Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bathos, Stolen Corpses and Rock n' Roll

One of the coolest, most interesting classes I took in college, the kind of class that colleges should offer more of, the kind of class that is quintessentially “college”, was Country and Folk Music Traditions. It was in the English curriculum, since we studied the lyrics as much as the history and the music itself, and was taught by a really hipster older guy professor, Dr Bob Cochran.  

Dr Cochran introduced us to all kinds of music I'd never have listened to myself, from the Carter Family to Merle Haggard to Gram Parsons. It is Gram Parsons though who's music and story has stuck with me all these years. 


He introduced us to Parsons by playing "Love Hurts" for us in class. His intent was to differentiate for us the difference between pathos and bathos.  (Pathos is the quality of evoking sympathy and sadness in someone. Bathos is when the attempt at pathos goes overboard into ludicrousy or gross sentimentalism.)  The class silently took in this song, a duet between Parsons and Emmylou Harris, whose voices blend together more beautifully than any two voices I've ever heard. When the song was over, the class sat silently, reverently. Dr Cochran laughed.

"I see you guys were taken in by that song. I was trying to show you bathos, but you all bought right in to the sentiment."

He may have forgotten that while he had all the wisdom of his 50 plus years, we were all still children living and breathing the raw truth that love hurts. 

The story of Gram Parsons is just as enticing as his music. Or maybe just the story of his death. His life was that of a typical 1960s rock star - nudie suits, tours, drugs. But his death - what a story!

He was found dead in his hotel room during a tour; the official report was drug overdose. Not uncommon. But his step-father, who had very little to do with him, requested that his body be returned to Louisiana, allegedly due to a family estate issue, and arranged a small funeral for him, excluding all of Gram's actual friends in the music industry. Gram had recently expressed wishes to be cremated when he died and have his ashes spread in Joshua Tree National Park, his favorite place on earth. So what did his loyal friends do?

They stole his dead body from the airport, of course, borrowed a hearse and drove Gram's coffin to Joshua Tree.  Unsure of how to actually cremate a body, they just poured gallons of gasoline on the coffin and lit a match, while drinking beer and sharing stories of their deceased friend. It didn't result in the small, funereal fire they expected, however, and the raging fireball resulted in a police chase. Gram's friends couldn't be arrested though, because there was no law on the books against stealing a dead body. They were fined for stealing a coffin, and that's about as much the law could muster against them. Gram's wishes were - sort of - granted.

That's friendship. That's rock n' roll. That's - bathos?

Yesterday in a coffee shop, I heard "Brass Buttons" playing in the background, another Parsons' tune that tows the line between pathos and bathos. It reminded me it's been too long since I listened to Grievous Angel, my favorite Gram Parsons album. That would be due to my CD snapping a few years ago in our move from Scotland to Arkansas. But Amazon Prime Music came to the rescue, and I was able to download Grievous Angel and listen to it three times in a row back to back. Honestly, could Emmlylou and Gram's voices weave any better?

(Apparently, Emmylou hated touring with Gram. Apparently, he was a bit of an asshole.)

Anyway, thank you, Starbucks, for reminding me of the fantastic rock fairy tale that is Gram Parsons, of the most interesting college class I've ever taken, and that love doesn't really hurt so bad in the end, once you find the good kind.


Monday, September 05, 2016

A Little Less Wise

Kitty cat healing therapy
September has sure gotten off to an interesting start. 

A couple of weeks ago, one of my wisdom teeth, which has been impacted for a while but not causing me any pain, starting hurting. Within days, the pain grew exponentially, and I knew it was time to get it taken out.

I arranged a consultation with the oral surgeon for Wednesday, August 31st.  They had me booked in for the extraction of all three wisdom teeth (I only have three), all of which needed to come out, for Friday, September 2nd. Thus began my Labor Day weekend.

Despite being extremely nervous about the procedure, all went well. I was put under general anesthetic and sent home after I awoke. I spent all day Friday dozing in and out on the armchair downstairs, watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, with an ice pack wrapped around my head and bottles of tablets for pain and nausea. It was fun.  Thankfully, my dear friend Eugenie took all three of our kids from Friday after school until Sunday morning, which was the biggest favor I could have ever asked for! I was way too out of it to even really notice if the kids were there or not. I was in a Percocet stupor for two whole days.

Face packs are so hot right now.
However, by Saturday night, even though I was still away with the fairies and still in a fair bit of pain, I got picked up by a friend to go to book club. I simply did not want to miss book club. I slept on the couch most of the night surrounded by friends, and again, even though I felt pretty crappy, I couldn't have felt crappier in a better place than surrounded by people I love!

The kids came home Sunday, and I spent most of the day in bed.  I watched more Gilmore Girls last night and went to bed around 11 pm, hoping my pain meds from 8 would last me through the night.

Instead I woke up at 2:30 (appropriate) to more pain and had to redose. I've been in and out of consciousness and pain all day today (Monday). I'm concerned about my lower right side extraction might have developed a dry socket. I plan on calling the dentist in the morning if the pain there still hasn't subsided, which it seems to have little chance of doing at this point. Owwww.

