Castles in the Air

I crave a life of simplicity. On road trips as a child, I would stare out the window, looking at trees, abandoned houses and barns that we passed and imagine myself living within their shadows, unseen.

On runs by the river I pass a hollowed area within overgrown bushes and drooping tree limbs right beside the rushing water. It has changed since I first saw it. At first there was only a tarp draped over a floor made of flattened cardboard boxes. Now it has been replaced by a very nice tent. Every time I pass no one is there, but it is obviously occupied. There is a line tied between trees where washed clothing hangs drying. How does that person trust that no one will touch his stuff? There may be a code among itinerant folk, but I bet there are many outlaws among them. Maybe he doesn’t worry about it.

My ideal spot would not be visible to just anyone passing by, but still close to the water. I would carry a hunting knife and the machete that my father gave me. I would have good, sturdy boots to keep my feet dry. In my pocket I would have a smooth river stone to rub when I feel nervous. I would re-purpose found things-things that were discarded by others, but still have usefulness to a hobo like me. I’d have to have a few books: Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, Walden, and To Kill a Mockingbird for sure. I couldn’t carry very many, but library cards are free. I doubt they would accept “a van down by the river” as my address, though.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

Henry David Thoreau knew what was up. Life can be messy and chaotic. This is why I escape to these fantasies that would surely be less peaceful in reality. I would never want to fly signs by the interstate. I can’t abide mosquitoes. I hate to go more than a day without washing my hair. I am ridiculously allergic to poison ivy. But to strive for more, or rather less…isn’t this the key to happiness? To let go of stuff and to be free of WANT and finally be CONTENT sounds like heaven.

I like some forms of chaos. Like a cluttered attic full of old things. I could spend all day touching old fabric, smelling old books, reading old letters. I appreciate these things with reverence. Other people’s things leave echoes. My own junk, however, piling up until it feels like suffocation…I want it gone. Except for my books, which don’t seem like clutter. I don’t have the energy to confront the mess, though. I’m sure my therapist would have something profound to say about that. I don’t go to him anymore.

I love found and free things. My husband scored a free shed from my neighbor. He towed it to our yard using a borrowed truck and a few logs of wood. We’re fixing it up as a party barn/playhouse using free and cheap materials. We found a working A/C window unit and leftover vinyl flooring that looks like wood to use in the loft my husband built. He scrounged wooden pallets and deck boards for a porch. He even scored some brand new insulation his office was discarding. Trying to do it all on the cheap is part of the fun.

The minimalism lifestyle speaks to me, despite my natural tendency to hold onto things just in case. I’ve tried to practice asking myself “do I NEED this?” Most of the time, the answer is no. “Do I LOVE this?” Most of the time, no. If I continue this trend with things and even with people, maybe life will begin to feel a little less crowded with STUFF and nonsense.

When the lights go out during a storm, we light candles and huddle together. We talk and laugh or just sit staring into the fire that is inevitably built, even if it’s warm outside. Somehow no one is ever bored. The bickering dies down and we are cocooned in silence and darkness like a blanket shielding us from the world. If only we could live in that wondrous and magical state all the time! When the lights come back on, there is a sense of loss. The electrical hum to which we had become accustomed roars in our ears as we return to our distractions and chores.



The outrageous partisan payback continues | NC Policy Watch

North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry could both be eligible for impeachment soon. At least, that’s the obvious conclusion one must draw from the laughably outrageous action taken yesterday afternoon by members of the Rules Committee of the North Carolina House. In a strictly partisan vote, Republican members of the committee approved a resolution introduced just hours before “establishing a select committee to investigate, report findings, and, if warranted, file articles of impeachment regarding Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall.” Marshall, a Democrat, has served as Secretary of State for more than 20 years.

Source: The outrageous partisan payback continues | NC Policy Watch

Nine Things I’ve Been Doing Instead of Blogging

Hey, guys! I’ve been away for a long time. I only have a few followers, but blogging is sort of like talking to myself anyway. Here are a few things that I’ve been doing to fill in all the time I gained by NOT BLOGGING.

