Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life hurts. Life is beautiful.

Day 7 - Channeling my inner hippie chick
Have you noticed that when life is full of all the things we desire, we can still be crippled by sadness? 

And conversely, when life serves up loss or betrayal, we can have moments of overriding joy?

This morning, despite the theatrical tragedy my life is at this moment, I felt so happy. Just so happy.

In the midst of all that is wrong right now, everything felt right.

I know. I don't get it either.

For the longest long time I skirted the surface of life. I stood on its shore, testing the waters long after everyone else had jumped in.

It's not that I couldn't swim, but when I entered the water I become the water, the depth and breadth of it, and I was overwhelmed by it.

Emotion. It was my Waterloo.

As a child I trusted freely, as children do. I never learned to protect my heart. As I grew older, I still trusted like a child, often inappropriately. If you walk blindly through enough doors, you become familiar with the taste of deception.

After a time, I began to brace for disappointment. Trust and the expectation of betrayal. How did they exist together? I don't know, but they did.

I married a man I thought I loved. I trusted him, too. I wanted him to see me, really see me, and for many years I danced like a geisha before a blind man. But he was a man inside a fortress and I could never gain entrance. We were together, but I was still alone.

I had two children and they cracked me wide open, exploding the boundaries of my heart. Suddenly I was the newborn, gasping for air. They taught me that pain and love are but two points that meet on a circle. I was immersed quite suddenly in that deep sea.

Somewhere along the way I became fluent in the language of emotion. I learned to not only swim, but to breathe under water.

And now? I don't want to get out of the water.

I am no longer afraid of life. I am not afraid of being hurt. Or of falling. There can be freedom in falling.

Mother Theresa said this: “I have found the paradox. That if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Some days, I get that. I get it exactly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 6 - Longing

Last night I slept for ten hours. I can't remember the last time I slept that long. I think it is exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion. Sometimes it feels like this whole situation is unreal. It doesn't feel real. I wake up in the morning and there is a split second before I remember. A split second when I feel like a normal person with a normal life.

I learned how to fire a shotgun today. How to load it, pump it, pull the trigger. I've always hated guns. I still do. I hate the gun laws in America. The idiocy of the NRA. I've never even wanted to touch one.

But today I gripped the gun like I knew what I was doing. I fired off several rounds. I didn't wince or hesitate. The man instructing me watched and raised an eyebrow. “Wow.”

I was talking on the phone with a friend today. She was telling me about a mutual acquaintance, describing to me this woman's difficult history (abandonment, divorce). It was sad. It occurred to me then, as I was listening, that this is how people talk about me. They tell my story in hushed voices, when I'm not in the room. I'm that woman. The one with the unfortunate past.

Later that day, I was sitting on the couch reading. Anna came and sat next to me and started telling me a story about what one of the cats did (yes, the cats are with us). Midway through the story her voice trailed off. She stopped, smiled at me and crawled into my lap. I wrapped my arms around her and just held her. I took in her slender arms and the hair falling out of her ponytail. In that moment I was overcome with her beauty, her utter perfection.

I have a beautiful dream for my future. I always have. The fact that it's never unfolded doesn't dampen the hope. I still believe in that future. Some days I can almost reach out and touch it. Other days, like today, the weight of the present is just too great.

A family member wrote me tonight. She said please write me back so I know you and the kids are okay. She said she watched my blog because she knew as long as I was posting, we were okay. So I sat down and wrote this.

Tonight we are okay.

The good mother

The call came while we were wrapping up the interview. I had turned my phone down before we started so I didn't hear it when it rang. The media team was packing up their equipment and my mind was tracing all the ways this could go wrong, all the things I should have said, or said better.

I checked my caller ID and felt my heart skip. I wondered if this was the call I had been waiting for since 2010? As it turned out, it was.

I had never spoken with the forensics detective before, other than a brief conversation outside the courtroom before the second custody hearing. I had apologized to him for having to be there to testify again, and he apologized to me for the drawn-out nature of the investigation.

This time he was calling to tell me they had wrapped up the case and were sending it on to the feds. I wonder if he heard me exhale.

We talked for perhaps 45 minutes. He told me what I could expect to happen next. That the case would go to a grand jury for indictment, that I would most likely be called to testify, and that he felt certain charges would be issued.

He told me that based on what they had found, my husband had been collecting child porn for a long time. Perhaps his entire adult life.

He told me that all the images they collected off his computer, the 18,000 images, would be sent to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children where they would be studied to try to identify and locate the children in the pictures.

He was kind. He patiently answered all my questions. I liked him, despite myself. Despite the 21 months of hell.

