Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season. Lent and Advent are the two parts of the Catholic liturgical year that I appreciated and continued to acknowledge long after I was no longer a practicing Catholic. I think they were a part of the faith that my 7-year-old childlike mind was able to grasp from the catechism and the Latin mass of my youth. It's pretty easy for a child to understand the concepts of waiting and giving up that are fundamental to Advent and Lent. This year, a bit of synchronicity preceded and guided my approach to Lent.

Recently, I watched two of my children take on rigorous dietary changes. Though they were following different plans, there were similarities in the diets in that both advocated cleansing and organic food choices. Being ready for a dietary change, I investigated both approaches and decided to try the one my son had worked with-- in part because it resembled a diet I had done in the 1970s. Though it calls for some pretty significant changes from my current diet, I thought it was the more feasible of the two for me.

I geared up to take the plunge. Raleigh gave me some handouts related the diet and answered a number of questions I had. I’d already eliminated coffee, and then I quit eating dark chocolate. I was looking at few other food habits that I wanted to deal with before I actually started the diet when I got an email that decided my start date. The message was from a list I joined a few years ago that leads subscribers through reflective exercises related to Advent. This year, the list was offering something similar for Lent. WHOA!! Lent is about fasting. That’s when I’ll start my diet! So today is my first day of the Maker’s diet, a 40 day cleansing diet which will take me right up to Easter.

Of course, there is much more to Lent than my limited 7-year-old understanding of giving something up. About 15 years ago, I read a book about Lent in which I learned that it involves 3 major features: fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. HMMM, maybe I should incorporate the prayer and alms-giving in with the diet plan.

I had never felt very confident about the act of praying, so a few years ago, I took a workshop on prayer. I returned to the book from that class and was tickled to remember that it asks for a 40 day commitment to exercises that explore facets of prayer. Perfect! In conjunction with the diet, I would redo the prayer exercises as part of my morning spiritual routine.

Alms-giving was next, which fit directly into the Bodhisattva work I’ve been doing for several years with my Buddhist teacher. Practicing generosity is considered foundational in this work. I would revisit the teachings and related “homework” from earlier classes regarding cultivating generosity to complete my Lenten commitment.

I feel wide awake and conscious as I step into this robust practice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I think this might be the longest stretch I've gone without posting to Twilightme since I started this blog 2 years ago. Though no new posts have appeared for several weeks, I've written many in my head, so the absence of messages has nothing to do with the absence of material. Maybe it has to do with the absence of coffee, however. (See previous post here.)

There's no doubt that my morning routine is altered. While coffee reved me into a writing frenzy each morning, the cup of tea that I now drink puts me more into the mood for reading and meditating. I'm enjoying this much more mellow start to the day despite the occasional sensation that something is missing. What's missing is not exactly energy but less sense of urgency. I sure don't get done what I used to in the morning, but I am doing things that feel satisfying.

Once launched into the day, things are as busy as ever: home school, yoga, college work, free lance projects, yard work, family occasions--a list that defies the magnitude of activity in my days. Here is an example of a day in the life of PH sans coffee:

Last Friday started with Yoga class. I love Friday's gentle yoga class. It's all women of my age 60+ and my brother John :) Cherie takes us through long, slow gentle stretches that feel exquisite. After class, she and Kath and I talked about the yoga/writing class. We opted out of doing it at Baker Station this year, but we talked about the possibility of doing a private class somewhere this summer. This month's Poets & Writers had an article about yoga/writing retreats and the three of us started dreaming how we could make such a retreat happen: where/when/what, etc. We each took on a little assignment to do some investigating and we'll report back next week to reconsider the idea. The energy of the 3 of us makes me think we can make it happen.

Then it was off to the Raleigh's for homeschool. The kids did oral reports in preparation for their trip to the wild animal exhibit at the college. They each researched one animal named in the press release. Even 7 year old Candice did a talk on the blue-tongued skink which we all thought was a typo for skunk but turned out to be a lizard. They did a great job. I brought cup cakes for Candice's birthday, frosted in pink, which we ate after we had lunch together. Then we reviewed their essays for a contest sponsored by the college and prepared them for mailing. Then Taylor gave me a pedicure while I visited with Raleigh who had great ideas about how to deal with my VW lease situation.