What a fun way to spend Labor Day weekend, huh?!

Besides that, it kind of messed with my September Shopping Challenge. On the first day of September, I had to go back out to the grocery store to stock up on soft foods to get me through the first few days. (I've been living on mashed potatoes, ice cream and Campbell's soup all weekend.) Not to mention the walloping copay I had to pay to get the procedure done in the first place. It's probably a good thing I'm doing the shopping challenge after having to dish out that huge chunk of change unexpectedly!

A healthy diet of soft foods
So here I am, three teeth lighter and a little less wise.  And still in somewhat of a pain med fairyland. I just put a banana loaf in the oven, and I can't guarantee all the ingredients were applied in the correct proportions.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

September Shopping Challenge: Essential Prep



So for those of you who are joining me in the September Shopping Challenge for the first time, here are a few tips for getting started.

The key to success in this challenge is prep prep prep. It's essential that you plan ahead, budget and keep track of your spending.

When it comes to meals, menu planning is a must. We have in our kitchen four planning boards - meals, kids' schedules, parents' schedules ... and a fourth that has yet to find a real use but was needed to make the space look right. Chore schedules would probably make sense, if I'd just get around to it. This month, though, I've made the fourth board a shopping challenge record board.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on


Usually I only plan meals for the two weeks of the pay period, but this month I went ahead and planned for all month. I included eat-out days, so they could be budgeted as well.  Using my scheduling board, I made sure that the meals I planned corresponded with our schedules. For instance, Lolly has soccer practice two days a week; those days, the dinners I've planned are quick and simple, so she can eat and be back out the door in time for practice.  I have book club on the 3rd, so I planned out an extra dish to bring along to that. Don't forget to plan for Labor Day weekend too - will you be going out? Barbecuing? Menu planning around your schedules is important.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on


Then you need to plan your grocery list around your menu. I made my shopping list in the kitchen, going through each day and writing down what was on the menu and what ingredients I'd need for each thing. I also made sure I checked the fridge and the pantry in case I already had some of the ingredients or in case I thought I had some but didn't.  I also checked my household lists for "other" items I needed to buy.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on


Finally, it's useful, if you have the time, to make sure everything on your list will fit into your grocery budget. For our family of five, our budget is $300 a fortnight for groceries. I know from experience that my grocery list is almost always going to fit into that budget, so I no longer write down the numbers, but I still write down the actual costs as I'm shopping so I can tally up before check-out, and if I've overspent, I can put some things back.  For those of you new to budgeting though, I recommend playing your own version of the supermarket game, if you have the time. I did all of this on Saturday while the kids played on their iPads and computers, so I could have enough time to really plan all this out. However, I know we don't all have tons of spare time to be super meticulous. If you have the time, though, the supermarket game is a great way to keep yourself from overspending or buying extra items while at the store.  Follow the link to read in detail, but a quick summary of the game is this:

1. Next to each item on the list, write down what you suspect each item will cost. (I round up to the nearest $0.50 or $1.)

2. Total it up so you know what you think you will end up spending. (If that total is over your budget limit, go back through and see what you can cut out.)

3. While at the store, write down how much the item actually cost. You can even grade yourself on how well you guessed by giving yourself a point for each item you either got exactly right and two points for each you spent less on. Take away a point for each item you spent more than your estimate. Take away another point for each item you buy that wasn't on your list. Give yourself no points but do not take away if that unplanned for item was a true necessity. (We all forget sometimes that we need butter or have run out of baking soda.)  Each item on your list started out as a single point, so at the end of the game, how close to your original list did you get, point-wise?

(I also write down each extra item I buy with its cost, so I can keep track of what I'm buying and where the extra expenses came from.)

4. When you check out, if you stayed under your budget, you win! If you went over, you didn't "lose" you just know how to estimate better next time. Tally up your points too and see how well you did. Did you estimate everything well? Did you underspend more often than you overspent?

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on


This is how I keep myself on budget with meals and groceries. This month, I'm also keeping a record of what I've spent in groceries and in my personal spending allowance. Seeing it in black and white (rather than in a bank account) somehow makes the money seem more real to me. I know using a checkbook transaction log is good, and I should really start doing that again, but I tend to use that only for  my checks. If you are already using a log, that is great! If you aren't logging anything at all, I'd suggest you find an easy way to do it. My log is just a sticky pad I keep in my car with a pen. As soon as I get in the car, I record what's on the receipt (or a rounded-up estimate if I've already managed to lose the receipt.) Whatever works for you. But I highly recommend logging your spending somewhere, somehow.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on


Get planning, folks! September starts Thursday!


Thursday, August 25, 2016

September Shopping Challenge 2016

Hello, my name is Lori, and I'm a shopaholic.

