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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

All My Children

precocious six
freshman jock or senior stud
i love them all. yep.

Robert gave his Tuesday Talk at school today. Wow, am I proud.  Even though I don't really have a right to be.  People keep congratulating me, and all I can think to do is shrug modestly and say, "Thanks, I made him myself."

But I didn't, really.  No one did.  All three of my children are fascinating products of genes and environments and their very own marvelous spirits.  And I love them all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Barre None

O, prissy barre class
I scoffed at you; to my shame
Now I cannot walk.

"Seriously?" I said to myself, when my friend  Chanda suggested I try the latest trend in personal fitness at her studio, IM=X Pilates. I mean, I'm not one to brag, but I've got some good workout game, and the notion of standing in place and fluttering my arms and legs around didn't strike me as particularly worthwhile. I am a busy working mom, for heaven's sake. No time for tutus.

But I went anyway, because I actually love Pilates, and figured if Chanda suggested it, a barre workout had to have something going for it, if only the opportunity to feel like a pretty ballet dancer for a while.  (My last attempt at this, when I was about six, ended in ignominy and an irritated Frenchwoman suggesting I might be better suited to field hockey.)

Chanda led me and a group of about seven other woman - many of them impressively taut - through a series of leg bends and arm lifts that felt incredibly easy ... until they didn't.  About halfway through my IM=X barre class, my shoulders began to burn and my thighs started protesting in stereo. By the time we were done, I was drenched in sweat and whimpering for mercy. Two days later, my butt still barks every time I approach a set of stairs.  And this is good, because after eating more than my share of nummy Chocolat du Cali Bressan eggs over the recent holiday, I need my butt to do something other than strain the seams of my yoga pants.

So here's to another lesson learned over here at MamaKu's place: don't knock it 'til you've tried it.  Or it just might knock you back!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

what's in a name

may i recommend?
a post by alice bradley;
she's braver than I.

I wish we could give the biochemical imbalance currently called "depression" a new name. Because it's not, as someone once nervously told me when I felt I had to confide, "feeling a little blue." It's not a self-indulgence, a "pity party." It's certainly not an option. You can't "snap out of it" "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," or take any of the other well-meaning but ultimately painful advice offered by those who have no experience with it. Depression is an illness, with a physical cause, just like arthritis or eczema. Only society at large doesn't treat people with this particular disease with the same sympathy and support it offers sufferers with more physical symptoms.

If an Olympic athlete suddenly fell victim to an attack of lupus, for example, most people would feel pity and offer good wishes and hopes for a cure.  If that same athlete woke up one morning devoid of hope and literally unable to summon the will to walk to the starting line, the press would probably call him a spoiled brat, and he'd most likely lose his corporate sponsorship.

No Vons checker has ever asked me if I want to round up my grocery tab to support medical research to seek the cause and ultimately a cure for depression, the way they always want me to ante up for prostate cancer and muscular dystrophy. For myriad reasons, the very word "depression" makes people uncomfortable, so those who suffer from it tend to be stuck with some pretty negative labels.  ("Unstable," was my personal favorite, but I've heard quite a few.) So naturally those who suffer from it are reluctant to 'fess up ... which is really too bad on a number of levels, because we're not unstable or unreliable or any of those things; in fact, we depressives as a lot tend to be pretty smart and competent, kind of like whatever gene makes us occasionally feel unworthy of existence is karmically linked to some really good DNA that also makes us unusually bright and capable of great things. A disproportionate number of authors have suffered from depression; before their tragic self-inflicted ends people like Hemmingway and Plath created works that will live forever.

People like Alice Bradley (and J.K. Rowling, and other writers who have come clean to their public about having depression) offer hope, though.  By giving their disease a different name (Alice's might be offensive to some, but she pretty much sums it up) and framing it in metaphor, these  authors help others look past the stigma of depression and understand its very real physical effects. Anyone who shuddered when they first read about the faceless dementors of the "Harry Potter" series, hooded horrors with the power to suck a soul through a lipless kiss, has gotten a glimpse of what happens when depression strikes.

If greater understanding is possible, then acceptance should be, too. I just read Alice's latest post at, and I feel compelled to share, and to applaud her. She's a smart, multi-talented woman - and not afraid to name her Demon and face it, head on.  I'm nowhere near so brave.  I've kept my own depression on the down-low, partially because of the stigma and partially because I'm just as prejudiced as most people ... I've been ashamed.

