Sunday, May 19, 2019


I am pro-life.

I believe that every human should have the right to choose what is best for her health and body, and for her life.

I believe that abortion is health care, whether it is to end a pregnancy caused by birth control failure or to end a pregnancy that is causing harm to the health of the fetus or the mother.

I believe that men don't have the right to tell a woman they are not in a relationship with to have a baby, even if that baby is biologically his.

I believe that children should go to school and be reasonably assured that a madman with a gun won't breach the fences and gates and come in to kill them senselessly.

I believe that health care is a human right and no one should go into bankruptcy because of an unexpected injury or illness.

I believe that the women killed by men deserve to live.

I believe that "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," and therefore, the death penalty, with its costly court challenges, is not a valid option. Or, especially, a deterrent to violent crime.

I believe that a child victim of rape is not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared for pregnancy, and should be offered abortion as health care, and extensive counseling to help her process what has been done to her.

I believe that if someone chooses to carry a fetus to term and have a baby, that baby/child/pre-teen/teen deserves to have its most basic needs met, even if the family who welcomes it needs assistance in providing.

I believe that children in less-affluent areas deserve schools as good as those in more affluent communities, and a fighting chance to escape the cycle of poverty.

I believe that no one should have to go into poverty-inducing debt just to obtain a college degree for the career they are passionate about.

I believe that comprehensive sex education is a right for all, so that children can first learn what is going on in their growing/changing bodies without fear or shame, and then later learn how to protect  their bodies from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, and what they can do to keep their bodies functioning healthily .

I believe that the United States should not have the worst rate of maternal mortality in the developed world.

I believe that no human being should be called "illegal" or an "alien," that yes, we have undocumented immigrants and they ought to do things the legal way...but we need a safer, more effective legal way for people to come into the United States.

I believe that minimum wage, as it stands nationally, has not stayed up-to-date with cost of living and no one can actually live on a minimum wage job.

So yes. I am pro-life. And pro-choice. Because one person's ability to survive can be contingent on factors the rest of us are too privileged to even think about.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019


I work at an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, and there are Learner Profile Traits we encourage in our students. One of these traits is to be a risk-taker.

Not risk-taking like parachuting out of an airplane (though, if you want to do that, who am I to stop you?), but the simple act of doing something knowing you might just fail at it. Failure, as we all know, is but one step on the road to success.

As a child I was never athletic. I got A's in PE because I dressed every day and did what I was asked to do--not with a ton of confidence, but I did it. I imagine my PE teachers thought me a sweet, pleasant kid who just wasn't athletically gifted. Still, I gamely jogged part of my 15-minute mile, and I did my best to learn the various games we were taught. I liked basketball and flag football.

Volleyball, however, was a particularly torturous experience for me.

It started in 7th grade, as I quickly realized I was more likely to freeze in fear when the ball came my way than I was to hit it. Or I'd move to hit it and miss by a mile. I couldn't serve the ball anywhere near the net, but instead, managed a weak little bump that went about ten feet and hit the ground. I can still see the eyerolls and hear the mutterings of my classmates. Middle school is cruel.

It wasn't any better in 8th grade. By 9th grade, I could kind of hide my ineptitude at volleyball better, and that was my last year of formal PE. Because I was in Marching Band, I took two summer school sessions of PE to meet my requirement, and that was that. I was a proud musical nerd...and I would never have to play volleyball again.

Fast-forward...many...years, and here I am. I'm a lot more athletic now, at 40, than I ever was as a kid. I've run three half marathons, I can lift weights, and I can hold my own with a punching bag. I like getting sweaty. So when the PE teacher at my school asked at a recent staff meeting if anyone might be interested in being on a staff volleyball team to play staff teams from other schools in our district, I said...yes.



I laid it out for him: I haven't played in years, and when I did last play, I was terrible and I hated it. But I have grown and changed by light-years since then, and if there's going to be a staff volleyball team, well, I want to be part of it.

I missed last week because I had an appointment, so today was my first game. I arrived at the other school in running leggings and my trusty Mizunos, and figured I'd just give it my best and call it a day.

I never expected to...enjoy it?

Look, miracles are rare. I still bumbled and I missed a few times when the ball came towards me. My serve was much better than it ever was in my younger days (thank you, biceps) but still not anywhere near going over the net. Most of the time I let our stronger team members take it while I bounced around cheering my teammates on. "Great save, Chrystal!" "Oooh, nice one, Paul!" And even as I missed, or served clumsily, my teammates, those awesome people I am privileged to call my colleagues, would cheer me on and offer encouragement. No eyes rolled. No lips muttered.

And yet, there was this one moment, when the ball came my way and there was no bouncing sideways to let Paul or Adrian go for it. That ball had my name on it, and I had no choice but to bend my knees, stick my arms out, and clasp my hands together. I figured I'd at least keep it from hitting the ground, and another teammate would give it some better air. I mean, up until now, I'd been wildly hitting it as I could and watching it sail in the opposite direction I'd intended.

So I gamely set myself up. The ball made contact with my clasped hands. I swung it upward...

