H. A. O'Connor

A Few of My Favorite Things

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 6 Comments
A Few of My Favorite Things

Today’s topic occupied far too many of my childhood thoughts–maybe it did for you, as well. From my first school fire drill, I became terrified by the idea that my house might catch fire. (I also began chanting “Stop, drop, and roll” under my breath like it was the key to opening Ali Baba’s cave.)

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Hello? Anyone in there?

In an effort to regain my peace of mind, I devised various plans for rescuing all my loved ones, pets included (which always complicated things–we had a lot of pets). This allowed me to sleep at night, but even then a nagging sadness remained. I knew most, if not all, of my favorite belongings would be lost to the flames.

Sure, this seems like a sad place for thoughts to dwell–it was–but it also came with a gift: it allowed me to know, at any given moment, what my most precious belongings were. I’m still very aware of my personal treasures and most of them haven’t changed, although maybe a stuffed animal or two dropped out of the running (cover your ears, beloved toys of childhood) to be replaced by something more enduring.

Here is a list of my favorite, most meaningful belongings (I’ve chosen my top five six):

(1) Photographs–ALL my photographs. I’m not limiting myself to one photo or album, because the thought alone threatens to reduce me to a puddle of despair. I wouldn’t do that to myself and neither should you.

From photos of my ancestors, to shots of family and friends taken during my life, to (especially) photos of my children–from when they were tiny, peanut-shaped beings in ultrasound images to the pictures I’ll take tomorrow. Because they represent so many loved ones and places and times I enjoy revisiting, my photographs are my most treasured belongings.

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(2) Handmade bookcase–yes, I just said I’d rescue a piece of furniture in a fire, but we’re being hypothetical here, right? Besides, who knows–maybe I’d get one of those massive adrenaline surges and develop spontaneous super powers. I could carry the bookcase out on my back and, *bonus* I could fill the drawers with my photographs and other favorites.

My grandfather made me this bookcase when I was a child. (I’ve loved the scent of sawdust ever since those days of visiting his workshop.) It went from my room to my children’s rooms, but it’s now on the second floor of our foyer and, temporarily, housing my homemade soaps.

Just a thought: while I’m saving furniture, I might as well pile a few more pieces onto my back. I’d take the dresser/vanity set my mom refinished for me and the secretary desk that came from a relative’s home, which was passed along by my aunt. (Thanks Grandad, Mom, and Aunt J!)

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My handmade bookcase (temporarily being used for curing soaps)

(3) Jewelry–I don’t have any very expensive jewelry, but I do have some pieces that are rich with sentimental worth. Again, I can’t limit myself to just one item, so here’s the condensed list: I’d choose my engagement ring (my wedding ring would already be on my finger, so that equals an automatic save), plus a handful of favorites–those that were gifts from family and friends, along with a few silver pieces I inherited from my grandmom. Wearing this jewelry makes me feel close to the ones who gave it to me, and that means more to me than any appraisal value.

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Two stones that were my grandmother’s,

plus a gift from my cousin after she read My Watcher’s Eyes

(4) Found items–when I was a child, my dog Holly came strolling out of the woods behind my house one day, carrying a strange, flat stone in her mouth. She brought it to me, so I washed off the dirt and dog slobber, to find shell-shapes imprinted in its surface. My mom said it looked like fossilized mud, so I immediately fell in love. Imagine holding something that was old enough to be fossilized–old enough to date back to when water had covered the local land? That’s big to a kid; it’s big to me still.

As an adult, I discovered another, similar “treasure.” My husband and I were removing a dogwood tree which we’d planted and which, unfortunately, had not survived. As my husband lifted the tree from the ground, I saw a strange stone sticking out of its root ball. I dug it out to find it had been chipped away along both sides: one looked like it would serve as a finger grip and the other had been sharpened into a rough edge. I did some research and found the stone closely resembled tools used to scrape animal hides by the Lenape women who’d once lived in this area. Since I’ve long been fascinated by American Indian cultures–the Lenape people in particular–this felt like a one-in-a-million find. I’m beyond honored just to be able to touch it.

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Fossil rock and (probable) Lenape scraper

(5) Antique books–I’m not a collector, except when it comes to books. I LOVE old books. I don’t own many, but I adore the ones I have. My first antique book came from a great aunt who was involved with The Hedgerow, a local theater I’ve loved since childhood. She was not only a small-time actress, but also a lover of fiction. I think we would have gotten along wonderfully. (Did I ever mention my mom used to call me Sarah Bernhardt as a child? Totally earned that nickname.)

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Books and Basil (which is one of the many plants I’d rescue, too!)

(6) Teddy bear–I tried to limit my list to five things, but honestly, how could I leave out Brownie? (Side note: wasn’t I the most creative teddy-bear namer?) This little guy has been through a lot, so he shouldn’t have to endure a fire, too. My grandfather gave him to me when I was little and I proceeded to love him nearly to death. His head actually came off from one too many hugs. My mom sewed it back on, but she must have been in a hurry, because she attached it backward. Poor Brownie’s plump little tummy had to become a pudgy little bum. (Luckily, his arms and legs moved, so they could make the transition, even if his toes were upside down.) Never mind–I still loved him. Yet, Brownie’s trials and tribulations weren’t finished. He survived in storage all the way into my adulthood, just in time for me to rediscover him and for one of my dogs, my sweet Jake, to snack on his nose. Brownie and I were both heartbroken again, but I did some (questionable) reconstructive surgery and re-repaired his head while I was at it.

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Dear, sweet, strangely-repaired Brownie

(I’m not very good with a needle and thread, but his head and feet are facing forward now) 🙂

So, that’s my list–short (okay, longish short) and sweet to me. Granted, I’d need a trailer to haul everything away, but it would be worth it.

What does this list tell me? It says, knowing my loved ones were safe, I’d do what I could to save our memories. One of the best parts of my life (as most would agree) is sharing experiences with the ones I love and holding onto those memories, so they can be shared again.

