Crazy Life, Episode 2

First, a big thanks to everyone who has sent well wishes and prayers to me–some on Facebook, some through private messages, some through texts. I love you all, even if I don’t respond to each one right away.

It’s a roller coaster these days. Work is busy and that is good. Last night I spent about 5 hours researching a point of law that looks like it is undecided. Ha! Just like my ancestral tree, my work life proves not to provide immediate answers. And God laughs.

My brother, my dad and I have taken a DNA test and the specimens are in the testing stage. Do you know not to eat one hour before you swab your cheek? I hope my dad didn’t eat pizza right before. Dads.

I’m anxious for results and at the same time dreading them. I’m one minute thinking I’ll reach out to my likely half sibs, and the next deciding that’s a terrible idea. I’m in limbo.

I’m an INTJ (Myers-Briggs, look it up, don’t judge me when you see the famous INTJs). I don’t like limbo. Limbo is for suckers (and never an official teaching of the Catholic Church, so the INTJ-y-ist part of me is satisfied for my faith teaching and my personal bias to be in sync). Did you know that it is very rare to find a female INTJ? Yep, I’m a unicorn. A South American Unicorn.

INTJs like order, quick results and being right. Right now I lack order, DNA results are by no means quick, and I won’t know if I’m right for a while. AND GOD LAUGHS. BAH HAHAHAHA, I imagine he says.

But there is a rightness to this. I do think that events have a purpose, and this itch I can’t scratch is good. It makes me depend on others, a thing I loathe even though it is the lifeline of humanity. My dear husband and amazing girls have been great.

The most salient thought these days? That earthly fathers are amazing and important. But like all humans, earthly fathers are flawed.You can love them through their flaws. But even with their flaws they point to, though they can never fully emulate, the perfection of a heavenly Father.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

 

Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks. And thus it is time for me to regroup, re-engage and restart my engines.

I’ve been in the pool only a few times in the past two weeks. I’ve kept terrible sleeping hours. I’ve been less than diligent about my diet. I’ve voluntarily worked crazy into-the-night hours.

Some things can’t change right now, and that’s fine. Work is extremely busy, but in an exciting way. But other things can.

Two weeks ago I found out something surprising, shocking, even devastating should I allow it to be. I learned that my biological father is not, well, my biological father.

For those who don’t know me well, in a nutshell, here is my father history: My dad Jim and my mom Donna divorced when I was young, and a few years later, my mom married Bob, my stepfather, who died about eight years ago. Thus, my two dads were and remain Jim and Bob. My mom died almost three years ago. Dad Jim is alive and well, and I’m meeting him for dinner tonight in Northern Virginia.

About 4 months ago, after a few years of starts and fits at family genealogy, I got serious about it. Ancestry.com, here I come! Building family trees was something I became obsessed with (imagine). Then, at the prompting of my kids and because of the rumor of Native American blood for generations, I did a DNA test. Fun!

I was so excited when I opened my results! I’m about a little over a quarter “Native American” and a lot “Iberian Peninsula/North African.” Woah! So exciting.

Wait, whut?

Now, those with more science background than me (which in many cases would include your household pets), are immediately raising the collective eyebrow. See, my family, they are white people. Really white, for the most part. I did find a 15th great-grandmother who was a member of a North Carolina Native American tribe, but you, your crazy uncle and your dog Rufus can figure out that 15th great grandmother does not equal 26% Native American.

But not me.

I started asking questions, though, about my dad’s family tree, which I was having trouble tracing back very far. All I knew was his grandfather was straight off the boat from Scotland. But wait, I’m 0% Scottish. Though raised in kilts with play bag pipes, as Dick is a Scottish name and my stepfather, a Campbell, was the proudest Scot to ever live, I was not one tiny bit a Scot.

Long (long) story short: My dad Jim finally confirmed for me that, that, no, he is not my biological father.

This is not news you expect at 48. That the pain in your hip is early arthritis, that college tuition is increasing at a dramatic rate, that family members need long-term care, these are bits of news you expect at 48.

Though I’m still in the process of building a paper trail to evidence all of this beyond any doubt, here’s the deal: my biological father (now deceased, I have learned) is 100% South American (“Native American” means indigenous to any of the Americas, my USA-centric brain learned) and he has a parent who it appears was 100% indigenous South American.