  1. Avoiding Politics. This is a big one. I sat out this election season. I have spent so many years outraged and impassioned and all I got out of it was high blood pressure and depression, bigly. I haven’t reached the point of apathy. Not at ALL. I just decided to stop engaging for a while. I don’t believe I could have weathered this past election season and maintained my sanity had I not decided to remain aloof! I hid all the people who pissed me off on Facebook. I paid attention to the issues and I voted. That will be about the sum total of my participation until I feel that I have the will and the strength to take more action.
  2. Making Money. Back when I was raising three kids by day and working part time by night, I did a majority of the housework and kid-related duties. I bitched and spent a lot of time being resentful. My husband made me a deal: he promised that when I started making more money and working “40 hours a week” (grr), he would shoulder more of the responsibilities around the house. SO, when the youngest started school, I went out and got a good paying job. Guess who still does the majority of the housework and kid stuff plus fundraising and volunteering and baking for bake sales, etc.? But now I don’t have time to be resentful…much. My husband DOES do 100% of the yard work and 95% of fixing things that are broken and building stuff. I would do a lot more “projects” if I didn’t have to do all the cookin’ and cleanin’ though, just saying.
  3. Going to Counseling. I discussed this in an earlier post. During my daughter’s counseling session the counselor and she started talking about ME and how my cleaning habits may have caused my daughter to have anxiety about germs. OK, possibly valid. I admitted I have a little bit of a problem with dirt and germs and microbiology is a little passion of mine. The counselor noted that I was rocking back and forth, scratching myself, and sweating while recounting how my grandmother recently prepped a raw chicken in my kitchen and the bleach frenzy that ensued afterward due to her piss poor hand-washing regimen. The counselor suggested I might benefit from a couple sessions myself as I inched toward the door hyperventilating ever so slightly. I also have disaster visions, especially while teaching my eldest to drive, so I decided to give it a go. Much money and several months later, my daughter still doesn’t have her license and I still obsess over bacterial holocaust. I’ve decided to embrace it. Raw chicken is disgusting, come on! Not even a debate.
  4. Running My Ass Off. I am a graduate of the Couch to 5K program three times over. Every April for 3 years, I joined our local running club’s C25K program to BECOME A RUNNER. The first year, I ran our goal 5K and purchased a new pair of running shoes to celebrate. I was so pumped that I took off in the dark to try them out after a couple of glasses of wine (don’t try this at home). I fell and nearly broke my ankle and had to spend months recuperating. The second year I continued until the first cold snap and quit-I think my actual words were “f@*# this.” This, my third year, I have continued to run and I’m signed up for my first HALF MARATHON in June! I have a nagging calf injury, but I am determined to be the slowest runner to finish 13.1 miles. I have not really run my ass off at all. I don’t think I’ve lost a single pound, but my legs are like those of a small, muscular pony thanks to the damned hills and mountains of WNC.
  5. Rescuing All the Dogs. Lawdamercy, I have been rescuing the shit out of some dogs. Our first foster was a fat little geriatric terrier with mild manners and outrageous odor. She was so cute. All she did was lay around and stink up the place. Someone drove all the way from Maryland to rescue her. I warned her that she smelled like Satan’s sulfurous pits of hell, but she was unfazed. It was really inspiring. My biggest feat was taking in two puppies who weren’t allowed to go outside until they got all their shots. The volume of poop and pee two pups can produce is amazingly prodigious. Then we adopted one of them and endured a year of utter destruction! We’re about to adopt our latest foster as well, to play with my awful puppy. With 3 dogs, 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs, and an aquarium of fish, plus 5 humans, there is never a moment I am not feeding or cleaning or dealing with some minor household disaster. Why do I do this to myself? My husband has banned my rescue activities, so I have to find a new way to destroy my house and spend all my money.
  6. Contemplating My Own Mortality. A year ago when I went to the dentist he felt around my neck and noticed that my thyroid was enlarged. He advised me to go the doctor immediately, which I did. My GP sent me to get an ultrasound that day. They found several growths in both sides of my thyroid gland. There was a week or so of waiting before I could get them biopsied. As you can imagine, after losing so many family members to cancer, including one of my best friends last year, I was pretty worried. Thanks to the Generalized Anxiety Disorder that counseling revealed me to have, it was pretty much all I thought about. Fortunately, they didn’t detect cancer, but recommended having the gland removed in case they missed something. I’ve been putting that off in true procrastinator fashion. I also had a sketchy mammogram over the summer, but that too proved benign. My husband started having some heart issues that freaked us out, but he’s OK. All of this has made me very mindful of THE LITTLE THINGS, which are really the biggest things, aren’t they? To decrease stress on focus on what’s important, I am on a quest to SIMPLIFY MY LIFE.
  7. Working on my Finances. I have a stupid amount of credit card debt. We are hoping to roll it all into a refinanced home loan. Our home value has more than doubled since we bought it. Conventional wisdom dictates that you don’t leverage your home to pay off debts, but we are going for a loan that will have our debts and our home paid off in 15 years or less! Although it didn’t reduce my housework, my job has afforded this incredible opportunity to be debt free before we retire! Also, our credit union doesn’t charge PMI, which we can use instead to pay down our loan more quickly. I’m pretty excited about that. But first we must undergo the dreaded appraisal so I am:
  8. Updating my House. This involves patching, painting, redecorating, purging the junk, and staging our home as if no one really lives there. Usually there are giant tumbleweeds of human, dog, and cat hair  gathering in the corners and under the beds. Our dust bunnies are more like dust jackrabbits. I could knit super-allergenic scarves out of them. We’ve begun cracking down on all the unfinished projects that seem to pile up when one owns a home. Finally the hole in the wall that was plastered over is getting sanded and repainted. Naked light switches and outlets are finally being covered. Aiding me during this process is the activity of:
  9. Eliminating my Hoard. I have a lot of shit and a very small house. I am on a mission to get rid of everything that doesn’t SPARK JOY. Yes, that’s from Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My anxiety is always amplified when my surroundings are in chaos, which is often the case when you have so many kids and animals. So many times, I am unwilling to get rid of an object because of the memories attached to it, even if I just box the thing up and never look at it. I do this with feelings as well. The more order in my home, the more ordered I feel in my soul. Little by little, I have been trying to LET THINGS GO, both literally and figuratively. Maybe counseling helped a little.

