Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sex and Stress

Does this work for you?
The slipstream between sex and stress often moves in opposite directions for men and women.

Men feel (or maybe notice) more of a physical tension with stress that they know from experience will go away if they have sex. Sure, if see that their website's been hacked and their webmaster won't answer her damn phone they might get a release from chucking said phone against the wall. But they usually control their aggressive instincts at work, and go home tense, and when their partner asks if he's okay says "Honestly? I could really use a (common sexual favor)."

If his partner's a man, his chances are decent because men tend to get this.
If his partner's his wife and they have children and competing demands? Long shot.

"Have you ever felt like
 bait during shark week?"
Not because she minds doing the sex act in theory, but because sex of any type is the last thing she wants when she's had a bad day, and any day when her partner comes home stressed has automatically, because she's empathic, become her bad day too. Plus dinner's on the stove and the kids are fighting.

And women usually feel less of a physical tension than an emotional one from stress (like the infamous headache), and fear this will increase from sex. That they'll resent being asked, be tense and not into it, feel used and unappreciated. Embarassed that the kids will hear, or downstairs neighbors will know what they're up to. This is totally understandable, and a set-up for domestic disaster. Because once he admits he's tense, she asks what would help, he tells her, and she turns him down (or stalls), things go downhill fast.

Father to son: Didn't I ask you to get some pajamas? About a dozen times in a row?"
Son to father: I tried. I'm all out.
Father to son: Go get a t-shirt then, and some sweats.
Son to father: Mom says no. They're not fire-proof.
Father to son: Do I look like your mother? Get the sweats.
Wife to husband (from next room): Never mind. I'll do it. I know there are pajamas in the laundry pile.

Or is this more your style? 
She stomps off to fold laundry for an hour. Husband follows and clarifies that he doesn't care about laundry. Wife says that's obvious, or the pile wouldn't be so high. He falls asleep, tense hours and a few drinks later, still feeling the need for something to hit the wall. Settles for a pillow. It doesn't help. Dreams of a wife who wants him, bad. She dreams of a husband who understands her and does what it takes to get her in the mood and doesn't just throw down and say "Come on, baby. Bring it."

But desire shouldn't be the deal-breaker. Women have the same autonomic responses that men do to good sex--intense pleasure, bonding, relaxation, happiness--once it starts. Low desire is the hurdle that gets in the way of a lot of women having more sex, but it doesn't have to be. One partner has to be gung-ho and desirous to get sex going, but waiting until the other feels the exact same way is going to lead to lots of frustration on both sides. It's like ballroom dancing. Only one person needs to lead at a time, the other to follow and enjoy the moves.

From Men's Health
Sex with a committed partner is good for your health in a bunch of ways that aren't evident from doing other activities together, or from sex without the relationship. It's a reliable way to stay in a good mood and recover quickly from stress, and rejection of a partner who's asking for sex can be devastating to a relationship. And once both men and women close in on middle-age, sexual function moves into a "use it or lose it" phase. Men have medications to help with erection problems, and now women have a pill for vaginal atrophy, but some of these problems can be prevented by more of a focus on sexual health before trouble begins. So why don't women just get with the program and agree to--or even initiate-more sex not just for enjoyment, but for their health, relationships and stress management?

Because sex, for many women, is a cause of stress.
by Leo Bucard
While sex, for most men, is stress relief.

You could say it has to do with modern kinds of pressures, but this dynamic that puts men and women at odds over sex has been in play a lot longer than modern times. It's complicated,  biological, individualized, and self-perpetuating. What to do?

If you are motivated to change this part of your relationship, then start by reversing lenses.

  • If you are the "sex causes stress" partner, then focus on the opposite--all the ways it relieves your stress, makes you feel better about yourself, sexier, more relaxed, more adult, more connected, and happier. If there's something about the sex that's not working for you, figure that out too but the focus is on what does work. Get yourself to a place where at least you can fairly say there's pros and cons.
  • If you are the "sex relieves stress" partner, then focus on the opposite--all the ways it causes your partner emotional distress. Get yourself to a place where at least you can fairly say why your partner resists, restricts or needs elaborate preparation and wooing to be willing. Prepare yourself: there will be emotions and communication involved. Talk of self image, low desire, exhaustion, guilt, anger, a mental "to do" ticker tape, being out of touch with their body. You will want to debate. Don't. You are simply on a fact-finding mission. The goal is understanding, and empathy.

Guaranteed, if both do this well, solutions will be obvious, and the rewards well-worth the effort.

Good luck :) and have fun.

Love, Lisa

Sunday, November 3, 2013


from wikipedia
Jeff Bridges is an interesting guy and I've loved watching him act since Starman came out in 1986, not the least because I believed my name should have been Jenny Hayden and fantastical things should be happening to me. I did get married, and my name became Hayden, but the most surreal thing I experienced that year was listening to the Boston Red Sox almost win the World Series (the curse was so close to being over that year).

The next Jeff Bridges movie I loved was Fearless , which came out the year I finished my clinical psych master's and was studying families and trauma and mental illness. Jeff says his own personal favorite is probably Dude in The Big Lebowski, not my taste but I'm a drama girl. He's a lot like Dude, if you read the latest interview in GQ, which is very entertaining and also very real.

And Dude is surprisingly deep.

