Shredded: A life in strips

I shredded so many old files tonight that my shredder is squeaking and smoking (for reals). It’s a weird feeling feeding the last several years’ worth of documents into the grinding jaws of destruction . . . there’s the bill … Continue reading

C is for Counseling, or How I Got into this New Gig

  Turns out that April is Counseling Awareness Month. Isn’t this just a serendipitous turn of events? I’m writing a blog a day, A to Z about my adventures as a graduate student in Mental Health Counseling and the American … Continue reading

Makeup Beauty Doll and Other Problems with White Privilege

Originally posted on Pamela Helberg:
Many years ago, flummoxed by the joys and perils of raising two non-white children in our predominantly white culture, I wrote an essay expressing my doubts and fears, and (surprising to me now) my certainties…

50 Happy Things for 2015: Bloggers Unite in Flood of Gratitude

My first Ragnar leg--1 of 3

My first Ragnar leg–1 of 3

Hello! I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to join a group of bloggers who are writing the 50 things for which they are grateful. The trick was we had to write the list in 10 minutes (adding pictures and links came later and did not count toward the total time).  I had no trouble at all coming up with so many things to be thankful for. Life is rich. I live in a beautiful place. I have a solid support network, good friends, a loving family. When times get hard, I try to remember these things. I started the list off with some of the things I repeat to myself on mornings when running is challenging–I am grateful for my body parts that all work as they should.  If you’d like to join in on the gratitude blogging fun, you can find instructions at the bottom of this blog. Enjoy!

  • Strong legs
  • Healthy heart
  • Good lungs
  • Massage therapy with Kristi
  • Physical therapy with Clare
  • My regular therapy therapist
  • The time I have every day to run
  • The beautiful trails in Bellingham

Chuckanut Trail

Chuckanut Trail–Summer

IMG_0268

Chuckanut Trail–Fall

  • Anna and Taylor
  • My house and home

Taylor, a few years ago

Taylor, a few years ago

Anna, a few years ago :)

Anna, a few more years ago

  • Dungeness crab
  • The Red Wheelbarrow writing community
  • My brother and his family
  • The opportunity to go to school, again
  • The road trip I took this summer
  • Beautiful days on the Oregon coast
  • The trip to Mexico this summer with my brother and niece

madeline_me_mexico

My niece and me in Salulita, Mexico

My brother and my niece, in Chacala, Mexico

My brother and my niece, in Chacala, Mexico

  • Being Freshly Pressed
  • Writing
  • My writing friends
  • Being asked to read my friend’s memoir
  • Money in the bank

The Skedgers (two of us, anyway) at a write out

The Skedgers (two of us, anyway) at a write out

jeep1

The Jeep

Bellingham Bay Marathon, Finisher Medal and 4th place ribbon (in my age group)

Bellingham Bay Marathon, Finisher Medal and 4th place ribbon (in my age group)

Some of my Ragnar team, after the Chuckanut Foot Race

Some of my Ragnar team, after the Chuckanut Foot Race

  • Sweet computer skillz
  • Christmas Eve with the family
  • Friends from school
  • Marge, for letting us stay in her home this quarter
  • New friends
  • Old friends
  • Carpools

The labyrinth at the AROHO retreat, Ghost Ranch, NM

The labyrinth at the AROHO retreat, Ghost Ranch, NM

Pearrygin Lake, Winthrop

Pearrygin Lake, Winthrop

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Anna's new car!

Anna’s new car!


To join in on the fun:

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list. The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

To join the bloggers who have come together for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the link at the bottom of this post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List.

Please note that only blog posts that include a list of 50 (or an attempt to write 50) things that made you feel Happy or 50 things that you are Grateful for, will be included. Please don’t add a link to a post that isn’t part of this exercise. 

http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=592585

A Christmas Blog, Re-gifted

I originally published this piece on my blog in December 2012. I thought it was worth re-posting, given that it’s that time of year again and my holiday anxiety is ramping up. 

Christmas Eve always provokes anxiety in me.  For all of the 1960s and well into the 70s, I was the sole granddaughter amongst many grandsons and as such the only target for girly gifts from my well-meaning Mema: dolls, dresses, and purses.  While my cousins and younger brother gleefully tore through the wrapping paper to discover footballs, cowboy hats, cap pistols, and baseball gloves, I opened my gifts cautiously, always hopeful that my true wishes would be granted, that my grandmother would see me for the tomboy I was, not as the girly girl she wanted me to be.  As the Barbies, ballet slippers, tea sets, and girly frou-frou piled up over the years, I knew better than to be expressively disappointed. Growing up in a conservative Christian household, I learned early that it is better to give than to receive, to be thankful for what I had, and to put others ahead of myself, so I pasted on a smile and gave my thanks with as much authenticity as I could muster.

