Sunday, May 17, 2015

Henrietta's Baltimore

It's interesting how something becomes such a part of us as a nation that with one word we all know exactly what we are talking about.  Baltimore is such a thing.  Prior to the incident involving the police and Freddie Gray, if you had said the word "Baltimore", those playing a game of word association might have said "Orioles" or "John Hopkins" or simply "Maryland."  But now?  Now, when people say Baltimore, everyone is instantly drawn into a complicated story, where the story on the surface is about one man and the police, but where the story that simmers underneath is about so much more.

I cannot justify the behavior of the rioters in Baltimore.  And I also won't pretend to really understand the uncorked anger.  My personality doesn't tend that way.  I lean towards being a ruler follower, towards trusting the police, towards grace rather than anger, towards conflict resolution rather than conflict.

But I also know that for many who live in Baltimore, their roots run deep into the soil of the city.  For many, those roots are tangled up with a lot of complex feelings connected to the past.  I finished the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a month prior to the events in Baltimore.  It's the true story of how one woman's cancer cells became the first human cells to live outside of a human body and how those cells paved the way for so many medical discoveries, including mapping DNA.  It talks about medical ethics, since her cells still continue to be used for medical research, despite Henrietta not giving any consent for her cells to even be taken.  It questions what should happen in terms of monetary compensation for situations like Henrietta's where her cells have been sold thousands, maybe millions of times over to medical researchers, without any money being paid to her family.

It's also the story of one woman's life in Baltimore.  One poor, black woman, the daughter of former slaves, and her family, in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.  Henrietta came to John Hopkins as a last resort.  She had not sought medical care earlier because she was poor and black.  She did not understand much of what was going to happen during her treatment because she was uneducated and did not ask questions.  She ended up dying without proper pain management.  Henrietta and her family seemed to be examples of generational poverty, and at the time the author was writing her book, her family was still living in deep poverty. Her sons and daughters misunderstood much of what happened to their mother and their lack of education made it hard for them to even understand what a cell was and how it could be kept alive.  Her young daughter, who had epilepsy and hearing loss, was institutionalized at the Hospital for the Negro Insane in Maryland.  Her daughter died there at the age of 15.  It is highly likely that she was subjected to terrible living conditions in addition to involuntary medical research.

For the Lacks family, distrust for medical staff comes a bit naturally.  Henrietta was treated for cancer and died.  (Albeit that all evidence shows that the hospital treated her cancer much as they would have anyone else's.)  Her cells were collected without her permission, Henrietta seems to live on in ways her family cannot understand, and others are benefiting from this unauthorized use.  Another family member has been institutionalized and has died.  There seems to be not much that is able to penetrate the cycle of poverty and lack of an education.

Could it be that Henrietta's story is all too familiar to many who live in Baltimore?  Distrust for those who are supposed to protect you (police and medical staff) is just too easy to come by.  I do not know if the officers were wrong in arresting Freddie Gray.  I do not know if they used excessive force as they took him into custody nor do I know if they were callous in how detained him once he was in custody.  I do not know if Freddie Gray caused his injuries or if he was a dangerous criminal who would have hurt the police officers if given the chance.  I know none of those things.  I do know that reading Henrietta's story prior to the Baltimore events was a good reminder to read between the lines, to examine the perspectives that others are bringing to the table.  Most of us have never lived in Henrietta's Baltimore.

