Sunday, April 27, 2014

Offering Up A Life Lesson


A Korean scenic designer in college told me that each person could expect 3 very difficult periods in their life.  I mention that he was Korean, because he gave me the impression most Koreans believe this.  I don't think he made it up personally.  It sounded reasonable to me.

In my experience, when a person (or even a whole country) goes through a truly traumatic experience, we can become unusually flexible and adaptable of thought.  When we are in those moments, we can be more open to making lasting changes in our habits and our perspectives.  We face Truth in a way we normally avoid.

If what my Korean friend told me is true, and we really do get 3 exceedingly trying times in our life, 2005-2006 was one of my 3.

In the Spring of 2005, a colleague that I thought was a close friend and whom I loved, turned on me professionally.  It broke my heart and sent me into a tailspin of fear and self-doubt at work.

In the Fall of 2005, I fell in love with a woman who was not my wife.  I'm going to focus more on that in a minute.  In the meanwhile, It is important to me that you know I never cheated on my wife (and, in fact, have never cheated on anyone).  PLEASE NOTE: The wife to whom I am referring is not Cindy.  I was married and divorced once before I married Cindy.  Cindy and I are both on our second - and final - marriage.   Still, the process of facing the fact that I had married for the wrong reasons and wanted a divorce broke my first wife's heart and shook my own sense of identity to the core.

In the Winter of 2005, my beloved grandmother succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease.  To me, Alzheimer's is a slow, unstoppable thief.  I felt robbed.

Twelve days later, my best friend, Aimee, died from cirrhosis of the kidneys and liver.  Her family and I watched her undergo this process for the 4 days that it took.  She was 38.  It was another terrible robbery.

Over the coming months, there were times when I was so sad, guilty, confused, full of longing, and full of grief that I wanted to pee, shit myself, vomit, and cry simultaneously.  It was a desire to evacuate my body until it was as empty and hollow as I felt emotionally.

In the Nichiren Buddhist tradition from Japan, "shakubuku" is the sometimes-forceful process of breaking one's misguided attachments and facing Truth.  The practice can be done to you, or you can do it to yourself.  In historical point of fact, it is used as a method for Buddhist conversion, and I suppose without knowing it, that's what it did to me.  But that's neither here nor there.

A more American perspective can be found under Urban Dictionary's alternate spelling:
And, from there, we naturally come to this scene in the movie Grosse Pointe Blank:

What could be more like a swift, spiritual kick to the head than heartbreak, death, and divorce?

During this time of personal tragedy, I had no spare energy.  I had no spare brain space.  Everything that I had in me was spent on the act of survival - keeping myself (relatively) functional at work, putting one foot in front of the next as I walked down the street, trying to find the stomach to eat...  My feelings were too giant for me to ignore, so I was forced to stop and feel each one as it came and went.  As we say in Buddhism, I was fully present in each moment, although I would never have been able to put it in that context at the time.


The trick is not to waste it.  When you've been kicked, don't ignore it, don't waste your life in ignorance; a kick is a fact.  Kick.  It's the Truth.  The Truth is never not true.  You might as well quit your bullshit and really look at it.  If you look deeply enough, you'll see Truth you've probably been ignoring for a long time.

One of my newly discovered, un-ignorable Truths?  I had organized my life and my career so that I was "Lory The Strong".  I was "Lory The Rescuer".  I was "Lory The Fixer".  I spent so much of my life needing to be needed, seeking approval and validation, I wasn't paying attention to or taking space to express my own needs, aims, feelings.

Let me highlight that for a second:
In many ways, I was purely focused on discovering and care-taking the needs of others at the near-complete expense of my own.  I didn't even know what I felt or needed.

Deep down, I was afraid my own feelings were too big.  I was afraid they would hurt people.  I was afraid expressing my feelings would be seen as impolite or selfish.  I was afraid that by focusing on my feelings, I would disappoint others who needed me.  I didn't understand that care-taking one's self is really the only person you CAN care-take.


The whole construction of my self-identity (who I thought I was) broke open in 2005-2006.  I was married, and I was in love with a woman who wasn't my wife.  You can ignore a lot of kinds of feelings, but love is impossible to ignore or suppress.  I was finally forced to listen to the unspeakable voices in my heart that had been telling me all along that my marriage wasn't right for me.  I knew I had to break the most important promise I had ever made in my life - my wedding vow... When I finally faced THAT Truth, when "Lory The Fixer" wasn't fixing someone else anymore; I was, in fact, breaking and dismantling my own marriage - doing the things I had been most afraid of: hurting someone's feelings, tarnishing my own identity... Well, I realized no other Truth I could face would ever be so destructive, and if I could say THAT Truth - I wanted a divorce - I could finally say any Truth to anybody - even myself.