I told him that I had been scouring the internet for articles about child pornography, about how children became victims of child porn, about how men became pedophiles.

He said, “Let me ask you this. After all that reading, do you feel you're any closer to understanding?”

“No.” It was the truth.

“Me neither,” he said. He told me he was a father. He told me he'd done this for most of his career and had seen everything from the stereotypical man in a trenchcoat with a bag of candy to men in three-piece suits. “You're never going to understand,” he told me.

I imagine he's right.

* * *

Today I took the kids hiking. It was beautiful. We ended up on the wrong path, the long path, and wound for a couple of miles over rugged terrain. Well before we reached the half-way point they were complaining. Anna wanted to sit down in the shade and rest. Danny had to go. Number two, he whispered. Me, I could have walked on forever.

I took a number of pictures. I wanted to upload them to Facebook, but then caught myself. I wanted to write my nephew and tell him where we were and what we saw, but then caught myself.

I hate being secretive. It's so hard for me. I would make a lousy secret agent.

I want to go home. To my home that is not a home. But I can't. I just can't. My neighbor wrote me today and asked me if I wanted him to water my plants. Bless his heart.

Yesterday I re-read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I first read it perhaps ten years ago. It's an amazing book. I think every woman should read it. Again and again.

Back then, the first time I read it, I had no context, no framework to understand what I was reading. I filed it away under “good to know for someday”. When I read it this time, I found it chilling. I closed the cover and I knew I couldn't go home.

I had a nightmare last night. I haven't had a nightmare in a long time. I used to get them often. Always the same. Always him, there, unexpectedly. Appearing out of nowhere. I wonder if I'll ever stop having those dreams.

* * *

The detective told me something else that I can't get out of my mind. He said they had a number of cases and that they would meet periodically to prioritize them. Ours kept getting shifted to the back. I asked him why.

He told me this. He said their prioritizing is guided by the safety of the children involved. If children are perceived to be at immediate risk, the case is moved up. He said they knew I would do whatever I needed to do to protect my children. Fight like a lion. Go to court (again and again). “This isn't true in every case. You would be surprised.”

I sat with that explanation and rolled it around in my mouth. Because I was a good mother, our case kept getting bumped.

He meant it as a compliment, I suppose.

I think the detectives on this case are good men. I think they care about the children they serve. I genuinely like both the men I've interacted with. Their passion for what they do is evident.

But the explanation for the delay? I think it's bullshit.

The best mother in the world should not be left alone to try to protect her children in a situation such as this. From a man such as him.

There is nothing in that explanation that makes sense to me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I went to the media, and here is why

At the time this post goes live a story is airing on Fox 4 News (link to story).

It's an investigative report looking into my ex-husbands child pornography case, specifically seeking to answer why a case of this size and breadth has sat at the local level for almost two years without action being taken.

When his criminal case opened in September, 2010, it threw my life into crisis. It compromised the safety of my family. It has been emotionally and financially devastating.

For almost two years now I have tried to communicate my fears and concerns to the proper authorities at the local, state and federal level.

I considered going to the media over a year ago, when I first wrote about why I feared my ex-husband. I knew media attention could potentially trigger a number of events, both positive and negative, and that I would have control over none of them. In any news story, the news agency has it's own angle and agenda. I have mine. The two are not completely compatible.

I was afraid that going public would anger the police. I was afraid it would incite Jim and precipitate additional violence, up to and including murder and/or suicide. I was afraid it would place me and the kids at greater risk. So I chose instead to wait. To sit quietly, to follow the rules, to let justice take it's course.

But that's not what has happened. Here is what has happened in the past twenty-one months:
  • The case opened in early September, 2010, following the discovery by police of over 18,000 images of child pornography on my ex-husband's computer, including videos of children engaged in sex with adults and with other children.
  • At the time his case opened, we were in the midst of a divorce process. The divorce was put on hold, pending the outcome of the investigation, as it bore on critical child custody decisions. With charges, I could get sole custody and permission to leave the state. With charges, I could move far away, where I would be near family and feel safe.
  • The investigative portion was wrapped up in December, 2010, at which point an attempt was made to transfer it to the feds. The transmission of data failed, however, and the Olathe police did not immediately try to transfer the case files again.
  • In May 2011, Det. Foster, stated during public testimony that they still had not transferred the case to the feds, as they had been very busy with a number of other cases. He felt the files would be transferred within two months, at the outside.
  • November 2011, almost a year since first attempting the transfer, Det. Foster again testified that the transfer of files had not taken place. He again stated that he felt it would happen within two months, probably less.
  • At this time, I was also told by the judge that absent any charges in his case, he could not continue to keep the restraining order in place. Despite the officer's testimony. Innocent until proven guilty.
  • Three months later, in February 2011, we were forced to conclude our divorce settlement. Eighteen months had elapsed since first filing, and the courts required resolution. His case had still not gone to the feds to be charged. As a result, I was not able to get sole custody of the kids. We now share legal joint custody.

