Archive for October, 2011

I have this ankle….

Well technically, I have two. But I have this one that doesn’t exactly “work.”

Let me back up.

I was born and my legs came out all funky looking and so I wore casts for 6 months. At least that’s what my parents told me once. I’ve yet to see any proof of it. Apparently the doctors said something like I would never be able to run.

No one mentioned that to me, however, and I decided I liked running. I loved/dreaded running the mile in gym class twice a year. I dreamed about being a high school track star, though by that time my older sister had already joined the track team and in my stubbornness I decided to focus on soccer.

I was really, really bad at soccer. That and my high school only had a boys varsity team to try out for. In retrospect, I’m sure I would have made a JV girls team, but unfortunately that wasn’t an option at my tiny, tiny high school. After two years of trying out I finally relented and went back to my original dream of being a runner.

The problem was – I was slow. Super, super, slow. The best thing my coach could come up with to say about me at our annual dinner was “When Jackie came out for Cross Country, she thought she’d be last in every race. Well let me tell you, she was only last in one race. And that was just most of the race, she finally passed two girls at the end.” (of course he failed to mention there were 10 people in the race, but whatever).

Actually, I was a pretty decent 800 runner and could hold my own in a sprint relay, but unfortunately my coach didn’t figure that out until way too late in my career for it to really matter.

It didn’t matter that I was perpetually in the bottom third of every race, I loved it. I could go and not think. Or I could think about anything and everything I needed to. I could move. I relied on nothing, no rules, no balls, no quick moves or fancy footwork, to achieve. Just my feet and the ground.

When college came, running and I had turned our fall and spring relationship into an even more on again off affair. Without my coach pushing me to just run until my bad ankles had built up into strong ones, I would get discouraged after a few weeks of trying. And I would get slower. Much, much slower. To the point a 10 minute mile was an accomplishment.

But fast forward to my senior year of college. I had started running again my junior year, and while I took off the next summer for an incredibly  busy and travel filled few months, I started up the on again off again relationship sometime that fall or winter. By spring, I was running regularly, signing up for races and loving every minute of it.

I ran my way through graduation, through ending a long relationship, through a long summer full of despair, being flat broke, and eager anticipation. I was ready to run all the way to Washington state. I ran through 5ks and 10ks and over trails and rocks and started to train for my first marathon.

And then it happened. That terrible terrible moment. I swear I had flashbacks about it for months. Okay maybe years.

I fell off a sidewalk.

Seriously. All I did was step right on the edge of a sidewalk, and BAM. On the ground. Scraped knee, sore ankle. I had done it probably a million times before. My ankles like to just “go out” on me.

There was no swelling, no bruising. I took a day off and then I ran again. But it was a little sore to the touch and when I ran it felt a little sore afterwards. No biggie. I figured it would go away eventually.

So I kept running. Through another 5k, one I had hoped to finally break the 25 minute mark on. When I couldn’t get in any faster than 27, I figured something might be wrong. So I took a few more days off and then went right back to running.

My goal for that summer was to hit 10 miles. The night before I was to go on my first ever ten mile run, I went out dancing with my friends. One swing dance later, my ankle swelled up, ached like hell, and I could hardly walk on it.

The guy I was dancing with felt really, really bad. I don’t think I ever managed to convince him it wasn’t his fault.

So I stopped. I moved to Spokane and my ankle kept on hurting. Someone lent me an ankle brace which I stupidly used for months. If I didn’t, my ankle would be too sore at the end of the day to walk on. But I think relying on it for that long let my leg muscles atrophy and become even weaker. It was no longer running that borrowed my ankle, it was walking and standing.

One day I absent-mindedly rolled my ankle at work to stretch it out and heard a really loud CRACK. Something had happened – I could move it again. It felt 100% completely perfectly better. For about 10 minutes.

I went to physical therapy for a few months until they kicked me out. All of my “tests” like standing on one foot and balancing were satisfactory, and I couldn’t convince them that the pain was still there and still bothering me.

