Friday, February 15, 2013

Walter Reed

I wrote this for my class, and thought I would share it with you.  I’m learning so much about the craft of writing in this particular session, and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s hard work!  The assignment was to begin with details using only the “voice of innocence” (no reflection) and move slowly to using the “voice of experience.”

It’s about a day in June of 2009 where I got to volunteer with American Crew at Walter Reed Medical Center; I did 17 haircuts that day on soldiers who had returned from the war and their families.  It was an incredible day, and I had no idea the influence it would have on me even years later.

I'm in the middle of the back row, with the red bandana.

Walter Reed

I unstuck my legs from the backseat like a fruit roll-up from its wrapper and joined my friends in our matching American Crew T-shirts with matching sweat stains on the sidewalk.  The double doors opened to Walter Reed Medical Center, and I watched a man in a wheelchair with both legs missing go inside, badly needing a haircut.

We walked into the un-air-conditioned lobby, the humidity in the air so thick I felt I could leave my mouth open and drink the air like a cup of hot tea.  My naturally curly hair was growing bigger by the minute; soon it would need its own zip code.  We found a stack of itchy, cloth covered hotel-meeting-style chairs, plastic covered carpet, and dim lighting like a seedy movie theater.  It was pretty much the worst-case scenario for doing short, military precision haircutting.

As I did one clipper cut after another all day long, I tried not to think about my brother, serving in Iraq even as I stood in that lobby.  I tried not to think like a wife…were the wives happy their husbands came home, or did they see the defeat in their eyes and wish for a different end?  I tried to resist the urge to call my husband, Sawan, just to hear his voice, to tell me that this wasn’t us, that he was whole.  I forced myself to focus on what amazing things they were doing at the hospital, on the stories of triumph we were hearing, on the hope I saw in some of their eyes.

It made me grateful for my life in a whole new way.  I had seen what I thought was the worst-case scenario, but then went home to my whole husband.  I posted on Facebook: “Thankful that I have a husband with two arms and two legs.”  For two months, I lived in a state of deep gratitude.  I stopped “sweating the small stuff,” unwilling to be crippled by the mundane of everyday life.

Two months later, Sawan died suddenly.  I lost my “better half.”  I realized that I should have been grateful for my own arms and legs, as my limbs felt as though they had been ripped from me, or maybe I had lost half of my cells out of the middle.  I found myself envying those soldiers, with their wounds outside for everyone to see.  My pain was not so obvious, even though I felt as helpless as they were. 

It took a long time to remember that some of them had hope.  That even though they were missing limbs, they had lived.  Eventually, I found their hope, their triumph, and I decided to live, too.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Anne Lamott posted this on Sunday:

We are all so pumped about Valentine's Day. You could cut the excitement around here with a knife.

My first plan was to celebrate by giving the kitty a flea dip, and overeating, but I think I've come up with a better idea.

Now, most of all us have some wonderful Valentine's Days over the years; or at least days that were not SO excruciating that we wanted to die. Which is at least astart. For instance, I had a wonderful man for seven years, who made me the most incredible little cards every year, but because he did not believe in climate science, or that there was any real difference between McCain and Obama, there were tiny tensions off and on the rest of the time.

I would estimate that approximately 17% of people enjoy Valentine's day. Mostly, women will be given boxes of chocolates that they don't want and can't resist, and will be really mad at themselves for inhaling. Many people will be filled with resentment, anxiety, and guilt at having forgotten, or having shown up late, or having accidentally been having affairs with other people. Many people will feel a sheet-metal sense of loneliness and rejection. They will be comparing their insides with other people's outsides, especially those happy valentines actors in advertisements and commercials.

Most of the day, except for the lucky few, will be a nightmare.

So let's start an Occupy Valentine's Day movement.

Let's begin with the premise that another word for Valentine's Day is Thursday. And on Thursday, as an act of radical self-care, we will celebrate the miracle that a few people love us SO much, that we can go on, and bear up, no matter what; that even though they know the darkest, most human and intimate and disgusting stuff about us, they still love us. In fact, they love us more and more through the years. This is so wild, and is really my only hope. It is what salvation looks like. A handful of friends is the reason my faith in God is so deep. Because they ARE love; they (along with the dogs) are my most obvious connection to divine love in this joint, the looks of love on their faces.

Let's celebrate that all you need is love; and that God is Love and love is God; that Love will heal ALL, although unfortunately, maybe not on our time--ie by Wednesday, right after lunch. But it will. When all is said and done, Love is sovereign on this earth. So let's go crazy with love on Thursday. If we want to be filled with loving feelings, all it takes is to do a bunch of loving things for others and ourselves. That's all it takes! You take the action, and the insight will follow--that all you need is love. Crazy. We don't need to buy or be given a single thing, and we don't need to eat anything we don't really want. We'll just give each other secret love gestures all day. Okay? You in?

