Thursday, September 08, 2016

Of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and NFL Football

I savor the small rituals of each season, but especially of my favorite, autumn.  

As I write these words, I'm sipping my first Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of the year while watching the first Thursday night NFL game of the season,  the Denver Broncos v. Carolina Panthers.    
My fall calendar lights up again with activities next week after a long summer sojourn... Living Vine bible study and small groups, Homework House volunteering to neighborhood kids, two book clubs.  

Our kitchen is brimming with fall organic produce for heartier meals... tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, onions, herbs, and early apples.  

My writing calendar is full, too, with an active book project, blogs, and an inspiring conference in San Luis Obispo in a few weeks. 

And today is my beloved son's birthday.  

I feel blessed and deeply grateful for a fresh, creative start to a new, different season in my life. 

Welcome, fall!  I've been waiting for your warm glories... 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Facebook Victorian-Style, Circa 1881

I've long been charmed by American culture around the turn of the 20th century, from about 1880 to 1920.  Little charms me more than this Autograph Book of my maternal great-grandmother, Jessie Belle Gibson Hutchison (1862 - 1952).

Autograph books were a fad in Victorian-era America, from about 1850 through the 1880s. Until replaced by yearbooks. Telephones. The internet.  And Facebook... 

Per Wikipedia, autograph books originated in Europe in the Middle Ages to record family genealogy, and among college students. "Traditionally they were exchanged among friends, colleagues, and classmates to fill with poems, drawings, personal messages, small pieces of verse, and other mementos. Their modern derivations include yearbooks, friendship books, and guest books."

In fact, Princeton University archives house a collection of "219 autograph books from 192 members of classes between 1825 and 1884. The books were used to collect not only the autographs of classmates, but also good wishes, bits of favorite verse, letters of farewell, or reminiscences of shared events during undergraduate years."

I appreciate my great-grandmother's Autograph Book for the extraordinary genealogy record she later, at age 71, listed in it in 1933.  

But even more, I'm charmed by the eloquent, sweet, serious, clever, often funny autographs collected in the early 1880s from family and friends by 19-year-old Jessie Gibson of farming community Sigel, Kansas

And it strikes me how much civility and graciousness Americans have lost in the last 150 years, from Victorian-era autographs books to Facebook today. 

For your enjoyment, a small sampling...


"Take this, it is a gift of love
That seeks thy good alone.
Keep it for the writer's sake,
And read it for thine own.
Your friend,
Laura M. Flagg, April 17, 1883"


"Our lives are albums written through
Of good or ill, of false or true
And as the angels turn the page of our year
Oh may they greet the good with smiles
And blow the ill with tear.
Is the wish of your friend...
Eva Cade, September 8, 1881
Lawrence, Kansas"

"Forget me not is all I wish,
And if it proves too hard a task,
Forget me.
As ever your friend,
Hattie Frazier, November 10, 1883
Alfred, Kansas"

"Oh believe me dear Cousin Jessie when I say that through life, 
my best wishes shall be for Thy happiness, and
a pure desire that we may spend eternity happily together
in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Adda C. Petefish, October 20, 1881
Belvoir, Kansas"

"When you stand before the tub
Think of me before you rub
And if the water is too hot
Cool it, and forget me not.
Effie Hutchison, October 27, 1883"


"Miss Jessie,
Youth is life's bright morning
Age is coming on.
Watch and pray and labor
Youth will soon be gone.
'Hope'
Why do we hope? Disappointment will fret us
And laugh at our dreams ere our wakings begun.
Why look to the future? That will not forget us
If something is lost, there is more to be won.
Yours Truly,
James F. Morris, October 28, 1881
Richland, Kansas"

And from Jessie's future husband, my great-grandfather, Charles Hutchison (1858 to 1941) , who she married in 1884...

"Tis hard to part with those we love
Tis hard to part tis true
Tis not as hard to part with some
As tis to part with you.
Charley Hutchison, October 1883"

Charming, indeed.  I mourn the graciousness and innocence of those pre-Facebook days.

(In the photo, from left are Charles Hutchison (1858-1941), son Alpha (1884-1962), daughter Marie, my grandmother (1897-1987), daughter Gertrude (1886-1962), Jessie Gibson Hutchison (1862-1952), daughter Clara (1888-1975).)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mammogram from Hell

Well, that was the mammogram from hell. My first mammogram from hell, after two decades of annual mammograms.