Now my ankle still hurts whenever I use it. If I go weeks without exercising, it feels great. If I go on a long hike, it aches terribly. I desperately want to run again but I don’t know if it will ever be possible. My ankle cracks and gets stiff and aches constantly. Doing yoga recently has made me realize how significantly different my left leg is from my right leg in terms of strength and flexibility.

So recently, I’ve started trying. Running 1/10th of a mile at a time. And maybe it will work.

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Nana used to make peanut butter and chocolate buddy bars.

She gave me my first car, a powder blue Ford Taurus. Which may or may not have broken down in the middle of the road. Twice.

She listened to country-western tapes she had recorded in Florida and brought with her to Virginia, something I never could quite figure out.

She wore a green animal print jacket to our wedding.

She was, as she would say, full of piss and vinegar.

She was from coal mines and hard times.

She lived with us for many years, baking buddy bars, making Mexican casserole every Monday night, “teaching” me how to drive (which was when I drove her around because no one wanted to tell her she couldn’t anymore), telling my dad he should’ve been a professional comedian, and loving us all.

She will be missed.

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I am an anthropologist.

That’s anthropology with a Y not an IE. And I don’t know if I can really call myself one without that doctorate, but I basically spend all day every day reading, writing, or thinking about anthropology. Technically, medical anthropology, which focuses health behaviors and beliefs across cultures. My particular interests lie in critical medical anthropology or political economy of medical anthropology, which studies the effects of capitalism and globalization on social determinants of health.

But still, I’m anthropologist. Which means I get excited about things like the Clovis-first theory being disproved and peppering my husband with fun facts about tool usage among chimpanzees when were at zoos. I like looking at our world now, here and today, but I like thinking about where we came from too.

(and yes I believe we came from a common ancestors as gorillas but that’s an argument for a different day).

I have a secret that I’ve kept from the anthropology department, though. I believe in God.

Most anthropologists I know are atheists, although it’s a topic that doesn’t even often come up for discussion. We look at the world and see initiation rituals in the !Kung San, female circumcision rites in Africa, shamanic ceremonies in Seoul, voodoo in Haiti. We see the multi-tiered Hopi creation story and the totems of the Tlingit. And it’s so easy, so tempting to think, “Look at this world with it’s 7 billion people and 7.5 billion belief systems. They can’t all be right. But there can’t be just one that’s right. It’s illogical.”

And it is. It is illogical to think that there is one specific interpretation of the world and someone has already got it figured out down to a T. It’s tempting to write off religion as an adaptation, a coping mechanism, a survival strategy.

But to me it’s as real as arrowheads and Ayurvedic medicine.

Because I can’t look at the world and think, “They all must be wrong. All these beliefs, all these ideals, all these people who have ever lived. They all must be mistaken.” There is evidence that Neanderthals had a religious belief system and thoughts of the afterlife. (Okay people always ask me things like “how do they know that?” There is pollen sprinkled on Neanderthal grave sites. When you spend your day simply trying to survive, actions that have no meaning don’t usually make the top of your to-do list. So they probably weren’t sprinkling flowers around to be pretty, but because they believed in something outside of themselves).

And so I believe. I believe in something other, something bigger. In the sacred. I believe in a God, and I believe in a certain interpretation of that God. Though that too might be a story for a different day. I believe in an ultimate truth and I believe in searching to find that truth. Be it through anthropology, microbiology, epistemology, soteriology, ontology.

I believe that the world is not as simple as it looks.

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Have you seen those books where families pull out everything they own in front of their house and take a picture?

I thought I would do that with my clothes. For one, it’s time to switch from summer to winter, and for another our church is having a rummage sale next weekend. And although it does not allow clothes, I thought I’d get in another one of my “must purge everything moods.”

While I know there are people in the world who own two t-shirts, I always thought I was a pretty good minimalist with clothes. If anything, I thought I had too few clothes. Really, until I moved to Montana where changing out of your Carharts for jeans is about as dress as it gets, I felt like I was perpetually short on the proper clothes for an occasion.

