“Imagine if the Tea Party was black:” Tim Wise

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 by Wren

“Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure – the ones who are driving the action – we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

“So let’s begin.

“Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

“Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

“Imagine that a prominent mainstream black political commentator had long employed an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization, and that this bigot regularly participated in black separatist conferences, and once assaulted a white person while calling them by a racial slur. When that prominent black commentator and his sister — who also works for the organization — defended the bigot as a good guy who was misunderstood and “going through a tough time in his life” would anyone accept their excuse-making? Would that commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? Because that’s what happened in the real world, when Pat Buchanan employed as Executive Director of his group, America’s Cause, a blatant racist who did all these things, or at least their white equivalents: attending white separatist conferences and attacking a black woman while calling her the n-word.

“Imagine that a black radio host were to suggest that the only way to get promoted in the administration of a white president is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had only endorsed a white presidential candidate as an act of racial bonding, or blamed a white president for a fight on a school bus in which a black kid was jumped by two white kids, or said that he wouldn’t want to kill all conservatives, but rather, would like to leave just enough—“living fossils” as he called them—“so we will never forget what these people stood for.” After all, these are things that Rush Limbaugh has said, about Barack Obama’s administration, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a fight on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois in which two black kids beat up a white kid, and about liberals, generally.

“Imagine that a black pastor, formerly a member of the U.S. military, were to declare, as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies, that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” This is, after all, what Pastor Stan Craig said recently at a Tea Party rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

“Imagine a black radio talk show host gleefully predicting a revolution by people of color if the government continues to be dominated by the rich white men who have been “destroying” the country, or if said radio personality were to call Christians or Jews non-humans, or say that when it came to conservatives, the best solution would be to “hang ‘em high.” And what would happen to any congressional representative who praised that commentator for “speaking common sense” and likened his hate talk to “American values?” After all, those are among the things said by radio host and best-selling author Michael Savage, predicting white revolution in the face of multiculturalism, or said by Savage about Muslims and liberals, respectively. And it was Congressman Culbertson, from Texas, who praised Savage in that way, despite his hateful rhetoric.

“Imagine a black political commentator suggesting that the only thing the guy who flew his plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building did wrong was not blowing up Fox News instead. This is, after all, what Anne Coulter said about Tim McVeigh, when she noted that his only mistake was not blowing up the New York Times.

“Imagine that a popular black liberal website posted comments about the daughter of a white president, calling her “typical redneck trash,” or a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds.” After all that’s comparable to what conservatives posted about Malia Obama on freerepublic.com last year, when they referred to her as “ghetto trash.”

“Imagine that black protesters at a large political rally were walking around with signs calling for the lynching of their congressional enemies. Because that’s what white conservatives did last year, in reference to Democratic party leaders in Congress.

“In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

“To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

“And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

“Game Over.”

Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the U.S. Wise has spoken in 48 states, on over 400 college campuses, and to community groups around the nation. Wise has provided anti-racism training to teachers nationwide, and has trained physicians and medical industry professionals on how to combat racial inequities in health care. His latest book is called Between Barack and a Hard Place.

Blog love to Ephphatha Poetry.

How my garden grows

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2010 by Wren

Here’s a few photos from some of the work out in the garden I’ve done over the last


couple of days. And some gratuitous pet shots. I can’t help myself. Note the PIB and Finny shot. I didn’t force them to pose like that, honest!

The front garden/driveway got the spring cleanup treatment first. I didn’t take pictures of it, but I cleared out some melting cardboard and other trash that was left over after Mr. Wren made a dump run the other day. Then I swept and swept. There’s more out there to do, lots of pruning and weeding, but I really wanted to get busy on the back garden, where we are growing vegetables now and will grow many more before the season ends in October.

The first thing I needed to do was make the path between the chicken pen and the

No machete necessary, now.

first bed, which have artichokes and asparagus grown in them, walkable. It was totally grown-over by the climbing roses and shrub dogwoods that shade the chicken pen. So I took my trusty clippers to the viney, tangled mess. You can see the result. In fact, you can actually see all the way past the hen-house to the tarps in the neighbor’s yard. I also did a fair amount of weeding.

