Happy Holidays, Citizens!

‘Twas the night before Christmas…and in my house there were virtually no visual cues.  The daughter slept on the couch, recovering  from pneumonia.  The mom knitted on the last Christmas gift and organized one political get-together and one family health initiative.  And yet…


deep in all the hearts of the family there was anticipation of a wonderful Christmas.  The family was happy.  There was a  joy in all the conversations, people were making extra phone calls to one another, mother and child were preparing food and doing one-minute exercise breaks, and the tree decorating and gift wrapping were only hours away. 


This has to be the strangest holiday season we’ve seen in years.  In my house, we are suffering from economitis, trying to ride out problems that we thought  we would never endure, and yet with more hope and excitement for this country than we’ve ever had.  It’s the Obama phenomenon.  I have no illusions that he can step into office and instantly fix the woes of the world, but his beginning is distinctly different from our past administrations.  I’ve received several emails inviting me to participate in the process.  I decided to respond to one, and-like hundreds of citizens across the country-I’m hosting a health care discussion to share opinions, suggestions, and wants for the system in this country.  Our group report will go to the administration.  Obama has been elected, he doesn’t “need” us any more, and he’s still asking for input and giving us the opportunity to contribute to the change our country needs.  I’m flabbergasted.  Who knew that government “by the people” would come to mean something tangible? 


I’ve tried to gather a diverse group of people, regardless of political persuasion, who have different views of the health care system to bring to the table.  There will be health care providers and patients, employees and employers, self-employed, parents of children, children of elderly parents, chronically sick and perfectly healthy…Not only do I have a number of positive responses, people are asking to bring their friends! 


I was so excited about this opportunity (which was not directed at me, but at any and all citizens of this country!), that I responded immediately, without considering how messy my house is or the ordeal of providing snacks for everyone or the need for more seating in my family room.  I’d like to extend this opportunity to readers of my blog.  I will publish every comment I receive regarding your experiences with health care.  I’d like to hear:

1.  The biggest problem you see in the American health care system.

2.  The most important change you would like to see implemented.

3.  The effect that the current economic situation is having on your health care, if any.

Please try to answer in 100 words or less.  Thanks for your input.  Just in case you need a refresher, here is what the Obama administration plans to do:  Barack Obama and Joe Biden: The Change We Need | Health Care.


Other things are happening.  I’ve joined the EtsyKnitters team, and looking at the work of my colleagues is inspiring me to go ahead with my plans to open my childrens shop.  I want to get my items photographed and posted by the end of January. 


You know that I joined Weight Watchers last week.  My first weigh-in was great.  I lost 6 pounds.  That makes me more inspired to do this.  My next step is to try and recruit some family members.  Ultimately, you’ll see us grinning from a couch on the Today Show, talking about how we lost a ton! 

Happy Holidays everyone!  and the Peace which we all deserve.


Breathing After Victory

The joke’s on me.  I told a few people that if the GOP won, I’d spend the next few days mourning in my house, unable to get out of my pajamas.  Well, the fat lady sang loudly and long last night, and Barack Obama is our next President, and I’m still sitting in my house, wearing my pajamas. 


It doesn’t have anything to do with lupus.  I didn’t suddenly break out in a worsened flare because of emotional stress.  Just for the record, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my own flares precipitated in that particular manner.  After all, a year after I was diagnosed my marriage fell apart, and that didn’t kill me. 


I feel a peculiar mental and emotional fatigue.  I was overjoyed when Obama’s victory was announced last night, and I listened to his speech with a huge grin on my face.  I didn’t cry, however, or jump up and down, or scream with elation.  It just wasn’t there.  I think part of it was the strain of containing my skepticism and paranoia for long enough to allow hope and other positive emotions to function.  I am a naturally positive, optimistic person, but constant beating back will suppress even the most nurturing emotions. 


