wisdom. It was only made worse when a young Gary Sinise played him in the mini-series! sigh...

Anyway, I was thrilled to be compared to him. I like his prose for a couple of reasons. First, his style is very every-man. You can easily imagine your uncle telling one of these stories to you while your fishing or maybe whittling something. Secondly, he doesn't overly romanticize life. Well, at least Classic King didn't. Death, sex, pain, joy, violence, and fear are things that happen everyday. His characters speak very matter-of-factly about topics that are often socially taboo. That delights me. I wish real life was like that. Plus, nobody can set a mood in time and space better than Stephen King. You can see the cars passing by, hear the music playing nearby, your can hear the voices and inflections of his characters; you are entirely transported to the event. That's not so much fun for many King stories, but for me it's something that I never stop marveling at.

Oh yeah, and to this day, even though I've read everything that King wrote prior to 1990, I have never had the guts to defy my mother and read "Apt Pupil." If she thought "The Shinning" was ok for a kid, but that story wasn't... I can't even imagine how horrifying it must be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Façade Is Starting To Crack

As parents there are moments when we are called upon to put on a good display and remain stoic in the face of disaster. We want to reassure our children that there is no reason to panic; everything is going to be alright. Last night I gave an Oscar-worthy performance. My nine-year-old daughter came to me complaining that her butt was itching. Let me be absolutely clear: nothing at all can prepare you for the sight of worms trying to escape from your child's asshole. Nothing. I was momentarily torn between screaming and vomiting. Luckily I was able to get a grip and paste a "happy" look on my face. As I calmly explained to Molly what I was seeing, she asked me, "Why are you smiling? This isn't funny." "Uh, well, it's kinda freaky and I don't want you to be scared." She responded, "It's ok, Mom. I'm not scared. You don't have to make that face." Smart kid.

Why am I telling you this story? First, I want all of you to have the image of little, white worms squiggling out of a tiny, pink rectum because I shouldn't have to suffer alone. Secondly, a worm infestation is the cherry on top of my stress cupcake. I am losing it people. I cannot take care of one more person with a medical issue.

I can't stop ruminating over the problems the other adults in my life are having. Here is what I predict is going to go down in the next five years. My father is going to require full-time care due to Alzheimer's or dementia. My mother is going to require full-time care as her mobility disappears due to diabetes and heart disease. My sister is going to require full-time care due to brain damage caused by malnutrition. Oh, and of course, any of them could also die. And who does that leave to be the responsible one? Only me. There is no husband to help. There are no other siblings to help. Just me. I am terrified.

I've noticed that I've started clenching my jaw again, a habit I haven't seen since the last couple years of my marriage. I'm having trouble sleeping. I'm eating junk food like it's medicine. Even my period is out of whack. I'm calling psychologists today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Time To Bite The Bullet

I can't deny it any longer. I need to talk to a professional. I haven't had positive experiences with psychologists in the past. Also, I have the whole "I'm not crazy, so I don't need a therapist" prejudice. But the truth is that I do need someone to talk to (and maybe I'm a little bit crazy.)

Lately I have been unable to handle the increased family stress and responsibility falling on my shoulders without turning to food. I don't know how to take care of myself any other way. Or, actually, I know there are other ways, but they don't soothe me emotionally. I've been puking more at CrossFit, and people are giving me props like, "Hey, way to push yourself." Inside I'm thinking, "Uh, I puked because I had a candy bar and a cherry coke for dinner last night." Not exactly the best fuel for pull-ups and push-ups!

In an attempt to make myself feel better about the scary things that are happening around me, I am basically sabotaging all of my hard work to get healthy. Why do I make choices that are ultimately destructive to my body? And also, eating junk feels good in the moment, but very soon after I feel guilty and have a belly ache. I keep repeating the behavior thinking it will be ok, but it never is. That is the very definition of crazy.

