Friday, November 29, 2013

Law Spelled Out

Thanksgiving is done, but we are still thankful, as our kiddo is enjoying her first weekend without homework since third grade began. Given the sheer amount of work this year, we consider four schoolwork-free days for her, with nothing due on Monday, to be a national holiday miracle.

This was EJ's spelling list for this past week, based on the book, Holes, which her third-grade class has been reading for a few months, and which she has really enjoyed.

Notice the pattern? Fugitive. Recapture. Detainees. Jurisdiction. Pursuant. Incarcerated.

I know that these all make sense based on the context of the book, and yet, I can't help but imagine that the reason my kid has has so much homework this year is that her class is secretly filming a new series of Law & Order during school hours, and they are just making up all their academic work at night.  

Law & Order: Elementary Division could bring some Sherlock Holmes fans over from CBS if they get confused with the title.

Law & Order: Academic Crimes could help sell (or tank, depending on the sponsors) common core adoption.

Law & Order: Chicago Recruitment could highlight a whole new strategy in the fight against crime in our city: simply merge CPS and CPD, and raise tiny crimefighters from the start.

Whatever they are doing at school learning to neutralize inexplicable detainees, I hope they are union.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I'm bringing a dark chocolate cheesecake to our extended family's Thanksgiving feast this year, as well as a pumpkin pie. While I love pumpkin pie, and always save room for it on this holiday, I have to say: the cheesecake will make the pie feel bad about itself, it is such a show-off. We discovered the recipe for it through friends on Facebook last year, and every time we make it, we wonder why anyone would ever eat any other food. People who don't normally like cheesecake seem to love it, people who don't normally like chocolate cheesecake seem to love it—it has a magical effect on those who try it, turning them from skeptics into solemnly quiet eaters, having sacred moments with each bite. I'm guessing the secret is the ganache topping, a creation that must have first been published in the Holy Spirit's cookbook.

I thought about doctoring the cheesecake a little bit to make it a bit more autumny, more Thanksgiving-specific. I've guessed that adding cinnamon to the crust and/or filling would be good for awhile, and other fall tastes like nutmeg, allspice, etc. seem like they would be lovely with the bittersweet chocolate. I even tested this theory by making fall-spiced muffins the other day with bittersweet chocolate chips, the same kind of chocolate chips I use in the cheesecake, and they were, indeed, delicious.

The cheesecake is in the oven now, and as I type, I keep finding spots on my arms, my shirt, and my fingers where the chocolate has left its mark. In the end, I left the recipe as is—why mess with a winner, especially before a big holiday? The thing is already transcendent, how could I improve it? As I lick away all the excess chocolate from my digits—yeah, I'm not wasting any of this—I know I made the right choice.

I love Thanksgiving, because Thanksgiving means family. I love seeing all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, and Thanksgiving is always the first opportunity to do this in a long time, as the start of the school calendar brings on so much busyness in the fall. In some ways, Christmas feels like a follow-up visit to Thanksgiving, applying presents and extra cookies like spackle to the conversation gaps that inevitably come because, let's face it, all of you just caught up with each other a month ago at Thanksgiving, so unless something big happened in December, the milestone stories have been told. Our families are F-U-N, though; big and funny and a blast, and we honestly don't need any excuse to make a get-together a riot.

Thanksgiving is also food, and food, to me, is...well, I'm not obese because I have an alcohol or gambling problem, let's just say that. I love food, I love making food, I love eating food, I love sharing food; I also hate food, I hate the way I relate to food, I hate the way that eating in front of others makes me feel about myself.