These are a few things that have been occupying my time lately. I want to talk about some of them more deeply in future posts, especially RUNNING! It’s so therapeutic. MUCH cheaper than counseling and it has the added benefit of being good for you! Never in my life would I have thought that I would be attempting a half marathon for the first time in my mid-40s. I was the 15-minute mile queen during high school. You actually have to work to be that slow. Running a full mile and later ten miles were major milestones for me, physically and spiritually. I did something hard, that I never thought I could do. That feeling of awe and pride within myself was rare and wonderful. I hope everyone gets to experience that joy.


A Wounded Child In Aleppo, Silent And Still, Shocks The World : The Two-Way : NPR


This powerful and heartbreaking image encompasses all that is wrong with war. This child is shocked into silence and bewilderment, covered with grime and blood. Senseless violence rains down upon the innocent for what? I have not been writing for a long while. I don’t feel that I have the right words and I am tired. 

Opposition activists in Syria released a video showing a child in the back of an ambulance. The haunting image — of a quiet boy, covered in blood and dust — has captured global attention.

Source: A Wounded Child In Aleppo, Silent And Still, Shocks The World : The Two-Way : NPR

Etan Coen: “Idiocracy” Has Become a Documentary

When reality becomes stranger than fiction…

The Leader We Deserve

I took a large step back from politics for my own mental health and well-being for the last couple of years. Now that election time is upon us, I am having to pay attention, although nothing would make me happier than to look away from the train wreck before me. The GOP candidates are a bizarre lot of clowns that defy my sense of reality. I cannot believe that these are the best they could come up with and that the head clown, Donald Trump, could actually wind up leading this country.

When the first rumors of his candidacy began to trickle through my self-imposed exile from the political sphere, I welcomed the idea. “Yes!” I thought. “Bring it on. He will highlight the idiocy of the current incarnation of the Republican party.” But flirting with this type of danger may lead to a Trump presidency. The thought makes me shudder with fear, but I also feel a sense of inevitability. This is the logical direction of a country whose electorate has grown disillusioned, angry, and distrustful of government while being barraged by the increasingly extremist messages of the far right.

The Republican party has become home to a growing number of Americans who want to burn down our political and economic systems and hang our cultural elites. They’re tired of being policed by political correctness, often with the complicity of supposed conservatives. They don’t like Republican candidates who denounce them as “takers” with no future in the global economy. And they suspect, rightly, that the Chamber of Commerce will sell them down the river if it adds to the bottom line.-R. R. Reno, editor of First Things

This post could just be a rant against the state of American politics and The Donald, but I think he is just the candidate we deserve and have asked for. Ours is a prideful nation. American Exceptionalism is the law of the land: the United States, under God, is a divinely blessed nation, and that all of our endeavors are likewise inspired by a higher power. In-your-face, loud and proud worship of God and country-love it or leave it and if you’re not from here, get the hell out. We don’t want you here. Those candidates that have questioned these truths have suffered ignominious ends.