All of this is corroborated by transcripts from hearings over the past year. Both Fox 4 News and I have copies of the transcripts.

I respect the Olathe police officers I have worked with on this case. They have always been polite and have responded to my inquiries and concerns, even if their response was not always what I hoped for. I am concerned and upset, however, that this case has sat inactive for the past 18 months. I realize they have other cases and must prioritize their work, but I believe that their lack of action has seriously compromised my family's safety and well-being.

I have accumulated $20k in legal debt litigating restraining orders and modifications to restraining orders and the breaking of restraining orders.

More importantly, I have continued to live in fear. I have had to monitor everything I do and say and write, wondering if it will trigger further violence or retribution.

This is no way to live. I will not live like this anymore. It is wrong. My children and I deserve better than this.

My hope is that public scrutiny will create an impetus for his case to move forward and hasten charges and imprisonment. It may, it may not. I have no control over the outcome. But it's all I know to do at this point. I don't have money or influence or connections. But I have two children that need to be protected. I have the truth, and if I keep telling it, maybe someone will listen.

I have done all I know to do. Let the chips fall where they may.

Note: It's my understanding my blog will not be mentioned in the media story. In the event that it is I will reiterate my comment policy. Comments and discussion are welcome and encouraged as long as they are honest, respectful and on-topic. Comments that are malicious or derogatory will be removed. Anonymous comments are discouraged.

Please know that at the time of airing, I have taken the necessary precautions to protect myself and my children.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pray for Lydia - young girl in critical condition

I've just received news of a story that is both tragic and hopeful, and I'm asking you to take just a moment to read it.

My neighbor and friend Joe shared with me today that the niece of a close family friend was in a serious accident.

A few days ago she was getting off her school bus when she was hit be a garbage truck. She sustained broken bones and a head injury, and is currently in a coma. She has remained in critical condition.

Her name is Lydia. Here is a news story about the accident. The family notes that she is showing small signs of improvement.

Joe has a vision for his friend Lydia. He envisions cards coming in from all over the world so that when she awakens from her coma she will know that she has been held in the thoughts and prayers of a large community of support. I think it's a beautiful vision and I want to do my small part to help bring it to fruition.

Here is what Lydia's family shared about her:

  • She loves to dance
  • She is an excellent student and excels in school
  • She just returned from a trip to Paris with her mom, where they celebrated her 13th birthday
  • Her favorite color is lime green

If you'd like to send Lydia a card, here is her address:
Lydia Herrle
c/o Toronto Sick Kids Hospital
555 University Ave
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8
I realize a card may not feel like much when someone is in a life-threatening situation. But god willing, she will recover, and as she does, this support will be something that brings joy and light into what is a very dark passage in her life.

I've had the good fortune to experience such an outpouring of support and I cannot tell you what it blessing it was. It means more than you know. It is truly uplifting.

I am also holding her parents, James and Michelle, in my thoughts. I can't begin to imagine what they are going through right now.

James and Michelle, if you happen to read this, please know that we are sending all good thoughts to you and your daughter and will continue to hold you all in our prayers throughout the coming days and weeks.

Please, take a moment to send Lydia a card and let her know you are rooting for her.

And please share this message on your social media networks so that it will reach a wider audience. I just did a quick search on twitter and it looks like the hash tag #prayforLydia is being used. There are share buttons underneath this post.

Love to you, Lydia. Hang in there sweet girl.

Edit: please see Joe's comment below if you want a quick (and free) way to send a card from your computer. You can create a card online and it will be printed and mailed to her. I just did it, very quick and easy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Suffer the Children

Before my ex-husband came under criminal investigation, I never gave much thought to child pornography. It was something that existed out there. Outside my sphere of experience.

But now, I find myself thinking. Who are these men? And more importantly, who are the children? How do they end up in front of the lens of a camera?

I turned to the internet to look for more information. But then I stopped. 

Have you ever considered the actual search terms you have to type into Google if you wanted information on pedophilia and child pornography? Think about it. And then think about whether you want to type that into your computer and see what results come up.

But I did it anyway, because I want to know. While I found a lot of information on pedophilia, I had trouble finding any good information on the children.

I found statistics on child abuse and sexual abuse. I did find a few reports that singled out child exploitation, but they dealt primarily with child trafficking and prostitution. I imagine there is a great deal of overlap here, that victims of exploitation through pornography are often victims of other forms of abuse and exploitation.

