Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Alone

I had Thanksgiving dinner alone. It was intended, insightful and intriguing.

I was not alone for the entire day, but I ensured that my actual feast was a dinner for one. I have never had this opportunity, so I decided to see what it would feel like.
I am not afraid of being alone, but it did seem daunting on a holiday. As an only child, I crave and require my solitude. As an enthusiastic extrovert, however, I never considered I would spend a holiday without defending a long legacy of Pictionary victories and Trivial Pursuit triumphs.

Previous Thanksgivings have entailed snow football on ISU’s Cadet Field, a snowball fight at a train crossing, midnight shopping, movies, charades, board games and slinking out of the kitchen while people talked politics. My turkey was so dry last year that I thought we’d need to administer the Heimlich on the four year old.
The few people I told of my solo plans had a wider a spectrum of emotions than I did as I considered a private meal of giving thanks. I ran into one friend in the turkey section whose husband’s entire family was joining them. She had shopping and to-do lists a mile long and was flitting like a ferret. When I told her I’d be dining alone, a look of pity started to form on her face and as she opened her mouth to speak, I jumped in with, wait. Stop. Listen.

Does the thought make you sad? Fearful? Are you thinking there’s room for me at your table? Are you wondering if I’d get along with your husband’s family? Do you suddenly think you must organize board games and neighborhood football on my behalf because the thought of your friend alone bothers you? She closed her mouth and nodded as a smirk developed. How my decision made her feel was entirely about her and her biases and very little about me.
I watched her pity shift slightly to envy as I described my plans for no alarm clock, a lingering cup of coffee with a dollop of maple-infused whipped cream to be used later for the pie, a bike ride, a bubble bath, Stove Top Stuffing and my very own pie. I love Stove Top, but in most of my social circles, I wouldn’t dare show up with this succulent side dish out of a box.

The morning began just as I had hoped. During my whipped cream and coffee, I was reminded of the Turkey Trot fun run. I was still in my pajamas with unkempt hair and unbrushed teeth when I texted a friend to see if she wanted to throw on a cow suit and cheer for the runners with me. Thanksgiving is a bad day to be a turkey but a great day to be a cow.

I returned home after cheering and as I replaced the cow suit with my biking spandex, I felt grateful that I didn’t have to clean the house for guests. Then I noticed the swirls of golden dog hair everywhere, and I couldn’t stand it. I was late meeting a friend for a bike ride because I was vacuuming dog hair under my bed. I’ve never vacuumed in spandex. Another first for the day.
As I was mountain biking and feeling grateful for the sun, the warmth, and the sweat, I started to second guess myself. I could have found a local organization offering meals and offered to help. As I imagined friends and acquaintances and their plans, I thought of some who were probably eating alone but likely with less intention than I. Guilt formed. I have a warm kitchen and large dining room table, and I could have given them the opportunity to be on my winning Pictionary team. Unbelievable. I was going to be alone and I still had holiday guilt.

If the point of Thanksgiving is to spend the day being thankful, I accomplished that. I went about summoning gratitude differently than many do and differently than I ever had before. It was a selfish decision. But gratitude and self reflection have to be selfish. It’s the resulting improvements and attitudes that can be less so. Thankfulness is about our individual experiences, preferences and the lens through which we view it all and it’s so personal.
It dawned on me this summer during a bike ride when I was overcome with gratitude for my healthy muscles and tendons, the sun, the road, the green hills and my confidence to step out of the house in spandex. I was happy. I was truly happy in that moment and have carried that revelation with me since. Happiness is found in thanksgiving alone.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for this Cattle-ist

It’s 8:38am on Thanksgiving morning. I check Facebook and see that two friends are on their way to the Turkey Trot fun run. I’VE GOT TO COW!!!  Quick!  I jump from my kitchen table and text Susie.

I’ve been wanting to get her in a cow suit all year because I want to write about her, but I hadn't planned on this at all. I was still in my jammies with unkept hair and unbrushed teeth.

This is another case of cow suit serendipity that Susie and I cowed on Thanksgiving. She has been the catalyst for some of my most wonderful, life-changing paths this past year.
I interruped her family's holiday breakfast, but she didn't miss a beef in agreeing to cow. 
Susie fell recently and has the most brilliant of black eyes.
Guess we'll have to cow again so you can see her smile that's in them.
There’s a book by Mitch Album called “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” I’ve not read the whole thing but was introduced to it when a friend read it for a book club.  From Wikipedia because I’m lazy and have things to do on the rest of my holiday:

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel by Mitch Albom. It follows the life and death of a maintenance man named Eddie. In a heroic attempt to save a little girl from being killed by an amusement park ride that is about to fall, Eddie is killed and sent to heaven, where he encounters five people who significantly impacted him while he was alive.
Susie is one of the people I imagine I would meet in heaven.

She is the chair of our city’s Human Relations Advisory Committee. She is a quiet, unassuming introvert who found herself leading the effort to pass Pocatello’s non-discrimination ordinance. She never intended to take on all that she did. She never imagined all of the change she would inspire. And, she likely never wants to do any of it again, but I’m so glad that she did what she did.
Because of Susie’s efforts and because of some of the harsh words that people hurled in her direction, I just couldn’t be quiet any more. I spoke candidly at a City Council meeting sharing bits of me that I never, ever wanted to in such a public forum. I’ll run around in a cow suit ANY day, but all this sharing of my vulnerable self…oy.

