Alive and Kicking

Hi, I'm Shannon. Once upon a time I blogged here, and then I took an entirely unplanned break, and then I started getting e-mails asking me if I had died. So it seemed like I should pop in and put those concerns to rest: I have not died, run away, or otherwise gone crazy (despite Hubs' occasional testimonials to the contrary).

Here's the scoop:

We moved unexpectedly this summer, fulfilling a life-long dream to live in the country. I should explain that by "in the country" I mean "more than four minutes away from a Wal Mart." It's a whopping nine minutes to a Wal Mart, and I think this must be just exactly how Ma Ingalls felt. You city folk just wouldn't understand.

So: New (unexpected) house and new schools, which meant that late summer and early fall were flurries of unpacking and helping everyone ease into all the new-ness. As if that weren't enough, my little tiny baby started kindergarten, which meant that I had no preschooler at home for the first time in 13 years. It was the end of an era. A sticky, playdough-encrusted era.

I realized this meant it was time to get busy on all the stuff I'd been putting off forever. I thought about running for Congress (not really) or going back to medical school (not really on that one, either), but I decided instead to to tackle the mysterious chunk of petrified something-or-other I'd been needing to scrape off the bottom of the breakfast table for a decade (yes, really, on that one).

A funny thing happened, though, as I found myself so necessarily elbow-deep in the business of real life. The part of my life that was, for so long, filled up with Twitter and deadlines and comments and stats and advertising suddenly grew silent…and, to my staggering amazement, I liked it that way. This blog was an important part of my life for so long, and those of you who have read here so faithfully have encouraged me in ways I can't express. So why, I asked myself, was it so easy to step away? I had the sense that for this moment, anyway, I'd simply said all I wanted to say in this space.

And then I wondered if I should blog some big, official announcement, but blogging about not blogging seemed a little trippy, doesn't it? So I'd look at my computer and shrug and–whaddya know–six whole months had passed.

Really, that's the whole story. No big scandal or trauma, just the much-needed realization that my online life had become too consuming and–despite my best efforts–it was keeping me from giving the best part of myself to the people I love most. It was time to change that.  And it's been very, very good. Life is quieter now, or, at least, "quieter". There are, after all, four offspring in the house with a tendency to ride down wooden stairs in laundry baskets.

This all sounds like a "The End." It's not. I don't have any plans to close this blog down, though I can't guarantee any plans to fill it back up, either. Right now I'm content for it to sit here and let me dabble in it occasionally or often or never. (Clearly, I am all about the strategic planning.)

In the meantime, wherever you are, I hope you're well and happy and finding your own little slice of quiet. Or "quiet".

See you around, sweet friends. Thanks for stopping by.


It's Valentine's Day. This afternoon Hubs and I climbed the stairs, closed our bedroom door and…

…finished scraping the popcorn off our master bathroom ceiling.

Who needs roses when you can have soggy chunks of plaster in your hair?

We're generally not impulsive remodelers–when we've tackled projects in the past, we've usually thought them through very carefully, with a budget and a plan in place. Early last week we began to wonder how hard it would be to strip our old wallpaper, which led to a wondering about how much bathtub refinishing costs, which led to a wondering about whether we could remove a doorway. Ten days later, my bathroom looks like this:


So, it would appear we're remodeling the bathroom.

I am learning many things in this little adventure, chief among them that plumbers are expensive, sledgehammers are surprisingly therapeutic, and wallpaper glue is forever. And I am reminded, with much thankfulness, that I'd rather spend an afternoon inhaling sheetrock dust with him than sitting at a candlelit table with anybody else. Come to think of it, maybe we should've written that into our wedding vows.

Happy Valentine's Day, Hubs. Thanks for the drywall and the babies and the sanity and for looking so dang good in a tool belt.

Ho, Ho, Ho (and Other Things I’m Thinkin’)

A sheepish "thank you" to those of you who have dropped a note to ask if my lack of posting means that something is terribly wrong. 

Things are, in fact, terribly right these days–the book is done (DONE, I tell you, DONE!) and it's off to the printer. I'm so giddy with the new-found freedom that I've celebrated by alternately plowing through my reading list and learning to crochet (and by "learning to crochet", of course, I mean "looping  a bunch of sloppy knots, but gosh, it's fun.") The kids are out of school and they're helping me with holiday preparations (and by "helping", of course, I mean "not really helping at all, but gosh, they're cute"). We're staring down the barrel of an especially action-packed holiday season this year–details to follow, once all the dust has settled.