That's me on the right, checking out my cousins' presents

That’s me on the right, checking to see if my cousins, Jimmy, TJ, and Billy, got better presents than I did.

As the years wore on and the family expanded, my girl cousins finally came along, gleeful recipients of all things sugar and spice and everything nice, and I could ignore my gifts and slip away to play with my boy cousins and their superior toys.  They would share their bounty with me, and for many happy hours I wore the cowboy hat and shot the cap guns, threw the footballs around the basement.   Still, an uneasiness always settled over me as the holidays drew near, and as much as I looked forward to Christmas Eve at Mema’s, a genuinely fun and spirited occasion where the alcohol flowed freely and everyone sang and acted out a verse in The Twelve Days of Christmas, where we all wore colored paper hats from the Christmas crackers, I dreaded going because I didn’t feel like I belonged.

A sense of Other became my Christmas cloak:  fundamentalist Christian amongst fun loving Catholics; country bumpkin cousin among my sophisticated Seattle cousins; and something deeper that I sensed about myself, something I knew set me apart in ways I wouldn’t understand for many years.

So, no surprise then that those familiar pangs rushed back as I navigated our red late-model Volvo into Mema’s driveway for Christmas Eve in 1994.  Even though I was 31 and had a family, the anxiety dogged me.  I let out the breath I’d been holding during our hour and a half drive south from where I lived with my partner and our two daughters.  I pulled on my wide-brimmed purple felt hat that matched my paisley purple dress and smiled through the rear view mirror at the girls, Anna four and a half, and Taylor six months old.  They were ready to be sprung from their car seats, their holiday dresses hidden beneath their matching Christmas coats from Nordstrom.  I squeezed Sweetie’s hand, both for comfort and for strength, and admired her stylish red wool coat and her fine black leather gloves.  I allowed a small satisfaction and confidence to creep upon me.  We looked so normal that no one could possibly know from first glance that we were lesbians with two children.  I drew comfort from our appearance as we wrested the girls out of the car and arranged ourselves into presentability—straightening rumpled tights, buckling Mary Janes, wiping the spit up from Taylor’s chin and removing her bib, making sure Anna had a firm grasp on Blankie.  We each carried a child and marched to the front door to ring the bell.

Christmas 1997

Anna and Taylor, Christmas 1997

We knew better than to wait for someone to answer before letting ourselves in.  The bell served only to announce our presence before we walked into the sounds and smells of Christmas tradition:  cracked crab, singed spaghetti sauce, bourbon, scotch, laughter and conversation, the burble of children’s voices and laughter.  Aunts and uncles yelled out greetings or raised their glasses to us as we entered.  My mother came to coo over her granddaughters.  We collected hugs and kisses as we waded deeper into the gathering, and because we were women, we all finally came to a stop in the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas!” My aunt Betsy said, “You guys look great.  I love your dress Pam.”

“Where did you get that hat?” Mema sipped her vodka, the ice tinkling.  “I love it!”

“Sweetie!” Uncle David stepped towards us, a glass of red wine in his hand.  “Merry Christmas!”  He gave her a sideways hug and a peck on the cheek.  “How are the girls?”

“Hey David,” Sweetie matched his enthusiasm. “They are great.  Thanks for asking! Your girls must be getting big, too!”

I began unbundling the girls, removing their coats, checking Taylor’s diapers for any obvious odors.  They both looked amazing, their brown skin glowing against the red velvet dresses, their white tights gleaming, their Mary Janes shiny.  Anna’s eyes took on the pensiveness of being in a strange situation, and Taylor’s eyes grew wide, her Surprise Baby look we called it.  Since we’d only just adopted her in May, many of my relatives had yet to meet her.

“She’s so tiny! How old is she, again?”

“She’s so dark!”

“Well, yes, she’s African American,” I explained.  “She’s just a bit over seven months old.”

“Anna, you’ve gotten so big!”

“Anna!  How do you like being a big sister?”

Anna buries her face in the pleats of Sweetie’s red skirt.

“She’s still adjusting,” I say.

