Friday, September 30, 2011

Something to make you stop coasting

There is something about adopting a dog that makes you stop coasting.

My similarly aged friends might understand what “coasting” means. When my kids were younger and still at home, I was very involved with them and their activities. They’re both closer to finishing college than starting it now, and although I still see them a great deal, it’s not the same.

When kids are 23 and 20, they don’t need you anymore. Not in a day-to-day sense, anyway.

So you rediscover your own life. You figure out who you are with your spouse or partner, as well as without that person. You learn to function in a quieter house. Some mornings, you realize you not only can sleep late, but you could pretty much sleep all day if you wanted to, and no one would care. That’s a little sobering.

That’s kind of fun for a while – the sleep part, anyway. The rest of your life kind of falls into place, too. You get use to a new rhythm – a calmer one, but one that starts to feel like a “new normal.”

And then you adopt a dog.

We’ve had dogs before – almost always had dogs, in fact. But within the past year, we had to make the sad decision to euthanize the ones we had. Both were old; one had been ill and dying for months, and the other suffered a sudden injury. We were sad for a long time; our house was so oddly silent.

Then the stars aligned, and both our criteria were met. We had wanted a rat terrier, the same breed as my son’s dog, Forty, whom we really, really enjoy. And we also wanted a shelter dog. This week, by sheer coincidence, we found that the Ames Animal Shelter had in its care a 6-month-old female rat terrier. Within hours, she was on our couch, getting used to her forever home.

Her name is Isis, named after the goddess of nature and magic, among other things. (Isis is also the goddess of motherhood and fertility, but the dog is spayed, so … tough luck on that one.)

Anyway, here are a few things that happen when a pseudo-empty-nester becomes a pet owner.

• It’s no longer acceptable to sit at the computer for hours on end. Work to do? No matter! If you’re not moving and the dog can jump, she’s on your lap. If she can reach your hands, she’s nudging them to pet her. If you’re gently placing her back on the ground so you can do your work, she’s whining until you devote your full attention to her.

• It’s a good thing you’ve enjoyed sleeping in for a while, because those days are over. The minute the room grows lighter and the dogs in the neighborhood start to make noise, she’s clamoring to join them. So what if it happens a half hour before your alarm is due to go off? Think of it as an opportunity; you’ve always been curious about what comes on before the Today Show.

• The time you choose to come home from work matters again. Since my kids have been away at school, I’ve rarely been in a hurry to leave work on time unless I’m covering a story; pre-dog, on the nights Kevin didn’t have any responsibilities, he tended to leave work a little later, too. Now that we have a dog who’s clamoring to get out of the kennel we leave her in during the day, we’ve become clock-watchers again.

• You’re needed again, and not just to pour food in the dog dish. There’s nothing like waking up to something that greets you as if she is absolutely enthralled by the fact that you are still in the world.

Yes, dogs are a ton of work. Yes, they’re expensive. No, I don’t want to turn into one of those old ladies who stops having a life because she’s afraid to leave little Peaches or Muffin alone for too long. But I’m not someone who thrives on going out anyway; I work hard, and when I’m not working, I enjoy being home. Besides, Isis makes me laugh.

You can’t compare a puppy to a child, but until one of my kids chooses to move back in – which, by the way, Scott and Caroline, would be perfectly OK with me – she’s the next best thing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just another manic Monday

I wanted to stay in bed this morning. It was Monday. The weather was bad, I hadn't slept well, and there just wasn't a whole lot compelling me to get up and get moving. I did, but I felt sorry for myself throughout my shower and as I was getting dressed and ready. And then, I felt really ashamed.

As much as I wished today had been a weekend day or a holiday, I thought back to a time long ago when I had nowhere to go each morning. I was a single mom, and I had lost my job, and I would have given anything to be in the place I'm in today. So why do I have such a short memory?

I don't know many people who, during the course of their employed lives, haven't lost a job. But still, when it happens to you, it has a way of blindsiding you like nothing else can. To some degree, we all have identities that are tied to the way we earn a paycheck, so when the relationship ends abruptly, who are we? Who do we become?

Thankfully, I became stronger and happier, and I remain that way. And once I'm up and moving each day, I really like my job. So why is it that I'm so unappreciative while the alarm clock is going off?

