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Kansas City MO 64131

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WRITE TO WRITE

Cindy Maddera

Cindy paused in her reading of an article in the New York Times entitled The Right Way to Follow Your Passion and opened the door to the wood stove supplying heat to the small cabin she was currently inhabiting. The coals were gray and when Cindy blew on them smoke and ash blew up into the stove. A few of the coals burned bright red as she blew, but most them just barely smoldered. She knew she needed to add more logs to the stove, but dreaded the trek out to the wood shed to collect the wood. Instead, she wrapped the wool blanket a little tighter around her body and snuggled down into the couch. She’d get that wood right after she finished reading about the difference between obsessive passion and harmonious passion. The differences seemed pretty clear as far as Cindy could tell. Obsessive passion leads you to do things for the accolades like more money, more trophies, more followers, more likes, just….more. Harmonious passion leads you to do things for the shear desire of doing them despite whether or not it makes you famous or rich or popular.

Cindy didn’t quite believe she did things out of obsessive passion. She generally liked taking pictures. So what if she checked all of the social media platforms constantly to see her notifications on recently ‘liked’ images. She wrote consistently on her blog because writing was therapy, though it didn’t exactly feel so therapeutic lately. Cindy felt that she didn’t have anything profound to say that didn’t seem like she was staring at her own belly button, picking out lint. Stale. That’s the word she would use to describe her writing of late. Bland and stale. She was all but writing about what she had for lunch that day and no one cares what she had for lunch. Cindy shivered despite the blanket wrapped around her body. She really should do something about getting the fire going in the wood stove. It would be dark in a few hours and the temperatures would continue to drop. Cindy knew she needed to collect enough fire wood so that she could stay comfortable through the night and not have to go back out later. She grumbled as she tossed the blanket aside and got up from the couch.

Cindy walked over to the door and put on her winter coat. She leaned back against the wall as she tugged her boots on one at a time. The problem, thought Cindy, was not her motivation for the things that she did. The problem was that she lacked passion. Her passion was like the mostly dead fire in the wood stove. It had been raging, with flames flickering hotly at some point in her life. As a teenager, she pushed programs for saving the environment and promoting safe sex with a loud voice. She made t-shirts and posters. She raised her fist in the air! Those were things that Cindy believed in sure, but she also had a fiery passionate belief that she could make the world a better place. In college, that passion shifted to keeping up with her classes and student government, but she really was more of a tag-along with the student government stuff. Cindy just wanted to be around those people and most of those people would end up being life long friends. Some of those people would influence later passions, even encourage them, but Cindy did question if she really had ever even had passions of her own or was once again tagging along on the passions of others.

Cindy stomped through the snow out to the wood shed, dragging the wood bucket behind her. The wind blew the hood of her coat back and her ears froze immediately. Her teeth chattered and she shook her head at her impulsive getaway. Cindy hated the cold and the snow, yet she’d booked herself into a remote cabin in the woods during winter. She should have booked herself into a remote yurt on a beach in Costa Rica. Next time she’d ignore price tags and splurge on the yurt and the beach. Cindy reached the wood shed and yanked the door open. Then she started to load up the wood carrier with logs. She knew not to over fill the bucket so that she could not drag it back to the cabin, but she also wanted to be sure to collect enough logs so that she would not have to stomp her way back out here again. Cindy tossed in three more logs and then tugged on the bucket. It slid towards her and she moved her mouth to the side in contemplation. “Two more logs.” She said out loud to the trees and whatever woodland creature was out in this horrid weather and tossed in two more logs. The bucket was too heavy, but Cindy put all of her weight into it and, struggling, pulled the bucket back across the yard to the cabin.

Cindy opened the cabin door and then grunted as she dragged the bucket up over the lip of the door frame and inside. She stomped the snow from her boots, but left her coat on as she started to put some logs into the wood stove. Passions waned, Cindy thought as she layered the logs in square pattern with what remained of the hot coals in the center of the logs. Passions waned and changed with age and that’s just what happened to her. Granted, Cindy had a strong feeling that most of that passion had faded out after certain life events that she was tired of dwelling on. She used the metal poker to shove the logs together to enclose the hot coals and then started to crumple up newspaper to cram into the spaces between the logs. It didn’t take long for Cindy’s fire to roar back to life. Satisfied, she stood and removed her coat. She picked up the paper and read “find your passion”. Easier said than done. Then Cindy read “Your passion should not come from the outside. It should come from within.” Now, if Cindy could only find that inner passion, she’d be all set.

Cindy settled herself back into her space on the couch. She set the New York Times aside in favor of the book she had brought along with her. The room was starting to warm up from the fire that was now crackling away in the wood stove. If anything, Cindy did know how to build a good fire.

THE LUCK OF

Cindy Maddera

I am still amazed and surprised by the amount of Irish pride that happens in this city. Saturday morning, as I drove up Broadway to get to a yoga class at the Kauffman Center, I could see that preparations were already under way to get the Sunday parade route ready. Westport was closed off to all vehicle traffic. Michael had given the Cabbage the choice of attending the Brookside Warmup Parade or the Actual St. Patrick’s Day parade. I think she chose wisely with the warmup parade because this one seems to be more kids and less drunk adults. The Brookside Neighborhood puts on what they call the St. Patrick’s Day Warm-up Parade. It’s close to the house with a decent amount of neighborhood street parking, but Holy Goats people. This thing was packed.

We parked our car several blocks away from the parade route and then walked, along with crowds of other families (so many strollers and wagons), to find a viewing spot. Our walk took us right past the parade staging area, giving us a preview of all the parade entries and I sort of stumbled along with my mouth agape because there were a lot of people in this parade. Now the main St. Patrick’s Day parade in KCMO is the second or third largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the country. This year’s Grand Marshal was Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family. I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of this parade. We’d taken the Cabbage to the Brookside parade years ago sort of by accident. We were in the area and thought ‘why not!?’ This year we planned for it and I still feel like we did not plan well. We didn’t get there early enough to establish a good spot. We didn’t take chairs or water. I did give the Cabbage a shopping bag for candy, but she tore it to pieces while frantically waiting for the next bit of candy to come flying her way. I had to duck into the Panera Bread and beg for a bag with handles.

But the weather was so nice.

The thing I like about the Brookside parade is how much it reminds me of the kind of parades we’d have in Collinsville. The floats, if there even is one, are not fancy. They are constructed of cardboard boxes carefully spray painted and taped down onto flat bed trailers. Those trailers are pulled by a reliable truck or a tractor. There are antique cars and a couple of drum line step groups. Decorated bicycles ride in groups and dogs are walked along with green leashes. The parade route is crowded with kids holding out bags and racing for candy that is being thrown out into the crowds. Then there are floats devoted to different Irish families and they all smile and wave and wish you a happy St. Patrick’s Day. At one time, in the late 1800s to early 1900s, Kansas City claimed the second largest population of Irish immigrants. Much of the landscape and roads in the downtown area of the city were built by Irish immigrants. We’ve all heard how St. Louis is the gateway to the west. Well, I think that statement is wrong because Kansas City was the staging ground for anyone headed out on the Santa Fe, California or Oregon trail. All of three of those trails started out right here.