“Hey, Pamalamala!” My uncle Mike approaches, the funny guy in the family. “What can I get you to drink? You’re still drinking, right?” He nods at Taylor in my arms. “You’re not nursing are you?”

“Scotch on the rocks sounds fabulous,” I say, happy at that moment to be an adoptive parent, no breastfeeding required.

Anna peaks inquisitively from Sweetie’s skirt.  “Pamalamala?” She laughs.  “That’s funny Mommy!”

“That’s what I called myself when I was your age,” I explain.  “I couldn’t say Pamela, so I said Pamalamala whenever someone wanted to know my name.”

Anna’s brown eyes light up, and some of the anxiety disappears.  I want nothing more than for her to be free of the anxiety.  Mike hands me my scotch and I relax, happy to be among family on this holiday, grateful for the acceptance from nearly everyone, and even thankful for the forbearance of those who might still disapprove.  I am aware they might be masking their disdain with holiday cheer and copious amounts of alcohol.  I don’t mind.

Before long, the girls and their cousins hear the prancing of reindeer feet on the roof and the ringing of sleigh bells.  The little ones who are old enough to walk, rush to the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa.  I hold Taylor as she wiggles and babbles excitedly and points to her big sister, eyes wide with anticipation.

“HO! HO! HO!”  Santa opens the front door, a pillowcase bursting with presents slung over his shoulder.  “I hear there are children here who have been very good this year!

“Sit over here, Santa,” one of my younger cousins points to a wing-backed chair between the fireplace and the lavishly decorated tree.  Over the course of the next hour, each child under 18 sits on Santa’s lap and assures him they’ve been nice and not at all naughty during the year.  Santa digs in his bag and presents each child with a present, and as they unwrap their gifts, they hold them up as cameras snap and flash.  The adults grin conspiratorially at one another, remembering Christmases not that long ago when they did the same.  I’ve chosen Anna and Taylor’s gifts carefully, the sting of disappointment still fresh on me.

Once the spaghetti and crab have been devoured, once the platters of cookies have been depleted, once the children have succumbed to the rush of sugar and the excitement of Santa and fallen asleep about the living room, once the adults have exchanged gifts, and had a final glass of holiday cheer, we begin to gather our newly acquired belongings, our coats, the diaper bag, Anna’s Blankie.  We whisper our good-byes and carry our sleeping babies to the car and tuck them in to their car seats.  After several more forays between house and car, more hugs and kisses, I put the Volvo in reverse and head north, letting out the breath I’d been holding the past several hours.

We had navigated through a family Christmas Eve, our little family of four breaking new ground, the four of us presenting as just another family in spite of our differences.  No one else in my extended family had ventured quite this far outside of the norm:  being a “married” lesbian mother of adopted multi-ethnic children broke some new family ground and gained not just tolerance, but acceptance.  Still, my anxiety and self doubt colored my experience and I believed that the love and welcomes came because we worked so hard to be a normal family, we wore dresses and feminine shoes; we bought thoughtful and not inexpensive gifts; we were fortunate to have beautiful children and dressed them in dresses and lace.  We drove a Volvo.  I believed that acceptance required stringent adherence to heterosexual norms.  I thought that if we were going to be a successful lesbian family, we were going to have to be as non-threatening and as normal as possible.

I was so busy hiding who I was, I didn’t even try to be myself.  It didn’t occur to me that my family would love me anyway.