And you? After ensuring the safety of your loved ones and pets (and plants–can’t forget our plants!), what else would you rescue? How do these things reflect what you value most?

H. A. O'Connor

The Other

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 6 Comments
The Other

Who is this “Other?” Only one of the most common characters in fiction–and unfortunately, in life.

I first heard the term “Other” in a college literature course, although the concept was already familiar. In fiction, The Other is a character who is seen as being fundamentally different from the dominant group, destined to remain separate and unaccepted.

In life, Othering happens when we encounter someone new and begin taking stock of how they differ from us. It may seem relatively harmless, but when we don’t look beyond our differences, we hold The Other at a distance. This sets us up for judging them as somehow lesser than us and, yes, for allowing them to be treated accordingly.

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You are The Other

Why do we have this tendency?

I don’t know, bad habit? Or it could be that Othering is a leftover from prehistoric times. (Othering as vestigial human behavior?) In those old, old days, everyone’s survival came with a daily question mark, so it might have seemed necessary to draw loved ones near and push away outsiders. Maybe, instead, Othering has its roots in self-identification. “I define myself by who I am not.” Except, wouldn’t it be better to define ourselves by who we are? “I am my beliefs and interests and goals, my passions and loves. I am how I behave.”

Othering happens everywhere; none of us are immune to it or its effects. I have Othered and I’ve been Othered.

When I was younger–again, college-age–I worked in a store on Philadelphia’s South Street. I’d been offered the job by the store owner while shopping with friends and I accepted, figuring I’d like it. I did. I had fun with my coworkers, bought clothes with my discount, and generally enjoyed being part of the South Street peoplescape. Yet, once the novelty wore off, I decided the late nights and long drive home weren’t worth the trouble.

At the end of one of my last nights of work, I was driving down a back street with my doors locked and favorite CD playing. I stopped at an intersection and, there on the opposite corner, stood a girl about my age. She was alone and looked uncomfortable, maybe even a little scared. Her dress and demeanor suggested she was a prostitute. I was young and fairly naive, but even I could see that much.

Our eyes locked and, almost instantly, I labeled her Other. Her choices–or those made for her–had brought her to this street in the middle of the night, waiting to be picked up by a stranger. I, on the contrary, was leaving a job I’d accepted because it was fun and not because I needed the money. I was in my own car, on my way to my own apartment–a place where I’d be surrounded by roommates and friends, a place where I was pursuing a degree that would broaden my opportunities.

I could have closed my mind to this girl after labeling her Other. If I’d thought something along the lines of, “maybe she deserves it”–a phrase that sends chills down my spine–it would have been easy to keep her safely ensconced in her Otherness. Her welfare would have quickly dropped out of my concern.

Instead, I looked beyond her differences. I saw myself. I recognized that if I’d been born into alternate circumstances, with another set of choices, I might have been the one standing alone on the street, scared and vulnerable.

Molly Porter

Image by Molly Porter

So, in those few, long seconds at the stop sign, I hesitated. I wanted to roll down my window and ask this girl if she needed a ride. I wanted to take her in like a lost puppy. I wanted to show her there were other choices. I didn’t do any of these things. The girl looked away and I drove on. I can only wonder what happened to her that night or throughout any of the nights that followed.

What if I could return to that moment? Would I help?

I wish I could vow, up and down, that I would, but I can’t. That night, I chose my own safety over another’s. I acted–or rather, failed to act–based on fear. My worry was that if I reached out to this girl, some of the dangers enveloping her life might latch onto me. This may have been true. Let’s face it, fear is there to protect us.

Yet fear can also be a danger. Choices made in fear–or anger or hatred or any negative emotion–aren’t usually our best. On that night, those years ago, fear left me helpless. I really, truly felt for that girl, yet I did nothing. What if, instead of being distracted by my fear, I’d opened my eyes to other options? Maybe I could have contacted someone, sought additional help. One act and this girl’s life might have changed forever.

Othering happens–every day, all around us. Every child who has ever been bullied suffered because he or she was labeled Other by the victimizing person or group. Othering is at the heart of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, xenophobia, discrimination against the ill or disabled, etc. Othering can be taken to horrific extremes. Think of humans’ worst crimes against humanity: genocide, eradication of native peoples during colonization, slavery, fanatical terrorism, wars, mass rape, religious persecution. None of these could have happened without dominant groups viewing Others as lesser.

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We are all part of the picture

The world is enormous and so are its problems. It’s overwhelming–I feel that, too. There isn’t an easy, all-encompassing answer as to how we should reach out, when so many are in need. Still, if we really want to make a change, I guess we do what we can, when we can. Even small acts are able to add up to something big.

For instance, when we encounter someone new–whether directly or indirectly–maybe rather than giving in to the impulse to distance ourselves, we could make the effort to look beyond their differences. What if we unother those Others? We might recognize that beyond their different features or skin color or religion or age or sexual preferences or political views, they share our basic needs–for food and water, shelter and clothing–as well as our deeper needs–for acceptance and empowerment, companionship and love. Empathy on its own won’t change the world, but it’s a really good place to start.

What if that paralyzing fear shows up? Instead of letting it control us, maybe we could push past it. Working together–as a team–might get us there. I’m not suggesting we go around leaping into harm’s way, yet standing aside while bad things happen isn’t working very well for our society, either. We should never forget there is safety–and power–in numbers, enough of each to drive back fear.

We are living in a volatile time, an important time, a future-changing time. Maybe we ought to take a hard, clear look at this Othering thing. It’s possible that, one by one, we could do something about it. Wouldn’t it be some kind of wonderful to live in a world where people recognized themselves in every Other–a world where we could count on the kindness of strangers when we needed it most?

I can type until my fingers are numb, but I’ll never be able to say it as well as Maya Angelou: (You may have heard part of this poem recently; it’s being run as an ad during the Olympics.)