...and into a perfect arc that sailed over the net with room to spare.

If I'm going to tell my students to be risk-takers, I've got to walk the walk myself. Today, I did that, volunteering to play a game that I basically spent years of my life hating because of bad memories. I wasn't by any stretch of the imagination a strong player, but halfway through our second game, I found myself, mid-court, watching the ball sail around, and I realized I was having fun.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Evolution of a Garden

I popped onto Facebook this morning, and the first item on my feed was a memory from two years ago...a first picture of my early, fledgling garden.

This is where I started--a woman who had never successfully kept a house plant alive, with two plants, some store-bought daffodils, and a Target bargain bin forget-me-not seed pack in a tin bucket.

It was supposed to be a slow experiment, but as my forget-me-not plant started sprouting, and my other plants stayed alive, I added to it.

I put citronella tea lights in pretty votive holders, and bought solar garden lights.

I watched things grow and bloom.

And then I bought a gnome, and my garden became Official.

I even added a whirly-gig. Things were getting serious.

I planted, and watered. Some things thrived, some did not. Gardening, it turns out, involves some trial and error.

I kept adding more plants. It was becoming an obsession.

I found one of my old Little People at Mom and Dad's house. Figured he'd like gardening.

I smugly ate basil I had grown. Definitely tastes better than store-bought.

I sang "Hello, Dahlia" to my dahlias, and even though I wasn't that successful with them that time, I enjoyed them while they were here, and I plan to try them again.

I fell in love with fuscias, who prefer shade, and so were relegated to a pot at the back of my patio.

And still, it grew. I decided to try a larger, tree-like Tropicana Black (left).

After visiting Summer in Arizona, I bought some succulents, including this small cactus plant.

I added fun details like Grandpa Bean's old scale.

The hummingbirds started coming. Word spread that there was a feeder, and also two cats to taunt.

All through my garden's second spring and summer, things thrived. My lantana plants made me so happy. Petunias became one of my easiest plants.

Mom bought me a few little plant stands so I could add levels and layers.

The cactus went wild.

Dad's friend gave me a small trellis for my newly-purchased mandevilla, which likes to climb.

I used gardening to help me deal with my stress the night Mom had her tumor removed. I used it to keep us both up as she was too weak to work in her own garden. And when she died, I used it to stay sane in my grief...and, perhaps, to honor her. So much of what I have learned is thanks to advice she gave me.

She remains my garden angel. And my garden is one of the first places I go to talk to her.

I like to think that perhaps she's sending it a little love now and again. My cactus certainly seems to be feeling the love.

And still, my garden grows. At the end of the season last year, it was solidly thriving. A few arrangements that Dad and I got at Mom's memorial ended up yielding some lasting plants, including an ivy that is absolutely loving life even know.

A month or so ago, Dad and I lugged Mom's old outdoor bakers rack up the stairs to my condo, and I put it out on the balcony. One morning during Spring Break, I spent a couple of hours out there, up to my elbows in soil, my nails filthy with it, smiling and talking to my plants as I cleaned them up from a long, rainy winter. Some got fresh soil, and a couple were deemed un-savable, but most made it through and some were even starting an early spring bloom cycle.

The sweat flowed and the soil covered me, and I happily "spring-ified" my little balcony garden, making it more spectacular than ever.

I added a proper herb planter, instead of my usual pot of basil. I have rosemary, cilantro, mint, and basil. Today, I cut some rosemary to use with potatoes.

My garden is bigger than ever, and bringing me so much joy. Sometimes I sit out there as hummingbirds buzz in to have a drink, and marvel at how I have made it all work. Other times, I sit on my sofa and gaze out at my handiwork, thinking how lucky I am to have such a comfortable home. Always, I think of Mom, and how my garden honors her.

And I smile.

All the Things I Want to Tell You

I had a dream last night, where we were talking on the phone. I told you, "Remember Grandma's chair? You know, Grandma Bean's old chair, that you loved so much. Well, I have it now. I had it re-upholstered, in grey. I had Uncle Matt's stool done to match, and the wood of both stained to match each other. They look beautiful. You'd love it."

And then I woke up and remembered that I can not tell you about the chair, or the stool. I can't text you pictures of the new outfit I bought (and you wouldn't believe the price on sale!). I can't tell you how my day was at work, or show you pictures from my trip to Vienna. I can't talk to you, or hear your voice, or see your responses to me on Facebook, complete with emojis.

And damn, Mom. I miss you so much.

I promise I don't dwell on my sadness (too much). I promise I'm living my life and being the woman you were so proud of. But I can't help it Mom, I think about you all the time and I just hate that I can't have what we had for all those years. That closeness, that bond. I talk to you--all the time--but it's not the same.

I want your gardening advice, and the hearts-and-smilies reactions you put on my Facebook posts. I want to hear your voice outside of my head and I want to hug you. Yesterday marked the tenth month I've had to live without you, and I promise, I'm mostly okay.

But I'm never going to stop missing you.