So, yeah it is true, as I've gotten bigger, Thanksgiving has gotten more complicated. Along with my eagerness to get in my car to go see everyone, I have a trepidation that starts a spinning monologue in my mind. That run of thoughts sounds something like this, only less linear, more muddled:

1) I'm bigger than last year, everyone will notice that I'm bigger.
2) I wanted to be smaller. I'm not. I thought I would be. I'm not. I'm worried. They'll be worried. They'll be worried about my health, but too worried to tell me. I don't need to be told, because I'm really worried, too.
3) I hate that they are going to notice. I know everyone will notice. I hate that I will be that lady who keeps getting bigger. I tried to fix this and I failed again, and now I'm that lady who keeps getting bigger, not the hero who fixes her problems.
4) Will they watch me eat? Will they look at my portions?
5) What if I take small portions?  Will they be relieved?
6) Will they notice that I am upset about being bigger? Will they see the worry in my face about being with people who haven't seen me in awhile, people who may notice the change in my appearance more sharply?
7) I love them, I don't want to disappoint them.
8) I'm so disappointed in myself.
9) I can't go. I can't go. I can't go.
10) I love them. I don't want to miss seeing them. I'll go. I'll go. I'll go.

It's a quagmire in that brain of mine.

I'm guessing, though, that there is a complicated tumble in a lot of people's brains, especially during the holidays. Maybe it isn't food, at least not as acutely. Maybe it is drinking, or seeing a relative with whom you've had a conflict, or going back to a hometown that made you feel small or helpless. I don't know. Maybe you've had a rough year financially, and it is too painful to share, even though you know others know. Maybe someone has passed away, and you still feel like pieces of yourself—the parts that make you buoyant and bubbly and ready for holiday cheer—have been displaced with grief and heaviness. Maybe it is a little of everything—food troubles and money troubles and relationship troubles—none of them remarkable on their own, but taken together just enough to roll that boulder over the top of the hill, and make the mind start racing.

Living is complicated, and thinking doesn't always help. I wish it did, but it seems to be the problem in situations like this.

Yeah, I'm physically bigger. I'm the biggest I've ever been, and it is truly awful. I'm doing what I can, and it may or may not be enough. Doctors are involved. I'm working hard. That's all I can really say about it. Thinking more about it—and thinking about what others think about it—is only painful, in no way a help.

So, join me, everyone out there with a racy brain—not the fun kind of racy, I'm afraid—and just show up. Laugh. Eat cheesecake, or whatever holy offering there is at your table. Be with the people who love you. If they say something wonderful, take it in. If they say something hurtful, especially if they have no idea they have done so, don't think about it. Okay, you may think about—I know I would—but when you do, try what I have been doing, and just remind yourself you don't have to hold onto that thought, it may not be true, and it doesn't have to live your brain.

This year, I'm bigger, but I'm bigger than my thoughts, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  See you on Friday.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No Offense

My eight-year old's latest catch phrases are, "No offense," "I don't want to offend you," and "I hope this is not offensive," all of which are followed by the word, "but," then a truth-telling of some kind. I don't really know if EJ understands what "offend" means, but she sure likes trying out not offending people, namely me.

A few weeks back, when she was really sick—the kind of sick that makes parents worry—and I had spent days focused on keeping her comfortable with her high fever, she crawled into bed while I was still sleeping and landed this classic:

"Mom, I don't want to offend you, but I have to ask: have you taken a shower lately?"

She was hot, sweaty, and coated in Vick's VapoRub as she said this to me, pinning me down under my comforter as she rubbed all her sicky-sick germs all over my side of the bed. She followed up her question by turning around to kiss me, so as to seal the deal on my impending illness. As we later realized, she had the flu, and yes, I got it, too, just as her energy had kicked back into high gear.

No, no offense at all, sweetie. Please, make sure to tell me about my smelliness or hair-sticking up at absolutely any time, it is part of our contract.

I thought this couldn't be outdone. I really did. Sure, there was the, "Mom, I hope this is not offensive, but I think you are crazy,"  while driving home from school one day. That one felt like a compliment, actually. Moms who are a little crazy are more fun, and they also keep their kids on their toes—who doesn't want that in their arsenal?

I'm not just crazy, though. I'm setting new trends in beauty. You know how I know? Because last Tuesday, while sitting in a full doctor's office waiting room, enjoying a really nice conversation with EJ, she threw out this non sequitur, in a voice loud enough to give a presentation to a banquet hall:

"No offense, Mom, but your hair smells like ham. Really. It is hammy. I like it because pork is my favorite meat. Your hair is so meaty."