In my job directly before this one, I met a woman who worked in the corporate cafeteria where I bought my lunch each day. Helena was from Bosnia, and she and I struck up a friendship of sorts; my stepdaughter and her son went to school together. In Bosnia, Helena had been a scientist -- a plant geneticist. She had tried to get a similar job in this country, but her credentials didn't translate.

So Helena took the only job she could find. She had to leave her sleeping husband and children to take two buses each morning to a lunchroom, where she would don a hairnet and dole out food for people who were not nearly as clever as she was. Very few of them looked her in the eye, let alone thanked her. And yet Helena had the grace to be grateful for a paycheck, and to know that things would get better.

And I whine because I'm still tired when I wake up at the reasonable hour of 7 a.m. I wasn't raised to be this selfish.

Like a lot of people, I'm pretty sure, I bargain with a higher power. In my case, it's God. I did it just last week, bothering him with something to the effect of, "God, if you let me have a clean mammogram, I'll stop whining/exercise regularly/pull out the fridge and clean behind it." And guess what? My mammogram was clean, thankfully. And I've completed a grand total of none of the items on my bargain list.

"Human nature," says the great and powerful Wikipedia, "refers to the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, that humans tend to exhibit naturally." So maybe it's human nature that causes me to forget my gratitude as soon as I've gotten what I feel I want or need?

I have a good job. It allows me to send two kids to college and have money to eat lunch on the skywalk every day and buy a pumpkin-scented candle for no reason at all. Will it make me wealthy? Never. But it's a job that allows me to use my skills in an atmosphere where, for the most part, people like one another.

Have you looked at the unemployment figures? You'll agree, then, that I'm pretty darned lucky.

And human nature or not, it's probably time for me to make a concerted effort to be thankful. Getting to bed a little earlier at night probably wouldn't be a bad thing, either.

Do you know who actually wrote "Manic Monday"? Not these ladies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If Chaz Bono bothers you, ask yourself why.

I admit it: I'm an occasional watcher of "Dancing With the Stars." I took dance all through my formative years, and although I can assure you I never would have looked like Karina Smirnoff in a costume, I know my way around a pas de beurre and a jete or two. I can even tap. (Stop laughing.)

I also like a good story, so I've been following the journey of Cher's child, Chaz Bono, with whom I've been familiar most of my life. As a little girl, I was an avid viewer of the "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," and the shows would always end with Cher and Sonny trotting out poor Chastity, a cute little blonde toddler who looked like she'd rather be anywhere else.

Now, Chastity is somewhere else, all right. And she -- now he -- is even someone else. After suffering for years from gender identity disorder, Chastity underwent surgery and hormone therapy and now lives as Chaz, a man. And he's on "Dancing with the Stars," and that's making some people really angry.

A reader who commented on a story about Chaz's dancing debut said this: "This show used to be good family entertainment, but I won't let my children watch this season. I don't want them to be swayed into believing they can choose to switch gender when they get older."

After reading that, I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or possibly cry a little. I must have missed something during all these many years of life: I guess I didn't realize I could, on a whim, become a man. Silly me -- after all, I'm acquainted with two people who changed, or are in the process of changing, genders. I wonder why they haven't "swayed" me to take the leap.

Come on, folks. First, "good family entertainment"? I like the show, but "wholesome" it's not. Doubt me? Google footage of Pamela Anderson from a couple of years ago. Second, gender identity disorder is an actual disorder, identified and recognized by the medical community. Most people who suffer from it spend years, even decades, feeling as if they're living in bodies that don't belong to them.

Changing genders is not a decision a person makes lightly, or that the medical community takes lightly: People who desire gender-reassignment surgery first must be evaluated, then undergo extensive therapy. After all that, they have to come up with a boatload of money, as medical insurance doesn't cover the procedure.

(I need to add a note here: I'm not gay or transgender. Every time I blog about issues that even remotely have to do with sexuality, I receive emails telling me I'm trying to "advance the gay agenda." (According to Google Analytics, some people have found my blog via searching for "Is Lisa Lavia Ryan gay?") If I were gay, there's no part of me that would be ashamed. I'm just "outing" myself as a heterosexual so people can know me as one of the many straight individuals who support and defend all groups of people (those who don't hurt others, anyway) simply because it's the right thing to do.)

So, back to Chaz. I used to watch a show called "Celebrity Fit Club," and one season, Chaz was a "celebrity" who was trying to lose weight. Chaz was still Chastity then, and living as a lesbian; she was also, hands-down, the nicest person on the show. She didn't lose much weight, but she was encouraging to everyone else; she was the first to volunteer for every stupid task, and she was unfailingly polite to the doctors and trainers and nutritionists who were trying to help her.