Kansas City was a port of hope for something better than they had at home which was famine and depression.

I guess it’s interesting to me because it is so very culturally different from the events I grew up with. Livestock shows and rodeos. Stomp dances and Indian tacos (good god, I haven’t one of those in ages). Pioneer Days and Rooster Days. Here we have Irish Fest and Santacaligon Days. I moved here in 2011 and I am still surprised how much I really like living here. I won’t say ‘love’ because there’s no ocean and winters (particularly this last one) are horrible, but for the most part it’s been a pretty good place to stay put for a while.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

In the very early morning hours on Thursday, well before my alarm went off, I had a dream. Chris was in this dream. He just showed up and he was alive and well. The two of us were in Portland at one of their food truck halls. Someone placed a crepe with ice cream and fruit down on the table in front of us. I looked at Chris and asked “Did you order this?” He shook his head and replied “Nope.” So we looked around and noticed the people at the crepe place were waiving at us. They had sent it over to us for free. We smiled and waived back then dug into the crepe and we were talking and laughing as usual. Then I said “Wait. How is it that you are here?” Chris shrugged and said “I don’t know. I’m just here.” I nodded my head and said “That’s cool.” We took a few more bites from our crepe and then I said “Oh my gosh! We totally forgot to tell Todd that we were in Portland. I’ll text him and tell him to come meet us.” Chris said “Okay.” and then left to find the bathroom. Todd showed up while Chris was in the bathroom, so I said to Todd “Okay, listen. This is going to sound really weird, but Chris is here. He’s alive and everything and we sat here and ate on this crepe. He’s in the bathroom now, but I’m serious. Chris is really hear.” Except Chris never came back from the bathroom. So I was left trying to convince Todd that I had not completely lost my mind.

By the time I woke up, Todd still was not convinced that I hadn’t gone totally mental. Usually when I have dreams that involve Chris, I wake up crying or angry or both. This time I just woke up. I did want to text Todd and tell him “no I’m not crazy; Chris was here.” I refrained because I know that you should never send a text or email that obviously proves you are crazy. That way it can not be used against you later. Like in a court of law or something. This dream did not leave me feeling sad. Actually it was probably the best dream involving Chris that I have had since he died. I don’t remember what he said or if he actually really did say something, but it felt like he was talking and we were chatting about just regular stuff. Chris has never just chatted with me about regular stuff when I dream of him. He pretty much says nothing at all and the dreams are not pleasant. I also did not walk away from this dream and spend the rest of the day clouded in sadness. Though I did harbor a craving for crepes with some ice cream and fruit for the rest of the day.

On March 14, 1998 Chris and I said “I do” in front of my parents, Stephanie and a couple we knew from college. The ceremony took place at the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas. That was twenty one years ago. I like to think we had a good run while it lasted. Sure, his hoarding tendencies drove my insane and I could get really frustrated with his lack of action. I tried to be more understanding with the later because I know that most of his inaction was due to self esteem issues. We are our own worst critics. But for the most part, we listened to each other and were equally matched intellectually. We spoke the same language and felt comfortable saying what we meant to each other. Our marriage was such a stark contrast to the marriage I was exposed to growing up. It almost didn’t seem like we were married so much as we were best friends who happened to have sex with each other and lived together. So, I guess I’m glad I let Chris talk me into getting married.

I do miss him.

I’m not crazy. Chris was here.

PUT SOMETHING IN THIS SPACE

Cindy Maddera

I dragged Michael to the Kemper to see the Polly Apfelbaum exhibit that is currently on display there. She works with ceramics, textiles and paper and her pieces are vibrant with color. There were brightly woven rugs on the floor and marble like ceramic beads hanging in perfect rows from long strings. A single row of ceramic plates of dots hung along the wall. It took all of my will power to not run my fingers along the strings of beads like a harp. Michael and I stood inspecting a display of paper flowers held in place with white thumb tacks when we heard one of the museum attendants say “Sir, please do not walk on the rugs.” Michael and I turned to see some guy just walking around on one of the brightly woven rugs and both of us exclaimed “DUDE!” Then the guy realized he was walking on the art instillation and started hoping up and down and saying “oh no! oh God!” in a panic while still standing on the rug. Finally he jumped off but for the rest of the day at random times Michael and I would look at each other and one of us would say something like “Can you believe that guy walked on the rug?!?!?” or “What the Hell was wrong with that guy?!?!”

I am still a little shocked by it, really. There is something almost criminal in a lack of awareness of your surroundings while you are in an art museum.

The best part of that exhibit was the interactive area where you could build your own dot art work. There were buckets of dots in all sizes and colors. Some made of felt. Some made of corrugated paper. Some made from glitter paper. I sat for a good five minutes layer dots together while Michael flipped through some art books. It was totally one of those activities you give to a pre-schooler. There were no scissors or glue involved, only tape. There were no instructions, none really even required. It was just sit down and put some colored dots together and it was probably one of the most relaxing five minutes I’ve had in a very long time. The world around me completely shut down and disappeared while I worked. The room that had held a dozen or so people, emptied out, leaving me alone in focused silence. In this moment, I became aware of me. That sounds weird, but I think I can explain.

Unlike the guy who was unaware of his surroundings and ended up walking on the art, I am hyper aware of my surroundings. I am constantly scanning the area, trying to soak in every detail. I spend a lot of time and effort trying to stay out other people’s way, making myself small. I still feel bad for blocking the subway escalator in NYC in 2010 to get a picture of the tiled walls. I don’t want to make waves or ruffle feathers and at the same time, I want to see every possible detail of things around me. Part of it is for safety reasons, part of it is self preservation and part of it is fear of missing out on something. Actually, a lot of it comes down to fear. Fear of not seeing everything. This is what comes from sudden losses. You never for a moment forget that life can be short. As a result, I find myself wanting to absorb all of it without disturbing those around me. It is a tightrope walker’s life. Yet in those five minutes, I didn’t think of anything or anyone else. I didn’t rush myself or think I should stop because I think Michael is probably bored and wants to move on. I realized that I really do need to spend more time focusing inward.

I have reached a point where I want to make some changes in my life. This is much different than knowing I should make some changes. I actually seriously want to implement some new healthy stuff into my life. This is a different mentality then I have had for such adventures. More than half of the healthy things I already do, like getting on the elliptical machine for thirty minutes every day, are activities I do because I should do them. It’s good for my heart. I stand at my desk or go for mini walks because its good for my body. I do forearm plank because it’s good for my core. I don’t necessarily want to do these things, but I do them anyway. So why is it so hard for me to do something for myself that I actually want to do? It’s only hard if I decide that is hard.

I’m deciding to make it easy to do the things I want to do.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED AS AN ADULT

Cindy Maddera

Fancy cheese is not as expensive as you think it is.

Seriously. If I could pass on any words of wisdom these are some of those words. It took me years to conquer being intimidated by the cheese monger and it wasn’t until I was in my mid thirties before I made my first timid inquiry about cheese. I wanted something nice to go in my potato soup but I didn’t want to break the bank. This is when I learned that I could choose the amount of cheese I was buying, thus controlling the amount of money I was spending. I realize that many of you probably knew this all along. I didn’t because I have always been pinching pennies, which means my grocery lists are streamlined. When you look over at the fancy cheese area, you see all kinds of price tags sticking up like flags. These prices always seem too exorbitant for my budget. Those little flaggy price tags are prices per pound. You do not need a pound of fancy cheese to make whatever it is you want to make. This means you will be paying less than whatever the price flag says. Do not be sticker shocked by cheese.