Bold statement: There is never any benefit to delay when facing Truth.  Now is always the answer.

There were other life lessons from that difficult period, but learning to make care-taking myself my top priority, learning to make space to identify and (when appropriate) to express my feelings, and learning to stop avoiding Truth - those lessons have been the foundation for everything good in my life since that time.


Our apple tree has blossoms for the first time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quick Project - Sprucing up the Tree Pit

Here's a quicky, "Look What I Did" sort of post.

Last year, when I cut the sedum mat out to place bluestone slabs on the roof to make a sitting area, I didn't throw the sedum mat pieces away.  Here's the only photo I have of that process.

I tossed all the sedum mat chunks overboard (aka - into the backyard) and laid them out on the cement in the back yard for the winter.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but I didn't want them to be wasted.

Well, a few months ago, the city put these new railing things around the tree pits on our block, and they removed the old cobblestones that were in there since long before I moved in to this house.  They also made the tree pits wider, presumably so more water could get to the trees.  But the barren dirt sort of gave the impression of a wasteland, and it was a magnet for trash.  Here's a shot of what it looked like after I picked the trash out.

For context, here's my little front yard full of ephemerals that are almost done blooming.  I hope to replace our chain link fence with something that mimics the green roof railing one day.

Anyway, back to the tree pit.  I decided to make that my target for the left over sedum mats.  But I didn't want the plants to get squashed by people getting in and out of their cars.  So, first I carved out a strip of dirt along the curb to make a landing spot for people's feet.  The tree roots were too close to the curb in the middle, though, so I didn't carry my strip of bricks all the way across.

I found a MONSTER earth worm under the sedum mats in the back yard.  I'm sure you want to see a video of it, so I'll oblige:

Out front, I watered the dirt, tried to push as much of the fine stuff in between the bricks as I could, stomped it all down, and laid the sedum mat pieces in place.  It turns out, I had the exact right amount to do the whole tree pit.  Once I had them all in place, I watered them some more.  

So, there you have it.  A nice, spruced-up tree pit (even though it's a maple tree that's growing there) for our neighborhood to enjoy.  The sedum are native to this area, and they shouldn't need me to water them once they're established.  They'll also send up really pretty flowers within a month or two.

Ta da!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Struggling at the intersection of Happiness and Careers

Cindy and I call our project and this blog "Project Happy Life."  But this project has no deadline.  We have no schedule.  We have no specific picture of a happy life that we aren't already living; thus, no end goal.

We treat it like we treat yoga: willful determination with non-concern for results.

That's nice, but that's not entirely true.  It's only partly true.  It's a fact that we're generally happy, and we love our life.  We love our family and friends, and many of our friends are family enough.

But Cindy wants to be a full-time, paid actress (the difficulty there being that your ability to work is almost always in someone else's hands).  And I want to work for myself.

There, I've said it: I want to work for myself.

I just don't know what that means yet.  I think I could make furniture... sometimes.  I really love working on my green roof, and I would be happy to help with other green roofs.  I like teaching.  I am surprised by how much I like writing this blog.  Sometimes I like directing plays.  I like designing (the Lanikai Elementary School stage I designed is being built right now - I'll write a post about that when it's finished).  I would love to collaborate with someone on a book about native plant gardening for New York City.  (Any takers?)  The list goes on...

So many things to like.  So many possibilities.

The other thing is, as I said, I'm happy.  I have a great full-time job as the production stage manager for Blue Man Group in New York.  I work with people I genuinely love, and we have a lot of fun.  Sometimes the work can be tedious, and sometimes it can be hard, but I usually feel like I'm being helpful and productive, and that feels nice.

It's difficult to imagine changing your life when you're generally happy.

But, as I like to say, I carry the burden of too many ideas for projects I'd like to do and not enough time to do them.  I keep thinking, "If only I didn't need my 40-hour/week job!"  I do, though - I'm not asking Fate (or my boss, Colin) to fire me because I write this.  There is a growing tension between the stuff that I'm working on at home, and the stuff that I'm working on at work.

The tension increases because I'm not getting any younger.  I'm 43.  I can see how long it takes me to do my personal projects on weekends, and I can see quite clearly that my body will give out long before I've done and built a fraction of what I'd like to do.  Life is short.  Weekends are even shorter.