I love shopping, any kind, anywhere. Grocery stores, big box stores, boutiques, bookstores, malls, Amazon. My sister-in-law even took me into a tractor store once, where I discovered how badly I wanted to buy a chicken coop. When I have had a stressful day, my therapy is retail therapy. It's a weakness, a flaw, a sin, but I am hopeless. Every pay period I vow to do better, then a new pair of shoes calls to me or Terry Gross reviews an author of a new book or Facebook tries to sell me a Bernie Sanders action figure. (I have almost bought that so many times.)

In 2013, I started the September Shopping Challenge to help me learn to curb my spending and control my budget. We had just moved back to America, Scott had just started his new job, and we were at the start of trying to rebuild our lives. We had no furniture, no car, no books or toys, just the suitcases-worth of belongings we'd brought over from Scotland. I started the challenge to help me manage spending in those early, stressful days.

I did the challenge again in 2014 as a refresher course in budgeting but skipped 2015. This year - 2016 - I am going to attempt the challenge again, because my shopaholic tendencies of late have been getting the better of me.

Each year, I come up with new SCC rules to help guide me through the month and to outline areas I need help with my habits.  They usually involve only going shopping once a week and making lists and sticking to pre-planned menus, schedules and budgets. Then I add any other rules or exceptions that I feel are needed to make the month successful.

You can read about the origination of the September Shopping Challenge, the first year executive summary, and the second year's game plan for a little more background. Here are some helpful lists. If after reading this, you think you'd like to join me in this challenge, leave a comment (with your blog if you plan to blog about it!) and we'll keep each other motivated.  How does that sound?! (Ridiculously fun, y'all, for real. We could start a Facebook group and everything.)

This year, I have outlined the following rules.

1. Grocery shopping. We get paid every other Thursday, so the weekend is usually the best time to get the shopping done; however, usually by Wednesday, our kids (and my husband) have managed to eat everything in the house, so waiting until Saturday is almost always impossible. So in September, I will allow myself two grocery days a fortnight: Thursday (or Friday) after work and then Saturday or Sunday.  The in-between week will have one grocery day allowed for picking up any necessities we're running low on - milk, cereal, bread. Not brownies. No, Lori, brownies do not count.

2. Budgeting. We have a pretty well organized budget as it is, but we always try to leave a cushion which ends up being treated as free play money, not the cushion it ought to be. This September, that cushion will be filled with fluff and will remain fluffy. (Cushions, fluff, you get the metaphor. Give me a break. It's 9:30 pm, and I'm tired.) Regarding the budget, I will also make one other adjustment which I hope will become a permanent one. Knowing that we have that cushion money, every paycheck before I've had time to sit down and pay the bills and allocate the funds to the appropriate accounts (we have several actual accounts, like we're a family business or something), I have a bad habit of doing a little pre-budget spending. That might be getting pizza for dinner that night, ordering a book from Amazon I've been dying to read or buying something new for the kids.  My goal for this month is to do that little bit of spending AFTER paying bills and allocating funds.  That way I have a better method of tracking which fund or account that money came from. Was it from my personal spending money? Grocery fund? It needs to come out of something other than the cushion fluff.

3. Spending money.  Now that Scott and I are both working, we pay ourselves an "allowance" that is totally our own business. Scott does with his spending money whatever he likes and I do the same. The only problem is, I put the grocery money in the same account as my spending money, which often means the two get hopelessly intertwined. Some weeks I end up using my fun money on groceries or kids' needs, and others I end up taking a little out of the grocery fund to cover something for myself. This month, I'm going to keep a transaction record to keep the two separate.

4. No spend days.  This is the hardest part for me. I like to spend money. I like to shop. If I need to get away from life, I like to go to the book store and wander the aisles for hours. (And it's humanly impossible to leave a book store without a book or four.)  Online shopping has made this even worse. Why, just today, I was at a Women In Networking luncheon where the speaker, Emily Reeves Dean, was talking about her book that she self-published, and me being a big supporter of local authors and self-publishers, ordered her book from Amazon. Just sitting there, sipping my iced tea, I spent $11.99. So through the month of September, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be firm No Spend Days.  Thursday or Friday and Saturday or Sunday will be grocery days, but only two of them, not three or four. The other two remaining days will be No Spend Days too.  If I want to spend my fun money, I will wait until one of the shopping days. The benefit of this is that I do not make tiny little purchases throughout the week that add up. If it's something I want badly, I'll still want it at the end of the week. If by the end of the week I don't want it anymore, then it wasn't worth buying to start with.

5. Exceptions. There will be one exception to all of this. Scott and I allow ourselves one evening a week to eat out unplanned.  This is usually on a day where work was exceptionally draining and neither of us want to cook. Lolly's soccer season starts back up in September too, so it might come on a night when we have soccer practice and did not get dinner beforehand. I will continue having this exception. It's needed for my well-being. It may fall on a No Spend Day, but that is okay, because this is the exception and comes out of one of our personal spending allowances. Either Scott will treat me or I'll treat him (and the kids, of course.)

So that's this year's September Shopping Challenge plan. Create your own plan or budget for the month and see what kind of savings you can make or good habits you can form! It'll be fun, I promise! (And by fun, I mean torture-but-worth-it-in-the-end.)