Combine that with the fact that Chaz is the child of Cher -- Cher! -- who looks like this and, by her own account if you've ever read anything about her, wasn't jazzed about having an overweight, masculine daughter who refused to wear a skirt, let alone a bustier. So you have to have some sympathy for Chaz, really, just because.

When Chaz decided to be a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, he said: “I’m just a regular person. All these ideas that children shouldn’t watch me, that I’m going to be confusing (and) all this stuff, it’s crazy.” It would be one thing if Chaz were going on the show and holding up a sign saying, “Kids! Change your gender! Ask me how!” But I have a feeling that what Chaz, or people in his position, want more than anything is to simply blend in.

The thing I least understand about all this vitriol toward Chaz is that there are so many more people, or groups of people, out there to feel threatened by. Look at our current election-season political climate: Why not worry about people who lie and insult and threaten and alarm? Why not turn the channel from commercials featuring people who create entire campaigns out of hate and misinformation? Compared to folks who enter your living rooms every day via the news and political ads and Piers Morgan, Chaz is a cute, furry little baby puppy.

You may tell me, "I'm offended by Chaz and don't want my children exposed to him because I'm a Christian, and the premise of gender reassignment is contrary to my faith." Fair enough. But if you're a Christian, think hard about John 8:7 or Matthew 7:1. Then we'll talk.

Speaking practically, parents, your small children are not likely to notice anything "weird" about Chaz. If older kids inquire based on stories they're heard or read, my advice would be to explain his situation simply and honestly.

But to little ones who may wander in and out of the room and be enticed by the mirror ball, my guess is that they would assume Chaz is just a guy -- a chubby guy who's pretty light on his feet but otherwise unremarkable, and certainly nonthreatening. And what a coincidence, as I would imagine that's all Chaz -- or anyone else who has spent his or her life being "different" -- really wants to be.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

Can we really talk -- about something not a whole lot of people want to talk about, unless you happen to be my age and horrified about some of the ways your life is changing?

Let's put it this way: If men went through menopause, Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline would produce a synthetic remedy for it faster than you could say, "Make sure all major insurers cover that -- with no co-pay."

Because, to be honest, menopause is not for the faint of heart. It makes sense that it comes along when women are in their mid-40s to mid-50s, given that when it was first made a part of our biological code, women didn't live that long.

Now, 50 is the new 30, or something to that effect. And if it turns out that I do have a few decades of life left, I'm really happy about that. But I'm also afraid I'm going to spend it sweating and crying.

You see, that's largely what I do now -- I sweat, and I cry. Sometimes, those things occur simultaneously. Often, they happen in the middle of the night. Here's how that works: I wake up because I'm hot, or I wake up because I've been hot, and the searing hot flash has resulted in shaking chills.

I go downstairs and turn on the TV, and along comes a commercial or a "very special episode" of an old sitcom. So I'm not sleeping, and I'm sweating, and I'm crying. And -- yay! -- I have to be up in a few hours to go to work, where people are counting on me to be astute and creative. Oh, and non-sweaty. And awake.

Really, what is this? I know it's normal, but really, how necessary are these symptoms? Wouldn't it be enough for nature to send a more subtle signal to tell us, "Oh, by the way -- you can't have babies anymore"?

That's the one good thing about this. Not that I don't like babies; I love babies. But my own babies are 23 and 20, and that's just how I like it. I have a ton of respect for women who choose to have babies later in life; that's just not something that interests me. So: 87,000 negative side effects; one positive one. I see how this works.

The last time I saw my physician -- a woman in her 50s who has surely seen all of this from the front lines -- she confirmed that my estrogen levels were tanking. After listening to me whine about my symptoms, she gave me a list of ideas, ranging from "do nothing" (she clearly doesn't know me) to "take an antidepressant." (Whoa -- overkill. I'm not depressed. I'm pretty darned happy, except when I'm crying or sweating.)

We settled on a compromise -- an eensy little bit of hormone replacement, which I'd take for as short a time as possible to get me over the hump.

(Note: I've read all the warnings about estrogen, and I respect anyone who's chosen to tough out this mess without it. But this is how I reasoned my decision: I have two kids in college. I need to make money. I work a lot, and thus, I need to sleep. My family history is somewhat of a crap shoot: cancer on one side, heart disease on the other. So I hope that when it comes to risk factors, my dad's side of the family steps up and declares itself the genetic winner, as estrogen can help bolster heart health in older women.)