Men certainly suffer physical exam indignities.  But I doubt any man in a medical office was treated with the condescension I met this morning. Ever.  


Privacy was not the problem. Heavens, I've given birth three times.  Once a mother, few women think twice about a bit of breast-flashing in a medical setting. No, privacy's not the issue.


The problem was the attitude of the energetic radiology tech who rushed through what's probably a boring drill for her.  Older woman. Healthy patient. Routine exam. Blah blah blah. 

She raced down the hallway, oblivious that I'm a slow walker, given my wobbly right hip. When she noticed me lagging behind her track-star pace, she coaxed me sedately as though I was not comprehending her "OK, turn right. Now it's the fourth door on your right.  See? This door..." 

She directed me to the usual chair encircled by a hospital curtain, but cautioned, "Don't sit down. It's hard to stand back up again!"  Huh?  I sat down, removed red tank-top and pink bra, then donned the requisite ugly front-opening half-gown. 

I stepped to the digital radiology equipment (see above), and started to lean in exactly as I've done yearly since the medical group went digital.  The tech rushed over... "No sweetie, not like that. Just follow me. Drop your arms.  I'll show you..."  Sweetie?

I go limp, and let her contort my arms and chest into awkward picture-friendly positions. And then it happened. Once.Twice. Two more times for lateral views. 

She affixed my breast between the two mega-slides, then ZAP, she auto-closed the slides. For good measure, I assume, she then manually twisted knobs twice (or more?) to tighten the vise with the power of a weight-lifter.

Electricity coursed through my system. Shocked, I briefly yelped.  Never before have I experienced intense pain at a mammogram. This pain was searing. I told her it was too tight.  Her response?  "Be quiet. You need to hold still."  Uh, what?  "Look how red my breast is," I nicely complained about my mottled strawberry-red skin.  "Happens to everyone," she quipped, not bothering to look. 

She rapidly repeated her process three more times. Never letting up the unnecessary pressure.  Never listening or responding to me. In fact, the last two, it seemed she clamped that vise down a tad harder, if that was physically possible. But maybe my breasts were so sore by that time, the torture felt more acute. Intimidated, I stayed quiet. 

Lest you think I'm a whiner. I've been told by the best that my pain tolerance is pretty high (except for childbirth, of course). A respected orthopedic surgeon once lectured me at length that I need to be more aware of pain.  That being too mind-over-matter coupled with obliviousness to pain is not a formula for good health.

I sat in the curtained chair to clothe. Done with her tasks, the radiology tech shouted to me, "Do you know how to get to the lobby?  Turn left out of the door, then left at the corner."  She abruptly exited another door, slamming it hard in her hurried wake. 

I am grateful beyond measure for good medical care. I am grateful for the technical skills of this radiology tech.  I am grateful that almost without exception, I have dealt with medical professionals who treat patients with respect and reasonable sensitivity. 

Today, though, I experienced the mammogram from hell. This mammogram was painful and more than a little humiliating, and in only 20 minutes.   

I finally understand why many women detest, and often wrongly avoid, mammograms.  Hard to imagine that men are treated with the same indifference or condescension as shown to me in this simple medical test. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Still Crazy After All These Years

It's me. Still here. Still crazy after all these years, to borrow from a famed baby-boomer philosopher.   Deborah Bowen (Clark) White. Debi White for more than 25 years, though, the longest time I've been known by one name.

Just returned from a refreshing weeklong vacation on the big Island with Ron, of course. (See my window for ritual morning coffee, at right.) Ready to return to my blogging roots.  


Aloha, friends! 

I haven't written at The Crazy Woman ("TCW") for two years. Been busy, growing and expanding, experiencing highs and lows of this life.  More about that later... I lost four years of TCW writings, from 2010 to 2014, including a few deeply poignant pieces. I have high hopes of still salvaging the posts from a bungled download. But writing, like life, must carry on... 


The Crazy Woman was my first blog, and remains the blog I love best. It's personal, not political or professional or bound for big-time publishing. It's my musings. It's my blog, my page, my thoughts. 


I started TCW in 2003 when I first heard of blogging, in the same year my oldest daughter, Trisha, married.  In the year that the U.S. started the Iraq War, and changed everything in this country.  