The chair looks great. I bought a pretty fleece blanket and decorative pillow with colorful birds on them. The colors liven up the grey upholstery, and give it some "pop." The cat pillow you gave me--the one you thought looks like Millie--is on the stool.

You'd approve.

I wish I could show you.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Stuff You Keep

Two days before she died, Mom was rushed to the emergency room when her blood pressure plummeted right in front of her oncologist.

I had gone along, and I followed her to the ER, trying--unsuccessfully--to keep from crying. The ER team rushed her into a bay and got to work, a team of people moving gracefully around Mom on her gurney, never bumping into each other, never raising their voices. They just calmly hooked her up, hydrated her, and got her back to her most recent normal: an advanced cancer patient on a feeding tube, needing IV fluids. A shadow of her former self, in every way except personality.

Oh, the personality was intact, indeed.

As she perked up, most of the team left to attend other patients. One nurse remained, puttering around. Mom saw me, sitting on the only chair in the room, sobbing. She smiled at me from behind the oxygen mask, and I got up to stand next to her bed.

As I took her hand, she smiled again, and told me, "You're a tough little broad." A laugh-sob jerked from my throat, and I shakily replied, "I don't feel like it right now."

A few days later, I was planning her funeral, and discussing with Dad what we would do with her things. The jewelry, she wanted me to take. Her clothing should go to a local thrift store called The Salt Mine, which benefits people in need in the community. Other stuff could be divided between Aaron and I, or donated.

In the last several months, I've mused over the strangeness of giving away all of Mom's possessions. How a Swarkovski crystal vase means nothing to me, but a well-worn red hat I bought Mom as her hair started to thin from chemo, which she wore until the night she died, means the world. Her diamond ring feels too heavy on my hand, but her simple ruby and the tiny band studded with diamonds that she wore to the end feel natural.

The stuff you keep. The stuff you don't.

It's all just...stuff. And yet, some of it has tremendous value, while the rest of it can just be given away. As I said to Dad today, as we went through some of the china and serving dishes she held on to for fifty years of marriage, "None of this brings her back."

It doesn't bring her back, but it still hurts a little every time we take more stuff to The Salt Mine, or to Field Haven Marketplace (how Mom would love that they are making money for the cats off her things!). We can't keep everything, and Dad and I both believe that if we can give new life to her clothes, and if someone who genuinely needs them can benefit, we are honoring Mom in the best possible way.

It simply can't be helped that this whole process feels so strange.

I drove home today, with a banker's box full of milk glass and Grandma's crocheted doilies, and mused over the stuff I have kept. Some of the milk glass will go into my personal collection, and I'll sell the rest.

It's just stuff.

But forever, I will keep the memory of my mom, so sick, near the end of her life, smiling at me and reminding me I'm tough. That is definitely something to keep.

Vienna, Part 5: Thursday

My last day in Vienna was a busy one, as I had things to do with Summer, plans to take a bus up into the hills around the city, and go in search of Beethoven.

But first, horses.

Thing is, you're not supposed to take pictures in the practices, but we all were...until the announcement was made. Oops! I just got this one, and yes, the rider closest to me in the shot is a woman.

After watching the practice, I wandered back to a meeting point to have lunch with Summer, who had been exploring some other places.

Potato soup

Yes, that is bacon-wrapped Brie. Holy cow, this salad was
After lunch, Summer went off to do some things, and I wandered along to the appropriate bus stop for the hop-on/hop-off bus tour that would take me slightly out of Vienna for the afternoon.

The roses are wrapped for the winter.
I got off at the Grinzing/Sandgasse stop, for two small wine villages, and, somewhere out there, a Beethoven house that I never could find. I wandered around, and eventually waited for the bus by having a class of rose in a charming little restaurant.

Half the charm of the whole area was its distinct lack of traffic and crowds.

When the bus came back, I rode back into Vienna proper, and set off to find another Beethoven house (this time, I was successful).

I had to walk up five flights of this to get to Beethoven's
former apartment.
I took Schroeder along, and he was delighted.

Beethoven's music stand

Standing in awe.

A reproduction, but still, that's what Beethoven's
writing looked like it.

"Utterly untamed personality" is the polite way of saying,
"He's an asshole." 

Listening to magic. Beethoven was a jerk, but he was
a musical genius, too.

After this, I had time to meander my way back to meet Summer for dinner. As ever, I delighted in all of the beauty Vienna has to offer.

We went to a restaurant I had gone to on Monday, an eclectic place with amazing food.

Austria has some lovely rose wines.

Polenta with veggies. So delicious.

After dinner, we stopped for dessert, where Summer had strudel, and I had ice cream.

The next day was Going Home Day, and it was a long slog of about 24 hours between leaving the hotel and finally arriving back in Casa Meg. The wait at Chicago O'Hare was endless (about six hours). The flight itself from Vienna to Chicago was great, as it wasn't full and Summer and I were able to claim rows to ourselves (of two seats). But the Chicago to Sacramento flight was jam-packed, and completely uncomfortable. And four hours.

But we made it home, and the most important part is that I had a grand time in Vienna. What a beautiful city!