Monday, November 13, 2017

Exit or Voice

"Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit - stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice - complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed."

"Americans have always preferred 'the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.'"
- From Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) as quoted in The New Yorker, November 13, 2017. "Our Town" by Larissa MacFarquhar.

I nearly recoiled when I read about the neatness of exit and how it is unlikely to result in a solution to any problem. My life has been defined to some degree by neatness of exit. When I was between the ages of six and eighteen my family moved six times. We became the masters of exit, of leaving before deep roots planted, before long-term friendships became problematic, before the house developed roof, plumbing, or driveway issues (with the exception of the house in Medfield, which distressingly developed all three before we could escape). Even our cars were lease vehicles. My father worked for Nissan Motor Corp, so we received a new car when we received a new neighborhood, never concerning ourselves with new power trains, fan belts, or long-term warranties.

Moving brought its own difficulties and traumas, but our exit-oriented lives left me in some ways unprepared to deal with the thirty-five year old house I now live in, or the battered van with 120,000 miles that I now drive. All of my siblings have likewise settled in a place where they now have homes and cars and ties that bind. Now we have to use voice to solve problems, wrestle with friendships and roofs and fan belts that weather over time.

It's been an adjustment to plant my feet and stay. My first instinct is flight, and I probably would have left any number of troubling situations over the past six years if it would not have been detrimental to my children, my valued friendships, my relationship to this place. American history has always valued movement - to the frontier, to the cities, to the new places, and perhaps slightly less glamorized the work of staying home. As we all wrestle with troubling divisions and large-scale problems that our country faces, we could use a reminder that only our persistent use of voice and our determination to stay can really solve them.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reading the Past

I've been re-reading blog entries for a project, which is similar to watching your life flash before your eyes, if by "flash" you  mean distracted review over several days.  Some entries make me laugh, some make me hit "skip" and some poignantly evoke memories that had been buried.

There's a post on my shock at Aden's entry into Cherry Creek High School, ending with the line "so glad I have these four years ahead before she goes off to college." Even earlier posts note her adventures in fifth grade, navigating bullies on the playground. Now our precious time has been cut to a year-and-a-half, and my recent posts focused on college tours.

I read about my Just Faith class and our travels together. I used to see those friends and classmates for hours each week and now rarely encounter them as we move off on our separate threads.  My friend Jeri and I used to share Just Faith and Spiritual Direction and now are busy in different spheres. So many posts in those years wrestled with the books and articles we read in class, as I tried to incorporate the wisdom.

Over the past eight years I noted births, baptisms and marriages; anniversaries, birthdays and reunions. There are many common threads in these posts relating to the importance of family and traditions - and having lots of fun.

Each season brings repetitive posts on the joys and struggles of summer break, or the relief of kids returning to school. Christmas and Easter are well represented, as are vacations and camping trips. Winter cold and illnesses take up space just prior to musings on the growing green and spring optimism, before giving way to the May-hem that takes over the lives of everyone connected with schools.

My year of illness was hard to read in blog form, though I glossed over the worst of it in my writing. Certain phrases trigger the pain and fear that held me in thrall while I typed away, pretending at a kind of normalcy. It's hard to believe that I could forget any part of that experience, but I want to forget, to pretend that I am now and have always been "normal."  Undoubtedly that desire is what lead me to swim extended hours over the past few weeks, leading to migraines, excessive fatigue, and joint pain.  Reading over all that I've learned and forgotten comes at a good time. I need to re-remember both the lessons and the blessings that made me who I am now.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Tell Me Something Good

I have bad-news fatigue. Memo to the media: tell me something good!

In search of positives I went searching through Google and found the website called Global Good News ( I pulled the following three headlines from November 3, 2017. Inspiring, uplifting and just downright rare enough to make you smile:

Carmakers join forces in Europe to make electrics widespread 
3 November 2017 - A group of major automakers plans to open hundreds of fast-charging stations for electric cars in Europe in coming years and use a common plug technology in what they hope will be a big step toward mass acceptance of battery-powered vehicles. BMW, Daimler, Ford, and the Volkswagen Group with its Audi and Porsche brands ... said Friday [3 November] that they will open the first of 20 stations this year in Germany, Austria, and Norway at 120-kilometer (75-mile) intervals along major roads. They plan to expand the network to more than 100 stations next year and have about 400 in place across Europe by 2020. (more)

Earth's ozone hole shrivels to smallest since 1988 
3 November 2017 - The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA said Thursday [2 November]. The huge hole in Earth's protective ozone layer reached its maximum this year in September, and this year NASA said it was 7.6 million square miles wide (19.6 million square kilometers). The hole size shrinks after mid-September. This year's maximum hole is more than twice as big as the United States, but it's 1.3 million square miles less than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015. (more)

Largest US port complex passes plan to reach zero emissions 
3 November 2017 - The largest port complex in the nation has set goals to drastically reduce air pollution over the next several decades. The plan approved Thursday [2 November] at a meeting of the governing boards of the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach outlines strategies for improving equipment and efficiency to eventually move cargo with zero emissions. (more)

Now that wasn't so hard! Let keep some good news and positive vibes circulating. We all need to be told something good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hallow What?