“The Human Family”

by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Benji Aird

Image by Benji Aird

H. A. O'Connor

Body Butter and Flower Power

Earthy, Natural Beauty, Saving the Green No Comment

Just wanted to share that I’ve posted two new videos to my youtube channel, one on making a simple, lovely rose body butter and the other on how I use flowers from my yard/garden to add extra nutrients to my oils. Hope you’ll take a peak!

H. A. O'Connor

Sharing Some News, 7-27-16

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Signed my publishing contract today (Woohoo!) and work is already getting started on releasing my sequel asap! :D (Looks like it will be available for pre-order December 1st and the release date should be January 1st.)

(Also put up a youtube video on how we made our chicken tractor. The girls say “Hi!” at 08:00!)

H. A. O'Connor

The Noble Act of the Dumpster Dive

Earthy, Ethereal, Neighborhood Homesteading, Parenting, Saving the Green, Searching for Inspiration 6 Comments
The Noble Act of the Dumpster Dive

Think about it, just for a moment. Dumpster diving probably doesn’t conjure up pretty images for most of us. Not for me, either.

The other morning, though, I was needing a little self-TLC, feeling tired and a bit lost, so of course I found myself on youtube, looking up videos of Nigerian Dwarf Goats. What else, right? I watched a few and then I came across a video of a single mom, raising her kids on a farm and supplementing their lifestyle with dumpster diving. Since dumpsters don’t sound like pleasant places to dive, I opted instead for another video of bouncing (literally) baby goats. But that mom and her children and their dumpster trips were still there, along the side of the screen, waiting patiently with all their viewing potential.

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Hmm, baby goats? Dumpsters? Baby goats? Dumpsters?

Image by jlwaswilson

Okay, I’ll bite, I thought. So, I watched, ready to cover my eyes if the woman started sifting among messy, smelly dumpsters. Instead, what I found was a sweet young mom, raising her family on a farm in the midwest, spending her day feeding chickens and ducks with the help of her kids, going over homeschool lessons, pushing them on swings and sharing quiet laughter. It all looked pretty peaceful, to be honest. Sure, there were piles of clothing on her furniture and clutter in the corners of her rooms. She’s a single parent of four. I’m a co-parent of three and there are days when I wonder what the Health Department would have to say about our house. Still, she had yet to take her viewers on a dumpster tour, so I wasn’t sold on anything.

I didn’t have to wait for long. The woman broached the topic by mentioning she’d recently picked up some coffee from a dumpster, saying the package had been resting on the top–sealed, uncontaminated. Still, my stomach waited, threatening to turn. I don’t drink coffee (caffeine doesn’t like me), so this remained safely-distant territory.

Glen Carrie

No coffee for me. Definitely no dumpster coffee for me.

Image by Glen Carrie

Cue the next scene: the woman parked beside a dumpster outside of a craft store, pulled out one of those long, reachy, grabby things (sorry–dysnomia moment), and got to work. Instead of extracting an item that looked like it was ready to crawl from a lagoon, she pulled out package after package of…craft supplies, each one perfectly sealed and clean as could be. On another stop, she found brand-new toys and, later, games, and books. All these items–the ones she plucked from the dumpsters–were fine. Better than fine. If someone had put them back on the racks inside the store, I suppose anyone would have bought them. Instead, for whatever reason, these items had been tossed into a dumpster and were destined for a landfill.

I started thinking: if I were in this woman’s shoes (she also found a pair of unused shoes in her size, by the way), would I do this? Well, maybe I’d cross state lines first, but…. Really, though, who am I to judge her? Pride is stupid. It’s useless. So, what is this woman doing? She’s going around pride. She’s doing the best she can for her family, simple as that.

I am not a single parent of four, but I do know something about having to struggle with finances. So many of us do, don’t we? Times are tough and people’s salaries aren’t necessarily keeping up with the demands. My husband is talented at what he does, but his paycheck doesn’t always reflect this as much as we might wish. I, on the other hand, have gone from being a stay-at-home mom for a decade and a half, to working 30 hours a week and writing on the side, to dealing with health issues that have me home again and looking for a work-from-home situation, which hasn’t shown itself on the map yet. So, yes, we are financially stressed and, no, I don’t usually treat my kids to many extras, unless it’s to celebrate a birthday or a holiday or an end-of-year reward for good grades. That said, my kids are fine. They’re happy and healthy and I couldn’t be more grateful. They understand there are limits to the things we can afford, but not to love.Ben Kerckx

Love? Priceless

Image by Ben Kerckx

I have to confess, since watching a couple of these videos, I haven’t dived into any dumpsters. Yet, this woman still has me thinking. There are ways to provide for ourselves and our families outside of what might be considered the norm. Should there be shame in that? I’ve been trying to shift my family’s lifestyle into a homesteading one–keeping chickens, growing our own herbs and vegetables, making soaps and other personal care items. I began it to help us live a healthier lifestyle, but I love the self-sufficiency of it just as much. Dumpster diving doesn’t completely jibe with my view, since I’m trying to streamline our lifestyle, minimalizing things we have around the house and don’t need, but then again, what if a dumpster somewhere contains a nice, clean, unbroken version of something we DO need? If you never seek, how can you find? Reduce,reuse, recycle, dive? Maybe that ought to be the new-and-improved way to provide for your family, while *bonus* helping to protect the environment?

Brooklyn Morgan

Reduce, reuse, recycle, DIVE?

Image by Brooklyn Morgan

All I can say, is after watching that mom doing the best she could to make her family’s life better, working within what was available to her, I didn’t feel the least bit judgy. I felt ashamed, in fact, of the way I’d reacted when I first saw the headline to her video. Eww, dumpsters had changed to something else. This woman had shared a glimpse of her life and, afterward, I wanted to shake her gloved hand, maybe even peek with her into the next dumpster she visited.