In the meantime, as a very tiring 2009 draws to a close, I find myself feeling a little reflective about this silly blog o' mine. It started as a hobby, grew into a "job," and it's mercifully, gently settling back into a hobby again, for which I'm profoundly grateful. I've learned so much about setting limits this year; perhaps I'll write on it once I grab hold of the right words. Thank you for bearing with me during a busy, chaotic year, and for the frequent doses of encouragement and laughter you've sent me at just the right time.

I just yawned, which reminds me that, yet again, I've stayed up too late, cramming in all the last-minute Things Which Must Be Done. The presents are sloppily wrapped, and the kitchen floor is covered with sprinkles from our (highly unsuccessful) foray into holiday baking today. The kids played too many video games, and the 8yo has been throwing up all evening. I sigh to remember how I was crabby when I should've been kind today, how I was rushed when I should've paid attention. I'm beginning to think my decades-long tradition of falling short at Christmas may actually be by design: if I had it all together, I suppose I wouldn't have needed a certain Baby to come and rescue me from my own messes.

So I'll sit here, picking cookie sprinkles off the bottoms of my feet, and I'll think about the manger. I'll say a prayer for peace and rest for those of you who are fighting hard battles right now–I know there are many of you.  And I'll think on this, by lovely Madeleine:

He came to a  world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Be merry, my friends–I'll see you back here in the new year.

Except For the Part With the Smokin’ Hot Laser In My Eyeball, It Was a Good Day

About ten days ago I had LASIK eye surgery. After 25 years of glasses and contacts, I'm now walking around with superhero vision; only 18 hours after my surgery, the doctor confirmed that my vision is now 20/15. And I've only been the tiniest bit melodramatic about it: I've tried to limit my shouting of "I CAN SEEEEEE!" to once every half hour.

I've wanted to do this for ages, and I've been socking away my pennies for over a year. Mostly, I've been summoning up my nerve. Because while this procedure was utterly painless (and–I'm not kidding you–eight minutes long), the thought of this procedure was horrifying.

Blades? Lasers? In my eyeballs?

Thankfully, I found a doctor I loved. Melanie recommended him to me, after he did her LASIK years ago. His name is–well, if you tilt your head sideways, his name sounds just like Dr. Einstein.

( This was a bizarre source of comfort to me; if someone is going to approach my eyeball with blades and lasers, I would very much prefer him to be named Dr. Einstein, as opposed to, say,  Dr. Griswold.)

Several friends have asked for a play-by-play of the procedure; they're considering it themselves and wonder what it's like. I'll oblige, but be warned: if you're super-squeamish about eyeball-related stuff, you might not want to read on.

I arrived at the surgery center at 1 pm. The only advanced prep I had to do was a few rounds of antibiotic eye drops. By 1:30 I was checked in, and they had "mapped my cornea" (read: I stared at a red light for several seconds).

I will tell you, in all honesty, I was really nervous. I was so excited about the procedure results, that I hadn't given much thought to the procedure itself. They seated me in a massaging recliner to wait my turn (nice, thanks). I was third in line; two other women sat rattling and vibrating in the chairs next to me.  We all smiled nervously at each other; it seemed like we wanted to wish each other well, but this would require acknowledging that there was about to be a laser shooting into our eyeballs on the other side of THAT WALL, RIGHT THERE.

Some things are better left unsaid.

A very kind nurse offered me an Ativan to calm me. Oh yes, please–my sweaty palms popped that sucker just as fast as I could. I closed my eyes and waited for the magical moment in which I would no longer care about the laser-in-the-eyeball issue.

That moment never came.

" 'Scuse me," I said a little too loudly, "I don't think this Ativan iz workin' 'n I might need another one."

(Hint: if you have enough nerve to ask–loudly–for another Ativan, then rest assured the Ativan is working.)

Even with the pharmaceutical help, I still felt nervous. When it was finally my turn, Dr. Einstein called me in. I thought about cracking a joke about the Theory of Relativity, but then I remembered that a) I don't know what the Theory of Relativity is, and b) I was on Ativan, so I summoned the good sense to keep quiet. He walked me to the laser table–it looked like something out of Star Trek. As I lay down, I had a brief moment of panic in which I almost–almost--stood up and said I couldn't go through with it.

