With a Little Help from our Friends

March 18th, 2013

It may not take an entire village to raise a child, but it surely takes a posse of friends and family members to make one’s dreams a reality. My eldest daughter, Reiley, decided to compete in pole vaulting this track season – at a school that hasn’t had a pole vaulting program in five years, shares practice time, space, and equipment with other schools in the district, and employed a coach who has never actually vaulted. What to do? Ask a climbing friend, who just happens to have been the 1990 Pac-10 Champion in Pole Vault, to885810_549514678426567_1707693206_o give Reiley some pointers.

His response, “Build it and they will come.”

No kidding. Less than a week after our initial conversation, which serendipitously followed a similar request by a mutual friend whose teenage daughter pole vaults – at a well-equipped school with no vaulting coach – we’d built a backyard pole vaulting training facility. We located and purchased a pole vault box, which my sister graciously picked up after a meeting in LA, borrowed a pole, and moved pads our friend had already acquired from his drive to a field at the far end of his backyard to create a pit. Even sans a proper runway and standards (”cross bars,” for the uninitiated), we have an enviable space for two Inland Valley teens to train.

Conversations I Never Thought I’d Have with a Son

March 11th, 2013

I remember my eldest son telling me once, following a detailed discussion of which one of the bras drying in the laundry room I wanted him to carry upstairs to me, “That was one conversation I never thought I’d have with you.” Well, his little brother has him beat.

talkin-bout-the-birds-and-the-beesMy 11-year-old son, Parker, is the first of my children to attend middle school, so his experience with “sex-u-al reproduction” as a study unit in science class represents new educational terrain for all of us. Prior to the start of this unit, I’d had no idea that my ongoing conversations with his now teen-aged siblings, had gone, quite literally, right over his head. And considering the almost annual arrival of new infant members into our extended family, and the “polite conversations” on human reproduction that attend to them, I was shocked at his apparent lack of common knowledge about the so-called “birds and bees.”

The sexual reproduction unit started innocently enough with pollination…

Then there was the day I asked Parker about school and he replied, “Well…I learned why women use tampons…” He also learned an alternative meaning for “period” and, as a consequence of a wisecrack remark by his science teacher, that it’s a good idea to avoid women during this “time of the month.” (Thank you very much, Mr. Science Teacher.) I did my very best to behave as if I discussed human reproduction with pre-teens all the time and and expressed my openness to any and all questions he might have. He responded, “No, Mom. I’m good.”

The highlight of our conversation came at the end when Parks concluded, “You know, it’s all about the woman.” Oh yeah, he’s going to make a terrific mate one day.

My Dog Has Mumps?!

March 4th, 2013

My eldest daughter, Reiley, is no fan of running with the dogs, but I thought she’d gone overboard yesterday when she complained that Ayla, our Alaskan Malamute, was not only slowing us down, but also had a fat face. From behind, I had to agree. It looked as if there was an over abundance of fur sticking out of the right side of Ayla’s face. I reached out to give it a tug, wholly expecting to pull out a chunk of her under-coat. (True to her breed, she almost always needs to be brushed!). No fur this time, just a mass or swollen cheek or…


Suddenly, her wincing when I put her collar on made sense. I hadn’t caught her ear, but rather absentmindedly tugged her collar over what now appeared to canine mumps. Of course, I researched her condition and narrowed it down to most likely a toothache or infection, though I couldn’t rule out something much worse.

Nor could I rule out mumps. Mumps is a viral infection that usually affects the parotid glands, one of three pairs of salivary glands located below and in front of your ears. Dogs have a similar arrangement of glands, and while a dog can get the mumps, they are far more likely to suffer from infections of the parotid salivary gland(s) caused by something other than the mumps virus.

After two hours and $380, the vet was sure Ayla had an infection near the salivary gland on her right side, likely the result of a puncture wound we’d somehow missed. (Our current best guess is that she cut herself on the chain link breaking out of her kennel and her wound was hidden by all that fur.) Treatment involved surgery to lance and drain the abscess, and she came home with the worst shearing I’ve ever seen, half a dozen stitches, and a drain protruding from her neck in two places.


Yet, I’m thrilled that’s all it was. Reiley’s right, Ayla isn’t as fast as she once was, and she’s way fuzzier than any So. Cal Malamute ought to be, and she does have an attitude…Still I can’t imagine a more loving and loyal canine companion.

Brace Face

February 25th, 2013

I was lucky enough to be one of those people who didn’t need braces. And yet, I voluntarily succumbed to 12 months of raw gums, limited dietary choices, marathon flossing sessions, and a lisp! (To be honest, that’s the bite stop.) Why?

The proximate reason is my bite. In that, I have plenty of company. On the basis of the handful of blogs I’ve read by orthodontists and adults with braces, bite or “teeth/mouth” function is right behind appearance and dental health among the top reasons that adults opt for braces. Bite problems are often the source of tension headaches and other head and neck pain, jaw-popping, difficulty swallowing, and excessive snoring. I do suffer from headaches, my jaw pops, and I snore…but no one ever suggested braces.