Jeff dodges questions when he wants to, but recently stopped dodging every question about his relationship with his wife. Every marriage has secrets and Jeff kept his, for the most part, but expressed a few regrets:

Jeff Bridges in GQ October 2013

"My wife and I have been married for 36 years. I'm deeply in love with her, but every once in a while we'll get into what I like to refer to as our 'deep, ancient battle.' It's always very elusive and it's hard to find the real kernel of it, but basically it is about this: 'You don't get it. You don't get what it's like to be me.' Neither of us really understands what it's like to be that other person." 
I think this is almost universally true in relationships of any type--workmates, parents and children, friends, siblings, or partners--and kind of profound. When you spend years together, as you almost always do with those you're close to, you imagine that in all that time, they will have latched onto the essence of you and appreciate you and forgive you in that context. Every time.

But each of us is to complicated. Contradictory, and ever-changing. Last week you were laughing at your messy house but this week you're embarrassed. What changed? You went to your neighbors' and hers was warm and colorfully decorated for the holidays. You didn't want to leave. It felt so homey. The next day your house is clean and you're on HGTV looking for ideas.

Who are you?
Hard for others to tell. Hard even for ourselves to know. But we're still convinced others should know what makes us happy or aggravated, sentimental or flustered. And that because they don't know, they don't care.

But I remember when I was six or seven, and first discovered the flip side of being misunderstood, which is the power of being unknown. It might have been a time I lied, or hid something from my parents. Possibly it was when they were forcing me to eat something I didn't want to (for smart people, they did that a lot) or say something apologetic (ditto). And in one of my first "aha" moments, I realized they couldn't do it. No one could make me say or do anything--and best yet--they had no idea what was going on in my mind.

Or at least not all of it. Took me a while to get a bland "poker face" down.

So I try to remember this is one of the really cool things about everyone on earth being different. No one will think or write or talk or act exactly like I do, or know how I'll do any of those things in advance. This may cause friction with my husband because I want him to conveniently anticipate my needs and understand my frustrations without my having to express them. I may then be shocked at the flip way he misinterprets and minimizes, trying to jolly me out of something I'm intent on having a hissy over. But in the end, I say:
Magical Mystery Tour of 100 Beatles Songs

Small price for being our own private magical mystery tour.

Enjoy your secrets with yourself this week :).

Love, Lisa

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I went to my Yoga On The Beach class this weekend and the house next door to the instructor's was getting torn down. There had been some damage to the house from Sandy, but I don't know all the reasons for the demolition and new build rather than repair.

What I do know is that I could not stop watching, and trying to understand based on what I learnedd from a picture book when I was a kid. It took most of the class for me to remember the name of the book (not accurately, but well enough to find it again) but I knew the "jaws" of the backhoe looked like a mouth eating plaster because I'd seen that before. I've seen just about everything from a picture-book perspective first. Before I went to the beach, learned about presidents, tried to cook, studied the planets or needed motivation, I'd had a primer and knew the general outline. School and life just filled in the colors.

I don't remember the names of most of the picture books I read growing up, or had read to me by my parents, but there were plenty. Primary grade teachers spend a lot of time with books on their lap, going through them one at a time, holding up the pictures in between pages, so I'm sure I saw some books over and over. I then read a few hundred books a few thousand times to my own kids. But even without the titles or specific details, what's inside the books comes back to me when the situation arises.

Without a lot detail, I knew by age six or seven:

  • what was different about living in Texas, or Hawaii, or other countries
  • what could be dragged behind a tractor to plow fields
  • where dolphins lived, why they came into captivity, how they were trained to do tricks
  • the mechanics of a plane, and how a bridge was built (and a pyramid, a cathedral, a city, but these came later. I could only learn as fast as David Macauley could write.)
  • how the Pilgrims survived their first winter in Plymouth (actually, I knew this in fine detail. My aunt worked at the Plantation re-creating the experience and was very authentic about it. Thanksgivings we pulled cold carrots from the ground and had cornbread made from course-milled grain. There's a story about a hog's head and a dishwasher that is best kept within the Creane family. But before that I still knew about how the Pilgrims lived).
  • How horrible some racist fans were to Jackie Robinson when he desegregated baseball
  • Why we couldn't live on any other planet in our solar system, and what the sun provided us (and every other living thing on this planet).
  • What animals live in a rain forest, on a savanna, under coral reefs, over polar ice
  • How electricity is made and moved.
  • What yeast does to make donuts
  • The pieces and players of a hospital operating room
  • Weather patterns, and extreme events (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, typhoons, earthquakes)
  • How our government works, newspapers print, writers publish, musicians create, artists inspire
  • Sex (thank goodness Peter Mayle, who made it seem goofy). 
  • Careers to consider (I credit Richard Scarrey's Busytown )
  • How to fly a hot air balloon
Most picture books teach about emotions and relationships. Socialization's important so that's fine. We all need practice. Some children's book authors use fantasy to make the lessons more exciting (cue Dr. Seuss). The favorites of mine were Maurice Sendak's. I cannot recall any poems in full, but I can recite his entire Nutshell Library. They fuel the imagination while giving us help with the brother teasing us from across the couch. My first adventure books were Curious George, who was as wild and badly behaved as I've ever wanted to be at the zoo. 

But the books that taught me about the world behind our apartment, our hallway, our backyard, were the ones that gave me the outlines to understand life as it came at me fast once I was beyond the realm of picture books. In psychology, it's called scaffolding--getting enough general knowledge of something to be able to place new, specific knowledge in context so you can remember and apply it--but in reality, it's called confidence. No one likes to be ignorant when facing a new situation, that's scary and embarrassing. We want to be ready, and curious, and excited. 