But children specifically exploited through child pornography? Who were they and where was the research on them? I don't know. I'm still looking.

I did read the following:
  • 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator
  • The vast majority of children who appear in child pornography “have not been abducted or physically forced to participate. In most cases they know the producer—it may even be their father—and are manipulated into taking part by more subtle means.” (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing).
  • The number of child pornography cases tried at the federal level has more than doubled in the last decade.
  • The cases being tried are becoming more intense, with younger victims.
  • Some photos are so well-known and frequently circulated that seasoned investigators recognize the children right away.
  • Those who are located will receive a letter from authorities whenever one of their photos turns up in a criminal investigation.
  • One such victim has received over 850 letters to date. She is seeking restitution in every case in which her photos were identified. (I think I cheered out loud when I read that. I hope she's successful.)
Still, I'm left with so many unanswered questions.

Honestly, I'm not sure how knowing any of this will make a difference. It may be elucidating, but it's not going to help me or anyone else in a practical sense. But I feel driven to know.

I can't get away from the sense that someone should be shedding a light on this. A really big, high intensity light that leaves no shadows.

When I try to tease it apart, it comes back to this. I am haunted by the image of that one little girl. I want to reach back in time and undo what happened to her. I want her to be safe and protected. I want her to have a voice.

I have this fantasy that I get to meet her. That they track her down and one day, I sit across a table from her and talk to her, and I am able to see for myself that she is okay.

I know this won't happen. For a hundred different reasons. But still, it won't go away. Her image, it keeps prodding me.

She is just one. There are thousands more, perhaps hundreds of thousands. I don't know who they are or where they are. They may be in prison. They may be dead. They may be married with children of their own. They may be alone, afraid to trust anyone. They may be sitting in front of a camera right now. I don't know.

But I want to know.

Who are you? Where are you?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ten funniest pie charts

Collected from around the web, and presented to you for your amusement. Because it beats the hell out of paying bills...


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

13 random google searches, for your pleasure

  1. Boob stories – I read those to my kids at night, too.
  2. Cute bra – thank you
  3. A 10-year-old is too young to pose topless, right? - Right! Ding ding ding! Please step to your right and into the nearest abyss. Next.
  4. I need a vibrator – as does Heather/NotefromLapland. See her twitter feed.
  5. Where are all the nuded – not here, sorry. Go back to Googled.
  6. Naked rugby pics – actually, you are in the right place
  7. Hot redheads – you too
  8. Tosspot – wanker
  9. Paint body man – If you insist. Send him over.
  10. What's in my dance bag – Dunno. Heather's vibrator?
  11. Why do people make things so complicated – amen, sister. If you figure it out, please share.
  12. Mix alcohol and vicodintosspot
  13. Evolution stop following me freaks – okay, sorry.
I couldn't make this stuff up.
So. What brings people to your blog?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The boundaries of the heart

I expected the weight of sole parenthood to feel like a burden. But it didn't. It doesn't.

What I didn't realize was just how quickly a situation that would have seemed insurmountable before can became a new normal.

When I was married, there was always a push/pull over who would get up and do some mundane parenting chore – bathe the kids, change a diaper, enforce a time out. Neither of us had family anywhere nearby. It was just us, with the kids, all the time. It felt like so much.

Now it's just me. And it's okay. One of those conundrums of life.

There is a freshness to starting over, an infusion of hope that can smooth out the rough edges of loss. After the end of everything, there was a pause, and then I began to think in terms of beginnings. I considered what it would be like to be married again, to be a family again. I still want to get it right.

This weekend our subdivision had a neighborhood garage sale. It was an opportunity to lighten my load, so I took part. I went through every closet in our house and even ventured down to that motherload of stuff-accumulation, the basement.

Ten plastic tubs full of clothes to give away. Books and books and baby toys. Why had I held onto all that?

I've lived in this house for ten years and it always felt like a waystation. It still does. Something inside us always knows where we should or shouldn't be. I've lived here all this time, poised to go.

My son agreed to sell his toy tool bench to earn money to buy Legos. My daughter sold some naked Barbies for a dollar each. They set up a lemonade stand. 

I watched them carefully arrange their wares, pausing to tuck a strand of hair behind an ear or wrap a coat a bit tighter in the morning chill.

Children. You love them to the very boundaries of your heart. And then the next day you love them right over the edge.

I rigged up a bar to hang some of the clothes I was selling. Others I put out on blankets on the ground. One by one I opened up the boxes and emptied the contents.