Rioting, looting, making blanket assumptions about the police: those things are always wrong.  There are no redo's for events in the past; there is no fixing Henrietta's Baltimore.  There is though the ability to consider how the past colors the present for many, creating multiple perceptions of how current events play out.  There also exists the ability to refuse to let that past hold us captive, to instead let grace abound instead of assumptions and to use that as an olive branch towards reconciliation.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Don't Eat the Shaving Cream

Shaving cream is a great way to occupy kids.
Yes, it's a bit messy but it's really a pretty clean mess since it's not sticky and it wipes up pretty easily.
And yep, he has shaving cream hanging off of this ear...
Kai was not too sure about the whole deal.
I did finally convince him that it was okay to put his fingers in it.
He was not impressed.
Eh, could you please get it off?
Then he licked it off (not gobs of it, mind you, just a very little bit).
Then he gagged.
And spit up.
And we were done.
The end.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Waiting on Mother's Day

Mother's Day will be here soon.  It seems like the arrival of that holiday always leaves me remembering.  My soul turns inward a bit and I remember the number of Mother's Days where my heart had been entangled with the face and shadowy presence of little ones who were not flesh of my flesh nor were they home sweet home.  I do lean towards the dramatic rather than the stoic but may I share with you how hard those Mother's Days were?  For hearts already weary of waiting, a day designed to celebrate the unique relationships between mothers and sons and daughters is a sharp painful breath in, a pregnant pause that causes you to suck in your cheeks and wince.  It's watching others enjoy Mother's Day dinners while you seem a bit far off because your heart really is a bit far off.  It's the standard honoring all mothers done at church, where you are not sure if you should take the flower or stand up, all of which reminds you that for all practical reasons, you are not yet a mom.   It's a bit like being the mom of a curfew breaking teen, the porch light on all aglow because not everyone is home in bed where they ought to be, but doing it for nights and days and months and years on end, knowing that Mother's Day feels a lot more about a piece that is missing than about the fullness of family.

For those who are waiting, those feelings are not just Mother's Day moments.  It's birthdays and Christmases.  It's the celebratory moments of life where you are keenly aware of the gaps, of the absence.  It's not just about the wait of adoption.  It's the wait of infertility.  The wait of infant loss.  The wait of a birth mom who is not parenting her child.  The wait of a parent of a child gone too soon, lost in an accident, lost to an illness.  The wait of a parent for the prodigal who wants nothing to do with you.

Could you be a friend who takes note of such moments and offers up encouragement in the waiting moments endured by another?  Words need not be fancy; a simple, "Thinking of you today" covers much.

And for those who are waiting, I read once that hope is the hardest work of waiting.  Isn't that the truth?  Hope often seems ethereal, a lot of light and mist, where foggy mornings reveal the dawn of something new, complete with glints of rainbows and brilliant breaks of sunrise in the sky.  Hope though is not quite so bright and airy.  It is work, a minute by minute commitment to have faith and believe.  Sometimes, it seems like we're not even sure of what it is we are hoping for but yet we still keep at it, hoping that things will change, that dreams come true, that even if we can't change the circumstances, that our own heart will heal.  I believe your hope is not foolishness.  It's a deep seeded desire placed there by God, a longing for life on this earth to be as He designed it to be, full and complete.  You are not wrong for wanting.  You are not wrong for loving.  You are not wrong for hoping.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Purge: Clothing Capsules

I am not a fashion queen.  While I don't want to look frumpy and I don't mind shopping, I am not someone who reads fashion magazine or scours the Internet in search of clothing ideas and trends.  In the grand scheme of things, what I wear rates pretty low on my list of concerns.  So I really never thought I'd find myself writing any post on a fashion.  Then, within the span of a couple of weeks, I read a few things that challenged me to think a bit about my own clothing choices and the state of my closet.  The first thing I read said something along the lines of you shouldn't have items in your closet that you wouldn't purchase, for full price, at a store, if you were to go shopping tomorrow.  The second was a blog post shared by several Facebook friends titled, "Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe."  The writer of the wardrobe posts talks about how she decided to gut her closet because of a friend who always seemed to dress well.  When she asked this friend about her fashion tricks, her friend revealed a very sparse closet, filled with clothes she loves, that she feels look good on her, and that work well together.  The idea is that by being deliberate in what is inside of one's closet, that one can actually own less clothing items while feeling better what one actually ends up wearing.  In her case, she pares down her closet to around 30-40 items.  Another key idea is that when you own less, it's actually easier to get ready because you are not overwhelmed by choices, that it's much easier to figure out what to wear together.