Much has changed for me, too, especially in the last four years. Trisha is no longer married, but living the life she always wanted in New York City.  Successful woman, that one, especially at marketing.  Can scare up a terrific job faster than anyone I've ever known. 


My parents both passed away earlier this year, of separate but similar causes.  Married 67 years, they were part of each other in every way.  Theirs was a marriage full of joy, fun, and sadness, misunderstandings and too much illness.  But always, family and commitment. 


As for our other adult children, Kevin and lovely wife Lauren, fashion and design guru, live in Berkeley with two cats. Kevin continues to be a star in marketing for a major database corporation.  Lucky guy takes BART into The City, and works two blocks from the Giants ballpark.  Ryan (and kids) reside near us here in Orange County, and labors mightily in the software field. We feel blessed beyond words to see them often, and be part of their lives. 


Yours, mine, and then there's ours... Andrea, our only kid still a twentysomething, lives in greater Washington D.C. Astonishing that she graduated three years ago from that college in Connecticut. She works at a health-related think tank funded, in part, by the Gates Foundation;. is finishing a post-bac pre-med program at University of Maryland; and plans to apply next spring to medical schools. Lots of her friends live in D.C. and New York, so you can imagine, we don't see her much.  


Here's the thing.  Our kids have their own lives. "Cat's in the Cradle" and all that jazz... they don't need us much anymore.  We are finding our way again.  I am finding my way again. Still crazy after all these years, I'm pleased to report. 


That's what I will be writing about now at The Crazy Woman. Finding my way, post-parenting and post-parents. Check back often. I'd love to share this journey with you. 


Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Own Private Mardi Gras


For Lent, Ron and I are giving up beef.

All beef, including the occasional Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger with grilled pineapple, crisp red onion, and two slices of Swiss on a sesame seed bun.... (Can you hear my sigh?)

I don't understand, though, if, by giving up beef, we're giving up a vice or a virtue. I'm not sure how personal sacrifices for Lent are supposed to work: are we called to give up something bad for us, or something health-neutral that we really like?

For instance, smoking. If someone gives up smoking for Lent, shouldn't they do that anyway? If someone derives personal benefit from giving up, say, smoking, does that count as a bona fide Lent sacrifice?

Or take chocolate. For most people, sacrificing chocolate would be a health-neutral act. For some, foregoing rich, soul-satisfying chocolate for six weeks could also create intense cravings. Is this what meets the Lent sacrifice criteria: something you really, really want, but isn't that terrible?

I don't know the Biblically-correct answer. But I do know why we're giving up beef for the six weeks of Lent.

Neither of us craves beef, but we certainly like it. In an average month, we likely dine on beef six or seven times, including two fast-food burgers (especially a luscious Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger!). At home, we enjoy a savory, medium-rare roast that can used for sandwiches during the week. Steak kabobs with veggies are our specialty in summer. And once in a great while, absolutely nothing tastes better than a thick top-sirloin steak grilled on our Weber kettle barbecue.

So yes, we like beef now and then. But we're hardly beef-aholics, and we don't need either the calories or fat.

But we're also giving up beef because its destructive impact on our environment. Beef has been called the Hummer of food, and rightly so. Per Science News in 2009:

"From a climate perspective, beef is in a class by itself. It takes a lot of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG), get the livestock to market, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the greater part of the carcass that won’t be human food, market the retail cuts, transport them home from the store, refrigerate them until dinner time, and then cook the beef..

"Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the industrial world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent meat’s GHG emissions there. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of this meat's GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s carbon footprint in the developed countries"

Also, beef production requires an enormous amount of water, which is an increasingly precious commodity in the U.S. and around the world. A vegetarian website observes:

"... probably the most reliable and widely-accepted water estimate to produce a pound of beef is the figure of 2,500 gallons/pound. Newsweek once put it another way: 'the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer.' "

Further, most American beef is so riddled with cancer-connected synthetic hormones that the European Union has entirely banned importation and serving of U.S. beef since 1989.

Ron and I are giving up beef for Lent because we like it, and want to sacrifice something we enjoy. Because we might be a bit healthier without it. But also because less beef consumption would conserve both water and energy, and lessen the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. We want to be good stewards of God's creation.

So I pose the question: is giving up beef a bona fide Lent sacrifice for us? Or just something we should do for all the benefits mentioned above?

I don't know the answer.

But I do know that tonight, before the six-week Lent clock starts ticking, we're firing up the Weber and enjoying two of juiciest top-sirloins imaginable, synthetic hormones be damned.