I decided I was in.

I read this earlier in the week, and it made a huge difference in my attitude.  I was able to make the change from looking inward, thinking only of myself and how I was feeling to looking outward.  I decided to think about all of the people that love me well, and when I started thinking about that, I got such a deep sense of gratitude.  I thought about all the people that I love, and focused on loving them well, too.  I kept reminding myself that there’s another name for today.  Thursday.

But, Sawan asked me to marry him 6 years ago yesterday.  I’ve done mostly okay in the last 48 hours, but still, even after being widowed for 3 and a half years, even though I know that today is only Thursday, even with thinking a lot about how I can love others, on this particular Thursday, I really miss my husband.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oh, Dave. You're so funny.

The Tattered Cover is one of those rare things to still have around in this day and age…a bookstore.  Remember books?  You know, those paper things with words on them?  I’ve started reading the old-school variety rather than downloading on my Nook as much as possible.  I find that I read faster and retain information better when I have the tactile experience of holding the actual book in my hands and turning a page.

Anyway, back to the Tattered Cover…they host book signings and readings by authors frequently, and I added myself to their mailing list so that I wouldn’t miss any of my favorite authors when they came to town.  Last year, I got to meet one of my idols, Anne Lamott.

This week, I got to meet another favorite, Dave Barry.  I love Dave because he makes me laugh.  Out loud.  If you’ve never read any of his stuff, I highly recommend that you run, don’t walk, to the bookstore (or, go ahead and download it if you want).  If you’re looking for a place to start, Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys is my favorite, specifically the essay about Roger and Elaine.  It cracks me up every time I read it. 

My mom, Dave Barry, and me.  Even his haircut is hilarious.

I spent a couple of hours hanging out with my mom and sister, we laughed our heads off, I got to meet the author, have my photo taken with him, and when he took questions he answered mine and liked it the best of all the questions he got (I made that part up, but who here will dispute it?).  The best part was: it was free (I did buy the book, which wasn’t free, but still).  How’s that for awesome?  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How I saved a thousand dollars and got a fabulous new look for my dining room...

About a year ago, I saw a chair in the window of my favorite home store, Five Green Boxes, that’s on the same block as the salon where I work.  They have amazing painted shabby-chic furniture, and I own a few of their originals, but they’re a little on the expensive side.

A few years ago I tried to replicate the Five Green Boxes shabby-chic look on a dresser and nightstand after reading a few tutorials on-line, and while they turned out “cute”, they look to me like I did them myself.

I’ve done a few projects since then, and my skills have vastly improved.  So, when I saw the pink chair in the window, I decided I was up for a new challenge.  I “inherited” a nice Ethan Allen dining set a few years ago, but the chairs were in need of covering and really, they needed some love, so I thought that this might be a fun project.

I found a fabric remnant that I loved for $8, bought a pink paint to match, and left it in my storage area for a year.

Then, my mom took a class on Annie Sloan chalk painting about a month ago.  She pretty much wants to paint anything not moving, so after she had completed a few projects at her house, she informed me that we were going to do my dining set.  She knows me so well.  This is exactly how I operate:  I won’t ever get anything done without a little motivation so the promise of help, company and a completed project is exactly what I needed.

Annie Sloan doesn’t make hot pink chalk paint, plus, I had already bought the right shade in regular old Behr flat paint, so I did a little Pinterest research and found that I could make it into “chalk paint” by adding plaster of Paris.  We decided that we might as well try it.

We painted and sanded them, then Mom waxed them while I changed the fabric on the seats.  It took us the whole day on Friday and the evening on Saturday, but we got lots of good visiting in (don’t get me wrong, by the end of the evening on Saturday, we were over it) and got completely done. 

When I look at them, they look expensive, not like I did them myself (or asked my mom to do them for me).

The chairs that I saw cost around $200 per chair.  We figure we had spent about $50 in materials.  So, we saved me $1150, and I have a fabulous dining set!

I only painted the chairs, not the table, and, I’m embarrassed to admit the reason why:  I figure if I get married again, no man is going to let me have a hot pink dining set (mostly because Sawan never would have allowed that).  I had thought that I would only be a day and a half into painting the chairs a different color if I needed to change them, and that doing the table would make it too difficult, I’d be too invested, so I needed to keep it simple.  Here’s the thing:  I don’t have a prospect on the horizon, so I’m going to paint the table the way I want it, and enjoy my pink table.  Plus, as my friend Sondra said, as soon as I paint my table pink, Mr.Right is going to come along.  It’s a win-win.


Line up, Men!


At my not-for-long brown table.