But Alice has made me feel braver. And inspired me to be more openly honest about the genetic legacy that causes my brain to occasionally misfire. I have depression. I also manage it, I think, with admirable strength, and a lot of love and support from my family and a few close friends. There are times when this physical ailment prevents me from functioning at top capacity, but on the whole I am in pretty great shape. So there you have it. I have depression. I might wish it had a more impressive, multi-syllabic Latin medical name that didn't carry quite so many 19-th century "hysterical" connotations, but I guess I'm stuck with the name, just like I'm stuck with the disease.

And now you know.

Thanks, Alice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

fear but not loathing

the snake was there first
i had no right to freak out
but did anyway

Ok, first of all, a confession:  I am afraid of snakes.  Irationally so. I can't even look at a serpent wriggling across my TV screen without shuddering; on the rare occasion I encounter one in real life I morph into a whimpering lump of panic. The only other thing that sends the metallic taste of adrenalized terror into my mouth faster than coming face-to-face with a snake is the prospect of a world without Planned Parenthood ...  but since snakes are an integral and important part of the natural world and politicized misogynists are not, I have been gamely trying to overcome my horror of the former.

Today that fear came to a head ... literally. Because but for the iron nerves and quick thinking of my friend Leslie, this morning I would have stepped right smack into a rattlesnake's fangs, an act of stupidity that could have spelled the end of my days as MamaKu.  Heck, it could have meant the ends of my days, period.

Leslie is my hiking buddy.  Although she only moved to Santa Barbara from the East Coast a couple of years ago, she has taken to our backcountry like a bobcat, and knows more about our local trails than I do. (Which is saying something, because I love to hike and have been getting myself lost in the Santa Ynez Mountains since I was ten.) Leslie and I have kids the same age, and lots of  similar interests, and it's fun to share notes while we ramble around the foothills.  She, I will note, is not afraid of anything, at least not that I know of.

However, since I am a great big baby when it comes to things that slither, I am usually the one with the more paranoid eye on the trail when we go hiking. Leslie has two handsome and well trained Labs she watches while we hike and, frankly, I think we both figure the dogs make enough of a ruckus running ahead of us to scare off any reptiles that might be sunning themselves on the path. Certainly I wasn't thinking about snakes this morning, which was a particularly glorious one, cool and clear.  The recent and unusally heavy El Nino rains have rutted the familiar trails behind Montecito into strange, convoluted channels, and wild weeds and grasses have taken over many places where foot traffic usually keeps the trail barren.

I am used to looking for snakes in open spaces, on rocks, seeking the sun. I haven't really considered the provenance of the phrase "snake in the grass" because we really don't have that much grass in our chapparal-covered mountains. That's why I was so stunned when one minute I was walking along the newly-greened trail, chatting away, only to find myself  suddenly being shoved sideways so hard I almost fell over.

Imagine that - walking along, talking to a dear friend about something pleasant and personal when *WHAM* that same friend shoulder-checks you into the dirt.  I was about to protest - loudly -when Leslie hissed, with steely calm, "snake." She had an iron grip on my forearm and was looking at me with the kind of intensity one usually sees on reality shows when one of the lamer participants is about to do something really stupid and the experienced eventual winner needs to reign her in lest everyone on their team end up dead.

And that was when I saw it.  Extending across the path, semi-hidden in the six-inch grass.  The part I could see - which included the pointed head I had been about to step on - was about five feet long, dark brown, and faintly marked with the interlocking diamond pattern frighteningly familiar to anyone who has grown up in the environs of the Crotalus oreganus ... the Pacific rattlesnake.

I am embarrassed to admit that, at that point, I shrieked.  Loudly.  Piercingly.  Which was a stupid thing to do, because Leslie and I were still only about eighteen inches away from the animal, and as anybody who watches "Animal Planet" knows, an adult rattlesnake can cover that distance in a lightning second ... especially if you've made it mad.

Both Leslie and I jumped back, instinctively, and fortunately for us, the snake has not yet warmed up enough to take any agressive action.  It just stayed there, lying across the path, thick as my forearm, sluggish but potentially fatal for all that. Leslie shot me an irritated glance and ordered her curious dogs to back away. Skirting the snake, she walked a ways up the path and looked at it from a safe distance.

"Big," she commented.  "Can't even see the tail." We both knew if we could, the rattle would be disturbingly large.  Leslie, bless her, just shrugged and gave me one of the knowing little smiles she uses to such effect.  "Are you coming?" We still had another half a mile or so uphill to go, and Leslie started walking.  With my heart still pounding so wildly I couldn't catch my breath, I followed my friend's lead and, giving the rattler a wide berth, continued up the trail.