And then there's money.  That's always a thing, isn't it?  My first profession, theatre, isn't something one does if one is terribly focused on earning a steady paycheck.  But, I clutzed into a job at Blue Man Group when I was in Boston for college, and I've stuck with the company for 18 years now.  I've never experienced a prolonged period of freelance work in my life.  I was thinking about transitioning to the film industry back in 2008, but then the economy collapsed, and I decided it was too risky to switch careers at that time.  So, as I like to say, I've gratefully clung to my job and thought of our show as a little life raft in the big, blue sea of this economic storm.

This brings me back to Project Happy Life.  Cindy and I are in this project together - working to guide our lives in the direction we want them to go.  On the issue of our careers, there seem to be no easy answers.  I only know that writing about things as we make our way forward is helpful for me.  And I hope it's helpful for you to read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What I told my mother about c. diff (clostridium difficile)

This is a public service announcement!

About a year and a half ago, my mother was in the hospital for some surgery and what was supposed to be a maximum stay of 7 days.  While there, she developed a terrible intestinal infection called clostridium difficile, otherwise known as "c. difficile", or "c. diff" (if you can't be bothered with syllables), which kept her in the hospital for 24 terrible days.  I was with her for the first 20.

By "terrible", I mean to say that she was in constant, tremendous pain, nauseous, could hardly move or walk, couldn't eat, was hypersensitive to changes in room temperature, was rapidly losing weight, desperate, and was told that if her infection got any worse, they would have to remove her colon.


When my mother was diagnosed, the hospital brought in the infectious disease doctor, who explained that sometimes a course of antibiotics (which is standard for surgery patients) will knock out all the good bacteria in your gut, and allow the bad c. diff bacteria to take over.  He prescribed the standard treatment: more antibiotics.  I asked him whether my mother should take probiotics, and he told us they would neither help nor hurt.  She could take them after she got home from the hospital if she wanted to, but he didn't offer to give her any while there.

I was pretty skeptical about his "neither help nor hurt" comment, but we like to assume the medical community (especially the lead infectious disease doctor of a large hospital) is smarter than we are, or at least well researched in their field.  I accepted what he said, but when I wasn't assisting my mother with one thing or another, I quietly went about trying to research that doctor, probiotics, and c. difficile on the iPad I had with me.  I didn't learn much more than the fact that I can't do real research on an iPad; it's too clumsy, and I couldn't focus enough to figure out how to read medical papers  (high school biology class was oh! so long ago...).

After days on the antibiotics (by then given intravenously along with Mom's food-stuff), my mother wasn't much better, and may have been slightly worse.  The doctors decided to put an intermittent suction tube through her nose and into her stomach to try to draw some of the infection out that way.  She was hooked up to that suction for nearly a week.  She was also given an intravenous immunoglobulin treatment... whatever the heck that was.  I have a hazy recollection of it seeming helpful.

This is what she looked like.  You can see the IV's on the left and the hose running to the vacuum canister on the wall to the right.

By the time they finally took out my mother's suction tube, the intravenous feeding had given her back some small amount of strength, and although she was still in considerable pain, the heavy antibiotics had slowly started to get the upper hand.   Comfortable that my mother was on the mend, and called back to New York by other obligations, Cindy and I flew home on Day 20.

But I couldn't stop thinking about how that doctor had poo-poo'ed probiotics (see what I did there?).  As soon as I got home, I spent every spare minute I had researching more about C. diff.  I wanted to know about drug therapies, I wanted to know about probiotic and homeopathic therapies, and I wanted to know how the bacteria interact with our moods.

I started by researching probiotics.  I read articles, research papers, and testimonials, and two days after returning home, I had the following text exchange with my mother:

Me: Mom, I have been doing some research, and I want you to request Dr. Elmortada start you on a probiotic named "saccheromyces boulardii" immediately, please. Lory 11:06 AM
Kathleen Henning: I gave it to staff and they will see if its ok for me 11:24 AM
Me: Thank you. I have read several academic reports and personal testimonials that indicate it makes all the difference. I love you. 11:25 AM
Kathleen Henning: Thanks 11:28 AM
Me: Just spoke to your nurse, Nancy. She said you walked a full lap around the floor and they started you on that probiotic. I'm so glad. 4:26 PM

Now, I'm not saying that in within 4 hours of requesting that probiotic my mother was able to walk again.  She had slowly been getting stronger and was out of danger of losing her colon.  But I don't think it's a coincidence that on the day she started taking probiotics, she was able to walk much farther than she had walked since coming out of surgery 22 days earlier.