I think the remainder of the fatigue was from trying to be “good”.  There were some funny moments at knitting group last week when I announced to everyone that I was having a hard time being “good”, that my goodness had just run out and I was trying to stay out of trouble until the election.  I think most African Americans in the U.S. have felt the burden of trying to portray the kind of image that we individually thought would help get Obama elected.  I think all of us stood a little taller, refrained from slapping someone who needed it, cussed a little less, and in general tried to be better citizens.  None of us wanted to be the one that convinced  two or 25 million white people to change their votes to the whiter, more familiar-looking candidate. 


In the process of being “good”, I bit my tongue about Reverend Wright.  Yes, I understood quite well what he was saying, even in his most reviled clips.  It was familiar, and I had seen it before in church, and I doubt any black person in this country had much objection to it.  You see, when your people are here because they were dragged to this country in chains, in unbelievably inhuman conditions, to be slaves…when your people were released from slavery after a bloody war that they fought in themselves, and experienced a taste of more equal treatment and filled the state and federal governing bodies with willing, intelligent public servants…when your people were thrust back into legal slavery by Jim Crow laws that restricted their rights at every turn…when your people were subjected to lynching and slaughter in large numbers while law enforcement and legislative governments looked away or sometimees participated…when your people struggled through the 20th century, fighting for their rights at every turn, seeing their most revered, inspirational, peaceful leaders cut down in the midst of their work…when your people have reached the 21st century only to see continued inequities in education, housing, salaries, and every measure of success…

…when THIS is your people’s history, there must be a place to cry out and protest and question, and that place for African Americans has been the church.  African American pastors deal weekly with the full spectrum of our social and emotional and physical woes, and they give voice to our weeping, express our distress and translate our wailing into beseeching to the Lord, asking for explanation, comfort, relief, a little breathing room in a hostile environment.  It isn’t subversive to state the truth.  America has always been about freedom of speech, and nowhere can you hear more truth about the real tragedies of peoples’ lives than in our churches.  The truth is that America has rarely treated us well.  Even now, unintentional though it may be, our government is a reflection of what the majority needs and wants and what the majority will allow us to have.  Drop a microphone into any African American church on the Sabbath, and you may hear things that make you uncomfortable. 


But you have to remember, the church is an outlet, a pressure valve.  It teaches, it relieves, it shapes us to go back into the world and perform as capable citizens.  It gives us the knowledge that we have been heard, that our complaints are legitimate and shared, and that we can survive whatever the week’s hardships have been.  It is not a site for planning retribution.  There are no automatic weapons in the basement.  And because it renews our hope, we can come out and stand with other Americans and recognize that there is good in unifying the country.  We can see that gradually the odds are changing and the wind is shifting, so that we have it better than our grandparents and our children will have it better than us.


I am taking deep breaths, blowing out the anxiety and cynicism that had me tied in knots before the election.  Yesterday morning a white friend sent me a text message saying she felt smug.  I said it was not time for smugness.  I saw in her early assumptions about victory ignorance of what it is like to be Black in America.  You live every day hoping for the best, but prepared to be smacked down at every turn.  You know that you may hear the derogatory remark, have the door closed in your face, have the rules change when it’s your turn, so you don’t anticipate winning until it’s written in stone.  Now, the day after, I am breathing.  Now, I believe it.  Now, I know we did it. 




Bamboo and Cables

I am listening to Senator Obama discuss serving your country, and the need to provide a greater range of service opportunities for our young people.  He notes that military opportunities are offered inconsistently, with more of the population of small towns making up our troops.  His suggestions of inviting ROTC back onto campuses that have dismissed the program, of decreasing the cost of college education in return for service, and of increasing the foreign service positions for non-military duties in order to take the burden off our military-these all make sense to me.  He talks about our building support for one another, stopping the self-interest and divisiveness. 


He’s the epitomy of what I have longed for in a President for this nation.  My heart is crying out for this man to be heard and judged fairly, for people to see their own bigotry and prevent it from affecting their votes.  After the past eight years, America deserves this man.  We’ve earned the right to have an intelligent, truthful, enthusiastic, inclusive administration. 