So today, I thought I’d do a closet inventory (excluding socks, underwear, biking clothes, hats, scarves and mittens). I was pretty shocked with what I came up with.

Holy cow!! It’s a lot of clothes. The grand total was:

Clothes: 110

Sweaters: 9
nice t-shirts: 14
long sleeve: 3
sweatshirts: 4
sweat pants: 3
pajama pants: 3
camisoles: 7
blouses: 8
cardigans: 7
pants: 4
jeans: 3
regular t-shirts: 14
jackets: 3
skirts: 7
shorts: 7
vest: 1
shrug: 1
winter coats: 2

Getting rid of: 21

2 dresses
3 shorts/capris
4 nice t-shirts
2 tanktops
3 sweaters
1 pajama pants
1 sweatshirt
3 regular t-shirts
2 skirts

Even though this makes me feel like I should own no more than five shirts and two pairs of pants, at the same time I’m thinking “I still own no long sleeve nicer t-shirts, and could use another pair of pants, that don’t bother my bladder, and maybe some warmer winter skirts.”

I always feel like I have too many clothes until I’m trying to get dressed. One of my former JV housemates and I were talking about this the other day, how living simply and dressing appropriately are hard to combine. Our culture demands a lot of clothes for different occasions and to keep up with ever changing fashions. It’s a hard thing to combine.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

I left my phone in the car and John took it to a meeting, but I’ll call you when I get it back!

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The Other One Percent

We were the original protestors. Occupying the streets, the parks, the benches. Barricading sidewalks and doorways. Crying out with our mere presence that there is something wrong, something inhumane, something twisted about the way this all works. But you didn’t notice us then.

We were here before the crash, though there are more of us here now. We were here before the last crash, too, and the one before that. Without Twitter, without Facebook, we made our way to the center of this town, to come together and be. We are the very young and the very old, war veterans and unborn children. We have gathered here to be a voice, a quiet, quiet voice, against an unjust system, a world which finds us unworthy, untouchable, unloveable.

We have not taken up this cause; it has been laid upon us by a world which does not want us. But it is our cause nonetheless. We carry signs that speak of our discontent, our anger, our desperation.

“Will work for food.”

“Anything helps.”

And we have marched, oh how we have marched. We have marched in the streets and along the sidewalks. From back alley to back alley, from dumpster to dumpster. But unlike you, we have tried to go unnoticed, to remain hidden from a world that does not want to see our protest. But we are here, no number of warnings or arrests, tasers or handcuffs, can keep us away.

We are charity cases at Christmas and inconveniences in the summer. But we are not fair-weather fighters. No matter the weather, the rain, the sleet, the snow, we are here, speaking out. Crying out. Or simply crying.

We are not the 99 percent. We are the other one percent, the one percent without a place to go home to at the end of the night. We are the one percent of this country that uses a step for a pillow and a garbage sack for a bed. The one percent in cars and in motels, nowhere to call home at night, nowhere to go during the day.

We are the other one percent.

We are the homeless.

Our voices our soft and, if you do not look closely, our presence melts into the cityscape. Do you even know why we’re here? Is it the alcohol bottles littered at our feet? My feet bloody from traipsing these roads in search of work? Is it the cigarette in our hands? The hands that helped build a house I could not afford?

Do you even know why we are here? What we are fighting against, what we are fighting for?

Neither do we. Just let us go home.


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Right now, I should be doing.

I should read the last article I have before class even though I’m pretty sure I have already read it and could tell you the highlights of it based on the title.

I should do a few more dishes, or vacuum, or straighten up the living room.

I should blow dry my hair instead of letting it air dry, leaving it a mess of waves and kinks.

I should go take my medicine before I forget.

I should, I should, I should.  This was what I was worried about when I left JVC, that my life would go back to a time of always feeling inadequate, always thinking I can do more, always stressing when I don’t. Sometimes I’m amazed at all I fit in during my college years, and other times the “shoulds” still haunt me. Should I have done a senior thesis? Should I have joined a sorority?  Should I have written for the newspaper or joined the debate team?