Another bit of wisdom that I could pass along is that mushrooms do not weigh anything.

This one is a recent discovery. We were in Whole Foods on Saturday to pick out some fish to go with our risotto that was planned for our dinner and to rummage through the cheese under five dollar bin (see? cheap fancy cheese). Along the way to the seafood section, I noticed a small crate of morrel mushrooms. They were thirty dollars a pound. I gasped at the price tag, but then I picked up one of the mushrooms. Michael noticed me holding the morrel with an inquisitive look on my face and I said to him “How much do you think this mushroom weighs?” Michael grabbed a handful of mushrooms and headed to the scale. Those six or so mushrooms weighed about 0.06 lbs. We picked out a dozen or so mushrooms that turned out to be about four dollars and was plenty of mushrooms to add to our risotto. Neither one of us had eaten morrels before because they were too expensive and about the only place you could get them was at a farmers market; if you were lucky to find that one vender who had them.

That’s it. That is about all of the wisdom I can pass on to a young person. Do not be intimidated by the prices on fancy cheeses and mushrooms do not weigh anything. Okay. I might have a few more tidbits like know how to pay your bills and manage your finances. It is not necessarily a bad idea to have an end of life plan because life is unpredictable. The unpredictability of life makes every day kind of important. College isn’t for everyone, but you should still have a career plan. Do not be afraid to spend money on good shoes that are good for your feet. Always pack at least one sweater because the weather is just as unpredictable as life.

But I really think you’re going to get the most value from the cheese and mushroom advice.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

IMG_5886.JPG

There is a Simpson’s episode called “Lost Our Lisa” where Lisa defies her mother by trying to take the bus to the museum to see the Orb of Isis. She gets lost and then she calls her dad for help. Lisa calls him because she knows that he will be on her side, mostly because Homer is always getting himself into some kind of trouble. What follows is a madcap adventure where Homer tries to get to Lisa, which he does, but by the time Lisa is safe and sound, the museum has closed. It was the last day for the exhibit and Lisa missed it. So, Homer breaks into the museum so Lisa can see the exhibit. They have the whole exhibit to themselves and get to see something that no one else has ever seen. One of the greatest things about that episode is how Lisa experienced things she never would have had a chance to experience if it hadn’t been for Homer. I can say the same when it comes to my Dad. He was the adventure seeker, the rule breaker, the guy who step on the other side of the velvet rope to get closer. Dad was my Homer and I was his little Lisa.

My Dad would be eighty years old today. At first I thought “that can’t be right!” but he was born in 1939. So yeah, my Dad would have been eighty today. There has been no one who could bring lightness to my seriousness the way my Dad could. Not even Chris. Dad just had a way. He taught me to seek out those adventures on occasion. Sometimes it’s okay to break a few rules. Dad used to put his tray table down as soon as we reached altitude and I would always get onto him. I would tell him that it was too soon and it made him look too eager for whatever snack the attendants were going to bring us. He found it hilarious and whenever we would fly he would ask me if it was okay to put his table down. It became a great joke, but you know what? It was a lesson in doing what you want, when you want and not caring what anyone around you thought about it.

Here is what I believe. I believe that if Dad’s mind hadn’t flown the coop, he’d still be putzing around breaking rules and seeking out new adventures. Wow, and typing that sentence made me well up a bit. I did not expect that. In yoga class on Wednesday, Kelly talked about Mercury being retrograde and usually I roll my eyes at this kind of talk. Except this time Kelly said something about letting go of the emotions that will bubble up during this time of retrograde. It is a time for letting go of some shit and I thought about some shit that I was hanging on to in regards to my Dad. I have been holding on to some resentment and anger. Not for Dad, but for circumstances surrounding his last year with us. I have also been holding on to some guilt for not doing more to intervene to change those circumstances. My Dad taught me what it means to be unabashedly authentic. Those are the things I should be holding on to. Not the resentment or anger or guilt.

I am thankful for every hot air balloon chased, every tray table that was set down early, and every moment of lightness and silliness.

CULTIVATION

Cindy Maddera

Years ago I wrote up a life list and one of the things on that list was to grow a vegetable garden. The first year I did this, I grew Christmas beans, tomatoes, spinach, basil, squash and cantaloupe. The spinach failed in the hot Oklahoma sun. The squash succumbed to squash beetles. We harvested enough Christmas beans for us to each have half a cup of cooked beans. Basil did well. Tomatoes did okay. The cantaloupe seeds that we planted came from the inside of a store bought cantaloupe Chris’s mom was eating. She spit out a seed and said “Can we plant these?” I shrugged and replied “I don’t see why not.” Those seeds produced two softball sized cantaloupe that were the sweetest cantaloupes I have ever tasted. It was like they were made of straight up sugar. That summer we cultivated more than a vegetable garden. We grew joy and surprises and sweetness. We grew wonder and amazement. Every thing that sprouted from the dirt was met with astonishment. “Oh my God! Look what we have grown!?!?!” We couldn’t believe it. We could not believe what we had done.

I gave up on the vegetable garden last year. Michael pulled up all of the boxes and a friend from work took them. He set them up in his backyard for his little girls to plant seeds in and I could not be more pleased with this. Our gardening days had run it’s course and no longer cultivated the wonderment and joy as it had in previous years. It is not actually environmentally friendly to grow a garden if you are not all that good at growing things. The money you spend on a not so fruitful vegetable garden in your backyard could be better spent supporting local farmers and so we turned our focus to other projects, other adventures. Occasionally I think about scattering lettuce and kale seeds all around the outside of the house so I don’t have to use the weed eater, but I am considering creating a couple of small potted gardens and building an outdoor space to gather with friends. I once read some great advice for creating an outdoor space on a budget. The designer said to just put down an outside area rug and arrange outdoor furniture on it. That’s simple enough.

Those are ideas for another time, when the weather is a bit more cooperative.

Right now, I am thinking of cultivating a new garden. This garden will not grow kale or squash or beans. Neither will it be an ornamental garden filled with hydrangeas and peonies. This new garden will not be delegated to six boxes out in the backyard either. It will be bigger than that. I want to cultivate a space that grows creativity and peace and contentment. I want to cultivate the joy, surprises and sweetness that first garden brought us but I want to do it without actually planting a seed into dirt. I think this is possible. I believe it is possible to recapture all of those things above but in a different way. There will be a section for photography, a section for words. There will be a corner devoted to my yoga practice and a corner within a corner devoted to meditation. I think I will add in a cooking section and a spot for just laying still with a puppy on my lap.

Wait. I think already have this garden. It just needs some weeding and a little bit of care.