Christmas Letter

Twelve Months of Durbergs
Two thousand twelve has been a brilliant year for lesbians in general, and an exceptionally fine year for The Durbergs in particular.  We close these 12 months in better shape, emotionally and physically, than we’ve been in many years (if ever).  Both Pam and Nancy continued on their fitness quests and kicked off the New Year with a half-half marathon, pretty much the longest six miles ever.   Both of us are incredibly grateful for our good health, happy relationship, and loving family and friends. Life is indeed good.
            Taylor turned 18 in May—and if that weren’t enough to celebrate, in June she graduated from high school.  She spent part of the summer in Philly with her birth family and returned in the fall to start classes at Whatcom Community College.  Taylor plans to pursue a career in law.  We wholeheartedly encourage this endeavor and couldn’t be more proud. We so enjoyed taking her to the school where Pam used to work and showing her around.  She is a strong and smart and beautiful young woman. I pity her opponents in the courtroom.
            And if that’s not enough to make us feel old, Anna graduated from Washington State University with a BS in psychology in May and a double minor in French and sociology.  She promptly left the country to celebrate her academic successes, touring Europe with her good pals Karen and Emily.  Upon her return, she buckled right down and started applying for jobs.  We are proud to say she landed a good one, in the field she wanted.  She works for Outsource as a recruiter and lives in Ballard with two friends.  Anna turned 22 in June. Unbelievable.
Pam continued on in her memoir writing class, finishing up in May with a reading at Village Books.  But the certificate was not enough—she and her writing buddies continue to meet twice a month to encourage one another and provide excellent and constructive feedback. Pam had an essay accepted for publication in an anthology coming out in April—Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religion, published by Seal Press. Currently Pam is working on building her platform—she can be found on Twitter @PamHelberg, on the Interwebs at www.PamelaHelberg.com, and on Facebook.  She really needs to boost her numbers, so send your friends and acquaintances to her sites.
The highlight of her summer had to be the three weeks she spent serving as a juror on a local Whatcom County murder trial.  Fascinating.  Everyone should spend some time as a juror.
Nancy continued with her running class through The Fit School, burning up the track as well as the calories.  She is becoming somewhat renowned in these parts, writing her story for The Fit School website and modeling for a Fit School promotional video.  The Little Woman started blogging this year, and you can find her erudite commentary at www.runrambleon.blogspot.com
In June, right before Nancy left for AK, she went in for a routine colonoscopy.  The procedure revealed a pre-cancerous polyp, which the doctor removed, and resulted in an appointment for another colonoscopy in December.  Something to look forward to!  We tried to put that out of our minds with an impromptu visit to Mexico to see Dad and Marilyn. We so enjoyed the family time, the beach, the sun, and the lovely rhythm of life in the slow lane.  
Perhaps the highlight of Nancy’s year was the six weeks she spent cooking at our neighbor’s fishing lodge in Chignik, AK.  Having been laid off from her job at Ryzex, again (stupid economy), she jumped at the chance to see the wild, wild North and use her culinary skills professionally.  She came back ready for a new career. One where she spends less time on her feet.  So in September she decided to enroll at Antioch University to get her Masters as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  She took a prerequisite this fall at WCC, which she aced, of course and starts classes at Antioch on January 7th
Our summer ended in somewhat of a blur.  We managed to cram a lot of activity into three months.  In July, right after Nancy got home, we attended the first of two fabulous family weddings.  Pam’s cousin Caiti married Lou in a ceremony on Whidbey Island, and in September, cousin Patrick married Jenni at the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, B.C.
We had the house painted and took the Jeep on its first camping trip.  We headed east to the Methow Valley, over the North Cascades Pass, up to Hart’s Pass for a few freezing hours, into Winthrop, on to Twisp, Okanogan, Omak, and finally Conconnully (a town heretofore completely unknown to us).  Strange little place, that.
August brought an overdue visit from good friends from Canada—one of Pam’s oldest and dearest friends, Pat, and her partner Meghan came for a weekend.  We had our heating vents cleaned, and celebrated the ninth anniversary of our Silly Ceremony.  Nancy’s sisters Dor and Lynn visited for 10 days in September and got to see the PNW at its best, weather-wise.  Nancy entertained them with trips to LaConner, the San Juan Islands, and greater downtown Bellingham.
            In early October, Pam got to travel to rainy and gray Whittier, AK to provide IT support for an oil spill drill, and she did such a fine job, she was appointed to the national spill response team.  She fervently hopes the next drill will be someplace warmer.
November seriously rocked:  Obama won reelection, to our great relief.  Gay marriage and marijuana are both now legal in Washington state, and we ran in our first ever Turkey Trot.  We attended an Antioch University sample class, Family of Origin Theory, met up with the fam at Mom’s new digs in Kingston, and celebrating Thanksgiving at our favorite B&B in Beaverton with Pam’s brother and his family. We left November with a little more spring in our step. 
In December, Nancy got officially accepted to Antioch, and she had a follow-up colonoscopy. That refreshing colon cleanser really makes her grumpy, but so did the actual procedure which revealed more pre-cancerous polyps.  She has to go back next year.  Keep her colon in your thoughts—send happy thoughts its way and let this be your PSA to have those colonoscopies early and often.  
Results be damned, both of us got up to run in the Bellingham Jingle Bell Run the next morning—definitely AMA. 
 As the year draws to a close, we will be celebrating our Christmas with Mother and her dog Chuck, Anna and Taylor and friends. May the holidays find you with loved ones and good friends.
Thank you, all, for being a part of our lives.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!