Leslie pretended not to notice when I leaned over and picked up one large rock ... and then another.  Not that I really believed the snake was going to follow us - I didn't - but still.  For the rest of the hike, I acted like a nervous herbivore, eyes darting everywhere and jumping everytime I saw a downed oak branch that might have possibly resembled a snake. I told Leslie about my irrational childhood fear.  She laughed and called me a chickensh-t, which was exactly what I needed to hear. She had carefully noted the spot on the trail where we had encountered the snake on the way up, and on the way down (as I cowered behind her) she reassured me it had moved on.

I put the rocks down before we got to the end of the trail. I know that any real nature lover who had seen me clutching sandstone weapons would have pegged me for a tourist ... worse, an idiot, because we hikers really have no right to pelt snakes with rocks or really, hurt them in any way. The backcountry is their home, and we are just vistors. It's up to us to look out for them when we're on their turf.

I can't say that my herpetic encounter this morning has cured me of my fear of snakes.  Heck, my heartrate is increasing even as I sit at my keyboard, recounting the story.  But I can say I'm grateful to one snake in particular for not biting me this morning, particularly as it would have been my fault if he or she had. I also owe Leslie a great deal of thanks, both for saving me from doing something dumb and reminding me that snakes deserve our respect and appreciation. 

One thing's for sure:  I won't tread so carelessly in the future.

Monday, April 11, 2011


you got my money.
now you pay me back with less.
how is this ok?

Dear Fed,

Let me see if I've got this right: You used my money (well, mine and some other people's, too) to bail out several financial institutions. As collateral, they offered up shares which at the time were equivalent to the dollar value of the money (mine and other people's) received. And now these institutions are paying me (and the other people) back with devalued shares ... not enough shares to equal the dollar value of the original bailout money but in the actual number of shares that were worth more at the time of the bailout. So by paying their debts back now, before their shares go back up, these institutions (which are loudly and proudly trumpeting how responsible they are by paying me-and-other-people) are getting free money. Mine and other people's money.

Am I right?

I know I'm supposed to be better with words than with numbers, but, really ... even a six-year-old can figure out this isn't fair. In fact, mine just did. And she's not to happy with you right now, Fed.

Sincerely yours, MamaKu

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On the Road Again

on the road again
dont know if im north or south
until i hear "eh."

It has been a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest, meeting people all across Oregon, Washington, and now, Canada.  I have forgotten how much I LOVE this part of the world. It looks green; it smells green; it IS green.  And everybody is so nice.  Not SoCal I'll-Kiss-You-On-The-Cheek-In-Public-Because-My-Highlights-Look-Really-Good-Compared-To-Yours pseudo-nice but honestly and truly kind and interested in each other.  It's hard to say who I love more, the sophisticated Portland Foodies, the Seattle-ites who really might just be saving the world, or the Canadians (bless their hearts) who take hospitality to levels I've never experienced anywhere else on this continent. I am sorta tired and really homesick for my family, but wrapping up the trip on an evening boat ride out of Granville Island with a couple who speak in that lovely, lilting Canadian way is a wonderful way to wrap things up ... eh?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hot Like Him

If you think he's hot
Chances are others do, too.
Roll with it, Girlfriend!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

The first time I clapped eyes on the man who would eventually become my husband, I (swear to God) literally couldn't breathe for about thirty seconds. Then I automatically assumed he must be married and/or gay and/or incredibly arrogant, because anyone that good-looking couldn't be just a nice, single straight guy hoping to settle down and raise a couple of kids.

Fortunately for me, I was wrong, and here I am, married to Mr. Breathtaking … who is, I must say, aging nicely. (The same gray hair and crinkly eyes that are making me look like my grandmother Harriet only add to his masculine appeal; go figure.)

Anyway, the Big Kahuna is a babe. I knew it then and I know it now, so it shouldn't come as a shocker when other women say as much … but it kind of does. I remember the first time it happened, shortly after we began dating. We were both teachers then, and BK was also coaching basketball. Besotted as I was (and even though I've never been a particular fan of the game) I loyally parked myself in the bleachers and cheered my heart out. ("Go, Panthers!") One night, seated amongst the other fans, I was watching my beloved in the process of getting booted off the court for arguing with a referee when the woman next to me sighed.

"He is so hot."

Puzzled, I looked over at Panther mom, whom I knew slightly. Was she talking about the ref? (The guy in black and white stripes was paunchy and bald, but hey, lots of people think that's cute.) She must have seen the question in my face, because she gestured toward the court and smiled … a little lasciviously, it seemed to me. "Mr. K." Then she scooted over and gave me a little poke in the ribs with her elbow. "You're a lucky woman, you know?"