So here I am, 11 months into my tiny little blue pills. They replace only a fraction of the estrogen that's evaporating out of me, and at first, they seemed to help. But I think they've outlived their benefit, and I don't want to increase my dosage, so here I am again, wondering what to do.

I've heard mixed reports on herbal and other natural remedies, as well as bio-identical hormones. I've heard that regular, vigorous exercise can help. (Sorry -- wiping away tears of mirth!) I've also heard -- and I fully believe -- that a positive attitude can make a difference. So for now, I'm choosing to laugh my way through the caricature that I've become.

That's the best way to describe myself right now -- a caricature of a middle-aged woman. The kind you'd see in a comic strip or an old Carol Burnett skit. Think I'm being too harsh? Here are some menopause-behaviors I've exhibited in just the last week.

  • You've already heard about the sweating. Sorry I can't let this one go, but you have no idea how strange it is for me to sweat. I've never been a sweater, even on those rare occasions when I've chosen to exert myself physically. You know it's been unseasonably cold here all week, right? Don't ask my internal thermostat. It was 50-some degrees on Friday, and I wore Capri pants to work.
  • You've already heard about the crying, but today, it climbed to a whole new level. I attended Drake University's Sweetheart Sing to watch my daughter perform. The event was benefiting the Kids' Cancer Connection, and a mom whose little girl is a cancer survivor stood up to speak. Just a few minutes into her talk, the man next to me -- a stranger -- was asking me if I was OK and offering me tissues. This wasn't the dab-at-your-wet-eyes kind of crying; it was full-on, sob-caught-in-throat, running-nose crying. And in a public place, and wearing a silk blouse, and I absolutely could not make it stop.
  • I can't stand noise, especially repetitive noise. I've read that this, for some women, is a side effect. My husband was watching a televised football game one night this week, when he finally turned off the TV, I thought I would weep from the sheer relief of the absence of sound. Noise especially makes me want to climb out of my skin in the early mornings, when others feel the need to communicate with me by means other than sign language.
  • Completing normal chores is sometimes just out of the question. For instance, I need to go downstairs and switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer, but even thinking of that task is just too daunting. Instead, perhaps I'll have a cookie.
I think of the guys I know, and if these things were happening to them, forget it. My husband is personally offended when symptoms of a cold choose to afflict him. What would happen if his stomach fat seemed to increase by 74 pounds overnight and he felt the need to weep openly when waited on by a kind lady at the dry cleaner?

I don't know what the answer is. There's actually a lot I like about being my age -- the feeling of being comfortable in my own skin, so to speak, and the willingness to speak my mind and share the wisdom that life experience has given me. I laugh more, and I hug more, and I read and write more. And I've heard older women say that once you're through menopause, you experience a resurgence of well-being and energy.

I'll wait for that. In the meantime, through, if Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline does come up with that magic pill, I'll be lining up at my local pharmacy faster than you can say, "I don't care if insurance makes me pay for it myself."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11: Single parents, and looking up

What I remember most about September 11, 2001, is the overwhelming need to keep looking up.

I don't know what I thought was going to happen up there; after all, this is Des Moines, and by the end of that Tuesday, it had become clear that the terrorist attacks that had occurred earlier in the day were not likely to spawn further immediate incidents, especially in my neighborhood. And yet, I kept looking at the sky.

Like many people in the Midwest that day, I had been driving to work when the first plane hit and at my desk when news came of the second. My co-workers and I had gathered in a conference room then, and we did little for several hours but silently watch the horror unfold.

My kids were in the fifth and seventh grades on 9/11, and my first impulse after I had heard the news that morning had been to go and pick them up. But emails had come from their schools asking parents to refrain from disrupting the day, and I was confident that the Johnston school district would handled the whole situation reassuringly and sensitively. So as eager as I was to see my kids' faces and hug them tightly to me, I allowed them to stay put.

I was a single mom then, and I found myself thinking as I watched the TV screen about the single parents who had lost their lives that day as the world watched. Who would console their children? Who would pick them up from school and gather their clothes and make sure they were fed? Who would sign their permission slips and take care of their pets?