Braces as an antidote to my “off” bite only became relevant when my upper teeth started moving apart, ever so slightly, as a result of my dentist’s effort to ease the crowning of my lower teeth via Invisalign. Uh huh, that wold be “improved dental hygiene through plastic-tray-straightened teeth.”

IMG_1412Ten days into the consequent mission to align my lower teeth and bring my upper teeth back together again, I’d have to say that having braces is nowhere nearly as painful and stigmatizing as my children made it out to be. Sure, I felt a little pressure when the orthodontic technician ligated my braces, but that was really about it. And so many adults get braces now for commonplace reasons from appearance to dental hygiene and bite correction that I haven’t heard a thing from anyone other than close friends and family members – mostly simple joshing.

And that’s not all bad. Today, someone mistook me for my daughter’s older sister as we were scootering across campus…

Braces still suck, though, simply because my mouth feels puffy, it’s nearly impossible to take a good bite and difficult to chew, and flossing is both monumentally important and extraordinarily time consuming. I’m afraid it’s going to be a long year, no matter how “young” braces purportedly make you look.

Same Difference

February 20th, 2013


My two youngest sisters, Jeanna and Terri, are 11 months apart; their first children were born nine months apart. No two people from the same gene pool could be more different in coloring and temperament. Yet they were “joined at the hip” (or cheek) from the start. I don’t think Jeanna scored a solo photo once Terri arrived on the scene!

Terri’s been staying with Jeanna this week and took the kids out for a run today. This shot their “babies” sure brings back memories.

What are They Teaching our Kids These Days?

February 12th, 2013

models-observed-human-naturalI’ve been teaching environmental politics and policy for 20 years, so you can imagine my reaction to learning that a staff member at our local nature center told a group of Boy Scouts that global warming is just a cycle. Of course, the earth’s climate has changed naturally over the billion years of its existence. That global temperatures rise in response to increased heat is a basic principle of climate science. (And they fall when heat is lost.) However, according to the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – rising temperatures since the late 20th century are due to human activities.

Global warming is problematic because it contributes to dangerous and costly changes in weather – or short-term atmospheric changes, as opposed to fluctuations over the long-term. In the United States, both the violence of winter storms and the temperature and duration of heatwaves have increased, for example. Repairing the damages attributed to hurricane Sandy last year are estimated to exceed $70 billion; consumer prices for food are currently 2.5%-3.5% higher than a year ago due to last summer’s drought, which was harsher and more extensive than anything the United States has experienced in over 25 years.

Chief among the basket of greenhouse gases responsible for the climate feedbacks responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels currently believe necessary for heating and cooling our homes, offices, etc., and moving us around. It’s easy to understand why the petroleum industry would oppose CO2 regulation, but what about everyone else? Surely, investment in more efficient transit and cleaner sources of energy that are expected to generate long-term economic growth and jobs as well as a clean air and a stable climate is better than hemorrhaging relief aid.

aerial-photo-Los-Angeles-AHLB4483I am a recreational athlete and asthmatic, who spends more than the usual amount of time outside, and lives in a city renowned for poor air quality due to a combination of a large population, Southern California’s notorious automobile traffic, and the region’s bowl-shaped topography that traps pollution West of the mountains. So, yeah, I’d support transitioning to clean, renewable energy sooner rather than later, regardless of climate change and whatever impacts it might have on that speck of So. Cal. I call home.

More generally, though, I honestly have a hard time with the idea that some of my fellow Americans – dare I say neighbors and family members? – honestly believe that sustaining the capacity for corporate giants to make yet more money and, perhaps, preserving our individual driving privileges trumps the rights of all of us to the clean air necessary to healthy living. Pollution from energy production combined with the overall increasing costs of petroleum are reason enough to conserve energy, carpool, and opt for cleaner, renewable fuels. Climate change just ups the ante.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock Climbing

February 4th, 2013

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

~Helen Keller

Surely, but…

My son and I went rock climbing Saturday – I know, it’s a stretch, but no sex, no son – and I fell. My war wounds include a four-inch gash, sprained ankle, and broken rib.

105914198_medium_d1002cWe were climbing at Frustration Creek, a slot canyon near Forest Fall, CA accessible only via a 5.6 approach slab along a waterfall that involves some “sketchy” moves without protection. The 5.6 rating means that a lead climber should place intermediate gear – in this case, a rope – to assist others to make the ascent safely.

On Saturday, there was no rope.

Wholly under the influence of Imitrex, a triptan used to treat migraines, I opted to rest in the car while the my son and a friend headed up. I thought it would take about an hour for them to put a rope up and get a climb in each before I joined them. While I indulged a drug-induced loopiness and settled into to sleep off my “headache,” they decided to solo the approach. In other words, both of them would free solo the approach, or climb without a rope, harness, or other gear.