Some days I cannot turn on my television and see the crazy roads that campaigns tread.  I find myself putting up the same walls that one would use to keep from getting too attached to a potential mate.  I am so afraid of disappointment with the outcome of this election that I don’t want to envision the wonderful possibilities that would come from Obama being elected. 


Sometimes I grow to dislike a yarn as I use it.  It’s a bad scene, struggling through the last ten thousand stitches of a half-done garment with the yarn fighting against you.  Right now I’m having the delightful opposite experience.  I’m using elann.com’s surprisingly inexpensive superwash wool/bamboo mix.  I’m in love with this yarn.  It turns out neat stitches, doesn’t fight my needles, has nice elasticity, and it seems to make my hands softer as I use it.  The green that I chose for this baby blanket is soft, heathered, easy on the eyes.  I first used the yarn to knit a sample for elann.com (you can see it here:  elann.com – elann.com Superwash Bamboo).  I enjoyed it so much that I ordered some for myself in several colours.  Can’t believe I waited this long to begin knitting with it. 


Last week at knitting group, I had a short circular needle that I tucked into my baby blanket and removed to use as a cable needle.  One of my knitting buddies saw what I was doing and showed me that I could knit the cable stitches without transferring them to a separate needle.  I couldn’t think it through and make it happen smoothly with all the conversation and activity, but yesterday I tried again.  Once I thought about what I do when I cross cable stitches, it was easy to reproduce what my knitting friend taught me.  It sure speeds up the progress of this baby blanket, with it’s little cables on either side.  Many thanks! 


I’m excited when I learn something new.  Sometimes Daddy would ask me what I learned in school that day.  I would feel bad if I couldn’t come up with something specific that had been added to my knowledge or skill.  My view of school was pretty narrow.  If I wasn’t getting better in some way, my time there was wasted.  Sometimes in high school, I was allowed to be on independent study for a course.  Those times were special because I could actually control my learning pace and assure that my time and work were productive.  If I was doing independent study and wanted a break, I could read a book.  That was much better than being in class, where I could only sit and doodle and twiddle my thumbs when I wasn’t engaged.  I know, a nerdy confession. 


Seven more weeks.  Ready, set, vote.



One Last Loose End

We owe it to ourselves to know what we are talking about.  This is the link to the full transcript of Senator Obama’s speech:  Barack Obama’s Speech on Race – New York Times

In part, this explains why I have to vote for him.  When you hear or read a speech like this, you realize that this man has a deep understanding of our nation’s problems, and you know that it is not a simplistic one.  I don’t believe that you can solve or even develop the approach to a problem without that understanding.  I am tired of stupid politicians.    Just short of stupidity is the politician who doesn’t act on what s/he knows because s/he has no faith that things can change. 