The next day, my mother was released from the hospital and taken to her dear friend Annie's home to recover.

C. difficile infections have reached epidemic proportions in this country. 

To add insult to injury, they have a high instance of recurrence.  I have read that 20% of C. difficile patients go through a second bout with the infection.  And 40-60% of those who have had a second bout will have more - some even get it every few months for years.

I also read that in Japan and many European countries, probiotics are prescribed anytime someone is prescribed antibiotics.  And there is a growing wave of research that proves how important maintaining a balanced micro-biome (bacterial ecosystem) in our guts is.  

In other words, the infectious disease doctor at Mom's hospital was flat wrong about probiotics.

Here's a link to an article from Science Based Medicine (.com) that supports my claim of his wrongness!  It's called "I've been prescribed an antibiotic.  Should I take a probiotic?"

In a minor synchronistic miracle, I started writing this post yesterday morning.  And as I was biking to work afterwards, a podcast came up on my playlist that is all about bacteria, probiotics, your gut's micro-biome (which is like a little ecosystem in your intestines), the potential future of healthcare, childbirth by c-section, C. diff, and how all of it fits together. It even touches on the lower diversity of intestinal flora in modern Americans vs hunter-gatherers (hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, for example, have 50% higher rate of bacterial diversity in their guts than we do).  That part in particular has me wondering if our processed food and pesticides are partially responsible for that lack of bacterial diversity!  Anyway, I haven't told you everything, and you should listen to this podcast for yourself.

I give you the excellent "Science and the City" podcast episode from The New York Academy of Sciences:

And here's Mom on the mend. This was on the occasion of her first walk around her property - approximately 3 weeks after being released from the hospital.  She has been free of Clostridium difficile ever since.

If you've made it this far, you'll want to read the actual research I gave my mother on C. diff.  Just keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and you are responsible for your own damn self.

First, a bit about the diagnosis:

Clostridium difficile (c. diff) - a bacteria in the colon that is harmless when kept in check by the normal balance of flora in a healthy colon.  When that balance is thrown off (often by the use of general antibiotics - frequently with Clindamysin specifically), the C. diff spores can "hatch" and produce two types of toxins (cleverly called "Toxin A" and "Toxin B"), which cause inflammation and diarrhea.  There are different strains of C. diff, and I never found out which strain my mother had.  Some are more drug-resistant than others.

Pseudomembranous colitus - a condition caused by C. diff toxins A and B (they currently think B is worse than A, but they are both harmful).  It is characterized by a pseudomembrane in the colon along with inflammation in the colon and diarrhea.

Standard or FDA-Approved Treatments:

Metronidazole/Flagyl - this is typically the first antibiotic prescribed to treat C. diff.  We noticed Mom improve for the first few hours after the first couple of doses of this, and then it seemed that the C. diff would surge back and regain the upper hand.  This was administered by IV.

Vancomycin/Vancocin - this is another antibiotic and is prescribed for patients with moderate to severe cases of C. diff.  Mom took this orally, in an orange syringe she squeezed into her mouth (the orange syringe was not important; she could also have drunk the medicine from a cup or a clear syringe).  If she had ever developed an obstruction (like an abscess, for example), they might have given her the vancomycin rectally.  Luckily, both of her CT scans showed no obstructions, so we knew the Vancomycin was getting where it needed to go.

Cholestyramine (aka Questran, Questran Light, Cholybar) - This doesn't seem to be well known, so it is worth asking about.  It acts as a toxin binder against Toxin A and Toxin B, helping to relieve symptoms of C. diff.  When using Cholestyramine, one needs to be careful to use enough to bind the toxins in the colon but not so much that colon function is slowed (constipation).  Recommended dose is 4 grams twice daily (2 hours before or after other meals to ensure as much as possible makes it past the stomach juices and into the intestines/colon).

Pharmaceuticals Still In Trials at the Time of My Research:

Fidaxomicin/Dificid - as effective as vancomycin in stopping symptoms, but supposedly has a higher rate of cure (no recurrence).  It is still in trials and not yet available.