So, I did something–took a very, very small step. I clicked “Subscribe.” Like I said, it’s not much. Maybe, though, it’s a move toward something bigger, a change in perspective. I just can’t help thinking there might be some important lessons to be learned from a woman who is noble enough do dive into dumpsters for the sake of her loved ones.

 

H. A. O'Connor

Hello, Before I Fade Again

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 4 Comments
Hello, Before I Fade Again

Okay, maybe that title is a tad bit dramatic, but Hyperbole is my middle name, so…. Besides, it’s not that far from how I feel right now.

Actually, at the moment, I’m feeling a little like Wonder Woman. No invisible jet or unbreakable bracelets, but I’ve been enjoying more energy, fewer aches and pains, and a clearer, brighter head than I’ve had in … a while. Longer than I care to recall.

Erika Wittlieb

Wish I could remember where I parked my jet…

Image by Erika Wittlieb

I have Fibromyalgia, although I haven’t yet become comfortable saying so. (I’m practicing, though–so thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. I really, truly appreciate it.) Two doctors have diagnosed me with this condition based on my symptoms, after multiple specialist visits and tests have helped rule out other possibilities–Chronic Lyme Disease, Thyroid Disease, various types of arthritis, Lupus, etc., etc. There is no definitive test for Fibro as of yet and it has only recently been recognized as “real” by the medical community (and the all-powerful insurance companies).

Fibromyalgia is often described as an increased sensitivity to pain–also known as a lowered pain threshold–but I have to be honest, I sort of detest this description. Accurate thought it may be, as a Fibromyalgia sufferer,  it makes me feel like I could be fine if I’d only toughen up a little–like other people feel the same pain I do and they just deal with it instead of letting it get them down.

Yet, I’ve known pain. I’ve given birth, for instance. In fact, I opted to deliver two of my children naturally, in part due to a morbid sort of curiosity: I wanted to see if I could do it. (For the third, I decided to see how the other half lives. Only kidding; there’s often pain involved with epidurals, too.) My point is not that I’m tougher than the average person, but that I’m not weaker, either. I’m not a wimp when it comes to pain; there’s something wrong with my body and it hurts. A lot. Almost every day.

tpsdave

Eh, suck it up

Image by tpsdave

Please understand, I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are far worse things from which to suffer. Fibromyalgia may be a pain in the … lots of things, but it’s not overly dangerous. It is chronic and has the potential to last a lifetime, but it apparently doesn’t damage the areas in which it causes all this pain.

Anyway, we were talking about my sudden upswing in health, weren’t we? So, why the improvement? Shortest answer: weeding. Longer answer: after decades of gardening and forest-exploring, I finally caught poison something (sumac, possibly?) and had to be put on steroids to recover. Apparently, steroids can also help alleviate some of the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. So, next time I’m feeling especially Fibro-ish, I’ll go out and roll in some weeds. No, not really. Well, maybe … uh, no, probably shouldn’t.

A Fox

Weeds, glorious weeds!

Image by A Fox

So, these steroids I’ve been prescribed? Wow. If I felt like this every day, it might be a worthy trade off, even if I ended up looking like 1980’s-era Arnold Schwarzenegger. My brain works, my body works, my energy works. I feel the way I used to feel when I was well and, yes, that could become addictive. But of course I can’t stay on steroids. I have exactly two days of medication left (out of nine) and then? Hmmm.

To be honest, knowing this relief is temporary makes me feel like I’m about to disappear. It makes me feel like calling, emailing, and visiting everyone I can, before time runs out. I know what kind of person I am, under the cloak of Fibromyalgia–at my worst, I can barely summon the energy to talk and, at my best, I still seem a little Eeyore-ish, a little sluggish, a little lost and maybe more than a little bleh. I know this, but I don’t know what I can do about it. Steroids are only a temporary help and and the long-term medications my doctors have prescribed tend to be so strong they’re zombifying, or so mild that they only blunt the edges of my symptoms. So, for now, I’ll enjoy the relief while it lasts. I’ll write and talk and clean–do whatever I can, while I can.

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Selfie: The Face of Fibro

Regardless of how soon it ends, this brief interlude from Fibromyalgia has taught me a valuable lesson: I have been sick. My body does hurt every day–my joints, my head, my muscles–and, no, that’s not the norm for the average, healthy person. My fatigue is so overwhelming at times, I feel like I could slip into a coma at the drop of a hat. I try to plan activities–writing and chores, even driving and socializing–around this flu-like exhaustion, but it’s difficult, because Fibromyalgia is unpredictable by nature. My brain, too, drifts with a thick fog (known as “Fibro Fog”) almost constantly. It takes an effort to locate thoughts and pull them forward into the light. Then, it takes an additional effort to keep them there. And the forgetfulness…. Um, what was I saying? Oh, I know: symptoms. There are plenty of others, some I won’t go into, but as a few examples, I get regular doses of hives, including from exposure to the cold, I suffer from restless legs syndrome and insomnia, and then there are the mental aspects that spill over into the physical–such as anxiety and depression.

Yes, this Fibro reprieve has been a blessing. It has shown me, clearer than I’ve seen before, how real Fibro is and how much of my life it impacts. I’ve confirmed that Fibromyalgia doesn’t live in my imagination. It may not yet be testable and many people–even medical people–may still not recognize that it exists, but my body knows it is real and now the rest of me believes, too.

So many people–including several among my friends and family–suffer with invisible illnesses or other conditions, such as chronic pain. If you do, have you learned to cope better over time? Does it help if there’s a definitive test for your illness, or shouldn’t this matter? My hat is off to all of you. I know how hard it can be to keep a smile on your face, when you’re struggling on the inside.

Alex Blăjan

For all those who live with illness–invisible or otherwise

Image by Alex Blăjan

H. A. O'Connor

The Parent Files: Parenthood Bloopers

Earthy, Ethereal, Parenting 4 Comments
The Parent Files: Parenthood Bloopers

After my most recent post, Not to Speak, I felt the need to lighten things up quite a bit.  So, today, I’m delving into one of my areas of expertise: parenthood bloopers.