Straw-bale gardening wasn't a total success last year, so once these beds are dismantled, I'm going to plant into the ground directly, unless I can get Mr Wren to build me some more raised beds. Not holding my breath.

This pleases me. I like to be able to walk around the garden without needing a machete. But there’s a whole lot left to do. All those straw bales that formed the garden beds last spring and summer are rotting away; I need to cut the strings barely holding them in place, then break the straw up and rake it out, all over the high, grassy weeds that are coming up everywhere. I’m hoping the straw will kill off the weeds, which become foxtails by late spring.

Then I’ll rake and till up the soil so I can plant. That shouldn’t take too long; I’m not going to plant a huge garden this year. Just a reasonable one. I hope.

I still can’t let Finny run loose in the garden; Mr Wren hasn’t gotten to the fence-

Mmmmm. Chicken on the hoof!

fixing yet. So while I was outside this morning, I tied him (Finny, not Mr Wren)  to the chicken pen. He’s fascinated by our old brood of Rhode Island red hens; they’re equally fascinated by Finny. So everyone was happy.

Eventually, Logan wandered over to see what that little party-crasher was so excited about, yawned (chickens are no big deal to Logan) and flopped in the shade of an old cedar. It’s the closest the two dogs have gotten to each other voluntarily since Finny moved in. Slowly but surely, the pack is accepting him.

And now, I’m taking a rest.

It's not hot yet, but the shade is still nice ...

Happy Easter

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 by Wren

Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

I just read in the New York Times about a program that matches service dogs to war veterans with PTSD. The dogs are trained by incarcerated convicts in a separate program called Puppies Behind Bars.

I’ve loved dogs from the time I was a very small child. I used to nap as a three-year-old with my head on the belly of Jake, our long-suffering and extraordinarily gentle boxer. As the years passed, we had a poodle, Boston terriers Hector and Albert, and boxers Pete and Mugs. I moved away from home, joined the Air Force, and missed my four-legged companions fiercely.

But it wasn’t long before I had dogs again. There was Annie, a miniature dachshund. Greta, a mutt-mix of pug and who-knows-what. Max, the wire-haired dachshund. Nessie, a rescued Lab/Doberman mix, the sweetest-natured dog I’ve ever known, apart from my current lil’ buddy, Finny McCool. There’s Logan, a Queensland heeler/border collie mix, the other dog who is still an integral part of my family. And there was my parent’s compassionate, funny old boxer Mugs, the second with that goofy name, who died of old age just last year.

Mugs helped my father recover after his last heart surgery. As Dad walked slowly and precariously along the back deck, building his strength back up, Mugs walked along with him. Back and forth, back and forth. When Dad died eight years later, Mugs became my Mom’s closest companion, her friend, and her living link to sweet memories of her late husband. He brought her through the devastation of grief, showing her as much, if not more devotion as he had my Dad, right up to the end.

All of these Good Dogs have cumulatively given me a half-century of love, joy and laughter. I cannot imagine how much less full my life might have been without them.

And now, to read that other good-hearted, loving dogs help men who have faced and still face years of their lives locked up in prison makes me misty-eyed.

But that these same men are training these dogs to help veterans who have been injured in mind and body in war, who have given their youths and the best, most productive parts of their lives to serve their country, who are broken, changed and in need their love and devotion makes me bawl.

Please read the story. And be sure to watch the video linked in the sidebar.


Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2010 by Wren

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Breakfast today …

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14, 2010 by Wren

… was a bowlful – about a cup – of pre-cooked quinoa, bulgur wheat and steel-cut Irish oatmeal, nuked until steamy. Mr Wren, the dear, likes to mix things up. He also has no sense of proportion, so we have a huge container full of cooked grain cereal in the fridge that needs to be eaten soon. I whittled about an eighth off the top this morning.