I’ll easily admit that I am not the most time efficient person on the planet. I check Facebook, e-mail constantly. I browse through patterns on Ravelry instead of just working on the ones I have already decided to do. I watch TLC and read blogs more than I need to.

The research I am working on with my professor centers around cell phones and information-communication technologies, so I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks reading up on how changes in technology have effected us. The consensus is, that despite conventional wisdom of how cell phones and social networking sites are turning us in to sub human anti social beings, they really serve to strengthen social ties and networks and aid communication.

But when you combine our tendency to think “I should….” with our ability to interact, communicate, read, text, call all the time, we never stop to think. Never stop to rest, to unwind, to simply be.

Waiting in line, I text. Slow points during class, I check my e-mail. While my husband puts on his shoes before we go out the door, I turn on the TV. It’s as if any moment, even two seconds, of silence, my brain will stop flowing and I’ll keel over and die, pulling the plug on my mental self.

I’m not saying technology is bad, or time in line can never be used more efficiently than shooting off an e-mail or sending a text. But I’m saying that I don’t want to lose the art of being. Of waiting. Of silence. Of letting my brain rest before the next thing on my to do list. It’s amazing how when I try, the “shoulds” come back. I should do this. I should do that. I shouldn’t just wait. Waiting is wasting.

I want to find a balance between using technology for what its good for, and stop using it to avoid silence, downtime, slowness. These things aren’t evil, they are rejuvenating. These moments allow us to practice our presence, to simply be.

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I have a million things I want to write about, however there is a lot of time in my life that I need to spend watching bad TLC reality shows and reading zillions of pages about various anthropological research subjects.

But today I’m gonna try something new. I’ve written about my faith off and on here, but I think I might copy-cat the idea of doing a “Sunday Post” like Jenna at That Wife does. Jenna is a Latter-day Saint and on most Sundays writes a post explaining an aspect of her religion. While most people are a little more familiar with Catholicism, I thought it would be still be an interesting exercise to help share what living life as a Catholic is actually like. There are a variety of portrayals of Catholicism in the media and we have an ever larger variety of people who practice, but hopefully this will present a realistic picture for you.

So today, I want to write about what a Sunday is like for a Catholic.

As you may know, Jews traditionally observed a day of Sabbath – a day of rest from the week’s work to rest and reflect on God. As Christianity was formed, Christians began to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, rather than Saturday. And thus Sunday was set aside as a day of celebration for the Lord.

First, here’s a few things about what the Catechism says about what Sunday is:

The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.

Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.

Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.

So in short: worship, rest, and serve.


Catholics are asked to go to mass every Sunday as the primary way of observing the Sabbath day. As a kid this meant no matter where we were – camping in Yellowstone or traveling in Quebec, we found a parish and went to mass. Didn’t matter that we didn’t know anyone or didn’t speak the language, we were there. While I’m nowhere near perfect, I’ve made it a habit of going weekly to mass as I’ve moved into my own life. I appreciate the silence, the music, the community, the words, the bread, the body. As much as I dread getting out of bed on Sunday morning, it anchors my week.

We are asked to fast the morning of (or at least an hour before!) going to mass as a way to remind ourselves that we are fed through Christ and not through bowls of cereal. But the rest of the day is fair game. It is not a time for fasting, but for feasting. For enjoying and celebrating.

Catholic parishes tend to offer alternatives to the Sunday morning mass – either a Saturday night for those who work on Sundays, or sometimes a Sunday evening mass. In some parishes, the Sunday evening is geared toward teenagers, but in the Jesuit parishes I have been going to for the last few years, the night mass is the “contemplative” or “candlelight” mass. We go occasionally, although we realize that if we  do it first thing in the morning we are much more likely to go and if we plan on the later mass we are much more likely to accidentally-on-purpose miss it.


This is one I struggle with. While the Church encourages using Sundays as days of rest, it has never come down as a heavy-handed mandate. For one, “rest” doesn’t mean refrain from doing anything besides reading your Bible and listening to hymns. It means taking comfort in the Lord and celebrating life. We are not forbidden to watch football or required to sit at home. Today, my “rest” was taking a 7 mile hike in God’s creation. My legs are sore but I think it counted.