Nearly an hour later, I followed. When I reached the approach climb, there was no rope and the boys were too far away to hear me if I called, so I climbed up. I’ve climbed this pitch countless times hand-over-hand, so it was really no problem; however, climbing back down would be.

At the time, I felt great – euphoric even, which is typical for me during that blissful period between the end of a migraine and my return to reality. For a few hours to a day or more, I simply feel high – an odd combination of pin-point clarity through a kind of mental fuzziness that makes “even routine tasks take on an otherworldly quality.” My doctor has explained to me that this is the migraine postdrome, or final phase of this kind of neurovascular headache.

Although now I can recall feeling uncomfortable with my son's putting the rope away before we headed out of the canyon toward the top of the waterfall-adjacent route we'd have to negotiate en route to the car, at the time, I simply asked him, "Are you putting a rope up?" He either said, "No," or indicated as much by barreling back down ahead of me. I followed, confident at first and then more hesitantly because I honestly could not quite "see" where to put my foot. I even asked my son to "spot" me, or position himself to guide me down safely if I slipped.

Moments later, I was holding on with both hands, looking down for a place to place my right foot, when a piece of the rock I was holding onto with my right hand came off the wet canyon wall. I distinctly remember simultaneously falling backward and forcing my right foot down, as if to arrest my fall by forcing myself to stand on both feet, and then I was falling - hands, face, chest and ribs, hips, knees banging against the slab all the way down. Afterward, onlookers told me that I fell "really well," as if I'd practiced. Good to know.

As it is, I'll be more or less off my feet for as long as it takes for my sprained ankle to heal, and confined to activities with literally no risk of falling for far longer. Yes, it could be worse. What bothers me, is that it was entirely preventible.

If my son had set a rope before descending - either on his own initiative or because I insisted - I would have been rappelling or holding a rope, the rock I was balancing against as I stepped down probably would not have come loose, and I would still be preparing to compete in the Pasadena Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon next month. Hindsight's a bitch.

Moral of this cautionary tale? While sex has much to recommend it off the rocks, drugs and climbing do not mix.

Back Story

December 17th, 2012


A picture is worth a thousand words…give or take.

I know I cannot be the only ’70s kid who wished, admittedly or not, that hers was a family of performers. Come on, I’m sure the “Brady Six” breathed life into the final season of the Brady Bunch. And it’s Friday night line-up partner, the Partrige Family? It would have been so cool to be part of a family like that! Then there was the Donny and Marie (Osmond) show, following fast on the heels of these prime time programs and Saturday morning’s animated offerings, which included the Jackson 5ive.

Alas, life did not imitate pop-art in my case, at least not until this weekend.

When my loving spouse suggested an early ’70s themed holiday card, I ran with it. Vintage and thrift store finds rounded out the treasures I pulled from my keepsake and costume crates (my mom actually made the patchwork blouse Olivia is wearing for me when I was just a little older than she is now!). And I asked the “gang” to humor me by performing Brady Six “hits,” including Time to Change – a.k.a. as “Sha na na na…”) and Keep on Movin’, with the camera rolling. Those shots turned out to be among the best of our morning’s work.

Before the “Elf on a Shelf”

December 12th, 2012


Elf on the Shelf tradition? Give me a break.

The Elf on the Shelf is based on a a children’s picture book published in 2005 that explains how Santa knows who’s naughty and nice because “scout” elves planted in our homes return to the North Pole each night to tattle in Santa’s ears. (And all this time I thought he looked in a magic snowball.) Apparently, the story originated with Japanese “knee-huggers,” which were central to the story Flora Johnson used to tell her children and grandchildren about elves who “pop” into homes around Thanksgiving and report their observations back to Santa until they disappear at Christmas. Johnson published her book in 1984, sold together with hand-crafted elves through 2004.

Maybe Johnson’s book is what motivated my little brother’s kindergarten teacher to give each of her young students a Christmas elf to take home over the holidays?

That elf is the one I remember from childhood because my little brother was inconsolable at bedtime on the last day of school before Christmas because he’d left his elf in the classroom. My parents left me, then eight years old, in charge of my four younger siblings while they went to the elementary school, where they convinced the night-duty janitor or maintenance man to let them into my brother’s classroom so they could search for the forgotten elf. (Yes, they found the elf, thank goodness!)

And that elf is the one that prompted me to make our “shelf” elf 15 years ago as a “gag” gift for my brother. But the man who would become my loving spouse couldn’t let him go. Every year since, our elf has perched on the mantel, charged with nothing more taxing than reminding us of Christmases past.

The First Noel

November 28th, 2012


Or “No L,” as the case may be. With the illumination of our singular holiday lawn dec, the season has begun. We have yet to win the neighborhood competition, but we get more than our share of puzzled holiday lights gaukers.