Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beauty is Only Skin Deep

     I'm one of those fortunate women who has good skin.  Even when I was a teenager, acne was not an issue for me.  Don't worry, I had--okay, have-- as many body-image issues as any good American girl.  They are just related to my baby-fine, thin, hopeless hair and my weight, which has roller-coastered pretty wildly since I was in high school.  My skin, though, has always been lovely. 

     So, when I got a pimple next to my nose a month ago, I thought nothing of it.  I kept it clean.  Concealed it with make-up when I was at work.  Went back to fussing over my hair that now sports a skunk stripe of grey, right down my part.  Because, I don't have bad hair days.  I have bad hair decades.  Lucky for me, my cousin married a magician of a hairdresser.  She keeps my hair and my concern about it in line. 

     The spot didn't go away.  It got bigger. And a new cluster of pimples joined it.  I started washing my face with the "blemish fighting face wash"  belonging to one of the household's adolescents.  Then, this past weekend, my face erupted.  Swelling, oozing.  It. Was. Horrifying.  I looked like the Elephant Man--if he were a middle-aged woman.  I went to the doctor's.  She proclaimed it to be "some sort of nasty staph infection," and put me on two different kinds of anti-biotics.  Six days into the ten day course of medication and I'm finally starting to see some improvement.

    For this past week, though, I've lived through a brand new experience for me:  acute self-consciousness about my appearance.  I have to say, I didn't care for it at all.  It was pretty dreadful.    I cringed when people asked, "What happened to your face?"  I found myself actively avoiding socal interactions.  As much as I could, I stuck to my cubicle-of-doom.  I didn't have lunch in the breakroom.  I blew off exercise at the Y.  I even bowed out of a party at the home of one of my closest friends. (I'm sorry Kate.  I was hideous company--both because of my mood and my face.)

     My teenage years were as angst-filled as anybody's.  As an adult, I've been in plenty of challenging situations that I could have obsessed over.  I have never felt this terrible about myself before, though.  Intellectually, I know that this is a temporary condition that will pass.  I know it doesn't change the awesomeness of who I am.  It still feels awful. 

    I have long been an advocate of "true beauty" in women.  I'm really good at pointing it out to my sisterfriends, to my daughter, to the young women I mentor.  I guess I never really understood the depth of feeling--terrible feeling--that they have about themselves.  I underestimated the power of a negative self-image.  Now I understand it.  It's formidable. 

     I don't know how to combat it, yet.  I mean, the infection is healing and I can expect that my skin will clear up.  How do I make sure that I don't allow myself to feel that way again, though?  More importantly, how do I help the women I love stop feeling that way?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow Day!

     I have lived in New England my entire life.  For 3-4 months out of the year, I have to deal with cold temperatures and snow.  My Fab. Fam. rather enjoys it.  Thanks to the wonders of technology AND my world travels, I have friends who live in places that don't get snow.  So here is a brief explanation of New England winter weather to answer those questions that have been coming at me over the past few days, since Nor'easter Nemo blew into the region.

     For starters, what's a Nor'easter?  A Nor'easter is basically a storm that circulates around a low pressure system off the northern Atlantic coast. It's similar to a tropical storm or hurricane (cyclone to my friends in the southern hemisphere).  It gets its name from the direction the winds come from--the northeast.  They usually occur between October and April corresponding to the Atlantic hurricane season.  They typically happen in a range from the east coast of Canada to about New York.   However, they could happen any time of year, and occasionally occur as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.  As the storm rotates, it picks up moisture from the Atlantic.  Because of the winter temperatures, instead of dropping heavy rains on the land, Nor'easters typically drop lots of snow.  Like its tropical counterparts, there are varying degrees of strength. 

     This particular storm is very large--large enough and strong enough that it became a "named storm,"  like a hurricane would be.  It is moving slowly, so it's been snowing for over 24 hours here.  Right now, we have over 2 1/2 feet (nearly a meter) of heavy, wet snow in our yard.  Not all snow is the same. Sometimes, snow is light and fluffy.  Other times it's dry and powdery.  Sometimes it is icy crystals.

    This storm also has had strong, sustained winds--30-50 mph/48-80 kmph.  When the winds are that high, the snow blows around,  diminishing visibility like a sandstorm does.  When that happens, then the "snow storm" becomes classified as a "blizzard."   Last night, we even had thundersnow. Thundersnow is the Evil Genius' favorite kind of weather.  It's a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain.  It's pretty spectacular. 