At risk of resembling the evilest of killjoys, the wickedest of witches, I confess to strongly disliking this black-and-orange, candy-crazed holiday. In my decades-long journey to stamp out sugar cravings I have accumulated way too much knowledge about the downside of candy. Such is my repulsion that I've offered to buy Daniel's haul for the princely sum of $40. In exchange for two twenties, he will forgo the eating of Kit-Kat's, Reese's, Almond Joys and Hershey's.  I've allowed him four treats - and the rest is going to the orthodontist.

The older kids have outgrown trick-or-treating and their consumption of holiday treats at school or at parties is out of my purview. But they tell me that they avoid the shiny wrappers, white-crusted, wax chocolate candies that abound among their peers. Both teens break out after eating sugar (just like their mom), and are usually concerned enough about their appearance to break off any new and exciting relationship with addictive desserts.

Before you add me to your "do not read" list for my cruelty and anti-Americanness, let me assure you that I love little kids in costumes. My nephews as firemen or sporting Tigger costumes and monster masks - delightful. My nieces as red MnM's, bumblebees or trolls - adorable! At our church's Trunk or Treat I was charmed by the lambs, wizards, Things 1 and 2's that toddled around in confusion, mutely offering us their empty pumpkins. (They're cutest before they understand the basic transaction, before they override your offer of Kisses and reach down deep into your bucket for a handful of the biggest pieces they can find.)

Pumpkins do blink and grin from our porch, and strings of orange lights guide children in from the street. Aden and I bought masks to wear while we handed out treats . . . . I guess I'm more deeply divided than I thought. With the music of Saint Saens playing in the background, pumpkin muffins on the counter and a fire in the fireplace, I feel the enchantment of the day.  If we could just eliminate the toxic sugar, Halloween would be as purr-fect as a black cat in a pumpkin costume.

Friday, October 27, 2017

College Visits

Three college tours this fall break and I feel a range of emotions. Disbelief that my daughter is less than two years away from attending one, wistful desire to go myself, relief that we don't have to drag two argumentative boys on any more near-term visits. Above all of these reactions is sticker shock: the private Colorado College would cost $68,000 a year for tuition, room, board and God only knows what else. Colorado State University and University of Colorado, Boulder, are much more reasonable, around $28,000 per year for everything (though I'm sure extraneous fees would add to this total). College costs currently rise at 7% per year, which is completely outrageous. I can't help but wonder where they spend all that money. As we walked through newly renovated dorm rooms and gyms, I could see the ghosts of dollar bills flying down the chimneys.

The prohibitive cost of college raises other issues, particularly for low-come students. According to today's  Denver Post, "since the late 1990s, almost two-thirds of selective public universities have reduced the share of students they enroll who come from families earning less than $37,000 a year" ( Not surprisingly, analysts found that "a near-identical share of these schools have increased the percentage of students they enroll who come from families earning at least $110,000."  

Grant money has failed to keep up with the increase in tuition, and families are increasingly stretched to send their children to a public university.  At every school we attended, diversity was an issue. Admissions counselors showed pretty presentations highlighting a diverse group of students, even as the student tour leaders admitted that diversity "was an issue" that their school was addressing. Particularly at private schools - which advertise small class sizes and deeper learning - staff and students recognize that small group discussions which lack a variety of perspectives are less valuable. Students who receive only one view of the world fail to understand the complex causes and consequences of today's issues. One young lady told me that her school "does a good job of studying the issue (of diversity)." 

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to send our children to public universities, and are grateful to have excellent schools in our state. I would like to push our country to acknowledge higher education as a core value for all students who want to obtain a degree. The young people who led our tours with enthusiasm and expert knowledge made me hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. The learning opportunities on these campuses are wide-ranging, cutting-edge and exciting. Aerospace engineering, environmental design, leadership, medicine, art, international studies (some abroad). All students should have a chance to go and to learn.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wise Women

My spiritual director, my healer, my friend. Three wise women who teach me about myself, and I had a chance to be with them all in the past week.

I haven't called my spiritual director in over five months. Life got busy, money was dear, I was holding it together on my own. But in the aftermath of an energy-changing trip to Spain and the resulting challenge of bringing joy back to my daily life, I felt the need for her counsel.

We discussed the weight of daily news in America, the sense that life as we know it grows every more fragile. How teenagers today feel the frequency of our country's disorganized and somewhat negative energy and how I desperately want to color my children's days with hope and positive energy, though I often feel weighed down by its opposite.