After reading that, I was inspired.  (Or at least as inspired about clothing as I am going to get.)  There was a lot of stuff in my closet that I didn't really even like and things that I rarely wore.  I would guess that 50-75% of my closet was made up of thrift store finds which while awesome and frugal, often meant that I would settle on a piece of clothing just because it was in my size and cheap instead of wearing it because I liked how it looked on me or wearing it because it fit well with what was already in my wardrobe.  Of course, I'd like to blame some of my closet woes on Kai.  I know it's almost two years post baby but I think lots of us hold onto clothing items because we are a bit delusional regarding how we want them to fit and how they really fit or because we are certain that we will be able to make them fit better in a few months.  To be honest, I lived in yoga pants when I was pregnant and while I don't wear yoga pants every day now, I would guess I wear them 3-4 times a week.  Perhaps it's time to move out of the yoga pants.  Or at least save them for moments where I might be exercising.

The purge was on.  My goal wasn't to buy a whole new wardrobe, just to be intentional with what I already had and to keep the super star pieces.  Once I did that, then I thought I could swing buying a few new pieces to round things out.  I basically emptied my closet and started putting back in the things I knew I liked.  I had maybe 4-5 things that I was confident that I really liked.  Then I started evaluating the rest.   Did I even like it?  Was it holey?  (Gosh, that should not have to be a criteria but I had like 4 things in my closet that had holes.)  Did it fit right?  I tried things on as I sorted and paid attention to the way that the things looked on their own and how they looked with other pieces like cardigans or button down shirts.  I made piles then for "yep, keep it", "no way, it's terrible", and "maybe, need to think about it." For those in the maybe pile, I gave myself a couple of days to think about it and to try it on again before deciding.  In the end,  I also made a pile of stuff that I liked but would like better if it fit differently, that didn't seem to coordinate well with what I was keeping, or that I was just too on the fence about to make a decision about.  That pile of stuff I put away with the intention of revisiting it at the end of the summer, to use as a way to "shop my stash".  I am embarrassed to admit how much I got rid of.  (Maybe I shouldn't be embarrassed since I'm hoping I will make a bit of money by consigning those things but it was a bit nuts to know how much stuff I had that I didn't even want to keep.Or how much I owned that was basically the same thing.  I had four black cardigans.  Four.  I also found two shirts that I had forgotten I had that got crammed into the back corner of the closet.  Sheesh!)  I would guess I easily got rid of over 40 pieces of clothing, maybe even more.  I didn't count but it was two huge stacks.

This is my new condensed version of my wardrobe.   I now have about 40-45 pieces of clothing not counting layering tanks, athletic wear, professional jackets (which I basically never wear but they are too expensive to get rid of), and sweatshirts.  The sweatshirts and blazers are all on the right side in this picture so my actual blouse/dress/skirt section is what's on the left.  I ended up keeping 4 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair of dress slacks, about 10 sweaters or cardigans and between 15-20 blouses.  Most of what I kept is blue, green, black, grey, or brown.  I really like cardigans so I kind of based my choices around cardigans that I already had.  The blog post that really spurred me on (and the blogs she references in her post) all did seasonal clothing capsules with the 30-40 pieces per season but I didn't do that.  I did separate out the heavy sweaters and most of my pants and put those up on the shelf above my hanging stuff since I won't wear those in summer but pretty much everything else is something I could wear during the summer and it seems silly to pack it away somewhere. (I also have a section of work clothes for painting and other dirty jobs that are on that shelf.)   When added together with the jeans, capris and shorts that I kept, I have 50-55 pieces of clothing for all seasons.  For some of you, that might seem like there is still a lot of clothing left in my closet.  But it is all of my clothing for every season, in a four season state.   I'm also guessing most of us are unaware of how many pieces of clothing we really own.