Rifaximin/Xifaxan - This is an antibiotic generally used to treat traveler's diarrhea.  It is generally not absorbed by the body, which allows it to get to the intestines and colon, which is where the C. diff bacteria reside.  Rifaximin is almost completely excreted in the feces in its original form, and it seems to have minimal impacts on the beneficial intestinal flora.  It has been shown in small human studies and some hamster studies to be as effective as Vancomycin in treating C. diff, but it has a better rate of preventing recurrence of C. diff. Because it is minimally absorbed by the body, it is thought to have minimal side effects.  It is still undergoing tests and is not yet used as the primary treatment for C. diff (although it is used for other things as initially stated), although I see a study out of Finland from October of 2012 that concludes Rifaximin is safe and "can be considered as an optional treatment for recurrent C. difficile infection."

Meredex's CDA-1 and CDA-2 (aka MDX-066/MDX-1388) - these are antibodies and have also shown great promise in mitigating the effects of Toxin A and Toxin B, and they also reduced the rate of c. diff recurrence.  It appears these antibodies do the same thing as Cholestyramine, but better.  They are also still in trials and are not yet available.

Probiotics and Homeopathic Treatments:

Saccharomyces boulardii - this is a probiotic strain of yeast (not bacteria, so it is not susceptible to antibiotics) originally found in the skin of lychee nuts and the mangosteen fruit (both of which are delicious, if you ask me).  I ordered Jarrow Formulas' Saccharomyces boulardii + MOS for my mother.  There are some risks of developing Fungemia in Intensive Care Unit, immunosuppressed, and tube-fed patients, but those risks are apparently negligable in other people suffering from C. diff.  I have been taking a probiotic that includes S. boulardii for more than a year.

Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus - These are probiotic strains of bacteria, and they are shown to be effective in fighting C. diff according to some studies.  In fact, since I've been researching all of this, I discovered that the probiotic Cindy and I take has all of these as well as the s. boulardii that I mentioned above.  Ours is by a company called Standard Process.  The specific pill is called ProSynbiotic.  I recommended my mother get something with more active cultures separate from the dose of s. boulardii + MOS until she had put this infection behind her.  After that, it seemed reasonable to me that she pare back to a single pill like ProSynbiotic for gut maintenance.

Mannan OligoSaccharide (MOS) - this is derived from the cell walls of the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisia.  An oligosaccharide  is a carbohydrate made of simple sugars, and they tend to be indigestible - they belong to a broad category of fiber.  This means that they pass through the digestive system into the intestines and colon where they support the growth of beneficial bacteria and help prevent pathogenic bacteria from attaching to intestinal walls by essentially acting as a decoy.  MOS is most often currently used as an alternative to antibiotics in farm animals and pets.  It also appears to support the immune system, treat diarrhea, and allow the body to absorb more nutrients because of that reduction in pathogens.

Oregano - This is said by many to be a powerful, natural antibiotic, and I have seen patient testimonials referencing taking oregano pills or oil of oregano as part of their C. diff self-treatment regime.  There are also articles about farmers giving their livestock oregano as an alternative to antibiotics.  I have not yet seen any scientific papers on the subject, but it's worth keeping in mind in case more alternatives are needed.

Banana flakes or chips - These are noted as an alternative to Cholestyramine, although I can't find research on whether banana flakes help bind and reduce the virulence of Toxin A and Toxin B the way Cholestyramine does.  (NOTE: Mom ate banana chips and found them very helpful.)

Stool Transplant/Fecal Transplant - People are having some success in curing C. diff with this technique.  It's basically poop from a healthy person, cleaned up, and transplanted into the sick person, so the beneficial flora from the healthy person can colonize the sick person's colon.  It is not a commonly performed technique, but it is good to know about.  Dr. Brandt at Montefiore Medical Center in NYC and Physicians at St. Mary's/Duluth Clinical Heath System in Minnesota are both mentioned in an article to have very high success rates.  It's also discussed in the podcast mentioned earlier.

Final Notes:

If you have a C. diff infection, do not use drugs which slow the colon, such as narcotics and antidiarrheals.  It is thought that they prevent the body from passing the C. diff toxins as quickly as possible, and may extend toxin-associated damage within the colon.

Especially if you are trying to fight infection, probiotics should be taken two hours before or after other meals to ensure they get to the gut without being subjected to higher levels of stomach acid that are present when the stomach is digesting food.

Feelings of desperation, fear, hopelessness, and wishing for death are common among sufferers of C. diff.  Although I could find no specific studies related to C. diff, there are general studies that show bacterial infections can influence people's mental status and behavior.  If you have a C. diff infection and are having uncharacteristically negative emotions, please know it's not you, and you CAN get better.

UPDATE - An Incomplete List of Links:

On the sound advice of a good friend, I went back into my search history and culled some of the articles I read when doing my marathon C. diff research for my mom.  There are so many more articles these days, so I'm sure you can find much more that is worthy of your time if this issue is important to you.