So it's time to talk to someone who can offer some insight. I want to find someone to challenge my perspective and coach me on better ways to deal with life. I'm also hoping that just by talking to a neutral third-party, I won't keep swallowing my stress along with all the candy.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Baja Part Tres

I have the coolest kids on the planet. I know, I know. All parents say this. But mine are genuinely awesome! They are open to adventure, they are easy-going travelers, they are polite, they do what I ask, they are funny, they are kind, and they are good to each other. How many siblings can you say THAT about? I was a bit worried that being unplugged for a week was going to be a problem. It was a pointless worry. They can find creative ways to play anywhere they go.

They took to the ocean like the LaVelles that they are. (My maiden name.) We come from a rich tradition of being beach bums. Molly especially was smacked around quite a bit at first, but they both got the hang of maneuvering big waves by the end of the first day. On the second day, they were out on boogie boards. On the fourth day, Griffin worked up the courage to go out with my uncle on a real surfboard. That was amazing to see.

Griffin is a unique creature. One of his oddities is that he refuses to take instruction from a stranger. He's never been successful in any martial art/swim lesson/group class that he has tried because he "doesn't like people telling him what to do!" Pat and his son Kyle both wanted to give him some surfing lessons, but I was positive that Griffin would not go for it. What I didn't count on was the enormous gravitational pull from "cool cousin Kyle." Kyle is 23 and a pretty kick-ass surfer. He should be since Pat put him on a board at age 4! Griffin and Molly were instantly mesmerized by him. He spoke almost completely in slang. By the end of the week my kids sounded like Keanu Reeves. Griffin would stand on the beach and watch Kyle out there catching waves and you could see he was just in awe. So when Pat approached Griff about going out on a real board, he jumped at the chance.

That was my favorite moment of the trip. As I stood on the beach watching my uncle push Griffin out deeper and deeper into the bigger waves, I was overcome with what a wonderful opportunity this was for my son. Not only was he breaking out of his protective shell to try something a bit scary and difficult, but he was having this experience with part of our extended family. And it was all happening on a gorgeous beach in Mexico!! I am so grateful that I can provide these experiences to my children. My parents provided them to me, and they are my fondest memories of childhood. My parents took us out camping, swimming, exploring, and it made me who I am today.

Meanwhile, Miss Molly, who is normally quite nervous unless I am close by, practically forgot about me on this trip. First there was Aunt Barbara who very much encourages Molly's girly girl. They talk fashion and decoration without me (thank goodness.) Molly loved hanging out with her. Then there was Pickle. Yes, THE Pickle: legendary surfer chick who was moved to Baja permanently. Pickle lives in an old Airstream trailer and surfs every day. She earns money by being a caretaker for the vacation homes of Americans who only come down once or twice a year. It's a pretty sweet gig. Anyway, Pickle really caught Molly's imagination. Also, Pickle has a pack of Mexican dogs that follow her around because she feeds them. Molly fell right in with the dogs. Pretty soon Molly was talking about how she wants to decorate her trailer when she's older and what she wants her surfboard to look like. All I can say is that I'd rather her be a surfer chick than a fashion model.

I was going to write more, but I don't know what else there is to say that would be interesting to anybody. Yeah, there were a lot of insects. Insects that could eat American bugs for breakfast. BIG. And Kyle recognized a UFC fighter who was down at the beach learning to surf. Kyle geeked out and made me take a picture of them together. I think the fighter was a bit embarrassed because he really had looked like a goof out on the water. But oh well, everyone looks like an idiot when they are learning to surf. It's hard!

Also I could write a whole post about the poverty in Mexico and the asshole Americans who are moving down there and changing things and how we really could be doing more to build our neighbor up instead of exploiting her in so many ways. But I don't feel like going off on a political rant that most of you would already agree with anyway. Why preach to the choir?