After letting everyone know about my hairstink, she then hugged me and put her head in my hair, taking a deep breath, and exhaling, "Ah..." with a smile, as if she had just been to a parfumerie in Grasse and come up with the newest formula for Chanel's fragrance line.

What was more interesting to the people around us? The fact that I literally have pig-hair, or that my daughter seemed to like it so much she wanted to eat it? Instead of being mortified, I've decided to embrace this as a new-product development opportunity.

Attention, every company now on the Moroccan argan oil bandwagon, stop what you are doing!  I know a cheaper, and apparently much more pleasant, form of grease to put in your products. We also put it in our family's cinnamon roll recipe, so you know it is going to be good. Are you ready? 

It's LARD.

You could call your product "Lardresse," or "Lardrique," using the age-old technique of adding a French-style suffix to a product name a) to negate the other part of the word (LARD), and b) to imply loveliness that cannot be created without an "e" at end of the word. I can see the ad copy now:

"Want hair that is so yummy it is craveable? Now you can eat your bacon, and wear it, too! My hair is silky, shiny, and smells so meaty. And Lardresse/Lardrique is all natural, which matters to me."

Now, I'm not sure how I have naturally gotten the smell of ham into my mane without using a lard-based hair care product, but I guess I can thank good genetics for that one. You know what that means, right? EJ's dreams of sporting a head of hair that smells like a delicious smoked pork shoulder may come true. I hope that, if she has kids, they let her know when that day arrives, preferably in public.

No offense.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I've Moved On

This weekend, some friends and I were chatting about pregnancy, specifically about an acquaintance who is pregnant and how happy we are for her. She is around our age, in her forties, and the miracle of the whole thing lit us up.

Central to our discussion was the question, "When do you tell your friends and family you are expecting?" At a certain week? When you've heard the heartbeat? After a sonogram?"

There are a lot of different feelings on this subject, but my answer is this: you tell the people you'd want to be there for you if things go right or if things go wrong as soon as you'd want them to be there for you. So, if you have close family/friends who could walk with you through the heartbreak of miscarriage, and more importantly, who you would rely upon during that time, don't keep them in the dark. If they are in the dark, you could hurt each other unintentionally, compounding the pain of an already awful situation. I learned this firsthand from our experience with infertility.

My husband and I were diagnosed with infertility in our 20s, back when the normal pregnancy rate among healthy couples is around 80% within a year. Doctors put our chances at 3%. This is why we call our one-and-only daughter "our 3%," as my husband likes to state, "3% isn't 0%—it's just really close."

I remember all the pain of that period, before we had our daughter, over three years of wanting to have a baby, and then figuring out it probably wasn't possible, and within that time, watching most of my close friends become pregnant. They had no idea that we were even trying, since who tells that kind of information, right? Because of this, we had several really painful moments with people who would never want to hurt us, but sliced us up without realizing.

Key phrases I remember cutting were:

"We weren't even trying!"

"Everyone in our family is so fertile, I couldn't help but get pregnant!"

"This baby thing is so great, you should try it!"

How do you tell all your girlfriends, "Wait a minute! This baby idea isn't just yours, it is ours, too. We've been trying for so long—longer than you—and no baby! Please shut up, shut up, shut up!"

You don't tell them like that, I guess. Truthfully, I don't really remember how I eventually spilled the beans. I know it was while planning a baby shower for one, helping out with meals and support for another with a newborn, and compulsively reading the blog of a third across the country, which I would describe as the psychological equivalent of picking at my brain's hangnail (I'm so happy/ouch, this hurts; I want to know more/why am I reading this?; I love them so much/I hate what's happening to us.) I know that sharing our situation involved a lot of tears, but I also remember that it felt so much better once everyone knew. The secret had become worse than the truth.