It’s been a shock and hard for some family members to hear. My emotions? Mostly sadness, for my dad Jim and for me. The saddest thing I think I have ever done is swab my cheek for a DNA sample, knowing my dad Jim was doing the same.

Other emotions? So far, no anger, at least not at those directly involved in the events. My parents did not have an easy or good marriage, and their parting was surely best for all in the long run. They went on to marry some great people and I am grateful for those great people.

There is, of course, righteous anger, but often people assume any anger they have is righteous. Almost never is that true, in my experience. Righteous anger is rare, and has to be properly cultivated to be beneficial. Being mad at a dead person or two for decisions made nearly 50 years ago, sorry, not worth the energy. Additionally, I won’t manufacture anger simply to comply with the “appropriate reaction” that society might expect.

I know my biological father’s name and the country of origin (I am first generation American on his side–crazy as that sounds to me), but there are other families to consider. Thus, at this time, that is something that I and a few of my family members know, as well as a few loved and trusted friends and mentors who are like family. It will stay that way. Perhaps always, perhaps for some period of time. I just don’t know.

So, it’s been two weeks. I’ve functioned fairly well, but not at full capacity. And therefore, it is time to embrace the truth, make sure secrets don’t dominate my life (though not angry at my mother, I do see how secrets surely hurt my mother’s health over the years, a process I wish to minimize for myself as much as possible), and smile at the thought that maybe, just maybe, I’ll find ways to connect more to the story of my biological father and his children.

And remember:

Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. – Angela Blount

 

 

 

 

A Musical Life

Music has always equaled worship to me, even when I didn’t know it.

I spent Sundays in the 70s listening to what I call “Catholic folk music,” led by a former priest and his wife with an accompanying guitar and tambourine. Sing to the mountains!

I spent teenage years bouncing between two genres. I’d belt out country, my grandmother and great aunt’s radio favorite, in the back of one of their cars. They loved Randy Travis and they thought Alan Jackson had it going on. They adored the Statler Brothers, and I still do (to my knowledge, I have the only Spotify Statler public playlist, not to brag). But not Willie. I had to sneak-listen to Willie. They were not fans. It was the nasal whine and the ponytail, I think.

When I wasn’t in their cars, I was into a shockingly bad mix of pop-rock, from Barry Manilow (BARRY!), The Doors and Steve Miller, depressing death and spunky tunes, alternating on my various mix tapes. With the exception of Barry, it was not typically geriatric fare, so I kept those tapes for swim meet trips.

The American popular song occupied my 20s. Michael Feinstein sang the hits of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwin Brothers. My law school friends just smiled, assuming I had a secret opioid addiction I obtained from hanging at the Algonquin with literary types of days gone by.

And now, in my late 40s, I harken back to all, with the addition of Christian Rock, a bit of a staple these days.

I just made a Spotify list for my church’s Kenya missions team, which ranges in age from 18 to, well, north of 18. Suffice it to say that both Karen Carpenter and David Guetta (who?) grace this playlist. We are on the top of the world and it’s all titanium, apparently.

You do worship, to some degree, through what you listen to. My Doors days were formative, but not particularly happy, and I was worshiping things and success, not a God who loves me. Barry helped me turn on the Happy even when it wasn’t real. Not a bad thing, but it had its limits. The Statlers, all originally gospel singers, give you a great worship experience with the combination of four, faithful voices that I think will never be equaled, but also silliness when you need it. Cole Porter and the Gershwins simplify your life by (not accurately) portraying the presumed ease of generations past.

And old Catholic music, bad though much of it is, takes me to happy memories of my mother, arriving at Mass to see if we were singing our favorites (her’s, Lord of the Dance and mine, Lord of Glory — it had a banjo!)

Use your music well. It can take you to good places and dark places. Today, I’m reveling of the diversity in my Kenya team’s playlist, recognizing the distinctness of the team members and their many individual gifts.

Use your music well because it will come out of you. We are all just beggars who give alms.

Kathleen’s “Old School Catholic” Playlist

Kathleen’s Protestant Hymn Playlist

Kathleen’s Best Statler Brothers Collection Ever

NativityMissions Kenya Team Playlist

The Light-Handed Editor

Lately, it’s become hard for me to write. I’ve been busy and, as Ferris Bueller sagely advised, life moves pretty fast, but mainly my lack of writing has been because my current working situation prevents me from writing about what I do in the detail that is sufficient to bore you to tears. Which is always my goal. So here we go.