So when the demo team was working (I realized the demo had gone on the day before, with the wrecking ball. This was the debris removal, completed by an excavating team, which I figured out from the signs on their trucks), I was pressed up against the window, watching and learning. One guy was spraying water on the dust to keep the insulation pieces from floating everywhere. The backhoe guy worked the levers like spider arms, folding the beams of metal into thirds to fit in the dump truck. One guy had to go at the concrete hot tub with a sledge hammer. It was all so cool, and I owe it to Mike and his steam shovel, who gave me a little info bank that's grown with interest over the years. 

I ran home for my camera, and asked questions of the crew, so I owe a debt to Curious George too. Without the trouble. This time, anyway. 

Love, Lisa

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Vacation options for big families on a budget are limited to those with lots of beds in one place--lake cabins,
Lake cabins. Cheaper than the beach :)
campgrounds, and not a lot else. We did both, plus a dude ranch twice and Disney every five years or so, staying in a...cabin or campground, but with a big Mickey imprint. Plus peacocks. Fort
Disney peacock, and her train
Wilderness is the only place I've ever seen a peacock peeking in my cabin door.

When our kids were younger and extremely badly behaved, we went on trips with other foster families who wouldn't be shocked. We met some nice people on these trips, but there was an obsession with trying to get the kids under control that I don't see in families where two parents have their own six or eight (or more) kids. I'm not sure why that is, but it was nerve-wracking to watch, and especially to live around for a week. So we stopped those trips and just went off by ourselves, or with our friends or relations. That worked better, as long as they could tolerate our own...obsession with getting our kids under control.

In the end, what worked best was an RV at a campground resort, with daily activities ranging from kickball
Travel Trailers: they pack a lot of beds
to scavenger hunt to bingo to movies. The camper payment was less per month than one night in a hotel, and a full season of camping every weekend we could get there was less than a week's vacation anywhere else.  Our favorites were Brialee  in Odetah, CT, and Strawberry Park, in Preston. We spent a lot of years in these two spots, cozy in our air-conditioned, heated travel trailer that slept 10 and had 2 televisions with VCR's and cable, a 3-burner stove, a large fridge, a couch, a dining room table, a separate master bedroom, a bunkhouse and a bathroom.

Lake Zoar at Kettletown State Park
The thing about having all those luxuries for less than the price of a new car is: lower-end travel trailers like the ones that sleep 10 (as opposed to higher-end ones marketed to senior retirees) are not that sturdily made. Especially if you take them to Disney every few years, or even to the Cape. All the rattling on the road shakes the brackets loose, and the glue sometimes holding the cabinets together loses its grip. Things were crooked after a few years. We traded one in and got another. That one was worse, after less time. We fought to get it replaced through the lemon law. It apparently doesn't apply. So we lost our enthusiasm for travel trailers around the time our older kids outgrew camping and didn't go to any campground for another few years.

This year we re-discovered camping in a downsized fashion. Tents. State campgrounds with few amenities
Lake Waramaug State Park  in Kent
and typically no activities. They all have seem to have at least one essential missing. At Kettletown, it's firewood. At Hammonasset, it's hand soap and fire rings (though you can rent them for $15/weekend plus $30 deposit). Lake Waramaug had ice, but it was only available for 3 hours a day. More quirky than annoying, it made camping a scavenger hunt. Kids: can you find the recycling bin and the dishwash station? Not at the American Legion State Forest, you can't.

American Legion State Forest
in Barkhamsted
Yet roughing it was better than camping had ever been at commercial campgrounds. The focus was on hiking, and swimming, fishing and boating. If we looked up we saw stars; if we took the fly off the tent we could sleep that way. The kids we brought contented themselves with kindling gathering and digging holes in the ground. Mark got on the trails nearby and the kids begged to go with him (lots of stories there). Our daughter with a bug phobia got over it, fast, and became an expert fire-tender. We walked and talked and shared a lot. We ate good food. We read.

There's a lot of mental adjustments to make when going from an RV to a tent. There's no temperature control on your bedroom, to start. We boiled. We froze. We bought battery fans to cool, and mummy bags to warm. Cooking's also more complicated, including the preservation of food in coolers. It was very overwhelming for me to start, but practice did make it more fun and manageable. I put the camping list I compiled on my website here. Not for this year, since camping's winding down, but for your winter of planning for warm-weather vacations.

Next year I hope to go camping outside of Connecticut, ideally in Acadia National Park in Maine. But I can't put the link in here because the government has shut down and none of the websites are running. Which I still can't believe. Those in National Park Service campgrounds this month had 2 days to leave before most of the rangers were furloughed and the gates locked. Totally absurd when they're such a tiny part of the federal budget (1/15th of 1% ) and the disruptions so major.

But that's the thing about downsized, back-to-basics camping.
It's an unpredictable adventure, the best kind.

Love, Lisa

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Do you know how Wikipedia works?

In my quest to make myself useful, and do the one thing I seem able to do adequately (read and write in a quiet room), I joined the untold number of people adding to and editing Wikipedia. It's nearly effortless--I think (not that I remember) you just put in your name, email, a couple of details about you. Then they bring you to a page that tells you how to "start small."

So, rather than going in and starting a treatise on an uncovered subject, they suggest you go to an entry that needs help, say because it was flagged by a reader as "needing clarification" or "needing editing for grammar"  and you go to work. You can save a draft before posting it, but--really--you make the changes and they go right up. Then someone else does the same to your version. Not a lot of what I wrote is left.

The first random article suggested to me for editing was on LGBT rights in Kazakhstan. For the record, they're better than than they were under Soviet rule when you could get 8 years in prison as a man for sodomy (what they inaccurately called pederasty) or the original Kazakhstan charter (where sodomy was referred to as buggery, also punishable by up to 8 years in prison for men). Now gay sex is decriminalized entirely for those over age 18, though there are no specific protections given either, and a lot of prejudice.