LET'S WALK

Cindy Maddera

Six years ago, Terry said “Hey! Come do the AIDS Walk Open with us!” The AIDS Walk Open is a large charity event for the AIDS Walk of Kansas City. Combine mini golf with a pub crawl and some golf teams in crazy costumes and that’s the Open. There’s day drinking and laughter and ridiculousness and I am usually in bed by nine o’clock every time I participate. This was also true for the year I volunteered. Most of us skipped out on the Open last year. No one was in the mood for it, but this year Bradley decided to coral all the cats into teams for this year. Another fun fact? Six years ago was my first Open. That’s when I met Greg and Bradley. It was also their first Open. Out of our three teams on Saturday, only me, Greg and Bradley had ever participated in the AIDS Walk Open before.

Passing torches.

We had a really great time. Wilson brought a pink bucket filled with dollar store crap, including dollar store fingernail polish. My nails are still a light shade of pink. I’m not used to having painted nails and every time I glance at them I do a double take. Then I remember, “Oh yeah… I painted my nails pink while we waited for our turn at Sidestreet Bar.” We made it to eight out of eleven bars. You need six to qualify for prizes. The people who win every year are the ones who buy mulligans to reduce their points. I don’t have that kind of money. Particularly this year. Wow, was I not good at mini golf. It seems pretty straight forward. Hit ball into hole. One of those mini golf courses was covered in cue balls. There was no straight forward. I could have spent a fortune on mulligans.

Bistro 303 ended up being our last stop before heading over to Missie B’s for the closing ceremony. Belinda was in charge of the course there and she said “you’re helping with the memorial flags this year right?” By this point I had been drinking a lot of gin and I enthusiastically nodded my head and replied “YES!” I am not one of those people who gets so drunk that they can’t remember what happened while they were drinking. So it looks like I am helping out with the Memorial Team for the AIDS Walk this year. This morning I went over and activated my donation page and updated my picture. I have until April 27th to beg for donations. If you feel like giving to this great cause, you may donate to my donation page here. You can also get to that page by going to Linky-links and then charities in the navigation bar at the top of my website. People who donate will get a 4x6 print of their choosing from the photos posted in the photography section of my website.

Thank you!

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Two nights ago we lost our house to a flood and a fire. In all the chaos, I ended up hit in the head and left in a coma for six months (yes, time is weird and relative). When I finally came too, I was all alone in the hospital. I pulled out my IV and rummaged around for some clothes. Then I walked back to where our house used to be. Seeing that there was no house, I continued walking until I got to a dumpy motel. Michael was living there some woman he was now sleeping with and all of our family members. Everybody looked rough with worn clothes and scraggly hair. I looked around at the squalor they were now living in and said “what is going on?!?” That’s when Michael, who was naked in bed with that woman I mentioned before, noticed me standing in the doorway. He sat up in surprise, sputtering to get a sentence out. I grabbed the woman by her hair and dragged her out of the bed and then kicked her. “Get the fuck out!” I spit in her face. Then Michael started rambling about insurance money and being broke. He was high or drunk, probably both. I just shook my head at him and then turned around and walked out.

And here I sit now in the light of day and reality (?) wondering what on Earth is going on.

My nights for the past few weeks have been filled with visions of nonsense. Someone said that this probably means I’m not sleeping well at night. That time between 9:30 PM and 1:00 AM is fantastic. I sleep so soundly that when I wake up sometime around one, I think it’s actually time to get up. Except I don’t because that sounds like a dumb idea. Instead I toss and turn, drifting in and out of sleep until around 4:30 ish. This week, I’ve just said “screw it” and peeled my body out of bed at 4:30 AM to get on my yoga mat. These morning practices have not been anything spectacular or fancy. I have just gotten on my mat and moved. Tuesday morning I ended my practice, curled up around the dog on my yoga mat. We lay there wrapped up in a blanket, still and quiet with Josephine’s toys scattered randomly around us. I could hear Michael snoring from his room. I could hear the creek and crack of the house shifting in the cold. Then I heard an owl hooting from somewhere in our front yard.

I heard that owl again this morning.

The hippy dippy part of me knows that these crazy night visions and the odd sleep behavior have to do with the Spring Equinox, which is just around the corner. It is my body preparing for the shifting of time. The sun is already staying out a little bit longer and I leave the house for work in the mornings in daylight instead of the dark of predawn. There is something a little bit uncomfortable in the shift because it is a slow transition. Particularly this year when we are predicted to get three to six inches of snow on Sunday. I always imagine this transition to be similar to the transition between human and werewolf. The movies always portray it so violently and painful. Think of the strain the body would go through to make such a dramatic molecular change, but then slow that molecular change down from seconds to days. I am slowely transitioning into a werewolf.

Or, if I want to be kind to myself, I am transition back into a human.

There is something about being awake while most of the rest of the world is sleeping. It is the time of morning covered in whispers and hushes. In the mist of the whispers and hushes, there is something calming and still. It is not a terrible time of day to be awake. It just sounds like a terrible time to be awake. When I was really little, I went through a phase where I would wake up in the middle of the night. I would get out of bed and quietly shut my bedroom door. Then I would turn on my light and quietly play with my toys in the middle of my bedroom floor. I don’t know how long this went on before I was finally discovered. My Mom opened the door to find me with the light on, playing. She made me go back to bed and turned the light out. I don’t remember getting up again after that, but I do remember that calming stillness. It must be something I just crave on occasion.

I am thankful for the hoot of an owl.

ATTENTION

Cindy Maddera

I have been reading Michelle Obama’s book for three months. I finally finished it this week, but it took me forever. It was not a difficult read or a boring read. I just lacked the attention span for reading anything more than a paragraph. I should say ‘lack’. It took me a whole day to read an article on Split-Sex animals in the science section of the New York Times. Sure, there were times I was actually doing my job, but one article should only take a few minutes to get through. I am distracted easily and unable to focus on just one thing. If I’m staring at the blinking cursor for more than a minute while trying to write anything, I’m off scrolling through the list of “people I might know” on Facebook and saying to myself “How do I know that person?” It is a very inefficient use of my time. I even double booked myself for events on Saturday because I can’t pay attention to dates.

I told Dr. Mary all of this last night and she did that thing that therapists do and asked me “why do you think you think that is?” Except when I was unable to answer that question because I was suddenly distracted by the fact that her orchid that sits on the windowsill is still without blooms, she answered it for me. She said “It seems to me like you’ve entered this year differently than most. You usually have an agenda for the year, like your picture a day or a task of some sorts. But you didn’t make a plan for this year.” So…this is what I look like without a plan or an agenda. My whole life has been about plans and agendas. As a child, I knew what I was doing down to the minute of every day. Piano/music lessons on Mondays. 4-H on Tuesdays. Wednesday was church and youth choir. Dance on Thursdays. Fridays were free days until I started marching band. Most Saturdays were planned out as well with contests and 4-H events. My first year of college, I tried to convince my advisor to let me take sixteen hours of classes. I had a plan. He refused to let me take a class at lunch time. He said “You’ll need to eat lunch.” He had a different plan.