I carried one of the tubs out to the driveway and took off the lid. It was full of my son's baby clothes. Pale blue bodysuits and onesies in little boy patterns. I still had baby clothes? I thought I had given them away long ago.

I stared at the box for a moment. I picked up a pair of overalls with a tiger on the front. I was completely unprepared for the emotion that welled up in me.

After Daniel became a toddler, I began getting rid of all the baby equipment and clothes. We were both pretty clear that we didn't want more children. I had what I had always wanted. Two kids, a boy and a girl. Completion.

I'm not sure when it was that the thought of another child crept into my heart. It entered so slyly. I'm too old to be thinking of more children. So that thought, it just sat there on the edge of my consciousness. I was hardly even aware of it. Until I opened that box.

I set the clothes out on a blanket, arranging them in neat piles, with the outfits most likely to sell front and center. The fine art of yard sale merchandizing. I smoothed out the corners of the blanket, neatened each pile.

Cars began to arrive. Strangers walked up the driveway. Hands sifted through our belongings. I sold three skirts, a framed print, a princess costume. Anna sold two Barbies. I watched the blanket full of baby clothes.

People came and went. At the end of the day we made almost two hundred dollars. Not much, but something. Everything that didn't sell, I began putting in bags to take to the local women's shelter.

I left the baby clothes until last. I began sorting through them and putting the clothes into a bag. But some of them, the ones I loved most, I held out.

I put them in a small box and placed the box in the top of a closet, tucked back in the corner. You hardly know it's there.

We went out to dinner to celebrate our sales, then I took them to Target and let them spend a portion of the earnings on a new toy each. Dan bought a Lego ambulance. Anna a locking journal. We came home and Dan set to work on his Lego. Anna and I played Yahtzee until it was time to go to bed.

I went to sleep that night in a house that was lighter. The air felt lighter. It was as if I could feel the empty spaces in the basement below. It felt like hope. That sigh of relief as you leave the confessional.

And that box. I could feel it too. Tucked away back there, in the corner. When I leave this place, I will take it with me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Feedback from yesterday's post

Yesterday I put up a post about Romney's alleged assault of a fellow student and I very quickly received a response from someone who took issue with what I had to say. Not about Romney, but my statement that integrity is a fixed trait that usually doesn't change over time. She said that statement was hurtful to her.

After re-reading what I wrote, I agreed that it sounded like a sweeping generalization and didn't properly convey what I wanted to say, so I edited it to focus on abuse, which is what I was on about. Though honestly, I'm still skeptical that integrity is something that increases much over time. That just hasn't been my observation. Am I wrong? I'd loved to be wrong about that.

I don't feel that people are incapable of change, or of healing. Far from it. I think healing is one of our primary purposes in life.

She got me to thinking more deeply about the issues of abuse and respect, and what exactly is integrity. To me, all three are connected. Hot-button issues for me, as you probably know.

I feel really, really strongly about assault and abuse. I feel really, really strongly about gay rights (or, as I like to call them, human rights).

In my mind, both are intrinsically tied to respect. Both are intrinsically issues of entitlement. Both involve oppression.

Here is what I've learned about abuse. It is not caused by poor anger management. It is not the result of a bad childhood, or of psychological or emotional problems (though all those things may be present in situations of abuse). Abuse is a problem of values, a distorted sense of right and wrong.

Abuse stems from a distorted sense of entitlement.

I believe that people who can justify carrying out targeted abuse and assault typically do not change over time. Only very, very rarely. Blame, projection and justification are hallmarks of abuse, making these people very resistant to any real change. I've read a lot of research on the subject, trying to make sense of it. It's sobering.

Oh, and something else. Assault is not a prank. Short-sheeting your sister's bed is a prank. Tying someone's shoelaces together is a prank. Disappointed with both Romney and the media for minimizing what happened.

Okay. So the woman who first wrote me. We engaged in a conversation on the topic of personal transformation and I asked her is she wanted to share some of the insights from her own experience in today's post. She did, though prefers to remain anonymous

For the record, I welcome all discussion, regardless of whether you agree with what I have to say, as long as it's communicated respectfully. (Aside to friends of ex: this does not apply to you. If you write me again I will pass your name and address to the media at the time his charges go through -- I'm sure they would love to talk with parents who support the production and distribution of child pornography.) 

Kudos to you 'anon' for having the courage to write and let me know your thoughts.

Anyway, here is her story.

* * *

I am a recovering alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was an enabler. My brother was stuck with us.

I was sexually abused by a neighborhood boy a few times and by a family friend for years. When I told my mom the first time she just sort of glossed over it. A few years after it stopped the whole can of worms exploded all over our lives. My abuser died in jail.