Dominie mused on this for a moment. "You know, there was one generation before that grew up with the weight of knowledge of nuclear power and tense relations between countries. I can't remember what they called that generation but they're now age 26 - 54..."

"That's me!" I broke in. "I think I'm generation X. And it's true - I grew up in the age of concrete bunkers and disturbing viewings of The Day After (a portrait of nuclear devastation visited on the heartland.)  I remember being worried a lot."

"Yes, it was a difficult time. Because you grew up in that environment, the threat and concern is in your DNA, permeates your subconscious.  It's understandable, but you should realize that not everyone feels the same way, and that you might be able to talk back to your fears."

Wow. Relief to think that not everyone worries quite as much as my generation, to absorb the thought that I can talk back to my fears . . . . but how?  I can't just wake up and tell myself life is perfect when I know otherwise.

"How does it feel to tell yourself that no matter what happens, you have the skills and resources to guide your family through it?"  Now that felt authentic, positive, real. I can do that. And in the meantime, Dominie encouraged me to return to the things that brought new joy in Barcelona: art, walking outside, exploring, looking for beauty.  I can find those activities here in Denver, too.

My next wisdom encounter was with my healer. She's not a western MD but more of a functional medicine practitioner, would have been a shaman in ancient times. Jean has helped me coax my body toward health for over ten years. This past week I took Daniel in to see her, and we found that he is highly reactive to gluten and dairy, just like me, just like his siblings.  The coincidence was startling, given that we are not genetically connected.

My healer said, "Daniel fits in your family, and your awareness of these exact issues makes it a perfect place for him. It's not a coincidence that he's with you."   As Daniel fought back tears over losing ice cream and Domino's, I battled similar tears over our new bond, our ability to help him.

And my last wisdom encounter with a good friend, urging me to follow my heart, to look past percentages and numbers and the business of daily life toward peace and joy, toward guiding my whole family toward the same.  It was such a blessing to receive these reminders and support this week as the calendar grew monstrous again, the to-do list so long that I broke it into several smaller lists, and stress mounted. With the help of my wise women I was able to breathe, coach myself back to consciousness, and look forward with positive energy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

This post has been surprisingly difficult to write. It's a love letter to a troubled partner,  a bit of an "it's not you, it's me" vibe.

I recently wrote about my enchantment with  Spain, a new county, like a new crush, that beguiled despite its own ongoing political drama and discontent. Returning home to the United States, I felt a weight drop onto my chest, a resistance to resuming my life as a responsible American citizen. It has been a troubling year, a difficult eighteen months. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you have felt the divide here, the anger, frustration and resentment that constantly simmer, frequently exploding into a boil.

When I regaled my Spanish teacher with stories of our week abroad, I ended with the disconcerting truth that it was hard to come home, and not just because we moved from vacation to real life.  She responded, "our country is like our family. We notice everything, react to everything, and feel each new development emotionally. Other families, like other countries, can be as dysfunctional as they like - if it's not ours we're not judgmental, not invested. It's because we care that we hurt."

Recognizing the truth in her words helped me find the deep well of caring for my country that stays stubbornly full. In the fullness of gratitude, I've made a list of the many Americans who make me proud and thankful to be a citizen of this country. I'd like to include part of the list here:

- The firefighters and first responders who fought the fires in Northern California over the past week. These men and women worked tirelessly without respite for days on end to rescue countless civilians, animals, structures from the flames.
- The first responders and heroes who came to the rescue of injured during the Las Vegas tragedy. Those who carried the wounded away from the scene, donated vehicles, addressed the needs of the victims. Those who comfort the traumatized, the grieving.
- Hotel owners and staff in Las Vegas who gave rooms for free.
- Staff at the museums and libraries and destinations in Northern California who scrapped entry fees over the weekend for people to come in out of the smoky air.
- The first responders, friends and neighbors who came to the rescue of hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as the US Virgin Islands and other locations. Many courageous acts light the way for many more that need to follow, particularly in Puerto Rico.
- All those who have donated money to relief efforts.
- Reporters, researchers, aid organizations that do the work on the ground in devastated areas to report back the needs of those affected.
- My extended family for caring and contributing whenever possible.
- The Willow Creek community (where I live) for its lemonade stands for hurricane relief, clothing and food drives, Caring Bridge and Meal Train offerings for those who are ill.
- The St. Andrew UMC community for packing hurricane relief kits, organizing fundraising for those in need, including all people under the umbrella of caring, creating opportunities to connect.
- The Casa de Paz community who raised bond in short order so that a husband and father could leave immigrant detention and return to his family.
- The teachers at my children's schools, for their hard work, emotional strength and support of the children, goal-setting, leadership, and perseverance.
- All teachers everywhere.

It's a long list, and it's just the beginning. It's my country, my family, and I love it.