Normally, I eat just Irish oatmeal with a teaspoon of brown sugar/Splenda blend, a generous shake or three of Saigon cinnamon and a scant splash of evaporated milk. This, I’ve learned over the last year, is a delicious, filling, low fat, slow-carb breakfast. It’s wonderful on cold mornings. It sticks to the ribs and provides a nice, slow-burn energy boost. I usually make about four cups at a time and refrigerate the leftover cereal, which microwaves well. Since I don’t like it every single morning – I eat an egg with whole grain toast or toast with a slice of Tillamook sharp cheddar on the non-oatmeal days to avoid breakfast boredom burnout – four cups of oatmeal lasts me about a week.

But yesterday Mr Wren got up wanting hot cereal and, being himself, wasn’t satisfied with just oatmeal. So he got out the Dutch oven, pulled a bunch of different grains, and made himself some. Lots of it. Now I’m helping him eat it before it goes bad. Cary and Matt don’t eat hot cereal at all. They’re both grown-ups, but they prefer Lucky Charms and Cap’n Crunch.

I despair.

I’m writing about this because, like a lot of people who’ve worked 9-5 most of their adult lives, I’m terrible about eating breakfast in the morning, regardless of whether it’s a nutritious one or one that just puts me into sugar overload. When I was working every day, I simply couldn’t make time for brekky before I started my 50-minute commute down the mountain at dawn. And, I was never hungry at that time of morning. I’m one of those people whose metabolism doesn’t really wake up until about three hours after the alarm goes off. That meant that at 8:30 or 9 a.m., I was suddenly, stomach-growlingly ravenous, but way too busy to stop and eat a nutritious, time-consuming breakfast.

So instead, I ate the cookies or donuts, sometimes both, that my colleagues and I frequently brought to the office as a form of tasty sustenance and bribery.

Eighty pounds later …

Back in my slender Germany days, we’d do things a bit differently. I mostly didn’t eat breakfast back then, either, which meant a long stretch of empty-stomachness until 11, when I’d take off like a flash for a slice of pizza and a Diet Coke in the Burger Barn. There weren’t any grocery stores or donut shops handy along the route to work in the morning, and the commissary didn’t open until 10 a.m. But about once every two weeks, my colleagues and I would pick a day and we’d all, German and Americans alike, bring Frühstück foods to the office on a day when we knew the boss would be out. Sneaky, weren’t we?

Everyone brought something – crusty, chewy, sliced bread, Brötchen ( plain German bread rolls, deliciously crispy and golden on the outside; soft, white and fluffy on the inside), several different types of cold cuts, cheeses of all varieties, some sliced, some spreadable. Jam. Pastries. Fresh fruit. Soft dairy butter. Orange juice.

And then we’d crank the poor old office coffeepot into overdrive.

Naturally, people from other offices on the U.S. Army post would stop by our office for this or that – we were Army  Public Affairs, after all. No problem – or kein Problem, as my Germany colleagues said – we invited them all to join us. It was always quite a jocular little breakfast party. If Fred (the fortuitously absent boss) knew we were using the big conference table in his office as a breakfast spread in his absence, he never said a word. But we never even considered asking him to join us, as he’d have nixed the whole thing.

You see, Fred always ate his breakfast before he came to work. It was always a big, hot breakfast, one of his “things.” His wife made it for him, and he ate it while he read the day’s Stars & Stripes. I kid you not – he made sure we knew about it. Fred was a nice but rather humorless man. He didn’t have a lot of imagination and was obviously bored to tears. I figured he was just serving out his time as a high-ranking civilian, waiting for the dayl he could retire on his comfortable government pension .

Oh, boy. There I went, off on a tangent.

OK. Back to it: my point was that while I’ve always been bad about making a healthy breakfast part of my day, I do it now. I think my health has improved because of it. Part of the reason I’ve been able to change my habit is that I’m not working outside my home these days, so I don’t have a long, crack-o-dawn commute to face. And while I’m looking for full time employment again, that’s one thing about it I don’t look forward to. I’d grown to hate that long drive at the beginning and end of each workday. I hope I can find work a lot closer to home this time.