General Web Sites: (this article states that studies on the use of probiotics are inconclusive) (let’s not forget Wikipedia!)

C. diff in the News: (shocking that this article, which is about the anticipated improvements in C. diff diagnosis and treatment, doesn’t mention probiotics)

C. diff and Probiotics: (an add for this specific probiotic to treat C. diff)

Testimonials: (a C. diff education and advocacy group with some amazing stories) (This woman’s story interested me the most) (in fact, this is a whole blog about a person’s experience with and after C. diff) (seems fishy, since they’re selling something, but it’s interesting anyway)

Research Papers: (This one focuses on Toxin A and B) (a general study of probiotics in medicine) (this is one of the ones about Rifaximin)

And, lastly, I just found this: (an article explaining that good old cups of tea might help prevent C. diff)

Friday, April 11, 2014

That Whole "Gay Marriage" Thing...

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Cindy and I are both women... and we're gay... and we are married... to each other.

Let's establish an important distinction: There are weddings - that's the actual ceremony.  And there are marriages - that's everything that comes after a couple is pronounced married.  As a society, we talk a lot about "same-sex marriage", but when we hear that phrase, it's normally about the right for a same-sex couple to marry.  It isn't really about the actual marriage that follows.

If you were to google around the internet, you will find plenty of blogs and articles about the struggle for (and against) marriage equality.  You'll even easily find a handful of same-sex wedding blogs - with pictures of traditional and non traditional brides and grooms... and groom-ettes... and Mr. brides... and on and on.  But what I can't seem to find are articles or blogs about same-sex marriage.

I generally reject the whole "men are from mars, women are from venus" thing as issues related to upbringing and cultural influences on a person, rather than inherent differences between the sexes.  People like to perpetuate some notion of men being macho or women being shop-a-holics, because they think it's funny.  Personally, I think it's mostly inaccurate.

And from what I've seen, marriage is pretty much marriage.  Once you're in it, your problems and triumphs are probably similar to most everyone else's.  The only thing that makes my marriage different from my best friend's marriage is that she is married to a man, and I'm married to a woman.

Maybe that's why it isn't easy to find same-sex marriage blogs.

Or maybe we (as a whole) haven't gotten comfortable with the legal right vs. wedding vs. marriage distinction yet.  So maybe finding gay marriage blogs is a semantic/search-term issue.

Or maybe we (gays) are so focused on the big, bold, exciting fight for the right to marry that our quiet little married lives don't quite hold our attention.  So we don't write about that part.

Or maybe we're afraid to talk about marriage once we have it - fearing the haters will find a way to take it back.

Or maybe (and this is the most personally frightening of all), if we write about our marriages, some ill-intentioned, anti-gay person will find us in our homes, or recognize us on the street, and physically come to attack us.

Whatever the reason behind the blog scarcity, there's this hole in the blog-o-sphere, and it's vacuum forces are drawing me into it.

So here we are!  Not ignoring the extraordinary work so many people have done to afford every couple the right to marry in 17 states (and Washington D.C.), as well as the work they continue to do for the rest of the country, these are the early days of life on the other side.  It's like marriage equality is the big bang, and we're still feeling the effects of the cosmic background radiation as its ramifications ripple outward, but those effects will normalize and decay over time, to the eventual point of hardly being noticed anymore.

Or, on a personal level, having marriage equality is like attaining enlightenment.  Paraphrasing Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield: first enlightenment, then the laundry.  This giant and important, life-altering thing happens.  And then you carry that thing back to your work-a-day life.  Project Happy Life - a little blog about a little married couple, living their little lives.  And we happen to be gay.

On the occasion of receiving our marriage license from the State of New York.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Green Roof and Garden Update. Early April 2014

Hi Everybody!  It's time for an update on the Green Roof, but stuff is starting to happen in the terrestrial gardens too, so you get 3 for the price of one.  Here's Cindy in her down jacket and flip-flops (that's "slippahz" to you Hawaiians).  In one hand, she's holding a jar of dried rosemary that we pulled off last year's plant, and she's pointing out the new greenery in the sedum with the other!

On the advice of my cousin-in-law, Michelle, and because I don't have enough time to build all the planter boxes I hope to have in the future, I'm experimenting with fabric pots this year.  I got the cheap, biodegradable kind.  They're supposedly only good for 3-5 years, so I'm considering it built-in "inspiration" to force me to make the permanent planters before too many years pass me by.