Trump has laid bare for the world to see just what values much of the United States hold dear. He is an unapologetic poster boy for all things ‘Merica. I hold no illusions that he believes most of the things he is saying. I think he is much smarter than that. Trump is giving us what we want.

A shoot-from-the-hip, belligerent show-off is the last thing we need or can afford.

So says Thomas Sowell of the Hoover institution at Harvard University. But not so long ago we had a two-term president that embodied that very description. I dare to say that Trump is a natural heir to the W.

Trump is loud, proud, boorish, vulgar, and speaks of himself in the third person. He builds monuments to his own manhood. He has no respect for tradition nor does he bow to the establishment. The Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and all of their like-minded brethren are outraged and disgusted, but Trump the Candidate embodies the fruits of all their labor. He is a veritable golem of their own creation: arrogance, wealth, megalomania, and certainty topped with a feathery wisp of ginger. The problem is that this is a beast that they cannot control. This is what comes as a result of their hubris.

“Our leaders are stupid, they are stupid people.”

Trump has outmaneuvered the golden boys and beaten them at their own game. It matters not whether he wins the nomination, because all of the players have been drawn into the childish sniping and name-calling that have made the debates both entertaining and oh, so depressing.  Though not substantive on the issues, it’s somewhat refreshing to witness his utter disregard for politics as usual. If Cruz attacks his stance on an issue, Trump dismisses him as a Canadian. Jeb is a mama’s boy crybaby poopypants. I’ve coined a new word for getting dealt with by Trump: a TRUMPING. Those guys endured a serious trumping. I think he would like that.

Each time the establishment chastises him for dangerous and controversial rhetoric, Trump doubles down with something more outrageous and offensive, and his supporters ratchet up their enthusiasm exponentially. He has covered all the bases and hit all the right notes for those who are tired of beating around the bush. Bring on misogyny,  torture, racism, greed, and xenophobia-Make America Great Again (for the select few who deserve it).

“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would! And I would approve more than that. Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work…And you know what? If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing. It works.”

Trump says we need to bring back waterboarding as an interrogation method, which John McCain has stated unequivocally is torture. The man who received four student deferments before finally beating the draft on a medical deferment for heel spurs dismisses his opinion and essentially called McCain a loser for being captured. What more could we expect from a man who calls a fellow candidate a “pussy?” I see similar debate tactics on Facebook daily.

“If you had more guns, you’d have more protection because the right people would have the guns.”

MORE GUNS. ‘Nuff said.

 “I am not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture….When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed.”

This is American Christianity distilled. We go to church now and then, failing to contemplate the deeper meaning of spirituality. Nothing says American like our failure to be introspective. Why ask for forgiveness? What’s done is done. Those blights upon our history-the genocide of Native Americans, the hundreds of years we put people in chains, the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, carpet bombing Cambodia, eh…this gets tiresome. Forget about it. But when it comes to legislating morality, we are practically salivating to control each other’s bodies and behavior.

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

Because Great Walls are awesome and we’ll just submit the invoice in triplicate. An amusing vignette to imagine is Mr. Trump sweating away, building the wall.  HAHA, hilarious.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

He shows his magnanimous nature here. Because you can’t dismiss an ENTIRE group of people. SOME of them are ok. Who’s going to build the wall, after all? We are tolerant, we just don’t like “thugs” or “illegals.” Speaking of great walls, what does he have to say to China?

“Listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent!” 

 This is the blunt hammer version of foreign economic policy. There is the small detail that Trump manufactures goods in China, but he says he has to, because it’s a good business decision. China devalues its currency so much, he can’t afford NOT to send jobs overseas! That’s why WE shop at Walmart, after all. How can you not?

“We’re fighting a very politically correct war, and the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

Whoa, now we’re talking about war crimes. But hey, we’re already ok with collateral damage. It’s not just the terrorists we’re bombing. It’s called acceptable loss and it’s long been supported by most of the American people in the name of fighting terrorism or protecting American interests.

My list of quotes could go on and on, but let me point out a theme here: NONE of these quotes are anything that the bulk of GOP candidates and current office-holders haven’t said or supported in deed. Trump’s delivery is brash, but it is not controversial among the rank and file Republicans. Here is the difference: Trump has not been bought and paid for. This is the distinction that appeals to some voters. He is proudly avaricious. He has a hot wife. He doesn’t apologize for who he is: a rich, confident, powerful man. Ayn Rand would be proud.