But even so, nuking pre-cooked cereal is something I can do. It’s quick. Eating it doesn’t take long. I can even bring it to work with me and nuke it there, if there’s a microwave handy. I don’t mind eating at my desk – but these days, I want to make sure what I’m eating is good for me and isn’t going to add to my middle-aged spread.

There. I did it! I wrote a post mostly about nothing, just for the fun of writing, and got to take a nice little trip back down memory lane in the process. The only trouble is that now, I’m craving Brötchen. Guess I’ll have to google up a recipe …

 Have a great day, everyone!

Buckle Me Up: No more invisible RA

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2010 by Wren

I wish there were  real, flesh-and-blood human beings who also have rheuma in my community. Because I’d like to get to know those people. I’d like to talk to them, compare notes. Find out how they cope with the day-to-day “aches and pains” of the disease. I’d like to commiserate with them and exchange ideas on ways to deal with the “aches and pains” (read agony) of rheumatoid arthritis.

But it appears they don’t really exist. As I go about my days I don’t see other people limping along on painful feet. I don’t see people fumbling their wallets at the cash register in the grocery store, trying to slip the debit card out of it’s too-tight slot with hands and fingers stiffened and rendered breathtakingly painful by rheumatoid arthritis. I certainly never see anyone else struggle to put a jacket on because of an RA-impaired shoulder joint, or try to put food in a mouth that will open only an inch or two because the joint that hinges their lower jaw to their skull is inflamed and exquisitely painful upon movement.

No. I don’t see any of these people or any of these conditions. I only experience them myself.

But I read that there are about 2 million people in the U.S. who suffer with RA just like I do. I’m No. 1,457,932 in that exclusive group, I guess. I don’t have a card, so I can’t be a card-carrying member of the Hey-I-Have-RA Club, but according to the Wise Statistic Keepers, I belong to the club anyway.

Two million American men, women and children share this rotten disease with me. Yet I’ve only met one of them personally. That was 20 years ago in Bremerhaven, Germany, when I lived there. That man had it mainly in his spine. I was married and he was always trying to hit on me, so it was uncomfortable talking with him, but he absolutely recognized – and empathized with – my pain. He suggested alternating hot and cold packs on sore joints as a possible method for relieving my pain. It sometimes worked for him, he said.  I’ve tried to follow his compassionate advice (when I can bear the cold-pack part) ever since.

He and his wife were transferred to Italy not long after I met him. At the time, I was relieved, but I’ve often thought of him since then. I’ve wondered how he got along, whether the warmer, drier climate in Italy relieved any of his pain. I hope it did.

When I’ve admitted to others that I have rheumatoid arthritis (perhaps they asked, solicitously, why I was limping so heavily) a frequent response is “Oh! I know what you mean! I have arthritis in my knee! Isn’t it a bitch getting old?” And then they launch into their experience with their painful, creaky knee. I listen respectfully. I know osteoarthritis hurts, too. A lot.

But really, they don’t have a clue.

I wasn’t “old” when I was diagnosed with RA. I was just 31. I was a young mother whose career was just starting to take off. I’m “old” now (whatever that means), but I sure wasn’t back then. Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t a “wear and tear” disease, a natural (if annoying) part of growing older. RA is an autoimmune disease. That means the body, which is profoundly confused, attacks its own joints as if they’re foreign invaders. The body is out to destroy itself in order to save itself. Go figure.

Rheuma attacks randomly, carrying out clever ambushes so diabolical and unexpected that the Special Forces could learn stealth tactics from it. The inflammation and pain it causes can range from mild to horrific. It can cover that range during the same day, or perhaps over several days. Or a week. Or longer. The pain can hit more than one joint at a time. It can move around. Today my left knee hurts. Tonight, it might be my right shoulder, or my right ankle. Maybe both. Maybe neither. I never really know what to expect.

Try explaining that to skeptical family members and co-workers.

Sometimes RA only slows me down a little. Other times it literally disables me, giving me an unwanted glimpse into my own future. Gee, thanks, I think. I really wanted that image of myself gliding down the mall on a chunky little motorized scooter, my fat, flabby, polyester-clad arse spilling off both sides of the saddle. Yeah. Thanks so much.