Kazakhstan on the globe
That's what I learned through an hour or so of reading through law books on the internet and fixing some problems in the article. It was pretty challenging, actually, trying to be fact-based only. The original article didn't make a lot of sense. I think it was written in Kazakh and then auto-translated into English. That works surprisingly well, but still sounds choppy and odd. Some things seemed like opinions so I took them out. Then someone did the same to me. The current entry is about 1/3 the size of the original, and only a dozen sentences or so. That's typical for a lot of these "mini-branches" off larger topics like LGBT rights in general.

I have found that some people put an enormous amount of detail in their articles, with one primary source after another, relevant pictures, sidebar pieces and alternate viewpoints. They're works of art, really, written by people who have a passion for the subject and a willingness to explain it to others. It's a hugely democratic process, and while skewed with the smaller topics especially, there's staff at Wikipedia that moderates disputes. Even without registering as an editor, you can flag anything there you think warrants review, by a citizen-editor like me (or you), or by a staff member who can help decide what needs fixing or deleting, or what was deleted by an editor that needs to be restored.

There's an article I was looking for that's not there, that in the back of my mind I think I may start writing. Again, you can start with as little as a dozen sentences, and a couple of subheadings. If you use Wikipedia like I do, as the least biased (which is not unbiased, I know, but still) reference shy of a trip to the library for the real-live encyclopedias (which are on disk, actually), then you should think about popping in some time and contributing your expertise, while broadening your world.

Because we're all experts, even when we aren't aware. I happen to know there's no English word called
"happystance." Even though, thinking about it--wouldn't that be nice too?

:) Love, Lisa

Sunday, September 15, 2013


An osprey nest platform
outside the nature center
I live a half mile from a nice beach, so I'd never been to Hammonasset.

This is a shame, I was told when I finally went this year, because the boardwalk was wiped out during Hurricane Sandy last year, along with a huge bathhouse for showering and changing. Those who have been camping at this beach for years (even decades) were very nostalgic about the beach before the destruction and erosion.

I wanted to tell them it's still pretty damn gorgeous. The waves are minimal compared to any ocean beach. Connecticut's unique as an
The view from our campsite at dawn
East Coast state for having almost all of its ocean water channeled through a narrow bay, Long Island sound, which warms and calms it like a bathtub except during storms, when it traps the water and floods the shores for tide after tide. It's been an uneventful hurricane season and the week we went camping was sunny and dry so the waves were mostly blips against the shore. I'm used to that so it didn't bother me. And I thought the land was beautiful.

Going was a random, impulsive decision. The night before Mark and I
Ava and Liz at the beach
helped move our oldest son from our home to Richmond for a pre-med graduate program, I was falling apart. It wasn't just the shopping and packing, the UHaul rental and the driving, but it was also what I faced when we returned home: a week without any summer camp, school or work to shuttle kids to and from. Funny, because I'm pretty sure I complained a whole lot about the shuttling, but without it, the week yawned hot and needy with the promise of "What are we doing today?" being played on repeat.

So the night before we went to Richmond I was keeping Mark from sleeping after another of his 13-hour work days with my laptop open, sticky notes out, Red Sox game on. I was trying to confirm our hotel reservation (which I had cancelled by mistake, so I guess I was making a new one) but the reservation site kept crashing, and their 1-800 number wasn't answering. I clicked on the state park website for refuge, thinking of Labor Day weekend. Ten minutes later I had reserved the last of more than 500 Hammonasset camping sites for the following week.

I made the hotel reservation from the road.

Shey and Ava playing near the dunes
Our trip to Virginia was rushed and soul-depleting, 22 of the 44 hours of the trip spent in or close to traffic on the I-95 crucible. We arrived home at 3am thinking the camping idea was a horrible one because we were so exhausted we were fighting, and couldn't face another pack/unpack/assemble gauntlet. Mark had about 3 hours later that day to set up the site before he started another 5 8am-8pm work days. We didn't have groceries in the house for those who weren't coming camping, I hadn't done my usual two days of camping packing because I'd been focused on Ryan. Chores and errands had piled up while we were away.

But camping is escape, we knew that, so we got through it. When our site turned out to be a few feet from a very loud generator that ran 15 hours a day (most sites at Hammonnasset don't have electric or water hook-ups), the staff found us a quieter spot so I could stay. And once we settled in, I was suddenly the happiest I'd been in a long time. I like mountains and woods and hiking, but I like the sound and sight of water even more so camping at Hammonasset was special.

Lizzy touched the snakes.
I took the pictures. 
The campground is mostly circles of grassy, sunny sites. Not my thing, I like shade, but there's enough of that too. It's very social, with lots of groups of people who camp and cook together. There's clam shacks and crabbing rocks and reeds and marsh and the most beautiful sunsets. A nature center full of snakes and fish and a woodchuck that's remained nameless for a year despite daily hand-feeding. Movies or bingo at night, a big playground, and an ice cream truck that delivers ice and wood, long after dark. Kids writing in chalk on all the roads outside their campsites, making outlines of each other like they were dead, then burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Reading and writing inside my tent on a rainy day.
Lizzy did almost all her summer reading this week.
Without complaint.
More people than you'd expect go into the water at Hammonasset in
their clothes. Some girls from a residential group home did, followed the next day by bunches of Bangladeshi families attending a religious (and cricket, as far as I could tell) festival. Their gauzy clothes floated in the water and the girls and boys both shrieked at the same pitch. Old ladies waded in wearing clothes from head to toe, and sandals, and laughing.