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Last First First Day of School

Last week, all three of my kids started school. Fifi went into fourth grade, Lolly into second, and little Baby Jaguar - not a baby anymore - started Pre-K.


All three kids went into the same school building at the same time for the first time. For two years they will all be in the same building for the only time in their lives. Fifi will head off to Middle School, and from then on they'll all be off doing different things for the rest of their childhoods.

I remember Fifi's first day of P1 (the equivalent of first grade). It was different than when she went into Nursery (two years equivalent to Pre-K and Kindergarten). She was starting all-day school in a uniform like a real pupil. I cried a little. It was a big deal.



I remember Lolly's first day of Kindergarten. She did NOT want to go to Kindergarten, but I managed to convince her to try at least one day of it. And of course she loved it. I didn't cry. I was happy to see her excited and willing to stay.


Last Monday, Jaguar started Pre-K. It is like Nursery but much more formal. He doesn't wear a uniform, but it's all day and we pack his lunch and he gets a folder that we have to sign each night. Because it's not Kindergarten I didn't think I'd be that emotional about it. But then he went into class the first day. There were tables and chairs and backpack hooks and a place to put his signed folder every morning, and I realized, this was it. This was Jaguar starting school. This was the beginning of the routine he'll follow for the next fourteen years. 


He was so grown up. He wasn't shy. He was impressed by the toys and the alphabet rug and the other kids. He hastily gave me a hug and a kiss, and then I was extraneous. I said a feeble goodbye to the teacher, and Scott put his arm around me, seeing the tears spring in my eyes.


It was my last very first first-day-of-school. From now on, this is our family's routine. Kids to school each morning until Fifi graduates high school. No extra daycare stops. For this year and next we'll drop them off at the same school each morning, but the following year, they will all split up again. Lolly and Jaguar will be in school together, until Lolly catches up with Fifi, just in time for Fifi to head off to Junior High. They will chase each other through the school system until college.

All three of my kids are in school now. Jaguar was only a baby yesterday. Come to think of it, they all were just babies.



"Nothing is as far away as one minute ago."

Time passes too fast.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hate and Fear and Death and Anger

With all the hate and fear and death and anger in the world right now, I am finding it hard to breathe lightly. Deep in my gut I feel sickened and exhausted and helpless. The American political climate is volatile, at its eruption point. Fear is being shoveled down our throats, and animosity is poisoning our veins. People are being shot by police, and police are being shot in return. Racism is killing black people, and white people are fighting over who's fault that is. Transgender people are being harassed over bathrooms. Whole religions are taking the blame for the acts of a belligerent few. Personal freedoms of who to love or who to worship are being yanked from some to assuage others. From Baltimore to San Bernardino to Baton Rouge to Falcon Heights to Nice to Munich to Orlando to Dallas, people are being murdered on the regular, sometimes en masse and each time unprovoked.

I believe in optimism. I believe in goodness, and I believe in love. But the hurricane of hate and fear and death and anger twisting all around me is suffocating.  How can I possibly see an American future where racism is obliterated from the bottom to the top, and from the top to the bottom, when half the country still refuses to see it exists? How can I believe that love will conquer hate when hate has become so palatable and carefree that it is openly preached from podiums and pulpits? How can I teach my children to be the change they want to see in the world when the world doesn't want to be changed or even see a need for it?

I recognize that I am a middle-class, married-to-a-man white woman. I cannot pretend to understand the daily concerns and experiences of black people, Muslims, gay and transgender people, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers or police officers. As an atheist and a woman, I can relate to certain levels of the discrimination but nothing comparable to those who are being threatened with banishment and deportation, who wake up wondering if they will be attacked in a bathroom today, who say "I love you" every time they leave the house in case it is the last time. I cannot relate to that enough to insist "I know what it's like". I don't.

I may not personally experience the hate and fear and anger and death meted upon so many of my fellow mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, but I see it. Not all of it, but I catch glimpses and glimmers. And they knock the breath out of me. Too often I am a silent observer. I am an observer who does not want to be silent but does not have the words or the platform to say anything or make a difference. I open my mouth to speak, but my own personal fear, my own survival instincts, catch the words in my throat and choke them out. My guilt and ignorance hold my frustration with the world's injustice against me, accusing me of being a part of the problem, and I am rendered silent again. Then I'm reminded that silence is a privilege, and I am hurled back into frustration.

I believe there is good in the world, and I believe in being the change I want to see in the world, but truth be told, both of these beliefs are ephemeral. They are American apple pies in the sky. They are nebulous puffy clouds that shade me from the glaring reality that I do not actually know if there really is good in the world, and I do not believe I can change anything.