Not surprisingly, I had behavioral issues at a young age. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I suffered from depression and a mild form of bi-polar disorder. I always felt less than others. I was lonely and fearful. And sometimes I was angry. I felt persecuted by the other kids at my small school. I was bullied physically and verbally. When I switched to public school I was chased home and threatened on multiple occasions. It sucked.

Sometimes I would bully back. I definitely participated in bullying behavior against a few other kids in middle school. Same same for high school, but by then I was trying to be nicer. But those feelings of inferiority and pain and fear never left me, and colored the simplest interactions with those around me.
I engaged in lying. Cheating. One time in grade school I stole over $100 from other kids during a book fair and bought myself a shitload of books. Eventually I got into drugs like weed and meth. I stole from my family, I stole from stores. I kicked the drugs in my late teens and began using alcohol as my sole escape. As I got older, I began to believe that my only worth was my ass. So I gave it up left and right. I lied to my jobs about why I was late. I stole a TON of merchandise from one employer and sold it to another business for profit. I falsified time sheets, travel mileage, concessions. I have been known to sleep with multiple partners in one night. I may have even raped someone; I don't know. That night only comes to me in my nightmares.

I did some of these things before ever taking my first drink. I did some of these things while under the influence of  drugs or alcohol. I did some of these things while I had no mind-altering substance in my body. My entire outlook was so skewed from my diseases and the previous events in my life it was like viewing the world through a gigantic bubble; EVERYthing was distorted. Someone reading through specific bits of what I have written above could very easily conclude I have no integrity. That I am nothing but a loser, a waste of space. Someone you wouldn't allow near your kids. Someone who belongs in jail or an institution. Someone who needs to be held accountable for their actions and punished. And had you met me during some of those years, you would have been wise to avoid me. Because while my actions were generally dictated by my untreated mental illnesses and emotional scars, they were still my actions. They had tangible effects on others around me. And at that time, I didn't f***ing care. YOUR pain was not as real as mine, so screw you. You were part of my problem.

Thankfully I am no longer that person. I acknowledge that what I did WAS WRONG. Period. No matter what was going on in my life, it does not excuse my actions. I have made amends to all the people I could contact, and written letters to those I could not reach. I have admitted every single thing I have done that was hurtful or wrong to another human being OUTLOUD to a willing listener. I have committed to never doing those things again, and to help others who are suffering wherever possible. Years of work on my emotional and spiritual well being has shown me that I never have to be that person again.

The mental illness is still there. The disease of alcoholism is still there. The fear is still there. So is the loneliness, the anger, the sadness. The inferiority complex is alive and kicking. BUT. It is so much better. I do not steal. I do not cheat. I do not lash out physically. I am now married with a small child and my number one goal is to show my child how to be decent human being. And I believe I can do so, because I have learned to be human. I have learned to have compassion. I have learned how to be honest, especially when I don't want to be. I do not have the luxury of poor or harmful behavior, because if I am not careful I may drink again. And for me, to give up sobriety could mean giving up my hard-won humanity.

* * *

Kristin here again. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on personal transformation? Do you think a person's basic character generally changes through their life? Is that even the right question to ask (how do you define basic character, anyway)? Throwing this one over to you. I'm not sure.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A bully is a bully is a bully

I don't usually get political here on my blog. That almost always leads to no good.

Though this post deals with a political candidate, it's not about politics. It's about compassion and a basic grounding in humanity.

Today a story broke in the WashingtonPost that describes how Mitt Romney, while in prep (high) school, assaulted a fellow student. The student, John Lauber, was gay and the subject of merciless teasing. 

When Lauber came back from Spring break, he was sporting a new bleach blond look, which Romney disapproved of. Romney allegedly shouted, "He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!"

Romney led a posse of boys to Lauber, where they fell upon him and proceeded to hold him down and cut off his hair as he cried and screamed for help.

The story is corroborated by five different students and by Lauber himself before he died in 2004. Lauber told a classmate, years later, that the incident left deep scars.

Many people say that what a politician does outside of office doesn't matter. Affairs, alcoholism, drug use, etc. What matters to them is how well they perform the duties of their office.

I disagree. Because in my opinion, the same integrity (or lack thereof) that drives their decisions in everyday life is going to drive their political decisions.

And while people do mature and change over time, people with a mindset that can justify targeted assault generally do not. I believe it's a pretty fixed character trait. If someone is willing to cross certain critical boundaries in their 20's, they will cross them later in life. They may be more discreet about it, they may dress their actions up in sheep's clothing, but they will still do it.

Because for them, those boundaries don't exist.