However, I will end on food. I love fish. Why do I not eat more fish? Almost everyday we ate fish that we bought right off the boat. Amazing! And fresh, homemade tortillas! I could eat that combo, with some cillantro and fresh lime, every single day for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Baja Part Dos

If I could magically extract my sister from the vacation, it would have been maybe the best trip I've ever had. The weather, the landscape, the people, the food, the place we stayed, and the surf were all perfect

Let me start with the landscape. Baja Sur is a desert. We're talking arid, dusty, cacti, and prickly brush. There are rattlesnakes and scorpions running around. I didn't think that such a harsh environment could be beautiful, but it was. There was so much variety of plants and animals. I saw things that I had never seen before, including a real, live road runner. I also saw many jackrabbits, cotton tails, brown pelicans, frigate birds, quail, and a few tough looking chipmunks. Anyway, this harsh desert is right up against the Pacific Ocean, which provides glorious respite.

Thirty-some years ago, my uncle Pat, my dad, and a couple of their friends went in together to buy ten acres of this desert right on the beach near this small village called Todos Santos. Over the years they've slowly made some improvements. They started with a well and then a water tower. There are a couple of small concrete "houses," and I put this in quotes because they would never qualify as houses in the U.S. My uncle didn't want a house; he's a firm believer in keeping the property as un-molested and wild as possible. He poured a concrete slab as a floor, made a counter with a sink for an outdoor kitchen, and threw up a couple of walls for a small indoor storage/bathroom combination. Then he put a giant palapa over the whole thing. A palapa is a palm-thatched roof (think Tahitian postcard.) It's basically an open-air shelter with a concrete floor that is cool on your feet. Throw some hammocks up and you've got the Ritz!

Now sometime around 1980, my parents moved from Southern to Northern California and they needed some money. My dad decided to sell his share of the property. He got a couple thousand bucks if memory serves. For a piece of beach in Mexico! Then a bunch of Americans discovered this little spot and started buying up the land around it. There is a whole community of ex-patriots down there now, building beautiful haciendas, driving up land prices, and the combined property (that my dad bailed on) is worth millions! Todos Santos has grown as well, while still small in population, there is now several high-end art galleries and a couple of five-star hotels to entertain the tourists. But Pat keeps his little piece as a natural desert while the mansions go up on either side and the town creeps ever closer to his preserve.

For a week we had no electricity, no phones, no hot water, and no clocks. It was fantastic. We got up at first light, used candles at night, and pretty much went to bed soon after sunset. It felt so good. You just can't be worried about things in that space. Everything moves at its own pace, its own manner. You start to notice things that you weren't paying attention to before. Instead of being sucked into Facebook for an hour, you get sucked into watching the sunset for an hour.

Pat and his wife Barbara (my step-aunt?) made me feel very welcome. I enjoyed pitching in with maintenance chores and feeling like a contributor. They invited me to come back on my own next time. And I'm seriously considering doing it. I think it would be great to be in a foreign country on my own. First, there's the obvious advantage of going where I want, when I want, without having to get the whole group moving. Secondly, I think it would be empowering to travel somewhere where I don't speak much of the language. The little spanish I did use made me feel confident that I would be ok. I don't need to be afraid. Also, I got a lot of thinking/processing done in the moments when I was alone on this trip.

One morning I got up in the dark and walked along the beach as the sun rose. A couple of nights I climbed up to the platform on the roof and watched the sunset over the water. I had more than one epiphany during the week in these quiet times, soaking in the wonder of it all. The biggest one was that I need to stop searching for someone to experience these adventures with. I invite people and they don't want to go and then sometimes I sit out myself, rather than forge on alone. That is absurd. I have one life. If nobody wants to go with me, that is their loss. I need to start forging ahead and making these experiences happen for myself. It is better to have an amazing experience alone than to not have it at all.