Picture Courtesy of the National Weather Service

     Most of our snowstorms are not this severe.  This is a once-in-a-while treat. (I have friends who would disagree with me on the "treat" bit.)  My folks live about an hour from here, right on the coast.  Because of the weight of the snow causing trees and electric poles to fall, they don't have power, and the news reports flooding in parts of their city from the extra high storm tide.  According to the news, there are over 400,000 households in Massachusetts without electricity right now.  There's another 150,000 in Rhode Island without power. The other New England states also have considerable power outages.  It's part of life in the northeast.  Here at the old homestead, though, we haven't lost any trees.  Our power is up.  The fire is roaring in our pellet stove (a fire place insert that burns compressed wood pellets for more efficient heating). 

  When the weather is this severe, we get what is called a "Snow Day." That means school and work are cancelled for folks who don't need to be out on the roads. Driving on a lot of snow is very much like driving on icy mud. Vehicles get stuck, they spin out, they slide and crash into other things. It's dangerous. So, yesterday The Evil Genius had no school. Thing 1 , Thing 2, and I didn't have to go to work.

      Even folks who don't care for the snow enjoy a Snow Day. It's like an unscheduled holiday. I spent my Snow Day cooking, reading magazines, and watching dumb television shows with the Evil Genius. I played cards. I spent WAY too much time on the computer, along with a whole bunch of other folks enjoying their Snow Day.  I checked in with my extended family. Everyone is fine. We're hardy folks in the northeast.

      Because my husband is in charge of food services at a university, where the students live, he didn't get a Snow Day. In fact, he was quite busy, working with the university leadership to make sure that there were places on campus for his staff to sleep over last night. It's very rare, but yesterday the governor called a "driving ban." Nobody but emergency workers have been allowed to drive on the roads. So my Personal Chef needed to make sure his staff was safe AND that the students could get fed today. He arranged for meals for the other emergency work crews--campus police, facilities maintenance staff, infirmary staff--that were staying on campus. He even developed plans for the highly possible event that there was a major power outage. He still made it home before the storm got too severe, though.  
      Right now, my boys and dogs are having a ball.  They have already got us cleared out.  Thing 2 and his best pals (twenty-year-olds, mind you) have plans for an epic snow fort.  No surprise, they have recruited My Personal Chef, the biggest kid of them all, to help.


    Not wanting to be left out, the dogs are loving it, too. Our chocolate lab is leaping into snow banks and rolling around in it. The cocker spaniel tries to keep up. He's way too small though, and just gets buried in the drifts.

     So that is what it is like when it REALLY snows.  Now, excuse me while I put on another pot of coffee and whip up something warm for my boys to eat.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Laundry Room Blues

     It's Sunday afternoon at the old homestead.  At the moment, the entire downstairs looks like a twister touched down inside a small appliance repair shop.  Our state-of-the-art washing machine--the one that promised everything from stain fighting to high speed to quiet operation to germ killing--has a blown bearing.  I know this because My Personal Chef has watched hours of how-to-fix-the-washing-machine videos and taken the whole thing apart and gone to two different hardware stores for expert advice and parts.  The pretty boys on the videos and the older guys in the plaid, flannel shirts at the stores all agree.  The bearing's gone. 
     It can be fixed.  Only thing is, even if my extraordinarily competent husband does it himself, it will be exorbitantly expensive.  This is the second major failure of this washing machine in the past year.  Last spring the big rubber gasket had to be replaced.  It cost hundreds of dollars, took weeks  for the part to come in, and then a technician had to come in to install it, because apparently it required some sort of magic tool made especially for this manufacturer's products.
     We haven't had the machine more than two years.  Although, it turns out that the washer was a model made about 6 years ago that apparently sat around in in a shipping crate in some port for a while.  At any rate, the manufacturer has discontinued the model, making the parts ridiculously pricey to get.  It really isn't cost-effective to repair the machine.  That bothers us.
     Call us old fashioned, but we take care of our things.  We teach our children to take care of their things.  (Just don't look at their bedrooms for any signs of our teaching taking root.)  We work hard at not being wasteful.  We take pride in learning the skills to repair things.   Okay my Personal Chef prides himself in knowing how to fix things, and I take pride in bragging about hitching my wagon to him. 
     Effective stewardship of our resources--our finances, our material goods, and our time--matters to us.  At one time, it was a widespread value, shared by most of our culture.  Today, though, we are encouraged to continuously replace our cheap things, rather than maintaining them.  Go ahead and try to name one thing that you own today that you purchased new that you don't expect to replace in the near future.  Unless you inherited it from your ancestors or found it at an antique sale or commissioned Amish artisans to create it for you, it's probably built with self-destruction and replacement in mind.  Clothing, furniture, electronics, tools, household goods...  all cheap.  All designed to be replaced with next season's colors, features, or styles.
     It bums me out. I don't WANT to shop for a new washing machine.  On the other hand, now that the laundry room is torn apart, maybe I can get that Man-o-Mine to replace the floor and put in a shower stall?  Now where did I put those color swatches?