I wasn't the only victim of that secret—I know I hurt my friends, too. I couldn't go to all their baby events. I sometimes said snarky things. I avoided seeing them when I realized another month had gone by and I wasn't pregnant. I do not take it for granted that I am incredibly blessed to have wonderful friends, friends who forgave me of my coldness and cynicism once they were told why I was so hurt, friends who did the work with me to patch up the tender places in our history where we had scratched at each other in the dark. 

I'm not going to lie: getting pregnant and having a baby helped, too. I noticed that, as these friends went on to have their second or third children, I would sometimes have an occasional pang of jealousy, hoping that our 3% could account for a sibling for our daughter, too. When people would say things like, "I never wanted my child to be an 'only,'" or "Siblings are the greatest gift you can give your child," I did want to punch them just a tiny bit, I'll admit. The fact that the one kid I had kept me plenty busy, though, made getting over the envy faster. Also, I've never punched anyone. I should probably put that on my bucket list.

In the past few years I've felt a shift away from any longing for more kids, much to my surprise. Have I moved on? The proof may be in yesterday's girlfriend chat. When one of my friends mentioned that sometimes people have kids even 10 years apart due to infertility, my response was this:

"I think we'd have to do IVF, and I'd rather use my discretionary medical funds for laser hair removal. It's about priorities."

So, do you hear that, friends? No secrets! If you have the funds or the FSA dollars to get your face lasered before me, don't tell me about it. I don't want to accidentally hear:

"I wasn't even interested, then it was offered to me for free!"

"Everyone in our family has it done, I couldn't help but do it, too!"

"This laser thing is so great, you should try it!"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not So Nice

Twenty years ago, when I was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, I had a discussion with one of the other American students in my program, a University of Michigan student who wrote poetry, took very little guff, and was strikingly cooler than me. She'd grown up in Detroit, and I thought that she was the real deal, not an impostor like me, who had grown up in a city in Wisconsin that seemed like a puny town to anyone from a real city, and a metropolis only to all the folks who grew up in one-stoplight farming villages. 

It was fall, and she and I were walking down a main street from the place de l'Hôtel de Ville to the apartment where I lived on rue des Chaudronniers. We had just reached the tiny pizza counter that carved out the corner of our apartment building when we had an exchange that I have never forgotten.

I described someone—I don't really know who now, as I look back—as kind, and she said something like, "It interests me that you use the word, 'kind,' not 'nice,' to describe her. People usually say nice. You don't think she is nice?" 

At that point, I noted that, to me, niceness is a behavior, an activity of politeness, and potentially an expression of a kind heart; kindness, itself, is a different thing entirely. Being kind—truly being kind—is a point of character, a way of being that focuses upon connection to others through compassion, empathy, and genuine love and concern. Kindness is a place from which any true niceness can spring, but the act of being nice can also be an affect, an expression of expected behavior, or even a tactic through which one could get what they need in the world, without really being kind at all.

"I like that, Kori. Words matter. Let's all be kind, not just nice."

"Thanks for asking me, since I don't think I ever realized my core belief on this until I said it, just now. We figured this thing out together."

We then went upstairs to my apartment kitchen, and shared cups of herbal tea—I hated real tea then, and I still hate it now—and generally made fun of how horrible we were feeling still adjusting to life in France.

Fast forward twenty years: before turning forty earlier this month, I'd heard a lot of hype about how great this decade is, how freeing it can be, how the forties tend to liberate ladies from paying attention to the petty, the showy, and the meaningless. At forty, you care less about what others think, and care more about who you want to be, everyone told me with smiles.

I take any depictions that make any period of time sound like a wartime campaign to personal freedom led by a subconscious Eisenhower with a grain of salt, much like I interpret the saying that rain on a wedding day is good luck to be something we've collectively decided to tell brides to make the rain seem positive, especially when the chuppah they had made especially out of 10,000 delicate hydrangeas is being simultaneously flooded and carried off by the wind. While it may be more psychologically freeing, I can already tell that forty certainly requires some additional maintenance to my health and wellbeing that will take up the slack in my schedule left by letting go of self-consciousness and "youngin' troubles." Every decade has its rewards and its price.