Well, yes, I thought to myself … I certainly am. But it felt kind of awkward admitting as much to a near-stranger, as if she somehow had an inside track on my relationship and knew way more than she should, like just how much I lusted after this man and wanted to marry him and have his babies and spend the rest of my life basking in his presence …

Of course the Panther Mom sitting next to me knew nothing of the sort. She was just stating the obvious: the guy who was at that point striding back to the bench was a remarkable specimen of male pulchritude, put together in all the ways that define aesthetically pleasing, worthy of admiration and comment …

In short … hot.

It was a throwaway remark – a compliment, really – and I'm sure Mrs. Panther (who was starting to look more like a cougar to me) never gave a second thought to the interchange, but over the years I've had reason to recall that brief interaction more than a few times, because it happens … not all the time, to be sure … but people respond positively to the Big Kahuna's fine appearance. Sometimes it's just eyes following him appreciatively as he crosses a room. Less often someone will actually say something to me about him: Wow, your husband's a good-looking guy.

More often than not, I'm kind of flattered when a friend or acquaintance expresses a healthy appreciation of my man. It makes me feel validated, as if someone is admiring my taste in males much in the same way she might compliment my shoes. But sometimes – and it's hard to say exactly at what point–another woman's admiration for what's mine crosses the line from flattering to flustering.

I'm not talking about flirting with someone else's spouse here. That is another can of worms entirely, and rarely (if ever) acceptable, in my humble opinion. Noting the attractiveness of another person’s significant other is a far more subtle practice that can be perfectly acceptable … until it's not.

My friend Starshine, who writes a wonderful syndicated column about things like life and relationships in the modern world, puts it this way: "After years of marriage, it's healthy to glimpse your spouse through the fresh eyes of someone who doesn't, you know, rinse out his coffee cup four times a day. Like, 'Oh, yeah! He IS kind of studilicious. I forgot!' But when a gal pal presses the issue, I get suspicious and begin swatting words like 'swinger' and 'homewrecker' out of my head until I can change the subject."

So: while it's OK to give a girlfriend a compliment and fresh perspective on her life partner, it's not OK to belabor the point. Context is also important. My sister can make fun of my marriage all she wants (“What does he see in you, horseface???”) but she’s my sister, for heaven’s sake, and it’s her duty to taunt me. Plus, she’s got a perfectly decent spouse of her own, so I’m not threatened.

But family and friends are one thing. Leering at a coworker's guy when he comes by the office to drop off lunch, or insinuating attraction for a mere acquaintance? Not so much.

My colleague Barbie (who is herself a hottie of the highest order) is very comfortable with the fact that her husband, Ken, leaves a wake of swooning women pretty much everywhere he goes. She's used to it, and they are charmingly, goopily, in love, so it's no big deal. Until one of Ken's random admirers starts trying to get a little too close … to her.

“We were at a professional function one evening, and this woman looked right at me and said my husband was ‘just her type.’ That was weird. I could feel myself turning red.” On cue, Barbie starts to flush whenever she relates this story. “It still bugs me,” she admits.

So in the end … as with so much in life … navigating the waters around someone else’s marital good fortune comes down to my mother’s favorite dictum: appropriateness. Giving a girlfriend a verbal high-five for having landed a babe? Appropriate. As long as you say it, and then drop it. Complimenting a co-worker or acquaintance with a few thoughtful, well chosen words (“You two look terrific this evening; you’re such a striking couple!”) is also perfectly acceptable. Sidling up to a matched pair and implying you’d like to join in on the fun is most decidedly inappropriate …

… and so on. We’re all grownups, so it should be pretty easy to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and weigh the impacts of our actions. It’s nice to make other people feel good about themselves.

My friend Kay (who in addition to being the stereotypical Hot Librarian is also godmother to one of my children and one of my favorite people in the world) happens to be married to a Brit who makes Hugh Grant look like sloppy seconds. This is duly noted by a lot of people, especially as their two sons appear to be turning out just like dear old dad – gorgeous. No harm, no foul as far as Kay is concerned. She sent me the following from her iPhone in between intercepting tweenie text messages and putting the kibosh on dating until high school:

“Maybe it feels like a reflection on my excellent taste, or maybe it makes me feel like people are wondering if I have some well-hidden sexy side myself.

“That,” she wrote with an arch-smiley emoticon. “Doesn’t bother me at all.”