Come on, admit it.  If you’re a parent, aunt/uncle, babysitter, etc., you’ve been there.  Haven’t you?  I sure have.

Here are some of my many, many blooper moments as a parent:

 

Drew Hays

Image by Drew Hays

I’ll start with my oldest child.  When he was a toddler, he used to walk around singing the lyrics to one of his favorite songs.  No “I’m a Little Teapot” for him, though.  Our little guy could barely talk, but it didn’t stop him from belting out, “Rox–anne, you don’t have to turn on the red light…”  Maybe it wasn’t the optimal choice of music to share with him, but Sting would have been so proud.

***

Later, when he was maybe four or five years old, my oldest was playing outside with some neighborhood friends.  Apparently, everyone was hot and thirsty, so being the nice host that he was, he went into our garage to get some drinks from the fridge.  We must have been out of juice boxes, because the next thing we knew, he was handing out beers to all his friends.

***

He and my younger son were both really active as little ones; I used to say during my older son’s toddlerhood that the only time he stopped moving was if he’d fallen asleep.  His younger brother was, instead, notorious for climbing.  I once left him playing with some toys on the floor of our dining room, while I ran into the kitchen.  I was gone for a only a minute or so, but I came back to find that he’d vanished.  His toys were there, but he sure wasn’t.  I ran around the main floor of our house, calling his name, and when I made it back to where I’d started, a little voice greeted me, saying, “I up here, Mommmy.”  There he was, at eye level, sitting on the top shelf of our baker’s rack.  

***

This same son once got his head stuck between the “bars” along the back of our old rattan sofa.  I was on the phone with a friend and he was sitting right next to me–one minute he was playing with the cushions; the next, he’d pushed his head through the frame.  I nearly had to turn the sofa upside down to get him out.  Did I mention I found my first gray hair shortly after he learned to crawl?

Brian Mann

Image by Brian Mann

***

Turns out girls aren’t any easier.  Years ago, I was on the phone, when a police officer showed up at my door.  He told me someone from my home had called 9-1-1.  I was so embarrassed and couldn’t understand what had happened, since my one-year old daughter and I were the only ones there.  That was when I remembered having pulled the phone from my daughter’s pudgy little hands before I’d called my friend.  Guess who’d made her very first phone call?  

贝莉儿 NG

Image by 贝莉儿 NG

 ***
Apparently, this little girl of ours had a thing for technology.  Within a few months of the 9-1-1 call, she was playing with our remote control (guess I hadn’t learned my lesson yet), so what did she do?  Ordered a *naughty* film via pay-per-view, right smack onto our television.  It was a little shocking to turn around and see that Sesame Street had become … something else entirely.  Somehow, I don’t think the cable company believed me when I tried to explain who’d ordered the film. 

***

In kindergarten, my daughter repaid me for her earlier adventures by making me a beautiful Mother’s Day card.  On it, she’d written that my favorite food was macaroni and cheese (such a gourmet) and my favorite hobby?  Taking naps.  Almost earned a nomination for Mom of The Year, based on those credentials alone.

***

Try as you might, the chaos of family life really does get the better of you sometimes.  One day, during a particularly busy moment, I heard someone call out.  Since I was occupied with something, I handled it the way I usually did: held up my hand and said, “Okay, just a second.”  Took me a full minute to realize I was talking to the microwave.  It had beeped and I’d answered.

Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski1

Image by FreeImages.com/Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski

***

The kids are all older now, but parenting is still blooper-friendly.  This past year, while my family and I were staying at a hotel, I got up in the dark and walked straight into the corner of a wall.  Being ever ready to set an excellent example, I dropped the F bomb, loud and clear.  My 9-year old was so disappointed she could only shake her head at me, my thirteen-year old was completely embarrassed (either for me or by me, I’m still not sure which) and my 16-year old thought the whole thing was hilarious.

***

Still, one of most-notable parenthooding bloopers happened when the kids were younger: at a birthday party for one of my sons, I was trying to feed my infant daughter some pureed butternut squash.  She would often turn her head a few times before she’d finally take a taste and start eating.  This day was no different.  I was talking to family and friends, while my husband held our baby girl, so I could feed her.  After I finally got the first bite into her mouth, my husband started laughing and said, “Do you know what you just did?”  I didn’t, so he filled me in on it.  “You fed me,” he said.  “I kept trying to turn away, but I finally just gave up and ate the squash.”

By Totorosan1 - Own work, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=34481075

By Totorosan1 – Own work, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=34481075

Ah, the joys of parenting.  No one ever said it was easy!  I would love, love, love to hear that I’m not alone in my bloopers!  Please feel free to comment and share away with any of your glorious parenting/aunt-or-uncling/babysitting/etc. hiccups!

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” ~ Charlie Chaplin

H. A. O'Connor

Not to Speak

Uncategorized 8 Comments

Not to speak ill of anyone, but to speak the truth.  Not to speak out of turn, but to speak out of need.

I have a story to tell, for someone.  She’s not a relative and there’s no need to wonder about my friends on Facebook or connections on Twitter; she’s not there.  Nor is anyone else who was involved.  I’m telling you this story, for her, under condition of anonymity.  The anonymity is not for the sake of the boy in this story, though he, too, will remain anonymous.

So, this girl–what if she grew up in a time when terms like “date rape” didn’t exist, a time when “rape” or “sexual assault” seemed only to apply to violence and screams, emergency rooms and police interviews?  What if this girl were young, had recently turned 15, and was fairly new to dating, but not entirely inexperienced?  She was a virgin who had only ever kissed her previous boyfriend, in case that matters.  I don’t think it should.