One thing that I’ve done for, lo, these twenty-some years, is edit. I’ve been a good editor and a poor one. If you edit documents, here is some advice, less sage than Ferris’, perhaps, but possibly helpful:

  • Who is writing and who is reading?  Are you editing for your high schooler who is about to drop a ton of misplaced commas all over a future employer’s desk, or are you editing for your boss who might have dangled a few participles in a memo to his staff? Consider who you are correcting and how critical it is for the end-user to see perfect grammar and nice spacing.
  • Are you more interested in seeing red? Sometimes when we edit, it is an exercise in passive-aggressive behavior. Are you ticked that you have to edit a document for someone who should have paid more attention in 9th grade English class? Go easy with the red pen; make sure your comments are necessary and helpful.
  • Repeat: Is it necessary? In corporate settings, there are sometimes group editing projects (in hell, there will be no doubt be group editing projects). Group editing projects stink. Let’s just be honest. But sometimes they are necessary. Think high level in these situations. Why are you being ask to edit? I am often asked to edit to spot any legal issues and massage language as needed. That means no one needs me to pick apart adjective choices in a paragraph about mobilizing church volunteers. Lawyers have a terribly annoying habit of believing they are editors extraordinaire (they aren’t) and that there is a desire to have them rewrite and lengthen any written submission (there isn’t, there really, really isn’t). Know your role and change only what is necessary.
  • When a rewrite is necessary, say so. If you follow these simple rules, you will have some gravitas when you have to call a rewrite. Do this very sparingly, but when it needs to be done, confront it head-on. If you can, offer to help. What goes out of your office is a reflection on you, not just the person who signs the email.

And. If you find any errors in, this. Be nice.

Swimming and the (Im)Perfect Body: Part 3, Tales of a Food Lover and Hater

784_1066754384638_4879_nThis week, I got a bit of sticker shock. With many of my pantry products low, I shopped more robustly at my grocer of choice, where “real food” is sold (for a full definition, or at least what I mean when I use that phrase, I suggest Michael Pollan’s writings on this subject). And my pocketbook felt it.

Still, the cost of eating this week will be lower than in the past, when we would eat out 3 times more a week and would be less deliberate in our grocery shopping. I remind myself of that when the final total appears on the check out screen. Gulp.

The even greater benefit is the time we have gained as a family. A good 4-5 times a week, all three of us still in the house are cooking together and eating together. We are talking. We are listening. It has bought us an hour or more of time together each day. That’s huge, in this plugged-in world where we crowd source more and more of our daily lives.

****

When I turned 12, I entered a new world. An avid summer league swimmer, my mother took me to a year round swimming program to try it out. Long story short, it stuck. I had some talent. I had a great deal of drive. Together, these attributes combined to pave the way for a 12-year competitive swimming career.

It was not a career without ups and downs. I never hated the sport, but I did hate what I allowed the swimming culture to do to me. Perhaps that is not even fair. There was a culture of overworking, over-swimming, that I glommed on to. It fit my personality so well. That culture became my culture. It fed me and destroyed me.

A perfectly trim swimmer at age 12, I started to notice I was less trim than some. And that simply would not do. Everything is a competition, right? A few thoughtless but not intentionally unkind comments about perhaps losing five pounds stuck in my brain like glue.

Problem was, food was central to my life. I was not a candidate for anorexia. Try though I did, self-starvation was simply not something I could do. However, I was a candidate for bulimia. Bingo! From age 13, through my swimming career, I was an untreated bulimic or a treated one with numerous bouts of relapse.

There were great parts of my swimming career, despite this disease. I loved my teammates, I loved the actual activity of swimming (more in practice than in meets, but that goes to my personal discontent more than anything else), I had the greatest college coach for my personality I could ever have had, and it paid my way to a fantastic five years (yes…five…) where I met my husband and made lifelong friends. Thank you, University of Georgia and the legendary Jack Bauerle for offering me only a half-scholarship. Penn State was my second pick but clearly the right place for me.