I left work early that day, looking up as I walked to my car, and arrived home around the same time the school bus pulled up. The kids seemed OK; Scott prepared to be picked up for baseball practice, and Caroline wanted to play with a friend. They had watched the news at school, and they knew what was happening -- but in their worlds, New York was so far away.

They had their mom, and just a couple of miles away, they had their dad. We talked at length, and kept talking, about what had happened. But the only one looking up was me.

I had CNN on in my bedroom around the clock for days. My heart bled for all the victims and their families, but I continued to be especially preoccupied with thoughts of the single parents who had died. And it wasn't just because of the children; it was because they had no one, no spouse, who loved them best.

It's hard to explain if this you've never been an ex-spouse, but if you've been one, you know that you're somewhat of an odd-person-out. Married friends aren't sure how you fit in; single ones who don't have kids don't understand why you can't go bar-crawling on the weekends. Your family of origin worries about you; your ex-spouse wants you, at best, to go away.

Your kids love you and rely on you, and that's nothing to be discounted. But during the times they're with their other parent and you're walking through an echoing house, you know how absolutely alone you are.

I remember wondering for quite some time about the 9/11 single parents. Had they been alone the night before, missing their children? Or had they taken their children to school, then gone to work thinking about what they'd serve for dinner or how they'd fit in homework and activities, or maybe how they'd afford to pay for school lunches for the next month?

Did they feel, as I often did in those days, that they were a tiny speck in a vast, vast expanse of people who knew who they were and where they belonged?

In the past 10 years, much has changed; I wonder what happened to the children of those single parents. I hope that to them, the parents who died are more than just the "other" parent -- the one whose house they traveled back and forth to, the one who was maybe just too tired to read that extra story. I hope that people in the lives of those single parents loved them enough to keep their memories alive for their children.

As I watch all the 9/11 remembrance specials, I'm no longer a single parent. I've been remarried now for six years, and it hasn't always been easy. But it's somehow comforting to know that if something were to happen, there would be another person in my life who would want to help me live on in the lives of my kids.

And as much as I believed in myself as a single parent and valued my single-parent life, I have to admit that it's also comforting to have someone sitting next to me on the couch as I'm watching those specials tonight -- someone who could, in the event of something unexpected, step in and help finish the job I don't think I'm done with yet. And someone next to me as I'm walking outside this weekend, looking up.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Grudges: Who do they hurt, really?

My college friend Gage worked as a journalist for many years, and he's now a minister. The skills sets required to excel in those two professions have combined in a pretty amazing way, resulting in some blog posts that have made me think lately about the fact that I'm capable of being a pretty rotten person.

(And Gage's last name is Church. For real. Is that not the best minister name ever?)

I know it's not Gage's intent to make me beat myself up, and I'm also not trying to be tongue-in-cheek. But when something weighs on my mind for days on end, it usually makes me realize there's some truth, however uncomfortable, to whatever is working its way into my head. And because of Gage, I've been mulling over the fact that I'm a lot more like Charlie Lavia than I ever imagined.

Charlie was my dad; he died in March, and being like him is not a bad thing. In fact, in 99 percent of ways, it's a really good thing. It was that 1 percent that tended to cause problems, and wouldn't you know it: I didn't inherit his skill with numbers, but I sure did latch onto his most notable fault: his penchant for grudge-holding.

When it came to grudges, my dad was a master at his craft. He had been known not to speak to certain family members for years after witnessing the most minor slights; if a person made a mistake that directly impacted him -- especially if it had to do with finances -- my dad was "done," as he'd say curtly, with a flick of his hand. He didn't suffer fools gladly; if he was pleased with you, you knew it. But if you had disappointed him, you knew that, too, and often, you knew it for a very, very long time.

Those of us who knew Dad well, though, also knew that his wrath usually was a cover for the fact that someone had hurt his feelings. While he may have come off to some as hard and tough, he was actually quite sensitive and easily wounded. He was unable to say, "You upset me," or "you hurt me." So he'd instead refer to you by a string of expletives and freeze you out for a good long time, and if you wanted to get back into his good graces, you either had to work very hard, or a whole lot of time had to pass.

The specifics of the grudges I hold aren't important; the fact that I hold them at all is the relevant thing. After all, I have no right to hold grudges; the last time I looked, I sure wasn't perfect. As a spiritual person, I'm capable of talking a pretty good game on the "love one another" front, but when it comes right down to it, I'm really only pretty good at loving the people who are easy for me to love.