Loose Ends

Review is good.  It was not a strong point for me in my younger years.  Every chore or event was completed, put behind me, and filed in “history”.  I found it extremely difficult to review even simple things, like a “to do” list, once they were done.  I know this sounds crazy given the purpose of the “to do” list, but I was a resident before I mastered the discipline of going back over the list and actually checking off items and seeing what was left to perform.  I can’t remember rechecking questions on a test.  So much of this writing, this blog, is investigating my own history, presenting episodes from my past and mulling them over-as I’ve said before, I think I’m overdue.
So I went back to do my monthly review of the comments for this blog, feeling proud that I can attend to such details so efficiently now, and I found that the comments have outgrown this monthly review.  I’m going to have to deal with them concurrently, maybe at the foot of each post, in order to truly keep the conversation moving.  And I’ve placed the most recent comments in the right-hand column of the blog, right up front where we can all see them and address them.  If you’re interested in getting your teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy millisecond of fame, here’s your chance. 
That said, I did reread every single comment submitted since mid-February, and I am so happy for everyone’s feedback.  I’m so grateful for all the birthday wishes and feel better messages.  There is a palpable difference in how my day goes when someone offers encouragement.  Seriously, even Lucy giving me that teeny little leg lick helps.  Not that I want any leg licks from the rest of the readership.  That would be, um, strange. 
While I hate to sink into that “this awful disease has brought such wonderful things into my life” rhetoric, Carla was absolutely right in noting that slowing down can add to your understanding of personal value and to your sanity.  I became much saner as soon as I wasn’t the last parent to pick up my child from the after-school program every day.  That was my first clue.  Lupus made it possible for me to spend more time with my child.  Another benefit:  despite the clutter, people tell me often that my house feels peaceful and they come over for a little relaxing break.  I haven’t started offering the use of my spa tub (for a modest fee) but maybe I should. 
I’m still surprised at how many people have auto-immune disease connections.  I know I shouldn’t be.  Mary Z reminded me that the group includes LOTS of distinct conditions, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (a part of my symptomatology, too), psoriasis, scleroderma (PSS), polymyositis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, vasculitis…and on and on.  I am fortunate to have trained at Hopkins.  When I was there, a powerhouse named Mary Betty Stevens was the head of the rheumatology department.  She was a legend for her research on lupus and vasculitis, and for her amazing teaching ability.  I can still hear her resonant voice.  She was the first female department head at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  I went to the Hopkins faculty roster and saw that two people who were teaching in the rheumatology department during my training are still there:  Michelle Petri and Carol Ziminski, both of whom have impressive clinical and research credentials.  I noticed in passing that Susan MacDonald, a super resident during my training time, is now the associate chairman of the department of internal medicine.  Go Susan!  You probably don’t mind my remembering that you were gorgeous even when you were on call, and came to codes with curlers in your hair.
So cool that Tracy Chapman evokes good vibes for you!  I’m still trying to pinpoint the year she came to the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga.  The Riverbend website is working on a page that will show the artists for the entire 28 years.  It had been going for four years when I came home, and I’m still in awe that such a massive display of so many genres of music occurs here, every June. 
When I said “the stuff is starting now” was I a prophet?  Of course not!  It was inevitable, with this country’s history, that race would come to the forefront of this campaign and have to be addressed.  It’s just as inevitable that any discussion of it would make 98.9% of Americans uncomfortable in some way.  We have got to get better at having this discussion.  I think some of the younger folk are learning a more humorous, tolerant way to go there.  The popular blog Stuff White People Like (http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/) and the website Black People Love Us (http://www.blackpeopleloveus.com/) (written by white people and black people, respectively) are examples of the way some of the dialogue is getting presented.  Self-deprecating humor, making fun instead of attacking, learning to know each other in more subtle ways…these are way more tolerable than the wildly inflammatory rhetoric that hasn’t advanced race relations (what an old-fashioned term!) in this country one bit.  Word to Barack Obama’s pastor:  we don’t need more fire.  Word to white people (remember I’m part white):  you can hardly set foot in a Black church without at some point getting a discussion of slavery and ongoing oppression in America-unfortunately, that’s the history.  Don’t blame Barack–he had to belong to some church, and you get the spiritual with the political (which isn’t all evil).  Something you may not know:  I was raised on a bunch of Army bases by a father who was a career officer.  I have a fierce love for my country but I don’t express it with symbolism or by ignoring its darker truths.  My father fought in World War II and the Korean War, gave up 28 years of his life and retired a Lt.Col.  I really don’t think I need a flag flying on my front porch to prove that we’ve done our part. 
I’m really wound up today.  But I’ve gotta knit.  Last night the sound of little frogs in your backyard wasn’t because of the heavy rain.  I was pulling out the neckbands of the sweater I’m finishing.  I was not pleased with the way I knitted them, and I couldn’t let it go.  I can finish reknitting this today, put the tiny crochet border on, and be finished.  Hallelujah!