I was misquoted by our local newspaper after my public testimony and experienced one of those most frightening and angry waves of emotion I ever had. Being misunderstood is one of my greatest fears and that article generated a colossal collection of misunderstandings that I was compelled to address and correct.

If was after I contacted the paper’s editor, and he let me offer a rebuttal that I became a regular columnist. I had no idea I could write, let alone that people might want to read my moosings. Susie’s actions and presence in my life uncovered a well of words that I hope never runs dry.
As I was gargling with mouthwash and throwing the bin of cow suits and signs in the back of my truck this morning, I smiled. Ha! The signs! I've been thinking I need new ones, but they were perfect for today. You get tired and weary when you take your fight to the public stage. There were many a time we encouraged each other with these exact sentiments.

Before the Turkey Trotters trotted by.
(It' IS time for new signs. Any quippy ideas?)
This morning just hours before suiting up with Susie, I posted that I was thankful for finding my voice(s). Susie so greatly helped with that this past year and I am so grateful for her.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cows, not Campaigns

This is NOT a post about politics. This is a post about people.  I have been wanting to blog about the Mayor for a couple years since my first picture with him was taken.  The election is today. Today’s the day I better do it because no one knows what the polls will bring.

My facebook profile picture is taken from this. I chose it as my profile pic when I was the most mad at this guy. Well, maybe not the most mad because I think I’d settled down a bit. I wanted a cow pic and this was the best I could find. Ah…another rose among the thorns metaphor.
This picture was taken at a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach event at my company. I was the emcee for a 3-day event of high schoolers onsite to learn about all sorts of things STEM. Day 2 fell on Halloween so OF COURSE I DRESSED UP!!!!  OK. I might have dressed up even if it was the middle of July because the COW-culator is just cool.  Day 2 was also when local dignitaries (politicians, university and school district 25 officials, and technical business owners) were in attendance to check out the program.

Being in a cow suit around the suits and ties and dress pants is somethin’.
This picture was captured about 5 months before I would meet the Mayor again in person to discuss the City’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance.   I did not wear the cow suit, but I thought about it.

I wore black pants and a pink shirt for our private meeting in his office. The outfit captures the colors of cow and offers a splash of girly. I also wore my dress shoes with a heel. I intended to be taller than he for our firm handshake before talking. I had heard from another friend that she felt intimidated and almost bullied by him. (I realize this is hearsay, and I hesitate to add it, but it goes to my state of mind and also how I’ve continued to approach my relationship with this man and many other people as well.)
My meeting was nice. I was very candid with the mayor about some very, very personal and private experiences and I felt he listened with as kind and as understanding of an ear as he possibly could. His life experience and perspective are different than mine. Everyone’s on the council’s are. That’s why I finally had to force some conversation. I can tell ya….the Mayor likely knew darn well when we posed for that picture who he was standing next to. Does it look like he has an issue with it? With me?

The funny thing…this wasn’t my first picture with him while in a cow suit.  I’d cheered at a fun run at a local elementary school the year before with some friends and his kids were there running. He posed with the herd then.  
So…back to people and not politics. (well, not  a lot of politics) The Mayor and I disagreed on a number of elements of the ordinance particulars and I did not care for how he approached a number of things. But I like the guy. How do I reconcile this in my head? I was mad at him for things I heard him say and for how I saw him handle things. I was mad on the behalf of friends who relayed their experiences. What do I do with that anger? 

I compartmentalize my brain like a cow’s belly. That’s what I do. I also run. I bike. I put on the cow suit and I continue to live and just hope people continue to get to know one another and grow right along with me. I don’t like feeling angry. I don’t like holding on to that. 
My first handshake with him after the ordinance votes was in a cow suit.  Of course it was. He made the effort to cross the street and look me in the eye and shake my hand while he was in a fun run. And I didn’t think twice about extending mine.
I’ve teased him for months about cowing with me. For a recent $300,000 grant contest, city employees borrowed my suits for a video campaign called “Healthy Heifers of Po-Cow-tello and Chubbuck.” I almost got him in a suit then but …politics. Humph.  He said “his people” didn’t think it was a good idea.  I udderstand.

Well, this weekend...this happened. He was kicking off the start of Pocatello’s Just Cuz marathon when he saw our small herd cheering. He stopped and shook my hand and said, “Ya know what—I’ll come back after I start the race. And yes. I’ll put on a suit with you.” 
YESSSSS!!!!!  We exchanged a few innappropriate udders jokes and I betcha for about 8 minutes he forgot that he was in the middle of a cow crap fling fest that happens the weekend before an election.