I do like forty, though, and I do feel like I am learning how to let stuff go at a faster pace than ever before. I like the idea of feeling open to try anything because, who cares if I fail? I don't! The stakes aren't nearly as high as they were at 25, when I needed people to know that I was the real deal, much like I believed my friend to be back in Aix. As I said on my birthday, "I'm not forty-something, I'm forty-someone." I like that someone. Better yet: I know I'm someone, and I don't need anyone else to validate that for it to be true.

It's starting to occur to me, in little hints and whispers, that this time in my life is less about the shedding of worry and anxiety and trepidation—although age is definitely giving me that gift—and more about winnowing down to the good stuff, then building that stuff up. 

Case in point: now, more than ever, I want to be kind. Truly kind. Kind in the way I described to my friend off the cuff all those years ago. Kind in a way that matters, even when it interferes with being nice; maybe especially then.

My actions in the space where kind intersects with nice and has a battle royale are increasingly more bold. I am a person who is more willing to step into the melee to uphold kindness than I was at any other time. It is growing in me, this need to be kind and gentle to myself and others, and to really let all the rest of the stuff go.

I want to be kind to my body, not just nice, by:

--sleeping enough hours (kind), instead of staying up late to watch shows or chat online (which feels nice)

--exercising regularly (kind), instead of resting when I feel sluggish (which feels nice)
--eating mindfully and well (kind), instead of eating irregularly and inattentively (which feels nice)

I want to be kind to others, not just nice, by:

--being present (kind), instead of distracting myself with technology or gossip or a spinning mind (which feels temporarily nice)

--telling the truth (kind), especially when there is conflict, instead of playing nice and letting things boil and simmer and build in resentment
--being quiet (kind), instead of feeling it necessary to say what will make me feel good (which feels nice) at the expense of others

I want to be kind to the world, not just nice, by:

--volunteering more in ways that require true sacrifice (kind), instead of talking about how we all need to care more (which feels nice, but does nothing)

--focusing my energy in positive directions (kind), instead of feeling cynnical or snarky (which can feel nice in the moment)
--asking for help when I need it, so as to let others be of service (kind), instead of only being the helper (which feels nice to me, and serves to make me feel like the better person, a ridiculous illusion)

When I think about the moments for which I wish I had a "do over," most of them center around a lack of kindness on my part. Kindness is a tall order, and mere mortals like me are bound to fall short on offering it up. My hope is that I can be kind enough with myself to keep at it, and to forgive myself when I miss the mark.

I'm done being nice, and I hope I'm kinder for it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Internet Magic

We woke up this morning before the alarm to the sound of Ada clanging her metal bowls over and over, in the way that typically makes us crazy, but today made us laugh. She was eating her food, finishing her food, and looking for more food. She had drained her water bowl, too, and was using the sound of the metal bowls bashing together to signal us to get her more, as per usual.

Internet, once again, you have worked your magic. I wrote about how she was wasting, and now she is eating. Yeah, I know it likely won't last, but hey, we'll take it.

Thanks, interwebs. Remind me to share all our woes with you, for 24-hour reversal.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dog Winter

Devotion looks like this, and her name is Ada.

The picture above was taken before our recent trip to San Diego, while waiting to board our fifteen-year old dog at our vet's for the long weekend. She was calm, but curious, checking things out. She likes the vet, but as she generally likes all people, that isn't too surprising. It helps that they shower her with affection whenever she goes there, and ply her with low-cal, meat-flavored senior treats.

Two weeks before our trip, we noticed that clumps of Ada's hair had begun to fall out, and she had an infection on her skin. We got that treated with antibiotics, which she gratefully took with dollops of peanut butter each morning and evening. She stopped eating her food quite as regularly, but that wasn't a big concern, as tummy-upset can be typical with antibiotics. She seemed really well, actually, when it was time for us to leave.

The day before we returned, while visiting the San Diego Zoo, we got a call from an eager, cheerful young vet at the office.

"Hi, is this Ms. Lusignan?"

"Yes, this is."