This weekend I finished reading two books I've been working on for months. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay is a wonderful book, mixing humor and critical thought into multiple essays surrounding topics of oppression and inequality for women, for people of color, for people who are not thin, for anyone who does not fit the perfect standards American society holds us to. While I was able to laugh during some chapters, I had to pause and remember to breathe during others. I had to look square in the eye many truths about my perceptions as a white woman that I had not realized needed challenging. I was reminded that the inequality I face as a woman can be frustrating but not as frustrating as the challenges for women who heap inequality upon inequality. Inequality is not binary. The more disadvantages bestowed upon a person for his or her gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, hometown, education level - the list goes on - the more discrimination a person is bound to suffer. Sexism isn't experienced by me the same way it is experienced by a black woman or a lesbian woman or a black lesbian woman. The book opened my eyes to the sexism experienced by all types of women, not just women who look like me. I too am a bad feminist.

I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I started this book back in February but only finished it today, because it was the hardest book I have ever read. Reading it was like loading concrete blocks onto my chest, one page after another. It is one thing to "know" that black parents have to teach their black sons and daughters how to behave extra good during certain encounters; it is an entirely different thing to read the intensely honest and intimate letter written by a father to his son about the struggle to preserve the black body from destruction. No other book I've read that openly or begrudgingly let me observe a black experience, not Disgruntled or God Help the Child or Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, though each of those affected me in profound ways, changed me the way this one did. The hate and anger and death and fear twisting all around us are real dangers to our brothers and sisters of color. Yet we continue to tell them they are either imagining things or they need to sort themselves out by themselves, as if we as a country and a history and a society never did a thing to cause this peril to their bodies.

I am crushed under the inevitability of all the hate and anger and death and fear in our world. It feels like change is not going to come. I do not know what to do about it or how to help. I cannot change the minds of those around me who refuse to see the problems. I am such a small, insignificant fish in a fathomless ocean.

I want to believe in optimism, goodness and love. I want to believe that I can be the change. I want to believe in the story of the starfish, that it matters to walk along the shore and throw starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. I need to believe that the small tangible things I do might matter in the long run - the donations to charities, the volunteer hours, the lessons taught to my children. So small though. Too small.

I also want to know more. I want to be educated in areas I know little or nothing about. I want to read books that tell me truths it hurts to hear.  I want to be challenged and humbled and pushed into action. I want to understand. I don't want to be silent, but I do want to listen. I want to implore others to listen. I want all of us to close our mouths, open our eyes and lean in close to hear what our Muslim neighbors, our gay and transgender neighbors, our black, Hispanic and Native American neighbors, our uniformed neighbors have to say about their experiences and believe them. No "but what about"s or "but I"s or "but you"s.

I want all this hate and death and anger and fear to stop. I know I cannot stop it. I know I cannot escape it. I cannot simply turn off the radio, shut down Facebook, walk away from conversations, and slip under my covers just to make myself more comfortable again. If my fellow mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters do not get the luxury of switching off the TV to find comfort, I will not exercise my ability to do so. I will never fully understand what it feels like to be the target of all this hate and fear and death and anger, but I will continue to face these every day with them. I will continue to immerse myself as much as I can into their worlds through books and relationships and news stories and causes. I will listen when I ought to listen and try to speak when I ought to speak. I will push myself to continue believing in goodness and love, for my children and for my world, however small my influence on it may be. I cannot, I must not let the hate and fear and death and anger win.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Letters to My Past Self - Part 2

In 2013, I wrote letters to my past self, giving myself the advice I wish I'd been able to give myself when I was 16, 18, 20 (but certainly would have ignored). Mostly it was regarding boys, though some pertained to studying harder and making better financial choices . (Was getting a nose ring and losing your college tuition money from Mom and Dad worth it?) (Yes, kind of.)

I have some more things I'd like to tell past me.


Dear Lori (24),

Don't let anyone tell you to put that baby down more or stop being so obsessive over organic homemade baby food or that using cloth nappies is a waste of your time. This is your time to figure out motherhood on your own, and even though two babies later you will find that putting that baby down more will make life easier and that your baby will still be healthy and thrive if you feed her baby food from a jar* and that cloth nappies are fantastic for the environment and your wallet but holy hell they are a lot of smelly work and it's okay to sometimes reach for the disposable, right now you do exactly what you feel is right and be proud of each decision you make. I stand behind you and all first time mums in all your idealistic and ambitious plans. I'm proud of you.

Love,
Lori (34, mother of three)
*That is, when you don't have time to do baby led weaning, of course. I know you'd hate it if I didn't make that distinction.

******

Dear Lori (29),

Speaking of ambition, let's get one thing straight. You never stopped being ambitious. You never lost yourself. Your brain never turned to mush. You must not keep thinking this about yourself.

You left college with a fantastic job for a recent grad, and at the ripe young age of 22 you went through the entire process of immigration all on your own. You moved abroad. You managed to blag your way into another great job in a field you had no experience in. You kicked serious ass at that job (though your work ethic could probably have been a little better).  You were ambitious, and you knew it.

Then you got pregnant and decided with Scott to become a stay at home mum. And that's where your confidence began to shake.

You stayed out of the traditional workforce for nine years. You believed you had nothing to offer the world other than being a good mum. You believed you were only marginally smart. You stopped believing in yourself. You looked at your friends and saw them as successful, while viewing yourself as barely contributing to society.