Our first-ever trip to Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale
Mostly it was Lizzy and I, hanging out and reading. We left the park only once, on a rainy day to get lunch. My muscles unbunched in degrees, like in yoga, as we relaxed into the week. Mark commuted and was so run down he got bronchitis but said sleeping outdoors helped him cope with pre-inventory madness at work. He also said his coming "home" each night to a campfire and a game of GUBS--and peace--was the best part of the summer for him.

For me too.

Lizzy is the youngest of our eight kids and we have rarely spent a day alone with her so this was a gift. She's hilarious, and very, very sweet. She was also bored without siblings, and begged her sisters to keep her company. Sheyanne came for two nights with her cute pixie Ava and that was great. And
Caitlin visited twice, once with her boyfriend, and the second time, with her fiance.

That's a story for another time :) Love, Lisa

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not So Special

I haven't been able to write for a while.

It started in late May with a convergence of factors, like most shifts in life. This was the one-year anniversary of my last concussion, and more than six months past when I expected to return to work. I'd begun my audio therapy and it was exhausting, so I struggled even more doing everyday things like cooking and driving.

Also talking and thinking.

Which a number of people noticed, which made me feel bad. How other people feel about my deficits is a very tricky business, even harder than how I feel about it, which isn't easy to describe. I don't want people to feel sorry for me--few people like pity, I'll bet--and I much prefer support and good humor, but guilt gets in the way.

They feel helpless, and avoid me, which sucks. And every time I screw up, I'm reminded that my brains's still muddled. That I used to be able to navigate curbs without tripping, and work my windshield wiper knobs without pulling over and studying them every damn time it rains. I'm tempted to pull out a "Get out of embarrassment" free card from my back pocket when can't figure out how the velcro tabs work on my granddaughter's preschool nap blanket and need her help, or can't figure out the right change at Dunkin' Donuts (with a line behind me).

I looked up the author P.J. Long who described an injury and experience similar to mine (I've noted it here before, the book's called Gifts from a Broken Jar) and found out she'd recovered a lot of her skills over the years since, published a book on organizing after a head injury, but just when she was doing better she was flattened by a divorce and I wondered--wouldn't you?--even though I'm sure every marriage is different and ours feels strong and stable. I'm not the woman he married, though we never are after a time.

So I pushed for more cognitive rehab to see if I could get better any faster. Wanting to see the edge at least of what I'll look like when all the recovering is over. Wanting to recognize myself for who I used to be. But the cognitive rehab couldn't start in earnest until there was more testing, more recommendations, more insurance approvals, and they're not in place yet. All I have is the echoes of the testing, which always brings me to tears. Figure out how to get this cork out of this test tube (can't). Remember this face (maybe). Listen to this tone a million times and tell me the pattern (are you crazy?).

In limbo, I'd sit down to write, but let myself be pulled into doing something for the kids instead. As exhausting as it is to feed the constant needs from a lot of kids, it also made me feel productive, and they were appreciative, to a point. Ryan needed to move to Richmond. Ciara to visit California with my Dad. Sheyanne needed help looking for jobs. And, as a nice summer bonus, Luis proposed to Caitlin so we have a wedding to plan. The house was noisy, and crowded. We had two cars to share between four people, leaving a dozen pick-ups and drop-offs every day for camps and jobs and interviews and summer school.

Which of course made me crazy. Some mornings Sheyanne would sit and wait for her share of the day's work list through two cups of tea before I was able to consolidate all my scribbled post-it notes into a plan for the day. Mark was working extra days, and I was regularly having meltdowns on days I ran the house solo. My meltdowns aren't very noisy themselves. They're mostly me turning into a statue. And empty shell type statue.

We started camping to help me cope with the summertime house craziness with kids crawling up the walls and out the windows. It was gloriously quiet and peaceful once we got there and set-up, but until then it was another organizational Olympics. I took my usual ten-thousand-hours to make a packing list, and still it took me two or more days to pack for a two-day trip, most of that time spent walking in circles.

This is an aside, to anyone who's reading this blog because you or a loved one's had a head injury that doesn't fix itself as well or as quickly as most people: the person testing me at the UConn Speech and Hearing Clinic who did my updated cognitive testing asked me more specifics on my memory problems than anyone has before. Were they remembering what happened last summer, or what number she just listed  or what I'm supposed to do at 3:00 this afternoon? The first is a problem with memory recall, the second is a problem with attention and automatic recall (also called short-term memory, or working memory) and the last is executive functioning and planning. Though I have problems with all three, it's the last one that takes up most of my energy, and that's the easiest to improve, or at least develop compensatory strategies. Oddly or not, learning that made me feel better.

I asked her why everything else is a problem but reading and writing seem to be (mostly) spared and she shrugged. "We still don't know a lot about acquired brain injuries and repeat concussions," she said.

Why is that? I guess the NFL will figure this out and let us know. Or not. The settlement this week doesn't seem to do justice to the problem of sharply raised rates of Parkinson's, ALS, Alzheimer's and dementia among retired (but still relatively young) football players with histories of multiple concussions.

This week I saw some moms standing at a nearby bus stop with their kids after a three-day weekend who looked like statues, reminding me how common it is to be overwhelmed and shutdown, and you still have to function. If those women weren't watching their kids near the road and something happened, there wouldn't be any worthy excuse. If I pull away from a gas pump without removing the nozzle from my tank, the gas station owner's not going to care why if I create a hazmat mess. Sure, I used to be a helluva lot more together and competent. But it's the same for people with chemo brain, or living through grief, or who've just lost their job, or who don't speak English.  I'm simply not that special. At times we're all clueless and lost.