Up next in Baja Part Tres: bonding with my children, taming the insect legion, and meeting a cage fighter!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I just got back from a week of camping in Baja. It was an amazing, horrible, wonderful, terrifying experience. My sister, who is mentally ill, was traveling with us and ended up in the hospital. It's a very long story, and I've already told it quite a few times. Part of me is ready to move past it, part of me wants to record it so that people can witness the insanity that I have to deal with. I think I will just tell an abbreviated version here. There's no need to give every nitty gritty detail. Then I want to get on to what was fantastic about the trip.

My younger sister has a mental disorder. I'm not sure if it's manic depression or bi-polar or what. She refuses to seek treatment in any case. She deals with it, or rather avoids dealing with it, by being an alcoholic and bulimic. Both of these coping mechanisms wreak havoc with her health. My dad really wanted her to come with us on this family vacation and sort of decided not to think about the potential dangers of taking her out of the country for a week.

The first night, after we landed in Baja and got the rental car, my sister was very disoriented and didn't seem to know where she was. She couldn't answer simple questions. I thought that possibly she had taken something to deal with the anxiety of flying or perhaps she was dehydrated or had low blood sugar. I didn't pay much attention that first night. The next morning she appeared to be normal at breakfast. Again, I barely speak to her under normal circumstances, so I didn't pick up on anything. After breakfast, she went into the nearby town with my dad to get supplies for the campsite.

My dad returned a couple of hours later and was very distressed. While they were in town, my sister appeared to have some sort of breakdown. She was hallucinating, agitated, and even trying to get away from my dad. She kept talking about being dead. At one point, she took off her pants and peed in the back-seat of the rental car. My dad was ready to drive to Cabo and get on the next plane to Oregon. He tried to ask my sister some basic questions and she gave totally random answers. Like "Do you remember what happened in town?" She said, "violence and lechuga." I was thinking that maybe she was having a stroke or a brain aneurysm. I vetoed the plane idea and said we needed to find a hospital asap.

I'm going to skip over the next 4-5 hours here. My dad and I drove all over Baja Sur looking for a hospital with equipment to handle a problem of this magnitude and someone who spoke English. This turned out to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. We finally ended up in La Paz at a private hospital. Now I'm going to skip over the next 18 hours. It turned out that she had no sodium, potassium, magnesium, basically any electrolytes in her system. Without these electrolytes, your body can't send electrical signals properly, which was messing up her heart rhythms and brain function. Neat. She spent a total of 48 hours in the hospital getting pumped full of IV fluids.

When she came back to camp, she was going through detox of course. She had the shakes. She was crying one minute, yelling the next. Her feet and ankles were swollen so she couldn't walk. She was a complete mess. Plus, just so that none of us would forget, she continuously complained about how we made her miss 3 days of her vacation. I swear, if I didn't feel so horrible for my dad and how terrified he was, I would not have driven her around the countryside trying to save her ass. She better hope that she never has to ask me for help. She's gonna get a rude awakening.

The cherry on top of the whole thing was that when we flew home to Oregon, the attendant announced that they had some first class seats available if anyone wanted to upgrade. My sister jumped at the chance to get away from the rest of us. She sat up there, drinking of course, completely oblivious to the fact that she just slapped dad in the face after he'd been waiting on her hand and foot for days. She was tipsy by the time we landed.

So yeah, she generally made everyone around her miserable for the rest of the trip. One thing that I'm very clear about is that I'm not going to spend time around her any more. My parents are always trying to get us together, and I go along with it to make them happy. Not anymore. I feel bad that I'm going to do less stuff with my parents but I'm done with my sister. Enough is enough. I keep waiting for my parents to realize that they can't fix her, but it's time to stop waiting and move out of harm's way myself.

This drama has been going on with my sister for 20 years. No joke. 20 years! I'm ready to close the door. The problem is that I love my parents and she is her daughter. I know I'm going to have to help them deal with her continuing health decline and eventually death. The only question is when. How much longer can she hold it together?

Tomorrow I'll get to all the good stuff: the sun, the food, the plants, the animals, the water, and my awesome aunt and uncle.