U.S. Supreme Court to decide fate of congressional primaries – NC Policy Watch

When drawing the voting lines after the 2010 census, though, state lawmakers used race without regard to necessity, moving more black voters into districts where such voters had already established political strength – Rep. G.K. Butterfield in the First District for example, and Mel Watt in the Twelfth — leaving more white voters in surrounding districts.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court to decide fate of congressional primaries – NC Policy Watch

Keeping Quiet

My daughter has been in counseling for some time for anxiety issues. Sometimes I join her to both give feedback on her progress and to learn some ways that I can help her overcome her fears.

During one of these sessions we were discussing her fear of germs. I expressed my worry that I had caused this fear when she was just a tiny girl. I have always been a bit of a clean freak, especially regarding my children. I would always place a toilet paper barrier on public toilet seats so their precious bums wouldn’t be contaminated. I never let them get sticky or dirty. I told them about the different types of pathogens: bacteria, viruses, parasites.

When my daughter started kindergarten, knowing that I wouldn’t be there to protect her from all the nasty things, I reiterated over and over how important it was for her to wash her hands and to never eat or drink after anyone or wear their hats. I told her that other kids might not be so careful, so she had to be extra-vigilant.

The first sign of trouble was when she got into trouble for flushing the toilet with her foot. A big no-no with her teacher! In hindsight makes perfect sense as that would only spread more germs when other kids used their hands. She began to use a piece of toilet paper to protect her fingers as she flushed.

Next she began to develop very dry skin and an itchy rash on her hands, to the point the teacher thought it might be infectious and sent her home. We took her to the doctor and he determined that she had been over-using sanitizer while at school, which caused her poor little hands to be irritated. She would wash her hands, then use sanitizer. If she touched a doorknob or a handrail, she sanitized. If she touched someone else’s pencil, she sanitized.

I felt terribly guilty. I had transferred my fears to her. In my wish to protect her, I had inadvertently hurt her. While relating this story to her counselor, I became overwhelmed as I realized that I had probably been the main cause of her anxiety problems, by being anxious myself. The counselor tried to delve into this further, to the point that I physically wished to run away. My own anxiety level became nearly unbearable as she asked me what other types of things I fear.

My darkest and most distressing fear, and this is something I think of often, is of something bad happening to one of my children. I constantly think of possible scenarios. Car accidents, falling accidents, kidnappers, etc. I call them “disaster visions.” While not superstitious, I think somehow having these thoughts and being hyper-vigilant will help me keep those things from happening.

The counselor gently brought up the possibility that I might benefit from counseling myself. I was highly resistant to the idea. She suggested that seeking help would set an example for my daughter and help her with her own struggle with anxiety. She asked me to think about it, which I did…for weeks. I didn’t want to do it. I have been white-knuckling through life up until now. What if talking about things (with a stranger!) made me lose control? But how could I deny the possibility of helping my daughter by helping myself?

I have now seen a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavior therapy for a few sessions. I still feel very uncomfortable with talking about my feelings. Understanding this about me, he has done much of the talking, helping me to start to think about things in a different way. I would like to share here some of the things I am learning, but I will save that for another day.

Pablo Neruda is one of my favorite poets. This poem speaks to me on several levels, especially now that I have begun an uneasy journey into my own mind-so busy, always crowded with thoughts, fears, and worries. Modern society is the same way. We are always seeking distraction, entertainment, escape. Our televisions and smart phones and computers and tablets always present, stealing our quiet. What if we spent a few moments in silence? Sitting still with our breath and our heartbeats and with each other…

I am learning to quiet my mind, for just a few moments at a time. During those moments, I glimpse a hint-just an inkling of something precious…peace.


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)

Death and Consequences

Just before Christmas, my uncle committed suicide. My grandmother, Obachan, who lived with him, found him hanging. The last time I saw him, he looked like a beaten man. I later found out that he had attempted it before, while my grandmother was visiting relatives in Japan. His wife didn’t tell us about it. She had left him. He faced financial problems. He drank a lot. He was visibly depressed. Obachan, to this day, has not discussed the fact that he killed himself. It is supposed to be a secret.