Like my dad, I tend to mask hurt with anger, or with biting, cutting sarcasm. But unlike my dad, I'm usually pretty good at talking about my feelings. (My husband would say, in fact, that I'm a bit too good, and too thorough, at talking about them.) Why, then, is it difficult for me to deal respectfully but directly with the people I feel have wronged me in some way? Can I blame it on my ethnicity? Italians are passionate people. It's easier to demonstrate anger than rationalism.

As Gage says, "holding a grudge and seeking revenge rot our soul. No resentment is worth shortening our life through the sickening stress that results." He goes on to say that focusing on faith can bring us clarity and comfort. I agree with this, but I’m not very disciplined at falling back on it when I’m on the warpath because someone has really, really ticked me off.

The irony, as Gage points out, is that the grudge-holder is the one being hurt by the grudge. I can think of a former co-worker I’ve grudged on for over a decade; he’s not impacted in the least by my feelings, but thinking of him and his actions toward me and others can bring tears to my eyes. Yes, after all these years.

Let it go, Lisa. Let it go.

In a perfect world, the people we try to be good to aren’t necessarily going to return the favor. After some sort of transgression, we can extend an olive branch, but there’s no guarantee the gesture will be received in kind. I guess that’s when we need to stop and realize that it’s our job to extend the offer, but then it can also be our responsibility to graciously walk away.

We all just want to be treated fairly, I think. But as my dad often said, life isn’t fair. I wish he could have let go, especially toward the end, of some decades-old perceived slights that continued to bother him.

But who knows? Maybe from his current vantage point, he's somehow working through my pal Gage to make a dent in my thick skull.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No apologies; I'm an indoor girl.

I hate camping.

There. I said it.

In my world, I am way in the minority on this. My husband, Kevin, loves to camp. Good friends of ours like to camp. Inexplicably, my children love to camp. And I can't begin to understand.

Anytime we've camped, we've set up our tent within about 15 minutes of home. That makes no sense to me: We have a house. The house has toilets and beds. Why in the world would I choose to sleep on the ground and trudge several hundred feet to use the bathroom, then spend the whole next day feeling unwashed and cranky?

I get the whole "Kumbaya"-'round-the-campfire thing, and yes, a hot dog and a beer taste pretty good when they're consumed in the great outdoors. But, really, we have a fire pit in our backyard. We have a grill, and we have a deck. Problem solved.

When I was little, I was a bit more agreeable to spending time outside. We were a boating family, and one obviously can't boat in the house. But here's the thing: When you're boating, you're doing something. You're going somewhere. You can drop anchor and swim. You can ski. When you're camping, you're -- what? Sitting in a chair? I can do that inside. In fact: See?! I'm doing it now!

My grandma had the right idea when it came to being a nature girl. She and my grandpa had a place at Clear Lake near ours, and for a couple of years, the whole extended family would go boating together. We'd be at Farmer's Beach, setting up lunch with our cooler of bologna sandwiches, and Grandma and Grandpa would pull up alongside in their cabin cruiser.

There'd be Grandma, waving from the boat, her hair tied down with a scarf that had little anchors all over it and an apron over her slacks. "Kids," she'd call. "Wouldn't you rather have something hot to eat?" And we'd scramble over the side of our boat and climb in theirs, dripping lake water down the tiny staircase and sitting down at a tiny table to beans and wienies, Pepsi, and dessert. The fan would be blowing in the direction of the tiny stove, and Grandma wouldn't have broken a sweat.

When I became a teenager, I loved to, as we called it back in the day, "lay out." And that, of course, took place outdoors as well. But like boating, it involved a goal: A few hours on an inflatable raft in the pool meant I'd "get a little color" and look cuter in whatever I was wearing on my date that night.

But if I'm peer-pressured into camping, here's what happens: There's no looking cute, period. I don't sleep well. Sometimes things bite me, and I wake up with some gross kind of lesion or welt or rash. Often, it rains, and historically, our tents have not been quite waterproof enough. Once, I woke up to my cell phone floating next to my head.

I don't like to cook anyway, so cooking over an open fire holds no extra allure. I don't like my feet to feel dirty. I have a fake knee, and the tissue around it swells more in humidity. The other knee is soon to become fake and it hurts all the time, so rough terrain is a bad idea for the next several weeks.