I've got 4 of the big ones lain out along the sitting area.  I have to go to the nursery and get some potting soil to round out the left over "engineered growing medium" I put in the bottoms of the pots to keep them from blowing away.

 Here's a shot of how the strawberries in the Woolly Pocket have survived the Winter.  Not bad, I'd say!  There was a mishap with the automatic drip timer and some of the related fittings (I didn't bring them indoors before the frost came), so I'm replacing the broken stuff and making some improvements.  I'll write about that when I have it connected, the errant leaks stopped, and the timer programed and working.  Anyway, you can see the ½" main water line and the ¼" drip feeder lines on the right of the Woolly Pocket.

Cindy's favorite: the creepy owl.  I only wish it scared the squirrels as much as it does me.

Speaking of squirrels, I think I'm going to have a lot of work to do this year to keep them out of my crops.  They seem to have undergone a population explosion.  The garlic I planted last Fall hasn't sprouted much (if at all), and I found one dried and chewed clove on the top of the soil.  I wonder if they all got pulled.  It was too disappointing to photograph.

Instead, here's the greening sedum with the little stone path.  You can see more fabric pots lined up on the parapet wall in the background. 

Now, downstairs in the front yard, things are starting to look like Spring.  We've got purple crocuses popping up.  Or is it "croci"?

Don't you just love how the crocus leaves sometimes spear straight through the dead tree leaves?

And then there are these things.  If you look carefully, you can see the left one has a dingy little white flower dangling above the leaves.  I think they're a native ephemeral plant, but I'm not sure what kind.    Solomon's Something-OIf you know for sure, please leave me a comment.

By the way, are you impressed that I know the horticultural term "ephemeral"?  I learned it last weekend in my two gardening classes from The Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Growing Food in the Shade; and Native Trees for Small Spaces.  It was a great way to spend the day.

One more Crocus glamour shot:

As for the back yard, I turned the compost today.  I'm eager to get as much finished compost out of the bin as possible, so I can take it up to the roof and put it in the fabric pots.  But it's too moist and not quite ready.  The good news is that it won't take long, because the worms have been more prolific than I have ever seen them!  Crocuses and red wigglers.  It's a yin/yang sort of thing, don't you think? 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Three Fathers. One Me.

If there is a person born on this earth who doesn't have a biological father, I've never heard of them.  Everyone has a father.  The thing is, I didn't know that I had one until I was four or five years old.  On a typical, sunny afternoon in Phoenix, Arizona, my mother took me into one of the bedrooms of the small, 3-bedroom ranch-style house we shared with my grandparents and cousin, Samantha, and she showed me a picture of herself in a wedding dress with a man whom I didn't know.

It says on the back of this photo that my mother was 23 years old, so she would have been around 28 at the time she first showed it to me.  Charles (Charlie) Skouson was his name.  And, she explained that I was born with the name "Lory Anne Henning Skouson".  They were divorced before I was born, so alone in the hospital, my mother had written "Lory Anne" as my first name, "Henning" my middle, and "Skouson" my last name on my birth certificate, figuring I could make my own decision later about what last name I wanted to use.  In that small act of my mother's, I see now a well of generosity to my father and bravery for herself.  It was April 1st, 1971 - no joke.

My four year old self, I must admit, found this whole thing exhilarating yet slightly confusing.  As far as I was concerned, the men in my life were my Grandpa Dave (with whom, as I said, we lived - so much as he was home), and Daron Dustin.  

Daron was my mother's second husband, and I learned later that he had been a friend of the family for many years.  During their short marriage, we lived at his house in California City, CA.  Although I was only 2 or 3 years old at the time, I remember my room there, and I have some faded memories of Daron's dogs, a tortoise I named "Mama Tortoise", a stuffed orangutan, a flowery orange suitcase-style phonograph, my friends Too Sweet and Sweet Pea (actual girls' actual names), an incident involving me not wanting to eat green beans, and the long, hot drive in the middle of the night from California City to Phoenix when my mother left Daron.

Even though I never called him anything but "Daron", Daron was as close to a father as I had known.  I loved (and continue to love) him dearly.  He is something of a delightful, maniacal genius.  I remember one story in particular about how he blew a huge pothole in the street in front of his house when he lit half a stick of dynamite off to celebrate the 4th of July.  In fact, I can't publicly discuss Daron without posting this excellent illustration of the kind of man he was/is.  Here we are in his motorized bathtub:

However, divorce always comes with a story - usually complicated - and my young self was not burdened by the details of why we suddenly lived with my grandparents.