Even after college and graduate school, I mapped out my days on a notepad that would eventually get transferred to a lab notebook. I always had a plan. I have always had some sort of agenda. And it feels really odd to be without either of those things. I read something in Yoga Journal once that said “You should practice your least favorite yoga poses regularly.” I am always encouraging students to take their practice off of their mat and apply it to their daily lives. Except I’m thinking about the physical aspects of the practice. How we stand. How we sit. How we tend to cross our arms in front. I forget to consider the mental side of the practice. Maybe being without a plan is the mental yoga pose that is my least favorite pose and since I have never really practiced it at all, it is the hardest pose and I hate it. I don’t really hate it. I am just not comfortable in this pose of no-plan-asana. Two months into it kind of feels like holding forearm plank for three minutes.

This is what I have noticed. When I do my usual Saturday routine of breakfast and writing in the Fortune Cookie journal, I end up writing so much that I fill up the page and the margins. Most of the time I haven’t even gotten to the point of the story before I have run out of room. These are mornings that I don’t get my phone out of my bag or have a computer in front my face. I am without my usual convenient distractions and I end up spinning a yarn with such focus that my mug of coffee goes cold. What if plans and agendas are also convenient distractions that I am just so accustomed to that I don’t see them as distractions? Maybe I am learning something about convenient distractions. Maybe I am learning to settle into something other than the couch. Holding forearm plank for thirty seconds used to be torture. The same was true for holding it for an added thirty seconds. Building up to two minutes was work, but my body got used to it. That’s what I need to do. I need to get used to being without an agenda or a plan.

Then maybe no-plan-asana will get to be a bit more comfortable.

IMPULSIVE

Cindy Maddera

Saturday, after filling up a page of the Fortune Cookie Diary, I headed out to do the weekly food gathering. Since I was still too early for Aldi (they really should open before 9 AM on Saturdays), I drove out my way to the only health food store that carries mung beans in the bulk bins. One of the store clerks realized I was buying mung beans and asked me about this new bottle of vegan egg substitute they’d just received. Mung beans are on the ingredients list. I’d only had one cup of coffee and I struggled to clean off the cobwebs around my brain to give this guy an answer. All I could come up with is that the mung beans are the protein source, which this is true. But then the guy asked “Why would they use that for their protein source?” and I was all “ughhh…they wanted too?” The scientific answer is that the mung bean mimics the same reaction that happens to egg molecules when heated, giving that pretty yellow fluffy egg look.

None of this is important.

I went to Aldi and got most of the things on our list. Then I went to Trader Joes to get the rest of the stuff on our list and that’s where I saw Eric and decided that he should come home with me. Eric is a fern and I told him that he probably has six months before I kill him. So Eric, enjoy your new view! This impulse buy ended up being the cheapest impulse purchase of the day. I took Eric home and Michael helped me unload the groceries. He praised my shopping skills because I had stayed within the grocery budget, even with the purchase of Eric. Then Michael and I went to the Nelson to catch the Napoleon exhibit before it ends next week. We learned a lot about art and propaganda and exile. We saw Napoleon’s hat! There was also a chamber pot that was supposed to be his, but the English Council said that the designs on the pot were too fancy to send to a man in exile. Then I dragged Michael to the other side of the museum to show him John the Baptist’s finger. This will never get old. If you want to see John the Baptist’s supposed finger bone, come visit me. I will be more than happy to take you to this holy relic.

Later in the day, Michael had an eye appointment at a place on the Plaza that happens to be right next to Tiffany’s. We had to walk by the front door to Tiffany’s and I pretended to reach for the door. Michael said “Don’t even think about it.” So I stopped pretending to reach for the door and just opened the door and went inside. Tiffany’s is the mostly lovely store to visit and it had been a while since I’d been in to look at the scooter charm. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since Tiffany’s released the charm. I go in on occasion and look at the charm. This time though, I did not see the charm when I first looked around the charm section. A super sweet employee asked if I was looking for something. I told him that I was looking for the scooter charm. He gave me a look of doubt, but then I saw the scooter charm on a display bracelet. The super sweet employee said that this particular charm is now discontinued. I was holding the last one in the store in the palm of my hand. Michael was talking with another employee and I practically yelled across the room at him “Can I have it?!?” Then the super sweet employee asked “Can she have it?!?” And Michael said “Buy it!”

I still don’t know how I’m going to wear it. Right now it is temporarily riding along with my wedding rings. Eventually I will get a bracelet that fits my wrist well enough to not slide around too much and I will send the bracelet and charm off to be soldered onto the bracelet. But as my friend Elizabeth said, that scooter charm was made for me. It was an impulse buy at least two years in the making.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

There is a small, yet heavy, package sitting on my cedar chest in the dining room. That box contains a new batter for my scooter. Michael ordered it ages ago when he realized that my old battery would no longer hold a charge. He asked me when was the last time I replaced that battery and I said “never.” My scooter is almost eleven years old. We haven’t even bothered to open the box of the new battery. It just sits there, very much like a doorstop, and reminds me that eventually it is going to stop snowing and the temperatures are going to become tolerable. I told Michael the other day that I was going to ride my scooter so dang much, that I was even going to ride it in the rain. I got caught in the rain while riding my scooter more times last year than I ever have since buying it. At this point, I’d welcome any scooter ride, rain or shine.

Winter time Thankful Fridays tend to center around hope. It is the time of year where I have to dig the deepest to find those little things that give me some kind of hope that I will make it through another winter. Typing that makes me realize that finding hope and really believing in that hope has become a difficult thing for me to do. There have been too many times when hope has lead to great disappointment. There have been too many times when hope had to be abandoned to make room for the acceptance of loss. The concept of hope for me has become almost mythical. It is believing in fairies and unicorns and even moose. Yet it is hope of something better that keeps us going and I can be passive in my hope or active. Right now, I am in the process of actively fueling hope. I’m planning museum trips. I’m getting on my mat. I’m wearing my favorite blue boots that I can only wear in the winter time because they keep my feet super toasty.

I don’t need hope to know that winter will eventually end. Michael just bought a snow blower, so that is probably a good sign that we’ve seen the last of the snow. I do need to hope for something better to keep me moving through these last grueling weeks of winter though. I am thankful for the things in my life that fuel that hope like those brief moments of sunshine, the break between snow storms, and that box holding a new scooter battery.

WHITE

Cindy Maddera

We received the results of my mother’s DNA test months ago. It came back saying that my Mom’s DNA is 79% England, Wales and Northern European. The other 21% is from Ireland and Scotland. There is not even a smidgen of Native American or African American. My Mom’s side of the family is white and they have been in the Americas since the 1700s. They were part the group of European settlers that ended up in the Mississippi and Louisiana areas. I am sure that means that at some point, I have some ancestors that fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War and it is possible that I had some ancestors that owned another human being or beings. This is information I suspected before doing any research on the family tree just because of how entrenched into Mississippi my family on both sides seems to be.

Sometimes genetics is not the only thing that can be passed down the generations. Racism, for instance, is a learned behavior that can pass along the generations. I had some family members tell me some pretty racist things whenever we visited Mississippi, things that they were taught by their parents, which their parents learned from their parents and so on. I had more than one cousin tell me how lucky I was that I didn’t have to go to school with “any black kids.” I remember looking at them in confusion because I had no idea why that made me ‘lucky’. I still don’t know why that made me lucky. If anything, the lack of diversity in my childhood was a hinderance and I’ve been trying to make up for it in my adulthood. Whenever I have an African American person show up for one of my yoga classes, I get ridiculously over friendly. “Hi! Welcome! I’m so glad you you came to this class!” I go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable, which means I am probably making them uncomfortable. I do the same thing at work, particularly when I cross paths with an African American women. The other day, I passed a young African American women in the hall and I was all “Hi!” and even waved at her like she was my best friend. We do not know each other.