Two nights ago I went to Open House at Ciara's high school, and it was bedlam. The classroom numbers down the hall are not consecutive, and the hallways shoot off in random directions. I attended this school for 4 years but for obvious reasons that didn't help me on this night. I made friends with teachers standing in their doorways, asking them to look at my schedule, point a finger in the right direction. I was confused and helpless, tagging after the few parents I recognized in hopes their kid had the next class with mine. I could not navigate the school by myself.

And I saw dozens of people having the exact same problem.
Well maybe not dozens :).
But I wasn't the only one.

Yesterday I woke up without the burden of thinking "This Isn't Me." Because it is. And I went to the library and spent all day trying and failing to redesign my web page, a task a year or more overdue. Even before you send any writing in for publication, you have to have some sort of author "platform" and this little website is mine. When I first set it up, a couple of years ago, it took me a couple of hours.  I'm now going on a week without getting it working, at least 30 hours, and I've wiped it out five times in the process. My brain is running as slow as drunken molasses. But in the library, during the day, I'm surrounded by other examples of why this doesn't make me special. One woman talked into her hand like it was a cellphone. Another was filling out a job application for Stop & Shop and asked me what an Educational History was.

Today I woke up feeling happy about blogging. I want to write about camping, and my audio therapy, and my efforts to edit on wikipedia. Tomorrow I'll hopefully be ready to get back to the story I abandoned in June, a few weeks short of finishing its revisions. I'm competent at writing, so doing it heals me.

And just-like-that, the process is reversed. When I let my limitations grow in magnitude,into something that makes me different from everyone else, they're crippling. When the I keep them in perspective, they're not a big deal.

A good friend of mine had neurological problems last year that, like me, our neurologists didn't understand. Tracy Murphy Comstock was my age, a buddy through my mother, who was her mentor.  Tracy and I married and had kids at the same time, laughed at the same troubles over the last thirty years. She had weakness in her hands when I had post-concussive problems. But my symptoms slowly lessened while the weakness in her hands worsened despite a diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy that should have stabilized or improved. Her voice changed. She couldn't swallow. And she was diagnosed six months ago with ALS. By summer she couldn't speak.

Tracy died this week of pneumonia, her kids still young, her husband stunned.  She handled herself over this past horrible year with incredible grace and humor. I loved her, as did about a thousand other people. She was a really fantastic person, a genius with numbers, CEO of the Soundview Credit Union after my mother. She defined the word "vivacious," and now she's gone.

ALS is another neurological disorder we don't seem to know enough about to fix. Shame on us. It's hideous.

So it's good to be here. Talk to you soon.
Love, Lisa

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Reading

My favorite book of the summer so far is Playing Tyler by TL Costa. It came out yesterday and I read it one
by TL Costa
night. The story is great, an update of War Games for a new generation since that movie's never on TV anymore.

It starts out slow. Tyler's life at the book's beginning is as depressing as the barren lands he monitors by drone. His voice is choppy, pissed-off and repetitive but is interlaced with the voice of Ani, the prodigy game designer, and the back-and-forth between them works to even out the intense misery of Tyler.

But then he finds his niche in life, for a while, and it's kind of glorious to experience with him. I stayed up late reading this part, because I knew it was the rise before the fall. We're told in a PPT meeting that he has ADHD and aphasia and that struck home for me because I have something similar. Endless loops of thoughts and emotions tumble through your brain, any sound distracts you, but what you say and communicate with others is limited. I at least can write. He has dyslexia so that's out for him. His brain is caged until he frees it in gaming. His voice is unique, and I was falling in love with his character.

Then the plot gets really complicated, and Tyler needs to start talking in longer sentences in order to discuss it with Ani and his brother. So he does. Then he starts talking in paragraphs, methodically arguing his side against each of theirs.

This is where the story kind of fell apart for me. Upset as he is, the Tyler from the beginning would never be able to say the things that the Tyler in crisis says. Apraxia gets worse under pressure, not better. And he's off meds the whole time so there's no reason his thoughts start lining up logically and coming out of his mouth coherently. So that distracted me.

I liked everything else about the book. That it takes place near where I live around New Haven, and that Tyler's love interest is a brainy 16-year-old semi-outcast at Yale. She's great. That there are no reliable adults around, because I remember that from when I was 16. That important people are dying, have died, because that's real too. That Tyler is so hard on himself, and makes some dumb decisions. Totally true.

A few things are off. Like you can't get your GED a few weeks after dropping out of high school. Like the plot is far-fetched (mostly in terms of teenagers running real machines of war, like it was when Mathew Broderick and Ally Sheedy did the same thing)--but that part is fun. The story is kick-ass fast-paced for the last half of the book, and sad, and has a good, satisfying ending.

I'll read it again. Think my kids will too--and that doesn't happen too often :)


Monday, June 17, 2013


The word "party" is inherently upbeat. While going to "visit" someone may sound quaint, and "coming over" is
a workaday word that can cover anything from dropping off Avon samples to watching a baseball game, parties are for having fun. Who doesn't love a party?

Well, me for one.

Graduates Billy and Sheyanne
A couple of weeks ago we threw a graduation party for Luis, Billy and Sheyanne. None of them had an easy time getting to this day. It's taken Luis seven years, on and off, to graduate from Johnson and Wales with his marketing degree, but his path is even more circuitous than that. He's gone to school in different countries, lived with different family members to get through high school, in different states to get through college. Sheyanne took five years but had a baby between freshman and sophomore year, and works, and has learning disabilities but she got her degree from Albertus Magnus in psychology, specializing in art therapy, through grit and determination. The girl never skipped a class, rarely complained, hated to ask for help, just kept trying. Billy is 20. He has some serious disabilities (schizophrenia and mental retardation) and is graduating from high school with pride and a sense of accomplishment thanks to the support of some many great people at Jonathan Law High School, and two incredible people in particular (teacher Jim Winebrenner and instructional assistant Sharon Kish) who have taught him for 6 years straight.
Mark & I at Shey's graduation

So we had a lot to celebrate.