But my kind astrophysicist opthamologist just looked so capable, I took a deep breath and went for it.

*Squeamish people,  stop reading here.*

They used tons of drops to keep my eyes both deadened and  moist. He did one eye at a time (the other one was under an eye patch). A tiny little metal contraption held my open (it sounds weird, but there was nothing to it). Then the good doctor gently put a small circular dealihoo right on my eyeball for a few short seconds–this was the flap maker. No pain, just pressure, and only very quickly.

This is where things got strange. He lifted up the flap–and I could actually see him doing it, though it was fuzzy. Combined with the Ativan, you can imagine that this was a little trippy. He pointed the lasers at my eyeball, warned me that my vision might black out for a second, and then pop! pop! pop! went the lasers for a few seconds.  He lowered the flap, and…done. That was it. He let me rest for a couple of minutes, then he did the same thing with the other eye.

Eight minutes after he started, I sat up in the Star Trek chair, and I could see  (SEE! I can SEEE!) the clock across the room. He gave me some funky sunglasses and walked me out to Hubs, who helped me into a chair to get my post-op instructions. I was of NO help at this point–between the Ativan, my giddy relief that it was over, and (most of all) my sheer wonder that my eyes were working, I just grinned like an idiot and nodded, and I counted the stripes on the wallpaper across the room.

Hubs was, thankfully, paying attention (and laughing at me), and he drove me home.  Per doctor's orders, he gave me a very strong sedative, darkened our curtains, taped some plastic eye shields to my face and put me in the bed. I reached out for him. "Oh please, stay in here and talk with me because I'm just so excited I know I won't be able to slee…." And this is when I feel asleep.

SIX HOURS LATER, I woke up hungry, and went downstairs for some food.  Still totally toasted from the medication, I stumbled all over house. "Look! I can see that clock from here!" "Look! I can see your fingers from here!" "Look! I can see the TV from here!"

Poor Hubs. The only thing harder to manage than a stubborn woman prone to melodrama is that same woman on massive sedatives. He corralled me back up to our room, where I once again conked out for many hours. When I awoke the next morning, to my astonishment, my vision was absolutely normal. I could see Hubs in bed next to me. I could see the alarm clock. I stumbled into the bathroom and I could see….wow, is that what I look like first thing in the morning?

And that's it. I'm ten days out now, and I couldn't be happier with the results. My eyes are a little dry, but that's to be expected. My vision is excellent. My night vision is taking longer to adjust, but I'm assured this is normal. I'm THRILLED.

So, there you have it. Nothing to be scared of at all, and that's coming from a certifiable wimp. If you're thinking of it, talk to your doctor. Save your pennies (it isn't cheap, and I think most health insurance plans don't cover it), but don't hesitate to shop around. I looked at several different places and the prices varied much more than I would've expected.

Oh, and one last thing.



Happy March 28th…

….or, as my daughter squealed when she woke up this morning and saw this outside our front door, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"


(Note: I realize there are parts of the country where snow on March 28th is not odd.  But I'm in Oklahoma, and I had my air conditioner on a few days ago.  Suffice it to say, this is ODD.)

Jury Duty, Part Two

:: (For part one, click here) ::

It's a strange thing, jury duty

One minute, you're snug in your predictable suburban life, driving carpool and paying bills.  The next, you're tossed into a group of twelve strangers, sitting a few feet from a man whose entire future rests in your hands.  It's surreal (for us), terrifying (for him) and messy (for all of us).  It's a system just unnerving enough to make you want to throw out the judicial baby with the judicial bathwater, except that the alternative is no justice at all.

So we did what free and reasonable humans do, I suppose:  the best we can.  We listened carefully.  We held evidence in our hands.  We didn't speculate when there were objections or moves to strike or your-Honor-may-I-approach-the-bench?  We listened to the instructions, and then we read them, and then we read them again.  We handed over our cell phones, for Pete's sake.  We argued (a little) and compromised (a lot) until the wee hours.  And then, our reasonable doubt easily but sadly put to rest, we did justice.

Guilty, on four counts.  Four very serious counts.  Even though the judge gave us clearance to discuss the trial in detail, I don't feel quite comfortable with it, and I'm not sure why.  Maybe because it doesn't feel, entirely, like my story to tell?  