Part of it is that I am desperately trying to convince this population of people that I am on their side. I’m one of the good guys. I am begging them to please do not be afraid of me; I am not dangerous. The other part of me is hoping that I am being encouraging. I want diversity in these white saturated areas because science and yoga are for everyone and I am desperately trying to make amends for my ancestors. I know that my behavior is a symptom of growing up surrounded by white, but I am trying really hard to show that the cycle of passing down racism can be broken. Because every day there is a news story about some white person doing something hateful and racist. White Nationalism is now a thing. Radio hosts are encouraging lynching raids. An uncomfortably large number of white people think that racism is A-okay.

Not this white person.

It is useless to apologize for my whiteness. I can’t help genetics. But I can make my life more diverse and welcoming. I can be a shield against the hatefulness. I can break cycles.

HITTING THE PELVIC FLOOR

Cindy Maddera

I attended an anatomy of yoga workshop over the weekend. Really, it turned out to be mostly a review for me. The studio that hosted the workshop also has a yoga teacher training. I was more or less just crashing one of these teacher training sessions. It was kind of cute to see all these new, fresh faced, yoga students who were just learning that psoas starts with the letter ‘p’. It was nice to hear someone teaching about applying anatomy to yoga to benefit the yoga student without causing injury. I feel like the concept of adapting the yoga pose to the individual body as opposed to forcing a body into the yoga pose, a concept I learned in teacher training years ago, is just now becoming a more popular idea in mainstream yoga. I did walk away from this workshop with two insights.

One? I undervalue myself as a yoga teacher.

The second insight was about the pelvic floor.

Raise your hand if know what the pelvic floor is and how to engage that pelvic floor.

I have known the anatomy of the pelvic floor since Anatomy and Physiology class in undergrad. If you think about your pelvis as a bowl, the pelvic floor consists of muscles that line the bottom of that bowl. They keep your guts from falling out when you stand up. They also give us control over the bladder and bowls. A weak or too tight pelvic floor can lead to incontinence. This group of muscles is part of the core muscles, which help the diaphragm expand and contract while breathing. I cannot tell you how many yoga classes I have been in where a teacher has said “engage your pelvic floor”. Another phrase I have heard from a teacher is “zip it all up!” None of these phrases have been helpful. I just shrug and squeeze all the holes between my legs as tight as I can muster. Jess once told me a story about a girl she went skiing with. They were on the ski lift and the girl looked down and then quickly back up and said “That made my tootie draw up!” That’s what I do when ever I am cued to ‘zip it all up’ or ‘engage the pelvic floor’. I draw up my tootie.

This is not engaging the pelvic floor. I mean, it kind of is, but not really, but this was the only thing I knew to do because I had no idea what my pelvic floor muscles even felt like when engaged. There’s an exercise I learned in training that builds arches in the feet. It’s basically lifting the toes, but part of it is to leave the big toe and the pinky toe down and just lift the three middle toes. I can almost picture some your faces while reading that because I made the same face when I was asked to do it. I had no idea what muscles to engage to just lift the three middle toes. I had to reach down and physically lift those toes with my hand so I could create a muscle memory for the action. I can’t really do that with the pelvic floor. Well, I can’t really do that in public any way.

The teacher on Saturday had us do an exercise that was meant to teach us about our pelvic floor muscles. She had us all press back into a wide legged child’s pose and on the inhale she told us to “feel the space between our legs expand and feel it contract” on the exhale. All the lights came on inside my brain at that same time. The pelvic floor and the diaphragm work together. The pelvic floor pulls down on the inhale (that expanding feeling) and then moves back up with the exhale. That’s an involuntary movement, but once you are aware of that movement you can do it voluntarily.

Try it.

You might be wondering why you would want to be aware of these muscles. What’s the point of voluntarily contracting the pelvic floor? In yoga, the pelvic floor is what helps give you lift. Any time you hear a teacher say something like “lift the body up” it is the pelvic floor that helps you do this. Those seated poses where you lift your whole body up off the mat? Engaging the pelvic floor helps you do that. But also, being aware of how those muscles feel allows you to have better knowledge of how to stretch those muscles. We want strong pelvic floors that can also relax a little at times so we don’t end up needing diapers.

This anatomy workshop was worth the money just for the way she cued us to breathe in child’s pose.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

We are expecting around five and half inches of snow over the weekend. It is snowing as I type this. And all I can think about is how this is going to mess up my routine. Do I go fight the traffic and people after work to do our grocery shopping? Or do I wait until the morning and have to unbury my car and dig my way out of the driveway? Do I just force us all to eat rice and beans all weekend? What about that yoga workshop I’ve already paid money to attend? Will they cancel it? School closings started to scroll across the TV last night way before the storm even hit. I am this close to hanging up a “Closed for February” sign and curling into a ball in my bed. Writing about gratitude is a struggle today, but here goes.

I made twenty four hour miso eggs for our ramen bowls last night and I’ve decided on two things. First, there should be eggs marinating in miso in our refrigerator at all times. Second, I’m going to have to start making my own miso. I made broth for our ramen with smoked bonito and the miso I scraped off the eggs and it is official. I make the best ramen in the city. Speaking of eggs, I went to feed the chickens on Wednesday and found four eggs in the chicken coop. I leaped for joy at the sight of them because for me, those eggs bring more hope than any shadow viewing groundhog. Actually, I kind of thought we’d seen the last of the eggs in October and that our chickens’ laying days were over. So when I saw all four different colored eggs sitting the coop, I was thrilled.

I am up to holding forearm plank for two and half minutes. I still don’t like it, but I’m feeling the benefits. Yesterday in my yoga practice, I pretzeled my legs into a full seated lotus, pressed my palms down into my mat and lifted my butt off the mat. I could swing my body freely back and forth. The lift comes from core strength. I have not done full lotus in years because it’s really not a safe pose for your knees. So I was pretty surprised that I could still do that pose, but even more surprised by how easily I lifted my body from the floor. I am always surprised that I am actually stronger than I think I am. Which is why I know that groceries will get purchased this weekend. I will survive this snow storm just like I survived all the other ones. I will not scrotum out and close myself off for the whole month of February.

I don’t have to like it but I can tolerate it.

ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE

Cindy Maddera

It’s happened twice now. Michael and I will be in bed, either starting or in the middle of sex and a song will start playing that reminds me of Chris. It was that Mumford and Son’s song that hit first, the one that Chris used to sing like a muppet. I closed my eyes and willed the memory of his ridiculous muppet impression to go away. Not forever. Just for that moment. The next one was the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize, which is one of the songs we played at Chris’s service. It was a little more difficult to will those memories away. In both instances, I feel like I deserve a God Damn Oscar for my performance. Also, crying while having sex is never a reassuring thing for your partner. I don’t tell any of this to Michael or talk about it or mention it. The man already refers to himself as second Darin, even though he’s nothing like the first Darin. Besides, Michael has his own demons to fight with. I try to be respectful of this and not add to his discomfort. I am not so much bothered by Chris’s presence in the bedroom as Michael would be. Michael is just more conservative when it comes to sex. I figure Chris is enjoying the peep show.