Caitlin and Sheyanne prepared almost all the food, and helped me shop. Mark grilled. My friend Beverly and

cousin Bridget helped serve My house is on the cozy-small side, at least the first-floor where parties occur, but the weather was good so the 75 people who came had room to move and places to talk. Some more than others, I suppose. I used to notice who wasn't enjoying themselves, and intervene, as good hostesses do. But now I'm blown-away by the noise, and the details involved in keeping all those people fed and comfortable. Mid-way through, I needed a very long nap. And took one. This wasn't optional.

I cooked for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year but I never remember how. It seems far beyond my abilities. And yet, except for the one Ava birthday right after my 2nd concussion, I've never run out of food. Estimating and counting and adding correctly are all still difficult, and I'm often off. Mark will quiz me a few times, then send one of our kids out for more food even if I tell him I have enough. He's learned. I haven't.

Big-Time-Help Caitlin with grads Shey and Luis
Last night we had a much smaller cookout for Father's Day. Mark is entirely devoted to our family and worked a 12 hour shift yesterday so I wanted a nice time for him and for my exceedingly tolerant stepdad Fred, blessed and cursed to live next door. I had already devoted most of my brainpower to a breakfast for my dad so my kids helped again--Lizzie helped me prep, and Sheyanne and Cait and Luis and Chris really hosted the party. They  powered up the twinkle lights, manned the grill, lit the tiki torches and campfire, served the food and drinks. It was quite beautiful, and the 5 hours  it took me to prep the simple food and to bake Mark's favorite lemon cake (yes, this is honestly and embarrassingly true, compared to about 45 minutes in the past) was all worth it.

Mark with our granddaughter Ava
Then Billy had a fit over the condiments he was allowed on his bratwurst. Later we could figure out a dozen things that might have contributed but still--he was pushy and pressured in his demands at that moment, and when denied, he punched through paneling and sheetrock, then smashed the screen of the 42 inch flat screen TV Mark won at work for a sales increase two Christmases ago.

After which, I could add Billy and Mark to the list of people in my family who don't like parties. Or each other, at the moment. Another example of how parties do not always celebrate an event as intended, and how the stress and noise and excitement and demands of them can get to someone vulnerable like Billy, or me, and ruin the fun. God willing, for the 4th of July Billy will be at Camp Horizons as planned. Unfortunately, Mark will be working, his much-needed vacation cancelled by last-minute transfers at work. And me? Somewhere quiet, I hope.

I know. A lot to ask for on that day :)

Love, Lisa

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day and beyond

Gold Star
I liked the Major League Baseball uniforms today, camouflage trim and hats for Memorial Day. Not the look--it was out of place, I think--but the message of support for military families. The Red Sox had a ceremony at the beginning of the game for the Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives in the area, most of whom seemed to come after attending parades and other events honoring their loved ones who died while serving on active duty. One of the mothers interviewed said the Red Sox front office is always very supportive of their groups, which offer grief counseling and support, lobbying for military families, wreaths and flags for cemeteries, license plates and other benefits and honors. The cover story of USA Today this weekend focused on three boys who were in grammar school on 9/11 but because the war in Afghanistan has so far lasted 12 years, those boys grew up, and served, and died, and their families are now Gold Star families. They are amazingly articulate, and brave, and average, and proud, and sad, as should we all be. Though our collective grief and understanding and commitment is not always evident.  Military charities are not well-funded, and the needs of veterans and military families are not well-known or well-met.

USA Today cover story, 05/24/2013
President and First Lady spent the day with Gold Star families, first at a breakfast at the White House and then an afternoon service at Arlington National Cemetery. In his remarks at that ceremony, President Obama made this point by stating the following:

"Today most Americans are not directly touched by war," Obama said during a solemn ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
"As a consequence, not all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name — right now, as we speak, every day,'' he said.
I think this is true. Those people I know who are committed to supporting veterans and military families are deeply committed, because they see the need and respond with every resource they can muster. They often know people in military personally, and know their problems and challenges in detail. Those who do not--they do little or nothing. It's an odd mix of total support and token support. But there are enough charities out there now for everyone to find one to support. Here are a few, and then a link to find others:

Operation Homefront  meets the needs of active military, veterans and their families both in housing and home-related needs like a car, home repair, kitchen supplies, and food. There are individual needs listed, by state. The average grant made by the organization to a family is 400 essential dollars.

Honor Flight  is devoted to bringing World War II veterans to Washington to see their memorial. They do so in groups, and provide bus and hotels for several days. Begun in 2006, they've so far transported over 100,000 veterans, and have a wait list that is fighting against time, since 800 WWII vets die every day. But they're trying their hearts out to get them all to Washington. They have groups arriving nearly every day (here is their flight schedule) but need help to do more.

The Wounded Warrior Project is focused upon recent veterans injured in action, whose numbers are huge:

 In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, for every US soldier killed, seven are wounded. Combined, over 48,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in the recent military conflicts.

In addition to the physical wounds, it is estimated as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another 320,000 are believed to have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment.

The Wounded Warrior Project sponsors 8k runs, Soldier Rides and other fundraisers to provide prosthetics, job training, support and connection for wounded soldiers and support staff. They give backpacks of supplies to every injured soldier who returns to the U.S. for medical treatment. They're a new group (founded in 2003) to try to meet the vast and overwhelming needs of some of our recent veterans.