I haven't completely sorted out my pants and shorts yet so I may have a few more items I'm not keeping but after consigning the two pairs of capris that had to be pulled up under my bra to even fit (come on, you all know you have pants like that that you think "why on earth am I wearing these?), I now have 5 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of capris or crop pants, and 3 pairs of jeans.  

I bought this top...

And this one...

And this one...except in blue and grey with a lime green stripe.

And this one too!
I also bought a pair of beige linen capris (to replace the awful up-to-my boobs pair), a white button down shirt, a grey cardigan, and a white cardigan.  I think I spent about $100 total and I bought the last three items with fall and winter in mind.  At some point, I'm going to tackle my jewelry.  My shoes could probably use a good sorting too.  (In fact, the blogs I read on creating clothing capsules often include shoes in their set number of pieces and limit themselves to like 3 pairs of shoes.)  I really like shoes so I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to that.

Hopefully if you see me in person, I will not being wearing yoga pants.  And hopefully, I'll look more put together and polished.  And if I don't, just keep your mouth shut and go on.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Asian Fusion

The little boys and I grabbed groceries at Walmart today.  I was wanting some crunchy chow mein noodles to make an Asian salad with but Walmart was out.  So when we got done at Walmart, I thought we'd try the one Asian market in our town.  By my best guess, it's actually a Vietnamese store so I wasn't sure if they would have chow mein noodles but I have often thought I'd like to stop in and this seemed like a good opportunity to do just that.  Definitely made me think of a little Asian shop stall in a place like China or Vietnam.  Every shelf was full of noodles and jarred sauces, all sorts of stuff you can't usually get at an American supermarket.  Occasionally, there was a can of Dole pineapple or Del Monte peas.  Freezers and refrigerator cases stuffed full of shrimp, pork, and tofu plus things like lemongrass and ginger.  I didn't even notice the live crabs that were sitting in a cardboard box on the floor by the checkout until we were waiting to pay.  We didn't find our chow mein noodles but we did get lunch:  ramen-like chicken Pho (just add water), a homemade container that by the American writing on it was supposed to contain pork blood but instead was full of pickled vegetables (carrots and daikon radish, I think), and a homemade red bean paste bun.  I am apparently feeling ethnic today since I almost bought plantains at Walmart to do Banan Peze (fried Haitian style plantains).
Zeke ate two huge helping of the Vietnamese Pho.  He also really liked the vegetables which from my quick little bit of research are just veggies in rice vinegar, salt, and water.  Kai also ate the carrots which I thought was pretty funny considering they were pretty darn sour.

Bean paste buns are a common Chinese item.  It's a sweet bread filled with a sweet bean paste and sprinkled with black sesame seeds.  It's not super sweet, as most Chinese pastries are not.  It also has the often used Asian twist of sweet and savory together.  Maybe it was 5 Spice powder I was tasting?  Zeke thought it was great.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

True Confessions

And so it begins.  Kai stuck d's toothbrush in the VCR today.  None if my other kids put things in the VCR.  Perhaps the best part if this story is that I just confessed to D that Kai likes to use D's toothbrush while I am getting ready and that most times, I don't make much effort to stop him.  Perhaps the husband should stop storing his toothbrush under the sink.

Box Fun

Boxes, boxes, boxes...can't say there is any better form of free entertainment.

Crayons on the cement-always a good sign.

Zeke and Kenson worked on the same box.

Kenson wanted to make a firetruck.  He was inside the box and kept writing his letters upside down.

Buttons for stop and fire (not exactly sure what the button for fire does)  I also let my children use steak knives to cut their boxes.  It was a bit of a numbing experience but we all have the fingers and toes that we were born with.

Conleigh made a book

Everyone needs a cardboard costume.  He actually ended up adding to this with a paper helmet and cardboard breastplate.

Zeke did this all by himself.  He took the box apart, made the shape of the mask and the paper band for the mask and then I cut the eyeholes and helped taped the mast to the band.