STOP THAT.

Girl, let's look at it from my perspective now.

You left the traditional workforce to become the most kick ass mother you could possibly be. You researched every single mothering topic known to womankind. You made conscientious decisions about everything. You did things very differently from what was expected of you, but you did it with confidence, because you were informed and ambitious about mothering.

You were AMBITIOUS about mothering. If you were going to be a stay at home mum, you were going to be the best damn stay at home mum you could be. Ambition isn't just for the workplace. (Shout out to all the ambitious stay at home mums out there. I know for a fact how hard y'all work your asses off.)

Here's something else you may not be realizing.  You weren't just a stay at home mum. You were an entrepreneur, a fundraiser and an active volunteer in your community.

You started four businesses while you were "just a mum". One was successful enough to make a living off of (Wee Honey Bee Childminding), one was as successful as you intended it to be (IntoBento), one scraped by but at least kept breaking even and gave you a lot of joy (TinyTalk), and the one that didn't work (Lori Borealis), you had the sense to drop early.  Ambitious! 

You trained as a breastfeeding peer helper with a national breastfeeding charity. You and your fellow peer helpers started your own local charity and did some really awesome things, including designing a campaign that the NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde still uses. You girls started a texting support service for breastfeeding mothers. You had annual general meetings, because you were a real non-profit. You got real speakers in to talk at your AGMs, because you were a real non-profit. You had a non-profit status bank account, because you were a real non-profit. Stop minimizing what you're doing. You and your friends were AMAZING and AMBITIOUS. Mummy brain? Not you ladies. So stop putting yourself down and thinking what you are doing is "nothing special".  Stop thinking you aren't really contributing much to society other than being a pretty good mum. I'd like to retroactively send all of you women a medal of honor. (Honour, rather.)

Um, also, don't forget you wrote and published a book?

Basically, what I'm saying is, stop putting yourself down and thinking you've "lost yourself" and you have "no ambition" and you "aren't smart".  You have always been ambitious in everything you've ever done.  Your priorities changed (and rightly so), but your drive didn't.

And I only JUST realized this very recently myself, so no fault to you for not seeing it whilst in the thick of it.

Love,
Lori (34 and still ambitious)

******

Dear Lori (31),

Your life is about to change in every way. I think you know this. I mean, obviously you know you are leaving your home in Scotland to go back to your home in Arkansas. That's going to change your life drastically. (And I should really go ahead and prep you for this - you won't be moving to Fayetteville when you get there. Scott's going to find a job in Little Rock in a matter of weeks, and you're going to live in Nowheresville for two years. I think it's best I just tell you this now.)  But things are about to change so much more.  Who you are, who you've always seen yourself as, is about to do a complete 180.  You sense this, but you aren't ready to accept it.

You're about to lose your faith.

It's going to destroy you.

I'm not gonna lie about that.

But I swear to you, it's only temporary. That darkness you feel right now is only temporary. I know there's nothing I can say to lighten the load you carry on your shoulders right now. I know there's nothing that can soften the blows you feel every time you pray and hear nothing from God.  I know those tears are going to fall and that they have to fall. Like a mother watching her child go through her first heart break, I feel powerless for you, knowing that things are going to get better but that you can't see that right now. I know this is something you have to go through to get to the other side, but it hurts me to see it and remember it for you.  So I guess all I can say is do everything you can to keep your faith alive. Pray with all your strength. Speak to anyone you trust about this. Write about it, talk about it, paint about it, run and exercise about it.  Because you need to know later that you did everything you could to hold onto that faith, and if God couldn't do the rest, well then, that's that.

The pain of silence and abandonment will pass, and when they do, you will find joy again. Joy unspeakable. Joy in the world as it is, not as it's written to be. You will find strength in yourself you never knew you had even though it was yours all along. You will find love and trust and freedom in ways you never believed could be found in a life without a god. 

But for now, there's no sense in telling you this, because there is no way you can believe it. So just keep doing what you're doing, because you're doing everything right.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Your whole life has been one as a caterpillar, and now you are being torn apart and squished and reshaped and it hurts so incredibly bad. But just wait.

Love,
Lori (34 and you would never believe what I call myself now...)

*****

Dear Lori (32),

Don't be too bummed about the Scottish referendum.  In a couple of years, there will be this thing called "Brexit"...

Love,
Lori (34 with a Scotland tattoo)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Juggling vs Balancing

Tomorrow is my one year workiversary.

This day last year, as I prepared freezer meals and ironed my clothes for my first day at work, I asked some pressing questions about outside-the-home working mums and how they managed all the tasks still required to keep a home running smoothly. Being the perfectionist I am, I needed to know how they could leave the circus but still keep all the juggling balls in the air. After one full year of gainful, outside-the-home employment, I can finally answer those questions.

They can't.

Or maybe "they" can, but I can't. Or maybe I could, but I haven't figured out how yet.

Who takes the car in for oil changes? How do you keep up with the laundry? How does dinner get made every night after you've been working all day?

No one. You can't. It doesn't.