I went camping quite a few times when Kevin and I were dating and newly married. And although I enjoyed the company a lot, I would have enjoyed it more had we stayed somewhere with a floor and a roof. But you know how it is when you're first with somebody; you're always willing to try new things because you simply want to be with that person. Skydiving? Sure, I'm game. Cleaning out the garage? Nothing could be more fun.

But time passes, and we all know what happens. To look at it in a positive way: As you grow older and the realization hits you that life is too short, you become less willing to spend much of that precious time doing things you really don't like.

Also, at this stage in my life, I'm working pretty hard most days. And when a long weekend comes, the last thing I want to do is spend my time in a way that will make me feel like I haven't had a weekend at all.

And on and on. My family makes fun of me, but they know the truth: I'm an indoor girl, and when it comes to camping, everyone has more fun without me. And you know what? That's so, so OK.

There's an old saying: "If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy." When dirt, bugs and porta-potties are involved, multiply the potential for Mama's unhappiness by about 4,000.

Kevin is going to try to camp with some friends this weekend if the weather clears. He won't care about packing shampoo and towels and bug repellent and disinfectant wipes; he'll get up, throw on some shorts, grab the cooler and go.

Me? I'll be the one waving from the clean kitchen, with a bathroom a few feet away and a soft bed upstairs.

Kumbaya, indeed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Do you KNOW how sick I am? (cough.)

A disclaimer before I even start this: Millions of people have to deal each day with serious illness and genuine, chronic, unrelenting pain. I am thankful daily that members of my family and I are in relatively good health. Sure, there's that pesky knee problem. But beyond that, I have so very much for which I'm grateful.

About this cold, though ...

I didn't feel particularly great last week, and on Tuesday morning, everything came to a head. Burning throat, watery eyes, nose that needed to be blown every 30 seconds, and fever. I attempted to slog through my morning routine and ended up pulling a chair into the bathroom because I couldn't bear to stand to do my hair.

By 1 p.m., chilling and having gone through a box of Kleenex, I visited the walk-in clinic. The diagnosis: Sinus infection and infection in both ears. Severe sinus infections, the doctor tells me, can mimic the flu. She gives me a prescription for an antibiotic, and I head home to lie under the covers, not able to sleep because of the constant nose-blowing, but too wiped out to be upright.

And so it goes: Day three.

I am a bad, bad patient. Like most people I know, I'm busy. I burn the candle at both ends, which probably led to my being run down, which no doubt led to the state I'm in. And like most busy people, I assume I'm going to be able to do all the things I have to do without being inconvenienced by constant nose-blowing and cough-drop-eating.

So what happens? I work through the pain. I don't sleep enough. And I assume everything is going to be OK.

But here's the weird thing: As I grow older, I don't seem to have the same recuperative powers I once had. There was a time when a straight five hours' sleep and a hearty meal would have had me on my feet again. Now, eating is the last thing I feel like doing. Walking down the stairs to start laundry requires major effort. Reading makes my eye muscles hurt.

So what to do while I wait for this all to go away?

I whine. I call family members and say, "You would not believe how sick I am," then cough for effect. Last night, as Kevin lay reading in bed, I flopped down next to him and asked, "Do you realize I am really sick? Do you realize this is not normal?"

"You have a bad cold," he answered. "You're also the most impatient person I've ever known in my life. You can't make this go away just because you want it to. For God's sake, just lie down and rest."

So what am I doing? Laundry. Working on a story. Shopping for my nephew's birthday gift. Blogging.

I come from a long line of tough people. No doubt it's the southern-Italian peasant stock. My dad was active, really active, until well into his 80s. When I was growing up, my sister, a nurse -- and my mother figure after our mom died -- would purposely under-react to medical maladies because our mom, I've been told, had been a little excitable about illness. So I got a lot of, "Are you bleeding? No? Well, then, take a baby aspirin and lie down. You'll be fine."

So maybe I don't allow myself to recuperate adequately because I fail to accept that there's something wrong with me; I am, after all, the Queen of Denial. If I were to allow myself to be deeply psychological, I'll admit it's probably due to this: I feel that if I keep busy enough, nothing bad can happen to me or the people I love.

Tomorrow night marks the start of a three-day holiday weekend; maybe I'll really try to kick this thing. I'll hole up in bed with my stack of unread library books and a "Pawn Stars" marathon and get some good rest.

Then again, the house needs to be cleaned.

And I have some writing to do.

And the flowers in the front yard aren't looking the best.

Damn those southern-Italian peasants. I just can't help it.

But, by the way ... do you know how sick I am?