It's probably too easy, I think, to neatly tuck an accused criminal into a safe category of Those People, the ones who walked a path I would surely never walk, who have hurt so many for so long, who must be made to pay. Take a bite out of crime.  Only YOU can prevent forest fires.  But when you sit a in crowded deliberation room with twelve strangers, when you turn a man's life and future over in your hands like State Exhibit 7, when the defendant's mother makes eye contact with you during closing arguments, the lines feel blurry.  The humanity gets a lot more real.

We did the right thing; of that I'm sure.  All the facts in the trial were crystal clear; the facts the judge could share only after the trial were even clearer.  When compassion bumps up against the law, the law wins, because we shaky humans don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to establishing order.  When we delivered our verdict and received our instructions for determining the sentence (something Oklahoma criminal juries are uncomfortably required to do), we were given our first access to the defendant's long and overwhelming previous record of convictions.  It was long.  LONG.  As the list was read, I couldn't help but think of the One who listened to my outrageously long list of offenses, signaled the Judge, and said (not being bound, thankfully, by the Great State of Oklahoma), "I've got it covered."

The whole thing lasted until the wee hours of a chilly Friday morning.  The judge dismissed us with a twenty-dollar-a-day stipend and, for dramatic effect, an armed escort to our cars.  In an strange mix of exhaustion, relief, peace and sadness, I cried all the way home.

It's a strange thing, jury duty.

Jury Duty

Last Monday I reported for jury duty. 

I have been summonsed more often than anyone I know, and I have no idea why.  I can only assume that word has spread about all the episodes of L.A. Law I watched in the '80's, so I must be especially qualified.

Whatever the reason, I made the drive downtown last week, on an unusually frigid day.  I navigated the freeways and the tall buildings and the one-way streets of downtown, affirming to myself that I will never, at heart, be a city girl.  I managed a sloppy parking spot and, running late, I sprinted two blocks to the courthouse. 

There was no need to rush; the long line of my fellow jurors-to-be wound around the side of the building as we waited (in the 25-degree weather) for Uncle Sam to funnel us through the metal detectors.  A well-dressed evangelist with slicked-back hair handed us all tracts and shouted a sermon that ONLY GOD is our judge and jury.  Behind me, a woman chattered into her cell phone.  In front of me, a young man listened to an iPod.  The waist of his pants hung at the middle of his thigh.  I distracted myself from the cold by wondering how his waistband was resisting the call of gravity. 

Finally in the building, we were herded to the basement.  The corridors were endless and gray, and there was not a window in sight.  I texted Hubs:  I've found the end of the universe.  At the end of a long line of about 400 jurors-to-be, I had plenty of time to stand and wait and grumble inwardly at how inconvenienced I was.  Into my mind flashed a most excellent lecture I had given my ten year old the night before.  You have to do your homework–it's not optional–so you might as well do it cheerfully and learn something.  I stopped grumbling.  Mostly.

The next several hours were a quiet blur of waiting, with hundreds, in a cave-like room that smelled of…well, caves.  The occasional announcement over the loudspeaker reminded us what a fine and heroic thing we were doing, and by the way, please DO NOT sit on the floor or leave this room without express consent.  We talked as we waited.  I met, among others, a hospital cook, a church bookkeeper, a PTA president, and an unemployed welder.  A single dad told me how proud he was of his son.  A Vietnam veteran told me what it smelled like to unload body bags.  A young stay-at-home mom wondered aloud how she would pay for childcare while she sat in a courthouse basement.

After several hours, my name was called.  With a group of 40, I was sent to the criminal courtroom of Judge H.  For the rest of the afternoon and into the next day, we answered six hours' worth of questions from the judge and attorneys.  I have four children.  My husband is in finance.   Yes, I really respect police officers.  No, I've never done illegal drugs.  Yes, I've had a family member in prison.  Yes, I've been on a jury before, and we acquitted (and, I'll confess, I allowed an exaggerated expression of sympathy to settle briefly on my face.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the prosecutor write a note next to my name).  The defense attorney asked me how I could tell when one of my kids was lying.  "Radar?" I offered.  The defense attorney laughed, but he made a mark next to my name, too.

They weren't going to pick me.  I knew it. 

Except they did pick me.

:: (to be continued) ::