Next, I went to Julia's to work on the Women Inventors book. We had a phone interview with this dynamic woman who lives in Colorado who invented a product for nursing mothers, called the Nursing Nest which is being used in hospitals around the country. We talked to her for an hour and half, tape recording the interview. I will transcribe the tape in preparation for completing her chapter. This project is truly fascinating as these women make their inventions happen against unbelievable odds and challenges. I think it's going to be a fabulous book.

I rushed home where Cindy had dinner waiting. Then we headed to Murphys to see "Escanaba in da Moonlight," a play that I reviewed for the Democrat. We got home at 11. I was so tired that I was wired. So I drank a cup of chamomile tea and made an outline for my review. I didn't go to bed until 12:30.

This is a typical day in my life right now . . . LONG and with no absence of FUN!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Goodbye Coffee

More than 20 years ago, when I first decided that coffee was probably something that was doing me more harm that good, I asked Dr. Borgquist about its ill effects. He said, "No one ever died from drinking coffee!"

Right, I thought, and because of the stimulant effect and it's great smell and, for me, great taste, it is definitely not a beverage I really wanted to give up once I got hooked. But there was mounting evidence that it was causing me lots of problems.

The first difficulty I noticed was abdominal distress: painful belly aches. The dumbest thing I did with regard to coffee was get in the habit of having a cup before I went for a run. The combination of the coffee and jogging definitely plays havoc on one's tummy despite that fact that it also boosts energy for the run. When I was marathon training, my tummy distress was at its height though it was actually years before I connected the problem to drinking coffee.

However, it was around that time that I decided to quit drinking coffee, mostly because I could directly connect the drink with mood swings, especially irritability. Within a half hour of drinking coffee, my patience went down the tube and lots of things aggravated me. So I quit cold turkey one day, and I DID nearly DIE. I was so sick!! I had a headache that nearly blinded me and I vomited for several hours. Now if that wasn't a sure sign that coffee was poison.

I managed to stay off coffee for a year that first time but then the drink snuck it's way back into my life. Over the next 20 years, I quit drinking coffee again and again. Two more times I did it the hard way: getting violently sick by going cold turkey. Then I learned to decaffeinate slowly, giving myself a week to get off the stuff.

While in SF, I used I tip a learned from Jennie Lou that when you change environments, it's easier to change a habit. I started decaffeinating last Thursday on the day we left for the city, and by Monday I had my first day without coffee. I'm still having a cup of black tea in the morning but tea does not seem to have the same ill effects as coffee for me. And it's only a half step from black tea to green tea which actually has lots of cool effects, most notably that it is an anti-oxidant.

This time I made a list: Why I don't drink COFFEE:
1. joint pain
2. hot flashes
3. chronic anxiety
4. intermittent insomnia
5. abdominal distress
6. frequent urination

I put the list on the chalkboard in the kitchen. Right now, I'm high on the success of quitting, but history tells me that I'll forget why I quit and that's when this list will come in handy. For now, all 6 things on my list have disappeared after only 3 days off coffee. Such a quick reward!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why Wicked?

We were crossing the broad expanse of Market street on Saturday morning with a grungy bearded schizophrenic who was ranting about everything from an ex-wife to the oil driven economy to the ills of capitalism. The man, who was around my age, was shouting in an angry hoarse voice that suggested he'd been yelling since he woke that morning. When we reached the other side of the street, we turned in a different direction than he.

"I wonder what dreams his mother had for him when he was born? I wonder when he seemingly lost his mind and why he is so angry?" I asked Cindy. For several blocks we talked about the man.

That evening in the opening act of "Wicked," a Ozian posed another question to Glinda about the Wicked Witch of the West: "Why does wickedness happen?" . . .

thus launching the back story to the Wizard of Oz about a mistreated, misunderstood green girl . . . who in the end is called "wicked." The play dives directly into the complexity of the question: how numerous factors twisting and turning on themselves can in the end melt the truth.

The many layers of "Wicked" keep swirling in my brain . . . the brilliant script, the glorious production, the unending necessity for considering deeply what lies beneath the things we call wicked . . .