Call it our own private Mardi Gras! I wonder... should we run out and get some confetti, beads, and a King cake, too, for the festivities?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Pastor Who Married Us Was Wrong

The pastor who married us was wrong. Based on long years of counselling and on a battery of premarital quizzes, he openly worried that we were too different... too "incompatible."

After a candlelit dinner at home last night to celebrate our two decades of marriage, I gave Ron one of those attractive, designed-for-a-man Hallmark cards.

The trendy blue card looked oddly stark, though, and short on heartfelt sentiment, so I covered the inside with a list of things I love about him.

Things he does. Things I admire. Things we do and are together. Things he does for me and for our family. Small things. Big things. Thoughtful things.

My list brought rare tears to Ron's eyes.

Likewise, he selected a pretty, poetic card for me that he signed "You are my everything."

Sure, we've had our disagreements. Moments of angry frustration. Times when either or both felt disappointed or smothered or bewildered. But we never doubted that we belonged together.

Meeting with us in his small church office, the weary, middle-aged pastor reported results of our premarital tests with a deep sigh, "Well, I have good news and bad news...

"The bad news is that you two are very, very different. The good news is that you know it. And you're fine with it."

Indeed, we do know it. And we're fine with it. Just fine.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Makes You Happy?



What makes you happy?

That's the subject of a puzzling new book, The Happiness Project, by a youngish woman who embarks on an ambitious quest to seek out tasks that make her "happy."

(She concludes that cleaning closets, "acting energetic," and exercising are on her happiness short-list. In reality, what also makes her happy is writing at length about herself doing tasks. But I digress... )

The question is a serious one these days for people mired in the busy rat-race of the world. But the question is not:
  • What makes you content?
  • What gives you peace?
  • What brings you joy?

The question is... What makes you happy? The dictionary here on my desk defines happy as "feeling or showing pleasure," which, to me, implies a temporary condition. A fleeting feeling of bliss, far more temporary than, say, contentment, joy, or certainly, peace.

I've fought blood pressure battles for over decade, and have taken mild medication for most of that time. At my doctor's behest, I bought a good-quality blood pressure wrist monitor (see photo above) five or so years ago, and have used it sporadically... sometimes diligently, sometimes forgetting it altogether for months at a stretch.

While I feel great these days, and less excitable as the years drift by, blood pressure is again, and always, an issue. And my doctor is rightly peeved that the monitor has recently gathered dust.

I dusted it off last week, and bought new batteries for it. And like the author of the The Happiness Project, I've started a project ot studying what makes me happy... feeling pleasure, relaxed, devoid of stress... via measuring my blood pressure at all times of day and night, in a variety of circumstances.

Here's what I've observed via blood pressure reading, thus far, that makes me happy:

  • Reading interesting books when the house is quiet.
  • Writing for personal pleasure, usually not about politics.
  • Cooking creatively for someone who enjoys it.
  • Doing things for my family that makes them feel listened to, supported, and/or loved.
  • Listening to most praise music and many kinds of jazz.
  • Sitting on the couch with Ron later at night, talking, laughing, watching dumb TV shows or baseball scores, winding down from the day.
  • Hugs. Hugging. (And other acts of affection, of course.)

(My blood pressure falls, too, while I'm eating. Seriously... I measured it. No wonder I like eating too much... This pleasure is more of a problem, than positive attribute, in my family.)

Cleaning closets or any other part of the house, garage or yard will never be on my bliss list, although our house is tidy and well-organized. Nor will exercising or crafting/sewing or most shopping . Or hanging out with unkind folks or those who take themselves far too seriously.

Now, none of my "happiness" factors are particularly original. Frankly, my inner critic finds them embarrassing, more than a little mawkish and oh-so Lifetime-ish. But like my talents and flaws, my green-gold eyes and milky skin, my arthritic knees and chubby thighs and big feet... they're mine. All mine. Given to me by an infinitely gracious God.

Contentment, though, is not a perpetual state of bliss, but rather, a tension between taking care of one's responsibilites within community and world, and savoring moments of happiness that allow us to refuel to face our stressful, imperfect world. And, of course, contentment isn't possible without an ever-growing relationship with our God...

My advice to anyone else confused about "What makes me happy?" Get a blood pressure monitor. Like a polygraph test, it's a truth teller. And truth detector.