"This is Dr. So-and-So at the vet's office. We wanted you to know that Ada is okay, but when we found her this morning, there was blood in her cage...quite a bit of blood. It looks like it is coming from her nose."

"Oh my God, is she okay?"

"Well, she has a low fever, but she was just walked, so that could just be from activity. We are going to watch and see if this resolves itself, and if it doesn't, we'd like to start a course of antibiotics. She's eating really well, and isn't lethargic. We're not too concerned, we just wanted to let you know what was going on."

I went on to babble about how we were at the zoo, so I was having trouble hearing her, but we would be flying home the next day, and could come to the office late in the evening when we landed if there was an emergency. I was pretty dazed, standing somewhere between the koala enclosure and the elephant exhibit. Blood in the cage, a lot of blood. I was surrounded by healthy, vigorous animals from all over the world, but the one animal I love the most was ill and far mind seemed unable to reconcile the dissonance.

Mike saw the look on my face, and quickly started wearing an equally anxious one when I told him the news. We decided it was going to be okay, and we were going to enjoy the rest of the day, but our concern never left the back of our minds. 

Upon our return, the news was good: Ada was doing well. They had not given her antibiotics, as she appeared to stop bleeding. She came home, and gave us her usual mix of "happy to see you" and "I'm going to be a little aloof so as to remind you never to leave me again." We crossed our fingers, and said a thank you for the reprieve.

The next day wasn't so hopeful, though. By mid-day, she was contorting her face as blood sprayed everywhere in a series of sneezes. Within twenty minutes, we were back in the vet's office. Significant fever, more antibiotics, blood drawn, recommendations for x-rays, although the chest sounded good, so the point of chest x-rays seemed unclear. By the next morning, the bloodwork told us that she was sick, although the nature and outcome of her illness remained to-be-determined, depending on her response to the medication.

We are now a day away from her last dose of peanut-butter ensconced pill taking, and we only have mixed results to report. The bleeding is gone, the sneezing is better. The appetite...well, it isn't good. She is interested in people food, but doesn't really grab much, just rouses for the smell or prospect of it. Her own food sits, barely picked, occasionally nibbled upon. She is thin, thinner than she has been in ages, allowing her to scrunch into the sleeping position she favored as a puppy. It is an odd thing to observe that and think it adorable, only to realize it is only possible because she is wasting.

And so here we are, solidly in her dog winter. For years we have been amazed that she has kept going, slow and heavy and sore, but still there, spirit in tact, climbing up the three flights of stairs to our fourth-story walk-up in heat and snow and everything in between. She hasn't run to the door to greet us when we return home for at least a few years, due to deafness and fatigue, and her tail wagging is less than ever. For a long time, we knew we were in autumn, but all of her recent infection has made it obvious that the deep chill of her dog winter has set in, and while it might warm up for a day or two, we can't turn back the calendar.

The sacred ministry of dogs, as I've heard it described by Anne Lamott, of licking your face and coming in to shower you with love, has been Ada's business for so many years, yet now we find she is steadily retiring from her life's work, and we are trying to return the devotion she placed in us back to her as much as we can. We seek her out, lie down next to her on the floor where she sleeps, rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. We keep rooms dark and cool, so she has welcoming retreats in which to sleep---while she has always been independent, she prefers to hide away to rest more and more, in lieu of staying with her family pack. Yet still, just yesterday, she heard me cough, and immediately perked up to come check on me, just as always. The mixed signals make this ending more confusing than I imagined they would be.

We will not be boarding her again, unless we have a true emergency. Everywhere we go, she must be able to visit, too. We will not be pushing her along, we'll be following her lead. We'll see how the actual winter affects her dog winter, guessing that the extreme cold that descends on Chicago will likely aggravate her stiffness and pain. We're not sure what we are watching for, exactly, but we are just hoping we'll know it when we see it, that she'll show us what we need to best care for her.

And while we watch and wait, we'll just all love each other, like we have for 14+ years, like we always will.

Ada on her first day with us, September 1999.
She has grown up with us as we grew up as adults.
No matter how old she gets, she's our girl.