What if this girl had a new boyfriend, a little older than her, someone she liked but didn’t know very well?  What if they’d gone out a few times and he’d kissed her and that was all?  What if they went to his house on another date and, even though she felt a little uncomfortable about going into his basement to watch a movie, his parents were home, so she didn’t worry too much?  What if, as soon as the movie began, the boy started kissing the girl?  Not a little kiss, but a deep kiss.  What if he kept kissing her and then pushed himself on top of her?  What if his hand started going under her shirt and she was a little excited, but more embarrassed and didn’t quite feel ready?  What if she felt, instead, like things were getting out of her control?  What if, next, his hand started pushing into her jeans and she knew she wasn’t ready?  What if she said “no” a few times, but not very loudly, because she was still embarrassed and wasn’t sure how he would react?  What if she tried to push his hand away, but he didn’t stop, and even though she squirmed to get out from under him, turning her face from his, still saying the “no”s and “stop”s, he didn’t listen?  What if he were hurting her and she were afraid, and his parents were upstairs but they wouldn’t and couldn’t know what was happening, and she didn’t know how to make him stop?  What if she couldn’t consider screaming, because she was still embarrassed, and didn’t want to say the “no”s too loudly, because they might make him mad and what then?  What if she were afraid to fight too much, because what then?  What if she knew he must hear her, feel her pushing him away, but he wouldn’t stop, not at all?  How could she make him stop if he wouldn’t?  What if he finally did stop, only after he’d hurt her and pushed his fingers into her enough to satisfy himself, and what if he smiled at her and let her know he’d enjoyed it and felt close to her, but all she felt was sore and upset?  What if it were late and he needed to drive her home and maybe that’s the only reason he stopped?  What if his stopping never had anything to do with her at all?

What if, even after the boy had parked along the road in front of the girl’s house, even after she’d made it home where she thought she was safe, he’d shoved her up against his car and kissed her more–deep, hard kisses that she didn’t want–though a neighbor’s car was driving past and its headlights were on them and she was embarrassed and scared and felt helpless again?  What if he called her the next day and the next and the next, but she made excuses so she didn’t have to see him?  What if, when her mother asked why she wasn’t dating him anymore, she told, but only a little?  She said she didn’t like him, said he did things she didn’t want to do.  She didn’t tell that he wouldn’t stop, not even when she tried to push his hand away, not even when she said, “no” and “no” and “no.”  What if her mother agreed he shouldn’t do such things and agreed she didn’t have to see him again if she didn’t want to?  What if the mother and the girl never thought to say words like “forced” or anything else, because no one had given names to things like this or said, loudly and clearly, that they were wrong?

What if, even after the girl was away from the boy, he kept calling and pressuring her to go out again?  What if he did this for a long time and there was no caller ID and the girl was home alone each day after school and never knew who was calling until it was too late not to answer?  What if the girl were afraid to tell him how she really felt and, instead, thought to herself, be careful, back away slowly, don’t fight, don’t run?  What if, finally, the calls stopped and the girl, who was still afraid, who had been afraid all this time, could only wonder if she were safe or, maybe, the boy had just gone into hiding?

What if three years passed and the girl saw the boy again–not in a basement but at a public place, a mall–and, even though she was with her new, non-forcing boyfriend, the old boyfriend asked about her family and talked about seeing her new car, the one he shouldn’t even know about?  What if his new girlfriend were also there and said she, too, knew the girl’s name, knew where she lived, because they drove by her house all the time–even though her house wasn’t on a street you could drive by, and it had been years since the boy’s calls had stopped and he was supposed to have gone away?  What if the boy admitted he’d only stopped calling because some anonymous male (one whose identity the girl would probably never know, but to whom she’d always be grateful) had called the boy and threatened to hurt him if he didn’t leave the girl alone?

What if all this–this whole discussion–happened in front of the new boyfriend, but he could only stand there, confused, because he didn’t know what any of it meant?  The new boyfriend didn’t understand and, maybe, neither did the old one.  Even the girl herself didn’t understand, not really.  She knew the old boyfriend hadn’t stopped, not even when she’d told him to, and she knew he hadn’t gone away, not even when she’d thought he had.  The girl also knew the old boyfriend scared her, but she still didn’t know how to label what he’d done, she still wasn’t sure anyone else would agree it was wrong.  He had been her boyfriend at the time and, that word, “boyfriend,” seemed to mean all he’d done was get carried away while they were on a date.

What if, even now–many years later–the girl still tries not to think of the boy’s name or say it aloud, because she’s afraid it will conjure him up from the past?  What if she can’t remember much about when she was fifteen, but she can remember her fear, how it felt being trapped beneath the boy, and she can remember how it felt afterward, when he wouldn’t go away.  What if, any time another boy asked her on a date, she would think about how this new boy, too, was stronger than her, think about how it might be if he didn’t listen, didn’t stop.  What if all girls have to think this way?

So, this girl–how should she feel?  What should she call this thing that happened when she was young?  What would you call it?  What if this girl were me?  Would this change your feelings?  What if she were your friend, your sister, your daughter?    Would you give this thing that happened a different name?

What if this were just one story from this girl’s life among men, and what if it were similar to so many other stories out there, some of which have not been told, some of which are worse–maybe much, much worse?  What if all these people–(girls and boys) the ones who said no, but it didn’t stop–what if they all, finally, decided to speak out about what they’d been through, even if they didn’t have names for it?  What, then?

What if every one of us speaks out and spreads the word–tells all the boys and girls that things like this are not okay, that they are not givens or just to be expected–not from boyfriends (or girlfriends), not from anyone.  What if we join voices?  What if we help all these “no”s be heard and acknowledged, now and for good?  What, then?

H. A. O'Connor

Eddie Vedder Once Walked Beside Me, But I’m Over It

Ethereal, Searching for Inspiration 2 Comments
Eddie Vedder Once Walked Beside Me, But I’m Over It

The other day, I was on Twitter and a person (to go unnamed) reached out to make a connection.  This was fine, the person was fine, everything was fine.  Except, there was this one little thing I noticed about her profile.  It was this: in her brief intro section, there was a line that said, “[Certain Famous So and So] once tweeted me.”