This is not about democrats and republicans or liberals and conservatives. It's about being a humanitarian. I'm a fiscal conservative with a liberal social agenda. I'm a democrat. I have a number of friends who are not. I respect and value those friends. Though we share different perspectives on political issues, it doesn't matter because, quite simply, they are good people. I will listen to and respect their opinions. I will never, ever respect persecution, bullying or oppression.

Yesterday, Obama became the first U.S. President to openly declare his support of gay marriage. Some claim that the statement, or the timing of the statement, was political. Some claim that the timing of the Romney story is also political. Maybe. I'm sure there is an agenda behind when and how any information on political candidates is released.

But still. He did it. The president of the United States openly spoke up for tolerance and equality.

And still. Romney did it. He assaulted a classmate because he was gay.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This post will make you (feel) smarter

The other day I was driving in the car and my kids were chatting in the back seat about the solar system (as kids do). My 9-yr-old daughter piped up: “I can name the planets in order!” And then she rattled them off. “Is that right, Mommy?”

I hesitated a moment as I struggled to remember...which came first, Neptune or Uranus? Mostly, however, I wanted to know how she knew.

“Easy,” she answered. “They taught us a trick in school to help us remember. My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas."

Ah, yes. A mnemonic device.

When I was in college I studied religion. We had to memorize all the books of the Bible, in order. While I've forgotten the tricks I used to remember them all (there were several), I will never, ever, even on my deathbed at age 97, lose the ability to rattle off the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.



A professor taught us that word as a mnemonic device. It means nothing, but for some reason I've never forgotten it. By the way, the 'A' is just thrown in there so the word is pronounceable. It doesn't matter. It still works. I realize the Pentateuch may be obvious to many, but for the unchurched amongst us...not so much. We need GELNAD.

Mnemonic devices work because they use imagery, rhyme or words to trigger memory. I can also name all 50 states, in alphabetical order, because I learned them in a song when I was nine (Fifty Nifty United States). I'm a bit in love with mnemonic devices because they make me feel smarter than I am. Especially since having children siphoned a good 20 points off my IQ.

Here are some of my favorites. Memorize a few. You'll feel instantly smarter.

Roman Numerals
I Value Xylophones Like Cows Dig Milk
I, V, X, L, C, D, M = 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000

Biological Classifications
King Phillip Could Only Find Green Socks
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

Bones in the skull
Old People From Texas Eat Spiders
occipital, parietal, frontal, temporal, ethnoid, sphenoid

The fates of the six wives of Henry VIII
Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived 

Great, now that I know how they died, what are their names?
Can't Anne Just Accept Catastrophe Calmly?
Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, Catherine
(That one is mine, you're welcome.)

How to spell Rhythm
Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move

I wish I'd remembered this when my kids were younger. In the fog that accompanies new parenthood, I could barely remember my own name. Why didn't I just use mnemonics?

For instance, this would have been helpful:

How to get out of the garage
Keep It In YouR Pants, Bud
Key in ignition, release parking break

What to do in the morning
Will U Please Bake a Dozen Cookies? Now.
Wake up, pee, brush, drink coffee, nap

What to make for dinner

Too late for me. My kids are older now and I've graduated to making eggs and toast for dinner. But feel free to use these if you are a new mother.

Oh, and while whomever invented mnemonics was a true giver, the person who determined how it would be spelled was clearly a sadist.

What about you? Do you use mnemonics?

P.S. I've installed Disqus. I'm trusting that all the comments that *poof* disappeared will magically reappear at some point. Right?!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tornado Pictures

You know you're in Kansas when your blog posting is interrupted by a series of tornado sirens. That's what happened to me last night as I was getting ready to publish my post.

The storm that hit while I was out running yesterday turned out to be the edge of a large system that brought with it heavy rains, hail, flash flooding and tornadoes.

The hail hit around 6:00 and then the sirens went off about 6:30. A tornado had been sighted over our section of town, but as it touched down only briefly, no damage was done.

At 7:30 the power went out. After the all-clear, I went upstairs and looked out the window. An impressive river of water running through our yard and pouring down over our driveway. Unfortunately, my cell phone had died by that point I wasn't able to get any pictures.

There were a number of pictures of the tornado posted online today, one of which was taken just down the street from us. And no, I never saw it, because I was not standing out on my porch, but rather I was IN THE BASEMENT WITH MY KIDS.

The rest of you -- out of the gene pool!

Anyway, I collected some of the shots taken by those who should not be procreating, so you can see what springtime in Kansas looks like.

Photos from KCPT-5 website.

Gotta love a stormchaser with Instragram

So. Who's up for a visit? Anyone?