Those are the answers I've discovered anyway. Supermoms out there, please beg to differ. Then give me all your tips. Then give me your housekeeper's and nanny's phone numbers, because I don't believe you.

This is the great, ground-breaking wisdom I have discovered after a year.  Wait for it - this is going to blow your mind:

Some things - a lot of things - have to be let go.

*Cue Elsa in a blue dress making an ice castle*

I hate it, but I'm accepting it. My left-side brain, my obsessive nature, my perfectionist tendencies torment me constantly about the lack of organization in my home, but this is reality. One of our kids is still small. The other two are getting old enough to reliably help me and Scott out. Anyway, it's only for a short time, really. People may judge our yard for its tall weeds and our couch for its pile of (clean) laundry and our floors for the Cheerios stuck to it, but this is life right now. It's not forever, but it is what it is right now.

Sure I could expend energy keeping the house spic-n-span every night, and Scott could expend energy mowing the grass and cooking dinner.  Or... I could keep myself sane by taking an hour to go the gym while Scott takes an hour on Reddit. We could come straight home from work every single night and cook and clean until bedtime, or we could order a pizza every now and then and play with the kids.What's most important right now?

After a year, I'd say that I've settled into my new routine pretty okay. It's not perfect, it's not what I know it could be or exactly how I want it to be, but I'm accepting it for what it is. I know eventually I'll get there (or hire a housekeeper), so for now I'm learning to balance. Balance - isn't that my theme for this year? Balancing instead of juggling all the balls I hold in my hands. And balancing sometimes requires setting a few things down for a few minutes to steady yourself.

Maybe some day in the future I'll reach the perfection I long for, but for now, I'm okay with life being a little messy and a lot imperfect. Or at least, I'm learning to accept it being that way.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hopelessness in the Wake of the Deadliest Mass Shooting In US History

I usually try to stay pretty positive here. Even when discussing controversial topics, I try to stay away from undo negativity. I want to be a voice of hope and optimism.

But today I feel no hope and no optimism.

As you are probably aware, last night America suffered it's most deadliest mass shooting in US history. I was surprised, actually, that this was the worst mass shooting. After Aurora and Sandy Hook and San Bernardino, you start to lose track of the numbers. Along side other massacres, like the Boston Marathon and Oklahoma City, the death toll just adds up and eventually, you don't know how many people died in the latest mass murder incident.

That is unspeakably depressing.

What is even more depressing is this is just another massacre in a long, seemingly never-ending line of US mass murders. Nothing is ever going to change, is it? If the mass shooting of Christians in a prayer meeting doesn't change anything, do you think the mass shooting of gay people will? If the mass shooting of children in an elementary school doesn't change anything, do you think the mass shooting of gay people will?

I don't even know where to start. There are so many things to say about this latest incident. All kinds of incoherent thoughts are running through my head that don't add up to any real point, just more depression and loss of hope.

I predict the only thing to come of this will be more religious intolerance. There will be right wing rhetoric about combating terrorism and left wing rhetoric about stricter gun laws. It's what we do in the wake of a mass killing, we shout out buzzwords passionately but briefly - RACISM!  MENTAL HEALTH! TERRORISM! MUSLIMS! GUN CONTROL! and then move on without changing a single damn thing.

In this instance, the LGBTQ community (my community) was targeted in the middle of National Pride Month. For a few days, there will be brief conversation about LGBTQ intolerance. Not much, though, since the shooter was allegedly an ISIS sympathizer, so the bigger conversation will be about terrorism. If we're lucky, we'll hear some lip service paid to loving the gay community (but in many cases this lip service will be ruined by a call to pray for their lost souls as well).  People will shut up momentarily about the transgender bathroom issue. But nothing will change in the long run. People will change their Facebook profile pictures, politicians will argue about the root problem and how to fix it, tragedies around the world will be brought up to show that none of us really care about human rights issues unless they are on our doorstep, and then we will move on and forget about this most deadliest mass shooting in US history until the next one occurs. Then we will rinse and repeat.

This can only happen so many times with no fundamental change in our laws or attitudes before we lose any hope that America will ever come together and agree on a plan to stop these senseless killings. Nothing ever changes, and this time won't be any different.







Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ask An Atheist: Identity Crisis

I was asked another question on Facebook by B.  B. and I have known each other since 9th grade, so she knew me when I was a Christian. She asked:
Why do you think that being an atheist has become such a big part of your self identity?
I think this is a really valid question, one I'm especially interested in writing about. This is something I've thought long and hard on for almost two years, so I'll give these two main reasons.

1. Because my identity HAS completely changed. "My identity is in Christ." How many times have we evangelicals heard or used this phrase? For me, I used it all the time. My significance was found in Christ. My identity was in Christ. My purpose and reason for being was Christ. My whole life, especially my adult life, was centered around Christ. If I ever felt that something else was taking that place, I repented, ashamed. I was nowhere near perfect, I counted myself as one of the worst, most unworthy people to call myself a Christian, but I longed to be like Christ in all I did and all I was. I truly wanted my identity to be in him. I wanted the world to know that I was a follower of Jesus. I normally made it known very early on in a new friendship with someone that I was a Christian. I wanted to shine my light everywhere I went.