Sew Much Comfort replaces hospital gowns with adaptive clothing using Velcro as needed to give recovering military personnel more personal choice and dignity both within the hospital and when they return home. It is essential for those who have lost limbs, and relies heavily upon volunteer sewers.

Veterans' Voices supports the creative and individual expression of both active military and veterans about their experiences. Through the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project you can help an injured or ailing veteran document what they saw, heard, thought and felt through your scribing, or helping them record their story. The group publishes some of the works, and archives the rest. They are looking for volunteers to work with a local VA to reach out to the hospitalized veterans, as well as funds to support their work. is a centralized registry where you can look at what deployed soldiers are requesting, individually or in groups. They want letters, and emails, and prayers, and care boxes. Clif Bars are often requested, and energy drinks you can pour into water. One guy requested Muscle Milk, not for himself but his buddies who don't get care packages. One sergeant sought personal hygiene products for several female soldiers in his unit, including shampoo that smells good to cheer them up. A group of guys want socks, and shaving cream,and disposable razors, and M & M's and Starburst. One group asked for used DS's or other handhelds, and games. Another contact listed this:

we are in a flight company we need snacks, energy drinks for long flights. Something easy such as dry snacks and coffee for early mornings. also baby wipes would be useful. sudoku and crossword puzzles for down time. 

Coffee. For a pilot on a long flight.
It doesn't seem like a lot to ask.
I'm on it :)

Other charities can be found here on

Love, Lisa

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I don't buy much clothing. My kids are almost done growing, I have a full wardrobe, my size is roughly the
same year to year, and I'm not a fashion chaser. We replace what wears out, less than $1000/year for the household ($100 per person), another $500 for shoes and cleats and sports uniforms and sweats. Food's a much larger portion of our household budget--$10,000/year ($1000/pp). Housing even more, in one of the most expensive areas of the country--$30,000/year ($3,000 pp).

But when our kids were younger, we spent much more on clothes. They grew out of them constantly, and every season there were new demands--back to school clothes, holiday clothes, summer clothes because last summer's didn't fit and, sadly, didn't fit anyone else either. To make it manageable, we went to the Children's Place. Their $6 shirts and shorts were a lifesaver to
our budget for eight children  The store offered credit, and points for using the card, that made the clothes even cheaper. Full outfits with socks were usually $10. Winter jackets $20, and the prices at the nearby outlet mall were even cheaper. The clothes were sturdy, and cute. Like Garanimals, they matched. Every season I toted out a big bag, a few outfits for each child, and we were all very happy with the deal.

Of course to get the $6 shirts and shorts, the Children's Place used cheap labor overseas. Like Gap and Gymboree (too
expensive for me :) or Old Navy (too adult-oriented then, though it's nice now), manufacturers have to pay next-to-nothing for labor in order to sell clothes at these prices, since the materials, the design, the corporate structure, the transportation, the overhead of the stores, the retail labor, are all based on physical product (i.e. oil for barge transport) or American prices (like minimum wage for the sales staff) and as such relatively fixed. Sure, you can be lucky on the cotton commodity market and save some production cost there, but cotton's relatively cheap in the largest clothing-producing countries--China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India. They're full-service manufacturing countries, complete with cheap labor. Here are the 2010 garment worker wage charts according to a global labor rights advocacy group, and after an 80% pay raise for Bangladeshi workers:

CountryHourly Wage
United States$8.25-14.00
United Kingdom$7.58-9.11
Costa Rica$2.19
El Salvador$0.92
Sri Lanka$0.46

So after the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh last month that has killed, so far as we know, more than 1,100 people, I heard people saying they'd buy more American-made clothing, which is great. Nothing
wrong with that. But the Bangladesh nation is a poor one, and doesn't want to lose your business. They ask for we Americans to help repair their system, rather than abandoning it. Totally understandable. The garment industry is their biggest employer. There's a commission set up to set a new minimum wage within three months, and another to oversee safety in manufacturing. Also good.

What I keep wondering is--what if clothing wasn't cheap?

I know some's not. I tend not to buy those goods--designer clothes and purses and shoes and sunglasses--but most clothing is relatively cheap in America, considering other expenses. An outfit is less than a dinner out, for example, though of course it's prom week so that equation's skewed. Definitely not the price of a meal.

But clothing is mostly cheap, and I've benefitted from that fact, and spent my money elsewhere. But if
clothing wasn't cheap, I'd buy less of it, and make it last longer, give less away. Spend less on food, and housing. I can't really make any more money than I do, so I'd simply spend less elsewhere, the beauty and curse of a budget. And in America, the cheap clothes we buy allows us to pay full-price (if we wish) on Uggs and North Faces and Nikes and Dooney & Bourke.

Am I the only one who wonders if it's better, ethically or even practically speaking, to spend $19 on a pair of Old Navy jeans so that you have the money to spend $81 on a pair of Raybans? Either way, you've spent $100. What if the equation was reversed, and you had to spend $81 on jeans? I'll bet you'd find some $19 sunglasses somewhere. It's just a different dividing of the pie.

As opposed to sunglasses, though, clothing is a necessity, like food and housing and health care. We'll buy it regardless. We'll just buy less, if it costs more. Go to Goodwill in a pinch. We'll get by, as Americans, without our $10 outfits from the Children's Place. That's all I'm saying. We're not overprivileged, well-paid, cheap-clothing junkies at the risk and cost of  underprivileged, poorly-paid human laborer lives.

At least I hope not.

Love, Lisa