Okay, I get it.  A brush with fame, even if it’s only by the tips of the bristles.  We’ve all done it, haven’t we?  Gone a little starstruck?

A friend and I once walked up part of a mountainside next to Eddie Vedder.  It was at an outdoor concert and he never uttered a single syllable to us, but we were still pretty elated.  After another concert, a group of my friends and I got the chance to talk with a couple of the guys from Soundgarden (nope, not Chris Cornell…), and, once, my husband hung out in a bar in Stone Harbor, NJ, with Dave Matthews.  By “hung out,” of course I mean they were sitting at opposite sides of the bar for a while.  Last, but not at all least, I met Mark Strand a few years after he’d been named U.S. Poet Laureate.  He might not have been a rock star like the others, but I sure looked at him like he was.  Yeah, embarrassing.  Anyway, this is it, for my husband and me.  We were, briefly, fame adjacent, via poets and musicians.  To this date, we’ve received not one tweet from any of them.

20160531_104932

My Mark Strand autograph, may he rest in peace

What’s my point?  I’m not quite sure.  I guess it’s just that these experiences made for moments of excitement in our lives and fun stories for a while afterward.  They’re not the first thing we share when we’re introduced to new people and they definitely don’t define us.  I’m not trying to be overly critical of this Twitter person, with her “[So and so] once tweeted me.”   Really, I’m not.  I can understand that fame proximity can go to your head, but honestly, should a few words or a nod thrown your way by someone–anyone–help define you?  Again, I’m not sure.  Everyone defines themselves differently.  Personally?  I’m frequently inspired by people’s words, but I don’t want other people’s words to define who I am.

Still, coming across this famously-tweeted woman on Twitter made me pause to think.  How do we define ourselves?  Granted, it can depend on the situation.  There’s the resume type of defining we do in professional situations.  We certainly define ourselves differently in our doctor’s exam room than we would at a class reunion.  (One would hope, anyhow.)  But this isn’t the type of defining I mean.  I’m not even talking about Twitter or Facebook or any type of social media defining.  I mean, who are you, when no one else is around?  In a quiet, shady garden, with a light breeze to keep you comfortable, who are you?

Fall 2010 115

Come on in, gate’s open

If I’m asking this of you, I probably ought to do a little fessing up, myself.  I think the way I define myself has evolved over time, much like anyone else.  I’d have to say, first and foremost, I’m a mother and a wife.  My children are my loves, my world, my everything; my husband is my best friend, my love, my comfort and companion, even though, occasionally, our differences drive each other slightly batty.  I love animals and nature and my spirituality is strongly tied to both.  In terms of religious beliefs?  I’m more or less undeclared.  I am a Christian in my heart, but I find beauty in parts of various other religions, as well.  To be encouraged to worship or pray or believe in a specific way just doesn’t seem to work for me.  Political stance?  No thanks.  I have views on given topics, but in general, politics and politicians frighten me.  They always seem too far disconnected from the root of the real matters to do much good.  That said, I vote regularly and I make my choices according to issue, rather than party.  In fact, I’ve been known to change parties, based on which primary I want to vote in next.

All in all, I think I’m sort of in a larval/chrysalis/evolving stage, hoping to figure out how to form some wings.  If I had to paint a picture of how I’d most like to live, I’d make it a little safe haven somewhere quiet, where I could be surrounded by the people and animals I love, to live in tune with nature.  It would be a place where I could learn and grow, while taking in life meaningfully and at my own pace.  Sure, it’s an idealized image, but it represents my current me to me.

Bradley Swenson

Something along these lines…

Image by Bradley Swenson

To answer my own question, then, I guess I mostly define myself by my loves.  I’ll do my best to continue evolving, but in the end?  I hope I’ll still be defining myself through the same means–by my loves.

How about you?  Do you define yourself by the way you feel, or the things you think and do?  What about your intentions?  Do they count?  If you could create your own, ideal world, what would it be?

H. A. O'Connor

Hair and Now

Earthy, Natural Beauty No Comment
Hair and Now

Am I the only one who caught an ear worm from that title?  Luther Vandross?  1989?  Here and Now?  Pretty sure it was played during at least one of my proms.  Anyway, I’m showing my age, time to move on….

Today’s post has nothing to do with Mr. Vandross or with music of any kind.  This one’s about … how’d you guess it?  Hair.

My hair has a long history of crimes and misdemeanors: frizz, dryness, notoriously awful haircuts (some committed by yours truly), extreme brassiness when mixed with the wrong colorants, etc., etc., etc.  These days, though, it’s behaving much better.  Why?  I think it’s mostly because I’m treating it right.  While I’m no expert on haircare, I’ve done plenty of research and loads of experimentation (a.k.a. cruel and unusual punishment), so I’m pleased to share the route I’ve found to happier, healthier hair, here and now.

20160606_171825

Behold the Sandalwood Comb, in all its glory

Combing/Brushing

Can I make a confession?  I’m a little in love with my brush and even more with my comb.

My brush is made with boar bristles.  (*Some companies sell humanely-harvested versions.)  Can you say volume??  After flipping my hair over (brushing outward from the nape of my neck), I flip it back again to admire my spot-on impression of Sideshow Bob.  Despite boar bristles’ ridiculous effect on me, they’re very kind to hair; they spread out oils to reduce dryness and frizziness, while adding shine and improving texture.

My comb–ah, my comb.  It’s wide-toothed, so it can be used on wet or dry hair.  My favorite part, though, is that it’s made of lovely-looking, lovely-scented sandalwood.  It’s great with detangling, doesn’t cause static, and its nearly-invisible seam won’t catch in my hair.  I use it both before and after brushing, to rid my hair of tangles and also to help bring out my hair’s waves and shine.  Plus, did I mention?  Sandalwood smells divine.  Trust the comb-sniffer on this one.