As we packed up my grandmother’s belongings we found a little notebook with notes to his wife, his children, and his mother, written presumably during his previous attempt. He said he loved them, that he was tired, and that he was sorry. My mom told me a few years ago that he had begged her to take Obachan so that he could work on his marriage. She refused.

My grandmother had to move to Colorado to live with my mother, about whom I have written before. Mom left my sister and me with my father when we were kids. My father had been battling cancer for years when she left. Eventually he died due to complications from it. She didn’t come to the funeral. She didn’t come to claim me or my sister. We didn’t see her for years after…we rarely see her now. Our kids barely know her.

I love my mother, but I think it is an automatic love-something programmed into me because she gave birth to me, nursed me, and kept me alive when I was helpless. It is obligatory and painful. Our relationship consists of phone calls during which I listen to her talk about her life. She married my step-father shortly after leaving, and had my two brothers, whom she managed to raise to adulthood, thank goodness. Mom talks about them, their accomplishments and failures, her own trials and tribulations…I listen.

My sister and I have accepted that mom is incapable of empathy. We suspect she is a narcissist. When all of this happened she lamented to me, “if only I hadn’t married your father, my parents wouldn’t have ever moved to this country and your uncle wouldn’t have met his wife, and none of this would have ever happened.”

Our children know that Grandma is not the doting type. She doesn’t send gifts or visit or call them. She doesn’t keep photos of them in her wallet (or smartphone). She is ill-equipped to give comfort and sympathy to the grieving in more than a superficial manner. This brings us to the plight of Obachan…

Mom calls to complain about Obachan nearly every day. She’s not eating, she is locked in her room, she cries all the time, she is miserable here. No shit, she found her only son hanging. Her daughter is a sociopath. She wants to go home. There is no home to go to. The home is in foreclosure. It turns out that my uncle used my grandmother’s credit to purchase cars, pay bills, pay for his estranged wife’s bills, his kids’ car insurance, the list goes on. My grandmother is in serious debt that she knew nothing about. At 87 years of age, she will never pay it all off. She has been betrayed by her son in so many ways, and now her daughter wants to be rid of her. Mom says my step father didn’t sign up for taking care of her mother (or the two kids she had previously).

Unless my sister or I take her in, mom says she will allow her to go to the daughter of my uncle-my cousin who went to jail for stealing thousands from my grandmother’s bank account. Who, incidentally, would have avoided prosecution if she had told Obachan the truth. Since she denied the theft, they reported it to police, who witnessed the video of her withdrawing the money from an ATM. This genius cousin raises only one of her four children, the baby. Her pattern is to love the babies, then give them up when they are older and more annoying. I suspect she has a problem with drugs. I know for a fact that she can’t take care of her own children, let alone my grandmother-something my mother knows as well.

Obachan took care of my sister and me when we were little. When one of us had a bad dream or fell down and skinned a knee, Obachan was the one who gave us kisses and Band-Aids. She cooked delicious meals and and sewed our dresses and cooed over our artwork. She also took care of my uncle’s children and their children until they no longer had need of her. There are three people in my family who loved my sister and me unconditionally; two of them are dead, the other is Obachan.

My children love her dearly and endure her endless fussing over them, though it sometimes embarrasses them. She tells cashiers and passersby on the street that these are her “grand-grand children.” They are fascinated by her, this link to their Japanese heritage. She makes quilts and aprons and knits doilies for everything. She has a supernatural green thumb, able to take a little tiny snip of a stem and grow it into a tree. She saves every scrap of food, down to the crusts of toast, because she can’t bear waste. She is annoying, nosy, bossy, and weird, but we love her.

I live in an 1100 square foot house with more people and pets than I have rooms. When my mother in law had to live with us for seven months, she stayed in our living room on a hospital bed, which drove us all crazy. It was traumatic for my children and really untenable as a permanent solution. My sister is in a similar situation. I could finish a room in my basement or my sister could find a bigger apartment, but neither of us have the resources for either of those things at present. My mother, whose home is nearly 5000 square feet and who subsists on six figures, can’t seem to find a way to help. Her struggle is real.

I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a person who is near the end of her lifetime. I am already overwhelmed by my other responsibilities. I recently had a hysterectomy, which depleted my sick leave. I juggle weekly doctor’s appointments for the many issues that my children face, trying not to let it interfere with work. My day is full from dawn until my weary head hits my pillow. What happens when my grandmother comes to stay? I think she is clinically depressed, but the language and cultural barriers make it difficult to find help for her. I communicate with her with a mixture of Japanese, English, and hand gestures. Usually, we both reach the point of fuck it, never mind.