After learning about Charlie Skouson's existence, I became confused - what was a dad?  And was I supposed to take his name?  Upon entering Kindergarden, I was almost proud to have "a father", but I suspect I was even prouder to be unique among my classmates due to my confusing little father situation.  I remember proudly trying to explain to a teacher that my last name was Henning, but it could have also been Skouson.  I'm sure she was flummoxed.

Time passed, and thoughts of Charlie Skouson and the wedding photograph faded from prevalence in my life.  Daron drove up from Cal City (usually in a fantastic old Jeep) to see me when we visited my great grandmother (Nana) in Salinas on holiday's.  My cousin Samantha (by then my grandparents' legally adopted daughter) was, at the time, as good as a sister to me.  And, after my grandfather decided to divorce my grandmother so he could live full-time in Santa Ana where he had a produce business (and continue his tryst with a nice lady he met in Japan), my mother and grandmother were my only true, daily parents.  We were a foursome: Grandma, Mom, Sam, and me.

Until, that is, Grandma and Samantha moved to Salinas to care for my great grandmother, leaving my mother and me in Phoenix to sort ourselves out.  It was the summer before my 3rd Grade school year, and the breakup of our little family left me (and my mother, I suppose) deeply traumatized.

I'll gloss over the intervening years for now.  They, too, were complicated.  Suffice it to say, without consciously knowing what was happening to me at the time (I now know I was consumed with grief for the loss of the little foursome we were, and for the "normal" family I'd never had), I watched Eight Is Enough to the point of obsession - wanting to have that sort of life so badly, I consumed - practically ate - that TV show.  Now that I mention it, as I've written in an earlier post, it was at that time, watching those TV shows after school, that I learned the problematic habit of emotional eating.  But that's neither here nor there.

Since my mother was single and working, and I was a latch-key kid, I spent my Summers with my great-grandmother, grandmother, and cousin Samantha in Salinas.  When I was 15, in the Summer before my Sophomore year of high school, I decided I wasn't going to go back to Phoenix for the school year any more.  I decided to stay and finish high school in Salinas.  And, still glossing over the fraught details of that transition, my move to Salinas is what lined me up to land at Monterey Peninsula College, where I met my third father:

My Chosen Father.

Dan Beck
Dan is the technical director for Monterey Peninsula College's Theatre Department.  He, Patrick McEvoy, Edmund Row Reed, Craig Dunbar, and Steve Retsky took my love of theatre and my need to belong, and they shepherded me into becoming a confident theatre artisan.  But Dan, in particular, took the time to teach me any skill I wanted to learn.  And it was that gentle, guiding attention and confidence that drew me to him.  

In thinking back about it now, Dan was 39 years old when we met.  And having a 19 year old female student slowly latching on to him and wanting to make him proud of her might have been... awkward.  Good thing I'm tremendously gay.

In the 24 years since I fell in paternal love with Dan, he has patiently, quietly allowed me to maintain my adoption of him.  And he has reciprocated in kind.  I tell my mother nearly everything.  We have an excellent telephone relationship, and in my adult years, we've learned how to have wonderful in-person visits with each other too.  By contrast, Dan and I rarely speak on the phone.  But when we're together (as we were for nearly a week solid back in January), we easily chat a lot.  And we are easily quiet a lot.  I tell him everything I can think of that might interest him, and I gently grill him about his life and how he feels about this and that (as is my habit).  He tells me things he knows - how things work, what he's building and doing, and we see the sights.  And sometimes, I hardly know what to do with myself - feeling overwhelmed with love and at a loss for how to express what a gift Dan has given me by allowing me to choose him.

In case you had any doubt, fathers are important.

Charlie Skouson died in 2000.  I spoke to him a handful of times on the phone, but never met him in person.  Daron continues to write to me every year for my birthday without fail, as he has done my entire life, and we visit each other whenever we are within reasonable driving distance of one another.   I see Dan whenever I can - usually at least once a year.

I continue to learn about fathers and what they mean to this day.  Cindy's love of her father (even though he passed away a few years ago) is palpable.  The Spencer Family is like my second family.  Michael is the father of that clan.  And I find myself paying attention to our friend, Arsenio - watching him parent his son (our godson), Axel.  I sometimes babysit Axel, and Arsenio teaches me a lot about how to do it.  I'm not jealous of Cindy or Axel.  I feel rich!  You see, I have three fathers of my own.  And there are all these other gorgeous ones around to see.

Arsenio and Axel Castro