I have considered politics. I think being the Mayor of Pocatello would be awesome. I love this place and all of its quirky beauty and imperfections.  But I would have a similar problem that I think this Mayor has: I’m a nice guy. (Gender aside, of course.)  I would struggle making decisions because I really want everyone to be happy. I want everyone to put on a cow suit and cheer for everyone who isn’t in one for whatever reason, and I just want everyone to get along.
That’s unrealistic, though. You have to make a decision. And today…I’m going to have to make one.





Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mockingbird, Moments and the Moo

Alright. Here's the tattoo from last week's post. Let me break it down.
The Mockingbird
That is the mockingbird from the cover of the copy of To Kill A Mockingbird I read my sophomore year of high school. It's the only book I've read more than once. Although, I would estimate that with all the years I spent in church listening to the readings and lessons from the Bible , it could almost count as having read it more than once. Who am I kidding? I tuned out the verses that had nothing to do with the stories and parables I learned from 1st - 6th grades. And, then I only paid attention when the words triggered a memory associated with cartoon illustrations.
One of my friends said this looked like one of the felt banners from our Lutheran elementary school. I'll be damned. It does. That was not my intent at all. At first I was a little disgusted with that, but hey--church and school and religion and God planted some pretty awesome seeds in me. Argh! Those are leaves--not seeds!
Back to the Mockingbird. Ya know--just go read it again. Or for the first time. You'd be glad you did.
I studied it at a time of coming into my own and the book is about that--both for the young characters in it and adults as well. There are themes of racial justice along with the coming of age. There is judgment that arises out of fear. And Scout. That full-of-sprite little imp. It’s easy to see my youthful self in her. From how she describes her school teacher as a "pretty little thing" and laments the gender roles while she plays with her brother and Dill to her curiosities and fears—I coulda been Scout. Yeah. We could have shared a skin. Maybe a cow suit.
The book touts integrity, grit, simplicity and adventure. I feel those richly when I embody them, and it stings like a tattoo needle when I wish I would have. When I know I should have.
I don't read. I am embarrassed to admit that. As I'm coming into my own as a writer there are only a handful of books and authors that could get a nod as an influence. Harper Lee almost stands alone. She never married, ya know.
If I'd have ever had a child, I would have named him Harper Wayne (after my dad) or her Harper Rose (after my mom's favorite Rosie the Riveter.) Out of every 100 times that I think about not having kids, I only tear up one of them. Maybe two.
The Moments
There is the fall on my wrist. I love fall. I love the colors and many memories of falls past centered around mountain biking, fresh starts with the beginning of school years and volleyball. I wore #9 in high school and college. Yep--9 leaves. It matches the couple of Mile 9 signs in my garage. (I hope the statute of limitations has lapsed on those.)
Although I love fall, I don't enjoy it fully because I worry about the impending winter. I wanted that reminder to enjoy the moment. The colors capture the leaves as they go from the brilliant greens, to sunny yellow, to vibrant orange and the fiery, daunting red before they die. The planner and control-freak in me is captured in the design's simplicity, but there is also "enjoy the moment and be spontaneous, you ninny" to be gleaned. I just wrote the following for my next column in the Idaho State Journal:
October is gone. I spend September dreading it and November missing it. My heart is never finished mountain biking for the season and Pocatello’s City Creek trails were particularly grand this year. While zipping down the trails, I want to stop the leaves from dying. I want to catch them mid-air and scoop them off the ground and put them back on their branches one by one. I fail to relish the colors and beauty in life’s cycle of the season because the dying in October distracts and saddens me.
Matthew Shepard died in October. Fifteen years ago, the 21 year old University of Wyoming college student was tied to a fence and beaten on a Wyoming prairie.
I spend many moments each fall reflecting on Matthew and the many like him. Us. It’s still weird to go ahead and use the first person. Matthew was killed during a beautiful season.
The Marks
I wanted the colors of the rainbow. I wanted blue wisps in the background but Blaze, the tattoo artist, suggested we not. Something about balance and contrast and worry I wouldn't be happy with it. I controlled the mini internal freak out nicely. I wanted the rainbow colors, dammit! All of them. How was I going to reconcile no blue?
It dawned on me later the next day. That deep ocean blue of her eyes. It's not with me anymore. The color's absence on my wrist highlights the beauty and color that once was but ... just isn't now. And it's okay. The tattoo is going to be okay.
There’s a wart on my wrist. On the mockingbird’s right wing just above the greenest leaf. I hadn’t realized it was there until the color took form and a different shade atop the wart took hold. It makes me a little crazy. If I could go back, I think I’d rotate the mockingbird about 2 millimeters. I would. But, I can’t. That’s probably good. I focus on imperfections too much—in myself and in others.  Not just any “others” but ones who are close to me. It’s amazingly disturbing actually.
A friend of mine (who needs to cow with me!!) sent me this quote recently from
The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you’ll see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. That is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they’re out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship.
Yeah. All that. All that lies on my little mockingbird’s purple, warted wing. He's got a bit of darkness in his tail but a bold brilliance in the rest of his color. Weird. I do think of it as a him. I really don't know what that's about. Should it be a "her"? Great. Now I'm going to focus on some gender questions with my mockingbird and wonder why the hell I have to be such a binary thinker. What great mental fodder for a fallish mountain bike ride. Wonder what Scout would think?