Shampoo/conditioner

Let’s talk process.  So, you think you know how to wash your hair?  Could be.  Depends on how well you follow instructions.  I’m talking the whole “Lather, rinse, repeat” bit.  Do you do this?  If not, do.  Do do it.

Also, when working the shampoo into your hair, focus mainly on the scalp.  Your first wash will loosen sebaceous oils; your second will send them packing.  *Bonus: massaging your scalp stimulates blood flow, increasing the health of hair and scalp, while encouraging hair growth.

You may have heard some talk about low poo or no poo–yes, we’re still talking about hair.  This is referring to the shampooing spectrum.  It exists, really.  I’ve seen graphics.  I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, at one end, there’s traditional shampooing and at the other end, there’s no poo, or a “wash with water only” method, which–let’s be honest–I never intend to try.  In between, there’s a “wash with baking soda/rinse with apple cider vinegar” method, which also sounds a little too hard-core for me, and a “wash with shampoo bars” method, which I have tried with little to no success.  (Granted, I did make my own shampoo bars, which could have been an issue, but the apple cider vinegar-rinse didn’t work for me, either.  Every time my hair got wet, I smelled like a salad.)  Moving on up, there’s the “natural shampoo” option, which is where my hair and I are currently living–very happily, I might add.  I’ve even dragged my husband and kids into the natural-shampoo zone and, I promise, we’re all very well adjusted.  Which reminds me: if you want to join us in natural shampooing, it will take some time for your hair to resume its natural balance of oils.  After that, it should be all smooth–and shiny–sailing.

In case you’re wondering what I mean by “natural shampoo,” I also like to call them “NO” shampoos.  (Really clears things up, doesn’t it?)  As an example, my current bottle of Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo has this list on its label: No Sulfates, No Parabens, No Phthalates, No Paraffin, No Propylene Glycol, No Mineral Oil, No Synthetic Fragrance, No DEA, and No Animal Testing (yay!).  All these negatives add up to a great big positive, if you ask me.

Oscar Keys

Bad hair day. Don’t look at me.

Image by Oscar Keys

Dry Shampoo for Oily Hair

In the past, I could not–I repeat NOT–skip my daily shampooing.  Now, though, my hair loves its in-between washing days.  Nonetheless, if any surprise oils do crop up, I have another natural tool in my arsenal to deal with them: dry shampoo.  I work a small amount through any oily areas (moving from the scalp, outward) and brush it through my hair to blend.  Since dry shampoo can be costly, I’ve been making my own:

1/4 cup arrowroot powder or non-GMO cornstarch

1/2 TBSP colloidal (finely-ground) oatmeal (optional)

2 TBSP cocoa powder (optional–I use this to darken the powder for my brown hair; it can be left out for lighter hair)

5-10 drops lavender essential oil (optional–I use it for its fresh scent, but other skin/hair-safe essential oils can be substitued, such as peppermint)

Argan Oil for Dry or Frizzy Hair

Warning: a little goes a long way!  I keep some argan oil in a little spray bottle, scented with 5-10 drops of lavender (or peppermint) essential oil.  If my hair is frizzy or dry, I wet my hands a bit, spray a very, very small amount of the oil solution into the center of my palm, rub my hands together and then lightly pat my palms over any dry areas of my hair.  Keep in mind, though, my hair is curly-ish, so to avoid making straight hair look greasy, it might work better as a night-time, pre-wash treatment to bring the extra shine.

FreeImages.com-Ewerton Thomeu

Fight the Frizz!

Image by FreeImages.com/Ewerton Thomeu

More Hair, Now

Well, maybe not now, but soon.  In searching for ways to help thicken my fine air (and to help my husband’s hair regrow where it was thinning), I researched natural ingredients.  These are reputed to encourage hair growth and/or maintain the health of hair and scalp: castor oil (cold-pressed and cold-processed is best), rosemary essential oil (**NOT to be used by pregnant women, children, or those suffering from epilepsy or hypertension), lavender essential oil and dry nettle.

They can be mixed in a glass bottle (about 2 oz. castor oil, 5-10 drops each of rosemary and/or lavender essential oils, 5 or so capsules’ worth of dry nettle).  Gently massage a small amount into scalp, leave on for a while (overnight works well), and later shampoo from hair.  If it’s hard to remove, work in some conditioner first to loosen the heavy castor oil, before shampooing.  That’s it.  Easy, peasy.  After using it, my hair seems thicker and, as my husband’s barber, I can attest to seeing more hair where, previously, there had been less.  (*The Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo I mentioned earlier is also a great one for promoting hair growth–no, I’m not affiliated with the company.  I just love their products.)

Grow, grow, grow your hair….

Henna

Due to health concerns and the fact that chemical colorants don’t like my hair, I switched to coloring it with a combination of henna, indigo and amla powder.  I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the color, which is a warm brown/auburn, and my hair is shinier than ever.  For more details on my henna experience, please check out my previous Henna Gabber blog post.

The goal: hair zen.

Image by Ashley Bean

So, there you have it, my tried-and-true methods for pampering my hair the best way I know how: naturally.

If you give any of these methods a try, it would be great to hear whether or not your hair falls in love.  (I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that it does!)  Also, if you have any other methods you’d like to share, it would be great to hear that, too!

 

**A FINAL NOTE ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS: It is always best to check health warnings before using ANY essential oils and I NEVER recommend ingesting essential oils or applying it neat (undiluted) to the skin.  Use EXTREME caution when exposing children to any essential oils (diffusers, etc.) and NEVER use with children under two years of age.  Here’s a good post on essential oil use with children, in case you’d like to learn more: http://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2014/09/08/essential-oil-safety-danger-essential-oils-seizures-children/ and one for adults: http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/safety.asp

 

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