The way that my mother seems to think we should take care of Obachan, without regard for the impact on our finances, our marriages, or our children, shouldn’t shock me. I tried to explain the obstacles. Her response: “then tell her you don’t want her.”

My uncle’s suicide hit my eldest daughter pretty hard. We weren’t close to him, but he was always nice to the kids when we saw him. When my daughter saw him in the casket, his death became real to her. Obachan’s pain was hard for her to witness. She began to think of losing her own parents and loved ones. She struggles with depression herself, as do many of us on both sides of her family. She began to think, what if I ever get that hopeless? She has been in counseling over this and other things going on in her life.

Will taking on the care of another person further diminish my capacity to take care of my own children, who need me now more than ever? Will it affect my marriage adversely? Will the stress be too much to bear? Do we have a choice here? What is the right thing to do? My Christian friends would say that God gives us no more than we can handle, but I don’t believe that. We handle things until we can’t, as my uncle so sadly illustrates.

I believe our only option is to figure out a way to take care of her. How can we not, when mom would allow her to go into a potentially abusive and unhealthy situation? My sister and I are going to work together to figure it out. OUR husbands, thankfully, take seriously the vow of “for better, for worse.” I can’t help but think that when the time comes, my mother will also expect us to take care of her. What will I do then?

Daiji: Important, Valuable, Priceless Things

For the better part of the last week, I was with my mom and grandmother together for the first time in I don’t know how long. Decades? My uncle, with whom my grandmother (Obaachan) lived, died suddenly. As is often the case, tragedy brings a family together, at least for a short time. My family is not close even in the best of circumstances. We had to pack up all of my grandmother’s belongings and prepare her for a cross-country move to my mom’s house. It was very traumatising for her, losing her only son, and basically losing all of her stuff in one fell swoop.

As we packed Obaachan’s things, we looked at old photographs and reminisced before placing them in back into boxes. My mother took charge of the packing, basically deciding what was junk and what was a keeper. Being very unsentimental and a minimalist, she was brutal. My grandmother would stealthily pull things from the donation and trash piles and sneak them back into the keep pile. It was funny, but also sad. I want to be a minimalist, but I understand the bond we have to our things. For my grandmother, every letter, every trinket, every dish has a memory and value attached. “Kore wa Obaachan no daiji (die-jee).” “This is Obaachan’s important/valuable thing,” in Japanese.

Daiji is a word that my whole family understands. If I tell my kids a thing is daiji they rarely disturb it. It is sacred. My grandmother kept asking, almost pleading “will you keep it?” Yes, we said, over and over again. My sister and I took her stuff back to my house, because I have a basement. Later, we will go through the process of sorting, dividing and purging a lifetime’s worth of collecting. I hope we do it soon, but the fact that my father’s stuff is still in boxes down there is not very encouraging. He died nearly 25 years ago. It’s hard to face all that STUFF and all of those MEMORIES, let alone split it between us. It seems wrong. What about the stuff that neither of us wants? Now I have a basement FULL of DAIJI stuff!

Someone snapped a photo of my sister and me with our children, Obaachan, and mom all together. Although we bickered and bitched at each other the whole time, that photo is special too-something for the daiji pile. In it we look happy to be together. In reality, it was stressful and a bit painful. But we were there for each other as much as we could be. Who knows when we will all be together again?

The table that I ate at as a child is now in my kitchen. It replaces an old fifties table and four ratty chairs that we supplemented with stepstools when we all decided to sit together. Finally, I can seat all of my family at once, plus some! I finally feel like a grown up, at 41 years of age, because of that table. If I could only pick one thing to keep besides photographs, it would be that. On it was set the lavish New Year’s dinners that we enjoyed when I was a little girl. My sister and I used to fling sheets over it and crawl beneath to play fort. My dearly departed father and grandfather, and every dear relative sat upon those chairs at one time or another. Though my children and my nieces have never met my father or grandfather, their precious little butts will sit on the same chairs upon which my forefathers sat. That table is my daiji.

I’m not sure what I am feeling right now, other than sad and thoughtful. I am thinking about all the smiling faces in those old photographs and our own smiling faces in that recent photo of us. Smiling faces hiding pain and loss or smiling faces expressing genuine joy…they all seem to look the same.