Of course, the disease of bulimia was never about swimming. It was a symptom of a discontent with myself, a symptom just like, though more severe than, my hiding of food under my bed when I was little. It likely would have surfaced had I been an artist or a writer or musician. It was a struggle I took well into my 30s. I credit God for finally releasing me of that discontent that manifested itself in food abuse.

***

Eating real food is real fun, as it turns out. I look forward to meals with just about the right amount of enthusiasm—not obsessive but anticipating the celebration of a tasty meal with my family.

It is also an amazing release to be satisfied with, or at least not antagonistic to, my physical self. This is me. I am very healthy; I still swim (though winter seems to make me physically incapable of driving to the pool) and have a resting heart rate of 50. I’m good.

I’m even better now that I care about what I eat. I’ve made things I would never have eaten—an amazing arugula pizza and not so amazing turnips. But trying new things, things from a garden, things that still have dirt on them when I buy them, I like that.

Tonight’s fare: arugula, mushroom and shallot pizza with fresh mozzarella. I’ll let you know.

 

 

Tales of a Food Lover and Hater: Part 2

4850490587_06c3ebffa9_bWhen I was little, I lived in fear of not having enough food. My family is Southern (yes, in this case, the “S” should be capitalized), so that fear was wholly unfounded. Each holiday was themed by great food–fried chicken on Sundays (which are a holiday in the old South, at my MeMa’s, for 3 pm dinner), hamburgers and hot dogs on the 4th of July, and turkey PLUS ham every Thanksgiving. Desserts were not optional. My grandmother made a ridiculously huge black forest cake at Christmas, at times towering close to a foot and a half, and my Aunt Isabel was a whiz at all things sweet and strawberry-based (for a funny book on Southern hospitality and how food is central to that, check out Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Lady’s Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral). In short, food is the order of the day, even on your last day.

And yet, I lived in fear of not having enough. I would hide food in my room–in my closet, under my bed. Why? I don’t fully know. I’m sure any Psych 101 student with a C average would tell you that my family falling apart at a young age (divorce, deaths of beloved family members) in a short span of time meant I filled loss with food. Whatever the reason, I clung to this irrational fear and didn’t stop hiding food until well into college.

This old fear resurrects at various times and affects adult behavior. If you’ve been to my house for any holiday, you know I never don’t have enough. I over order, over cook, and over serve. The biggest sin to my family of origin was running out of food. In the South, running out of food is Simply. Not. Done.

**

Since changing my shopping, cooking and eating habits, I’ve reflected a great deal on the role food played in my early life. It was celebration and failure to me. It was the best part of every holiday, and the worst part of my guilt.

It is an interesting change to buy only what one needs in the short term. It is a struggle to remind myself I can come back next week, and 12 leeks or 24 eggs are just too many. It is also not yet a reflex for me to reflect, when I want to put down amazing organic apples, a lovely wedge of locally made cheese or a small tub of artisan hummus as too expensive to deserve, that I choose to spend my money on quality food, that my family (and I) am worth it, and if I don’t like it, the world doesn’t end. No more guilt over “starving children in Africa.” There is a way to contribute to the fight of the undernourished, and it is not by spending $1.50 less on apples.

Tonight my husband made zucchini fritters. They were tasty. It was nice to sit, talk and try something new.

It really does come down to allowing yourself to think enough of yourself to nourish your body properly. The extra benefit is that it is tasty and fun in the process.

Next time: Swimming and the (im)perfect body.

Tales of a Food Lover and Hater: a Tell-All in Five Parts

IMG_4308For one month, I’ve been doing something rather drastic for me, but also really fun. This is my first public discussion of it.

Over the course of this past month, I’ve thought long and hard about my love-hate, up-and- down, on-again-off-again, relationship with food. It’s a long relationship that I’ll unpack over the course of the next five  or so posts. It’s not always pretty, but sometimes it’s funny. I hope to achieve a balance of provoking solemn thought, side-splitting humor and eye-rolling judgment. I am sure to achieve at least the latter.

Part 1: What the heck is she doing?

What I’m doing is approaching food differently than ever before. For the first time in my many, many times of  declaring loudly in my mind, “Let’s do this thing food differently,” I have no intention of losing weight. All the other times, I had intentions of losing weight. Of course, it didn’t happen, but that was my intention.