Sometimes it feels like I am in two relationships. One with Michael and one with a dead guy.

I made it through the first ten days of February without having a complete meltdown. I told Dr. Mary on Tuesday that I feel like I am working really hard at tuning out the memories of the bad part of Chris’s final days. I’m choosing to send that focus to the good memories. I told her about teaching my yoga class to one student last week, on what would have been Chris’s 48th birthday. It would have been so easy for me to cancel my class that evening and spend my night sulking on the couch. Instead, I pulled myself together and went to teach one of the best classes and I continued to keep myself busy and moving. I subbed a yoga class on Saturday. I went grocery shopping and managed to get those groceries into the house. Our front yard has been a literal ice rink since Thursday. On a slope. Every morning, getting to our vehicles looks like every YouTube video you have seen of people slipping and sliding on ice. I parked my car last night at the top of the drive, put it in park and set the emergency brake. My car slid backwards down the drive six inches. Michael was in the process of parking his truck behind me. I did not hit him. This time.

These nudges or hauntings from Chris sometimes make me wonder if he thinks I’m forgetting him. As if he’s still a conscious being or trapped in a closet somewhere. It would kind of be great, but also super complicated, if he ended up just being trapped in a closet somewhere. Chris and I were married for fourteen years. He has now been gone for seven years. Half the amount of time we were married. I am not forgetting him. I still talk to the jerk every single day and he still says nothing in return. I am just finding better, healthier ways of coping with the fact that he’s never going to say anything in return. Last night, I got in my car to head home. I started the engine and the first sound to greet me was the opening theme to Star Wars blaring from the radio. Starting right from the beginning note. The Bridge let the song play for a good two minutes before the DJ broke in to announce their Oscars Episode. I almost muttered “leave me alone” but then I shook my head.

At least I was in my car and not naked in bed with another man.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Freezing mist and drizzle set in around here on Wednesday. Schools closed early and stayed closed through Thursday. The Y has a no close policy. They stay open for people who need to be someplace warm. This meant that the yoga class I teach on Wednesday evenings would not be cancelled unless I called it in. I cancelled my class the week before because of work and weather. I did not feel like I could get away with this two Wednesdays in a row. So, I bundled up and with warnings from Michael to drive very very safely, I went to teach my Wednesday night yoga class.

I arrived early and when I went to lay out my mat and set up my things, one of the Y trainers was set up in that space with one of his clients. I chatted with the trainer about yoga. I did a few rounds of surya namaskar. I reviewed my notes for the class I had prepared for the evening and I eyed the clock. I was starting to think that no one was going to show up for class. A minute before my class was supposed to start, a woman came rushing in and said “Oh My GOD! I’m so glad you’re here.” She turned out to be my only student for the evening and it was probably the best class I’ve taught in a while. I was able to take the class I had planned and tweak it specifically for her needs. We flowed through a series of poses and then did a few exercises to prepare for headstand. She mentioned having problems with tightness in her shoulders and I showed her a few exercises she could do at home relieve some of that tension. When the class ended, the woman expressed her gratitude to me several times. She thanked me for staying and teaching the class even though she was my only student. She thanked me for class and the work we had done together in this practice. She thanked me for how good her body felt after the practice. She was so grateful.

This gratitude, of course, made me feel good but what I did not express to her was how grateful I was for her being present in our class that evening. For one thing, I was grateful to be able to share my practice and knowledge to this woman in a way that will help her beyond the yoga mat. At the same time, being able to give the gift of easing one’s physical pain is a soothing balm for my soul. Wednesday would have been Chris’s 48th birthday and I spent the day with this knowledge ping ponging it’s way around my brain. I remember that he was in good spirits for that last one. We’d had friends visiting and there had been laughter. Always laughter. Then Chris immediately started to decline. He went from being able to communicate effectively to making absolutely no sense in one day. The worst of it though, was the pain. Chris was in so much pain and there was nothing I could do to ease it. I could give him pills that would barely manage his pain, but managing pain is not the same as being pain free.

It was horrifying to have to watch him suffer and debilitating to not have any control over the amount of his suffering.

I did not do anything monumental for this woman. I simply helped her to ease tension in her shoulders so she would sleep better that night. There are things within my control and abilities and there are things that are not. Controlling Chris’s pain was not in my control or abilities. At one point while working on headstand, the women said “this is hard! and it shows me that I lack strength.” I said to her “You have the strength to do the things you need to do. No where in our daily lives do we need to do headstands. Sure, it’s fun and feels empowering to be able to do these kinds of poses, but don’t forget that you are strong in other ways.” I did not realize at the time that I was saying those words to myself.

I have the strength to do the things I need to do. I am strong in other ways.

I AM NOT A VEGETARIAN

Cindy Maddera

My chiropractor recommended that I start taking collagen every day for joint support. She said “it’s great! You can’t even taste it when you mix it with water or almond milk.” After she said this, I started seeing collagen supplements every where and I got curious. Translation: I fell for the hype of collagen supplements. I could not find any vegetarian collagen at the health food store. The marine based collage (from fish) was super expensive. So, I ended up with straight up collagen made from cows. Every morning, Monday through Friday, I dump a scoop and half of bovine collagen in to my almond milk.

And I hate it.

It makes my almond milk taste weird and if it’s not stirred well enough you end up swallowing goopy clumps of collagen. I have been drinking it for a month and I do not feel a difference in my old lady achy joints. I feel guilty for drinking crushed up cow cartilage. I feel guilty for buying crushed up cow cartilage. You are probably wondering why I don’t just stop drinking the collagen and throw it out. Well, bovine collagen is only slight less expensive than marine collagen. Since both of my parents taught me to value a dollar, I cannot just throw out a $40 tub of bovine collagen powder. So I will continue to drink my collagen laced almond milk every morning while grimacing and crying on the inside as I think about the process of grinding up cows. Then I will never buy another container of it again, so help me God.

Sometimes I fall for the next big health craze. I’ve done lemon water first thing in the morning and have mixed apple cider vinegar with honey in water. I didn’t really see or feel any different after a few weeks of either of those routines. I did the Cleansing Diet once. That’s the one where you give up sugar, gluten, animal products, alcohol and caffeine. I did this for a week and it ultimately lead to me becoming mostly vegetarian. It turned me into a label reader and it’s why most of the food on our grocery list is fresh produce. There might be one or two canned items on the list, but mostly everything goes in the fridge. Chris and I did a juice diet once. I lost five pounds which I quickly gained back and had a roller coaster mood. I could hug you and then turn right around and punch you in the throat. The only thing gained from that health craze was the thrill I got from pulverizing stuff in the juicer. I’ve been drinking kombucha with my lunch for months now. I have seen a slight reduction in my belly, but that could also be from the forearm plank challenge I’ve corralled half the guys in my office into doing everyday. Sometimes I end up doing the challenge twice, once on my own and again with the group. That means this week, I’ve done two minute forearm planks twice a day.