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Adventures in OZ

I think someone at sometime compared San Francisco to OZ, and if they didn't, they should have, for wonder and magic abound in the city when one drops unabashedly into its foggy mist. Our adventure began with a long walk for 10 blocks on the red brick sidewalks of Market Street from Hotel Whitcomb on 8th to Books Inc in the Castro. I had a reading scheduled there for my book Between Two Women with my friend Kate, whose book For the May Queen was published at the same time as mine.

Our audience was small but truly special--some old family friends as well as friends from GoodReads. The event staff at Books Inc took our pictures and gave us gifts for being a part of their reading program. Then 5 of us went across the street to a little pub for drinks. We stayed and talked for a very, very long time and at nearly midnight Cindy and I began our walk back to the hotel. The City stretched out before us with folks walking dogs, necking in cars, and falling out of bars all along the way.

The next day we started with a fabulous breakfast at Sam's Diner and some interesting shopping on Market. There was also a trip to the 34th floor of an office building where Cindy went to argue about not getting credited for a special deal on My Points. The people were gracious and gave her the points plus some and we got a fantastic view of the Bay from their offices. We had dinner with Aggie and her husband at an Italian restaurant called Bella's on Geary, where something compelled me to order a regional dish of Spaghetti with yellow tailed tuna, olives, and tomatoes. It was an amazing taste treat that surprised and delighted me. The conversation swirled between talk of my mom and writing and politics and books.

Our Saturday was simply fantastic. We slept late and went out to breakfast at Sam's again. Then we went to see Milk. The movie touched us deeply. We cried, we laughed, we sighed, we were filled with so many feelings, including awe and dismay. We sat watching the credits roll and when the lights came up, we said, "Let's go to the Castro." We walked down the street window shopping. One shopping goal for our trip was to buy rings--if we could find something that suited us-- which is why we went into a little place called Brand X Antiques when we noticed rings in the window. To make a long story short, Fred and Tim, the couple who owned the shop, were in the film Milk, and they explained that their shop, the only place left from Harvey Milk's time, was in the film numerous times. Fred helped us find rings that were absolutely perfect and the two men created a little ceremony in which we exchanged the rings. It was absolutely PERFECT!! Fred wrote down the name of my book and said he was going to go to Books Inc when the shop closed and buy it. Then we went to Sausage Factory for dinner and had absolutely the best pizza ever. It was early so the place was not too busy and we sat in the window and watched the Castro float by in all it's glory!

After dinner, we went back to the hotel to change for the play "Wicked." What a spectacular production!! There are so many layers of messages in this story about individual differences and distorted perceptions, and the sets, costuming, and music were stunning. After the play, we left through a side exit rather than going out through the lobby. The exit opened onto a spectacular view of City Hall all lit up and shimmering in the fog. We walked toward it, talking about Milk and "Wicked" and feeling amazingly happy. When we circled back around to our hotel, there were drag queens all along the street because there was some kind of drag queen event in the Ballroom in our hotel. When they saw our programs, they oohed and aahed, patting us affectionately and telling us how lucky we were to see the play. It felt like rice being thrown upon us at the peak of our experience. We got into the elevator giggling with delight; we simply couldn't stop laughing from the pure pleasure of the way the day had unfolded. . .

An unbelievable adventure in OZ

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Two Reasons to Celebrate

Leon and Aliou are 6 years old. They've been in the USA for 19 months and are officially adopted. On this, their second birthday in their adopted country, they are old hats at being the birthday boys. They know about cakes and candles and guests and gifts.

Months before their birthday, Aliou got the idea that he wanted a remote control car. This sounded pretty good to Leon too, so they both started asking for such a car as a birthday gift. As it turned out, they'd asked quite a few people, so they each got 2 remote control cars which was perfect for the large contingency of siblings and cousins present at their birthday who wished to share the pleasures of this gift.

In addition to two ice cream cakes--chocolate for Aliou and "yellow" for Leon-- the kids played pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey. Taylor one first prize followed by Athan and Nell in 2nd and 3rd place. The potluck supper was delicious, and while the kids played with their respective age-mate cousins, the adults visited and caught up on the busy-ness of life.

Leon and Aliou--thanks for being such marvelous reasons to celebrate!