On the other hand, I have trouble not working. In college, I was actually surprisingly good at this. I don’t know how I made it four years with hardly ever studying on Sundays, but I did. And I loved it. It was a day not to feel guilty for not doing work, not to be busy, just to relax. To simply be.

But now there is a huge pile of laundry to be done, a stack of dishes, and a few hundred pages of reading to be done. Which I could’ve done yesterday…but yesterday we worked out, went to the Farmer’s market, watched Notre Dame (okay that earns some spiritual points!), hung out with family. Maybe I could be more responsible, maybe I could just lay around for the rest of the day and be super stressed next week. Or get my stuff done and see it as a way of serving my (very small) family. Which brings me to my next point….


Um, I’m gonna be honest with you. This isn’t one I really knew we were supposed to be doing on Sundays. But I like the idea. And maybe it will help me feel like I am “using” my Sundays for something other than watching Sister Wives on TLC. Which I’m gonna do this week. I don’t care what football game is on, John. But maybe I can use Sunday afternoons for baking for all of our friends with little babies or knitting on charity projects instead of my stuff. I dunno. Ideas?

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To Give a Gift Away

So last week I talked about how passing all your old junk onto someone else isn’t charity. And I thought I would continue on that theme of charity this week and pose a question that has been bugging me for years.

Is it okay to get rid of gifts?

Every so often, I try to pair down the apartment. Part of it is the thought of moving out with the twice the number of boxes as when we moved in frankly sickens me. Another part of it is I hate seeing our storage shelves over flowing with stuff (none of our closets or shelves have doors covering them. Except in the kitchen). And some of the stuff well, just doesn’t get used.

If it’s something I bought/found/stole/whatever, I have no problem passing it along. But if it’s a gift…its a whole ‘nother story. I hold it in my hands thinking, “but they wanted me to have it. This person thought of me and thought I would like this. What would they think if  they knew I gave it away?”

You see, I believe in simple living. Of having what we need and not filling our lives with stuff we don’t. And a lot of gifts, I just don’t need. Or I do and use them for a time, and then realize that after a few years, they aren’t being loved like they once were.

Not that gift you gave me. I love that. And use it all the time.

Books that I read once and haven’t picked up in ages. Shirts that were cute but now don’t fit or are a bit out of style. The trinket you thought was totally my taste, but lets face it, isn’t. The bundt pan that I have never used. (Not your bundt pan, mom. I am much more likely to make mini-bundts than a whole bundt cake.) The necklace from your trip to Zimbabwe that I just would not really wear in public.

I don’t know what to do with them.

It’s not so much that I worry about someone coming to the house saying, “Hey, whatever happened to that XYZ I gave you?” It’s the idea behind it. I would probably feel a tad hurt if I knew someone gave away a gift I gave them. On the other hand – I have watched my sister give away a few scarves I gave her to Goodwill. I survived. And realized I’m probably not as good at picking out scarves for her as I thought I was.

And maybe that’s the problem. Gifts don’t have to be “stuff.” Sure, we all have some gift that someone gave us for a Christmas or a birthday that we hold onto as extra dear, filled with memories of that happy day at that person. But that doesn’t have to be every year, every occasion, every holiday. It’s pretty unrealistic to expect that every gift we ever give or are given is going to be special. Because then by definition, it wouldn’t be.

I used to not be a fan of consumable gifts. Food, drink, tickets – that kind of thing. I liked having the necklace that reminded me of my twenty first birthday or the trinket box that reminded you of me. But those things are only special when they are full of thought, when they are rare, when they are unique. And like I said, that doesn’t have to be every gift. Being low on space and full of stuff, I’ve realized we much prefer a gift card to our favorite restaurant than a new shirt.

But then I find myself feeling guilty for not thinking of every gift as special. Someone spent money or time on it. Someone wanted me to have it. So I should have it, right? Or should I sell all that I have and give it to the poor? Even the stuff that was given to me?

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