This time, I have only three rules, and even those are breakable if necessary. These rules come from the compelling (to me, at least) writing of Michael Pollan:

  • Eat food
  • Not too much
  • Mostly plants

So what this entails is the following:

  • I plan all my meals, with an eat out option once a week or so.
  • I developed a shared database of recipes using Evernote, to which my family members all have access.
  • I write out a menu each week along with a shopping list.
  • I shop almost exclusively at a trusted store that has all-organic produce, animal products that have no growth hormones or antibiotics, and unprocessed pantry products. In other words, real food.
  • I have meat or fish only a few times a week, and strive for a 51% or more intake of plants vs. animal products (based on rough calorie estimates, but I’m not insane about the percentage. Most days I know in my mind if I hit the “more plants than animals by calorie” ratio intuitively).
  • Dinners are at the dinner table (most of the time).
  • Perhaps most importantly, I actively commit to not feeling guilty for buying “expensive” food. In the past, it was nothing to buy a $30 steak at dinner (which I still might do sometime) but I’d feel guilty about buying $7 worth of organic lettuce. No more.

What I’ve learned so far:

  • My food bill is lower. Why? I’m eating in more, I’m not subject to supermarket sales that cause impulse buying for me (“Dang, potato chips are 4 bags for $5. THAT’S A DEAL!!”), and I buy only what I need for that week.
  • I really like how quickly I shop at my main store. It’s small, it’s easy to find what I need, and it’s very convenient to my home.
  • Food tastes better and I’m more willing to try “crazy stuff.” Tonight we are having oven-baked turnip fries. Will I like them? Who knows. But trying new food awakens the taste buds.

I’ll share some recipes along the way, tell my food story and hopefully make you laugh with some of my legendary food fails. There are many…

Food is relational: relational with you and as a tool to be relational with others. It’s not just fuel. And it’s not something to love (worship) or hate (demonize). It’s something to enjoy.

Enjoy.

 

This is Bob.

I love that the Archdiocese and the Catholic Review, as well as the Baltimore Sun, reported that Church of the Nativity‘s Mass will be streamed during the storm.

I do not love that we are still a culture that needs to be told we are excused from Mass attendance when clearly the weather and our own brains dictate that to be so. I know, though, why it gets communicated–because if it did not, some (many?) Catholics will annoy the life out of the hierarchy by demanding to know if their obligation is lifted.

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This is Bob. Bob is skiing. Also, Bob has a window. Bob can see that it is unsafe to drive. Bob knows he doesn’t have to go to Mass, and more importantly, that he shouldn’t attempt to go to Mass.

Be like Bob. God gave Bob a brain for a reason.

Go Tell It

It is Advent, and almost the third Sunday in Advent, or Gaudete (“Joy”) Sunday in the Catholic tradition.

And yet…

It has not been a terribly joyous year in so very many ways. You may be of this mind whether you think on a global scale, or a national scale, or even a Baltimore scale.

I do love Advent, very much. I love the anticipation and the waiting that accompanies, this, an actual season of the Church calendar, which precedes Christmas.

In this season of hope, joy and anticipation, I have navigated other emotions. I have navigated despair, anger (of the righteous and self- varieties), and hurt. I am in a season of working many hours for an undervalued cause (or completely unvalued cause, or even a subversive cause, depending on your bent). I have seen dear friends lose precious life within their family. I have had to shut down social media conversations among friends on my accounts  that seemed to blow up from nothing. I have had to report hate crimes.

So where is the joy the celebrate this coming Sunday? I do not know. I will be attending a viewing for a beloved child of God, whose quirky style, quick wit and loving heart affected all.

And yet…

There is one solace in this crazy, unbelievable, sad, year end.

I will go tell it.

There is a savior. And he is not me. I cannot resurrect the dead, stop the hate with a wave of my hand, or bring peace to social media with a delete button.

Friends, this world is clearly not Heaven. If there was any doubt about that, 2015 has put that myth to rest. Right now it feels like quite the opposite. It is as if we as a human race are insisting on bringing Hell to  Earth.

CS Lewis put it thusly: “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

Go tell it.

Jesus Christ is born. He is real. He is the savior. And that is enough.

Toss out those souvenirs of Hell. Something better awaits.