I can become so neurotic about my food.

I’m trying to be less neurotic and more obsessive about really good ingredients. I am going to the Asian Market this weekend to buy miso that has been aged no less than three years and smoked bonito. I am trying to find a way to purchase fresh (not frozen or canned) snails. I am in the early stages of trying to convince Michael to buy me an Italian Red Cow so that I can start making my own parmesan cheese. We were talking about turnip greens at work the other day and my boss said “I can get you turnips. My Dad plants them as a cover crop.” I told him to bring me all of the turnips and greens he could shove into a bag. I’ve had visions of steaming bowls of seasoned turnip greens ever since. I put smoked oysters on my half of the pizza I made on Sunday and marveled at the smokey rich flavor the oysters added to the pizza. I want to make hearty rich sauces that requires quality butter and wine.

I am not in search of exotic flavors, but true authentic flavors. This country is a melting pot of cultures, yet I find that so often the flavors of those cultures are diluted in order to not overwhelm someone not used to those flavors. I’ve been to Chinese restaurants that have an ‘American’ menu and a ‘Chinese’ menu. The items between those two menus differ greatly. My favorite Vietnamese restaurant is the one that is crowded and a little dirty. We always end up sharing our table with another couple. The egg rolls remind me of the ones Chris’s mom makes. The best Mexican place is the taquiera that has there menu written out daily on a chalkboard. The taco fillings are determined by what ever the butcher or fishmonger had available that day.

I want to fall for the fad of undiluted.

AWARENESS

Cindy Maddera

If I received money every time someone asked me why we don’t have a cure for cancer yet, I’d have enough money to run away to Italy. Or, at the very least, pay off some credit card debt. I usually just shake my head and answer with “I don’t know” because it is the easiest/laziest answer I can give to someone. I don’t think many people realize that the term ‘cancer’ is a very simplified word to describe a whole giant group of diseases. The thing that groups these diseases together is a common root cause: abnormal cell growth. That abnormal cell growth can be caused by genetics, viruses, chemicals, obesity, autoimmune disorders, hormones, and physical agents like asbestos or BPA. Any one of those things can set off a chain reaction in one cell that leads to a mutation in an oncogene that can have various results. A daughter cell inherits the messed up gene and then goes hay wire The mutated gene causes the cell signal other cells. The gene mutation can make that cell start dividing. A mutation any where in the oncogene can lead to multiple situations. Basically, it’s a molecular level choose your own adventure in cancer. Cancer is fucking complicated.

That’s why we don’t have a cure for cancer.

Yesterday, Josephine and I were finishing up watching CBS Sunday morning and we’d reached the part where they show this week’s calendar. That’s how I know that today is Cancer Awareness Day. When it was announced on TV I thought “great! I’ll just add that to the list of things I’m totally aware of this week.” Like for instance, how Chris would be forty eight on Wednesday. The day after Chris’s very last birthday, I spent the whole day crying. The. Entire. Day. I just cried and cried and cried and cried. By the time Chris actually did die, two days later, I was a complete shell of a human being. The nurse told me Chris had passed and I looked at the hospice care worker and said “what do I do now?” She thought I was asking about who comes and takes the body and all of that other stuff you have to take care of when someone dies. I kind of meant that, but I was really curious about what exactly I was going to do now, in general, for the rest of my life. These are the thoughts the I am very much aware of every year during this particular week in February.

The thing that I am usually least aware of during this week is what killed Chris. Abnormal cell growth formed a tumor on Chris’s liver right around the junction of where the left and right hepatic duct meet up. This meant that he was no longer able to excrete liver wastes and bile, which aids in digestion. Still to this day, I have a hard time admitting that cancer was the cause of Chris’s death. It just happened way too fast and without any warnings for me to be able to admit that. Also, at the end of the day, no one was really able to tell us what had caused his cancer. They found a small amount of cancer cells in esophagus and one specialist tried to link the tumor to those. They also talked about hepatitis B. If you read this article on Viruses and Human Cancer in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, then the whole hep B theory makes the most sense. Don’t worry. I was vaccinated for hep B and C ages ago. Chris’s vaccination history was a bit sketchy. No one could say for sure what vaccines he’d had over the years.

Viruses are the cause of around fifteen percent of cancers. Epstein Barr, hepatitis B and C, human papilloma virus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The hepatitis viruses and HPV are about the only ones with vaccines. They can all be prevented by using safe sex and safe needle practices. So maybe instead of focusing so much awareness on finding a cure for cancer, maybe we should be doing more to prevent the cancers we know how to prevent.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I didn’t get a chance to watch the Live TV performance of Rent on Sunday. From what I’ve heard from various reviews, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t see it. I settled for listening to the soundtrack recording from the original Broadway cast the next day while I did my early morning routine. I cleaned microscopes and turned them on for the day. Then I grabbed my mug and headed out for my morning coffee walk. I was in the stairwell, somewhere between floors three and four when Will I started playing and I thought about something Terry had written to me in a text recently. It had to do with being old enough to lose someone you love to AIDS.

Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?

The weight of that song hit me hard enough in my chest so that I had to sit down on a step and breathe. I thought about the New York Times article I had read months ago that told the story of how hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who died during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and early 90s were buried in mass graves on Hart Island, an island off the coast of the Bronx in New York. I grew up as a witness to the cruelty and indifference directed towards someone suffering from AIDS. I remember seeing the news and watching as parents screamed and yelled at each other in school meetings over whether or not to allow a child with HIV to go to the same school as their own child. The absolute terror of the unknown of this virus drove people to unimaginable hate and anger. Imagine dealing with all of that prejudice and hate while caring for a loved one suffering with the very disease all of that prejudice and hate was being directed.

Trust me when I say that caring for someone you love who is dying and sitting there watching them suffer is hard enough.

Things are so different today. HIV is no longer a death sentence and it is no longer feared the way it was in the beginning of the epidemic. We know so much more about the virus. A twenty year-old infected today could live up to seventy years. Living with HIV. Those born after, say, 1996 do not know anything about the fear and prejudice that HIV/AIDS generated. They know (hopefully) that it is a sexually transmitted disease and that you just need to be careful. If you’re not careful, well then, there’s some really great antivirals out there and you can still live a long, healthy and happy life. I am almost jealous of those people born after 1996 because they were not raised during that time of terror. Except I still think it’s the dumbest thing in the world to contract HIV. Maybe that is one of the benefits of being raised during those early days of the epidemic and being witness to all of that. I know how awful this disease really is. The new drugs that we have now that allow people to live those happy, healthy lives only work for so long. Eventually it all turns to shit. When HIV moves into AIDS, it ravishes the body. It is a lingering death filled with sickness and pain.

I’ve gone back and forth about doing the AIDS Walk this year. So much of the money raised by the foundation goes to research and patient care and not enough to education. I want the money that I raise to go towards education. I still feel that education and prevention is one of the most important ways to fight HIV and I still feel some sort of calling to be a part of that fight. That might mean I end up doing the walk until I figure out a way to get my money pushed into the direction I want it to go. Who knows.

For right now, I’m just going to be grateful for the things I know.