I was never asked why my faith was such a big part of my identity.

I'm not making that point to criticize the question; it is a really great, thoughtful, important question. But there is an element in the question that implies it shouldn't be. Atheism shouldn't be that important to me, even though faith absolutely can and should be.

So why has being an atheist become such a big part of my identity? Because it literally altered my entire identity. One thing as small as believing in a god or not quite literally altered my entire sense of self.

That Christian label that I'd worn for as long as I could remember was ripped off. And it left behind almost nothing. Without my faith, I didn't know who I was or who I could even be anymore. Would I become a selfish, terrible, mean, unkind person without God?  What am I, if not a follower of Christ? What is left of me worth salvaging if I don't have my faith anymore?  It wasn't until I had a moment of clarity, when I realized that I didn't have to believe in a god to be the same person I always was, that I started to rediscover myself. I realized that I still was and always had been and always could be a good person. I hadn't been the worthless, sinful, depraved person I'd believed myself to be my whole life; that was what religion had taught me. Religion had taught me I was a sinner in need of a savior; atheism taught me that I have worth, that I create my own destiny, that I am a good person because I choose to be, not because a deity saved me from my evil instincts.  "Luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny. It's a beautiful thing, it's just you and me, exactly where we belong, and there's nothing inherently wrong with us." (Quite Company)

*I fully realize that every Christian reading that will think that is a tragically arrogant, "deceived", lie-of-the-devil, heart-breaking thing to say, and no amount of arguing will convince them otherwise. I just have to accept that is what they/you will think. I thought it once too. I know.

I could no longer go around with a lingering Christian label. It wasn't enough to just rip the label off. It had to be replaced with something new. My identity had fundamentally changed. That's a big deal.

2. Because the stigma needs to end. When I finally admitted to myself I no longer believed in God, I was uncomfortable with the term "atheist". It had always been a very negative word to me, one I acquainted with loudmouth, obnoxious jerks who just want to make religious people feel stupid all the time. I tried labeling myself something less offensive: agnostic, humanist, non-religious.  But really, atheist pretty much summed it up.

As I began meeting other atheists and started experiencing life as an atheist in a very Christian society, I began to realize just how toxic the stigma on atheists is. We are the least trusted group in America. A Gallup poll showed that more Americans would vote for a Muslim or a gay person for President than an atheist. Why? What is it about simply not believing in a religion that makes us so threatening and unlikable? All the atheists I was getting to know via a Facebook group for non-believing mothers were extremely kind, thoughtful, generous, and intelligent. So how is it that the term atheist inspires such disgust?

I decided to be one small but audible voice that would speak for atheists.  We are not all disrespectful and militant. I'm aware that my embracing atheism makes many people uncomfortable. I'm not blind to that, and I do hate that it has to be that way. But does it have to be that way? Why should it make people uncomfortable? It shouldn't. If I converted to Catholicism or Mormonism, would my speaking about it cause them the same level of discomfort? Not anywhere near to the same degree. So my atheism has become a part of my identity in part to help end the stigma that comes with the word.  I can be your token atheist friend, if that's what it takes. My generation having had that "token gay friend" is actually a huge reason why LGBT rights have come as far as they have in the past few years. Knowing someone personally is often what changes people's preconceived notions. Maybe the social tide can turn a little if everyone had a token atheist friend. In another generation, maybe just knowing a friendly atheist will bring an end to the stigma.

*I fully expect some people to think, "Well, you aren't that respectful - you sort of shove your atheism down our throats." To that I'd have to ask, "Really? Do I? Or do I just talk about atheism in the same very personal way you talk about your faith?" If simply talking about one's own faith is not shoving it down my throat, then my talking about my lack of faith is not shoving it down anyone else's. If posting Christian articles or praising God on Facebook or writing blogs about how Jesus has changed your life is acceptable, then so should anything else equally non-confrontational. I'd have to challenge the person who thinks I shove my atheism down their throat to recall a time when I've insulted anyone for their faith or tried to turn them into an atheist. (Conversely, I've had plenty of reconversion attempts made on me.) I'm just sayin'. If you don't like what I say, don't read it. I won't be offended, promise.

Final thought. I do sometimes feel uncomfortable with this "identity". I recognize it is not politically or professionally astute. I sometimes worry I could lose my job. I worry about my kids being bullied at school for not going to church and having atheist parents. There is a lot to lose to being an atheist here in the Bible Belt. Quite a staggering number of people have confided in me since my "coming out" that they are closet atheists, unafraid to tell their families, friends, or even spouses, that they do not believe. Somehow that makes it all the more important to me to keep speaking up. Maybe I'll lose my job (I hope not) or my friends or even some family members (I really hope not), but if it also results in a change of opinion or attitude in a some people, then maybe at least some good would come of it. The more of us willing to come out, the more people will accept us, because they will know us.