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Several months ago I had a dream that I was running on a freeway. I was in the middle of a lane, amongst the cars, as if I were a car.

It made about as much sense as any dream, but what was significant was how I felt. I felt great. I was breathing deeply, my body was strong, I wasn't tired at all. I felt like I could run forever.

When I woke up I thought: I want to feel that.

It was several months later before I actually went for my first run. I was out of shape and my energy was low. I could only run for short sprints. Mostly, I walked.

I kept at it, though, and little by little, I began to run more and walk less. It was slow going. I had been diagnosed with anemia, and then my thyroid levels went screwy. But I worked to correct both and as my fatigue lessened, my distances grew.

I don’t know why I thought I could run. I’ve never been a runner. When I was in high school, I had surgery on my right leg – they made a clean cut through both the tibia and fibula -- and I was on crutches for six months. I still have a metal plate and screws in my leg. Ever since then, the one leg has given me trouble. It aches. It’s weaker than my left leg. It's prone to shin splints.  

When I started running I didn’t think I would stick with it. I thought it would be too hard. But for some reason it was important to me to keep at it. With everything else falling down around me, I wanted something that I could succeed at, something I could overcome. And I wanted to feel what I felt in that dream.

Now I can go three to five miles at a stretch, though I still alternate between running and walking. I run three times a week. I’ve lost twenty pounds since January.

Today, my son wanted to go up to the track at the nearby school so he could play in the sandpit they use for their long jump. I readily agreed.

When we arrived he started building a castle and moat and I took off around the track. There were some dark clouds moving in and I kept an eye on them. As I circled the track I could hear a few claps of thunder.

Each time I passed the sandpit I would admire his progress. After about two miles I felt the first drops of rain. My son looked up at me when I passed, wondering if this meant the end of the castle-building fun, but I just shrugged and kept going. He smiled and kept building.

In just a few months, the two year mark would come (and probably go) on Jim’s criminal case. Still, there were no charges. I never dreamed it would drag on this long. It felt like a suspended free fall.

Time had made him more confident and he seemed to be finding more and more ways to litigate, accuse, withhold, obscure, harass. He tiptoed around the edges of the restraining order, looking for an opening.

A few more laps and the rain began to fall more steadily. I was breathing deep, but I wasn’t out of breath. My legs were tired, but I wanted to keep running. It felt good. I felt good.

As a hit the straightaway on the far side, the sky opened up. I smiled and looked up. My life was in a shambles, but in that moment, I felt free. For the briefest moment, as I ran down a track at a high school in suburban Kansas in the falling rain, I was free.

I finished my lap, gathered up my son and walked home in the rain. He danced along beside me, stopping occasionally to show me how he could catch drops in his mouth. When we got home, I stood on the driveway and stretched in the rain as he twirled around me.

The sky was growing darker and the rain falling harder, so I motioned for him to come in. He ran up to me and gave me a spontaneous hug. “Mommy, this is the best day ever.”

I laughed. Sometimes I forget the immediacy with which children live. All that matters is that very moment.

We retreated to the shelter of the garage, but neither of us really wanted to go in. For a few minutes, we just stood there, side by side, and looked out at the rain.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some Comments on Commenting

No, sorry, this isn't a post about flamers and comment etiquette (waves as everyone wanders back to Twitter).

Rather, I want to get some feedback on commenting. I am thinking of installing a third party comment system such as Disqus or Echo. I've waited 2 ½ years for Blogger to give us something decent and they haven't. Though I have heard rumors about a new Google comment system being launched soon. Have you heard that?

Anyway, curious what your thoughts are. My goal is to have a more interactive system that allows for direct replies to specific comments. My experience is that such a system creates a more engaging discussion.

Blogger's system posts comments as they come in. A lot of my comments are from overseas readers,  and are posted while I am asleep. By the time I'm awake and available, the comment I want to respond to is buried deep up in the queue. If I respond, it feels like a fractured conversation.

So I'm curious, what is your favorite system? Any you really dislike? I know none are perfect (except perhaps Wordpress, but for some reason Blogger doesn't allow Wordpress plug-ins – spoilsports).

I also wanted to thank everyone who commented on my last post. I know it can be difficult to know what to say after reading something so raw and personal. I have a hard time responding to your comments on those posts, too. I'm not sure why. Maybe, like many of you confessed, I just don't know what to say.

But if you left a comment, know that you were heard and that I appreciate the support. It means a lot.

Okay, commenting systems. Which is the lesser evil? Disqus? Intense Debate? Stone tablets? If you've installed one, did it go smoothly? Are you put off by having to sign in to a system in order to comment?


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