Such images give me real motivation, however, to move my body as much as I can. I don’t want a future of RA-imposed weakness and obesity, a life where my only real pleasure is eating. The very idea appalls me. So in spite of the pain – or perhaps, because of it – I do what I can to prevent that particular image of the future from coming true. I mind my calories, eat healthy foods and exercise for flexibility and to maintain my independent mobility.

Yet it’s possible that RA will disable me anyway. I’d prefer not to think too hard about that.

Even though these fears and experiences, this daily pain and stiffness, these frequent schizoid sneak attacks my body wages on itself are shared by 1,999,999 other Americans and many more millions of people all over the world, I deal with my day-to-day, intimate and personal case of RA utterly alone.

How can that be? Why aren’t there local support groups for people with rheumatoid arthritis? How come there are no special exercise classes, or classes on how to cope better with the disease available? Why aren’t they part of every town’s park and recreation program, available for free or for minimal cost? Why, in the last century and during the first decade of the new millennium, hasn’t medical science found cure for this disease? Why don’t people know what it is and what it’s not? Why is it so hard for me to find others who also suffer with RA?

I don’t have answers to those questions. But I’m working on starting up those classes I just mentioned. I’m going to do it myself. I’m at a point in my life where I won’t mind getting up in front of a group, talking about and demonstrating ways to cope with RA. I want to do this. I want to help others who are struggling with this disease find some comfort and camaraderie. I want them to have hope.

The flesh-and-blood people who have RA in my community are invisible, just like me. But if I have anything to do with it, we won’t be for much longer.



Did I mention hope? Well, here’s some: A new advocacy and charitable nonprofit organization that will work for people with autoimmune arthrits is forming right now. Read on:

What if autoimmune arthritis conditions were universally understood? What if you never again had to hear, “you’re too young to have that!” or “why don’t you take some aspirin to make the pain go away?” or “but you don’t look sick!”

 Wouldn’t it be nice if people understood that “I’m too tired to go” meant you were experiencing obnoxious, debilitating fatigue that is not necessarily remedied from rest or a good night’s sleep? What if there were in-depth, age-appropriate exercise programs available where you live that catered to different levels of disability and fitness preferences?  How much better could your health be if there were partnerships with retailers who would offer discounts on healthy foods or fitness facilities that would minimize monthly payments for autoimmune arthritis patients?  What if there was a global database of sufferers, family members and caregivers who had the ability to form friendships in order to deal with the daily struggles of disability?

Hopefully beginning in 2010 these wishes will start to become a reality.

The “Buckle Me Up!” International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement (IAAM) is an up-and-coming, worldwide nonprofit which will focus exclusively on helping the autoimmune arthritis sufferer*.  The mission: Eliminating autoimmune arthritis, and diminishing the disability associated with it, by raising global awareness and improving the quality of life for those who have it through education, partnerships and support.  The IAAM is a nonprofit formed by autoimmune arthritis sufferers, run by autoimmune arthritis sufferers and, therefore, will continue to address the problems faced by autoimmune arthritis sufferers.

The IAAM is not in competition with any existing charity.  In fact, part of the mission is to partner with existing organizations to assist with autoimmune arthritis awareness efforts.  Recently the IAAM joined forces with the Arthritis Foundation and are working on partnering with other arthritis-based charities both nationally and internationally. 

Founder Tiffany Westrich is personally working with the Arthritis Foundation’s “Let’s Talk RA” program to restructure the 2010 strategic planning, in which IAAM will maintain an intricate role.

In addition to partnerships, a primary focus of the movement is to make a lot of noise, verbally and visually, by re-branding the misconceptions of the term “arthritis.”  Examples include the published web-commercial series, “A Day with RA”, showing the realities of living with an autoimmune arthritis disease; developing the first official autoimmune arthritis charity bracelets; and being featured on MyRACentral.com and WebMDtv’s “RA in the News” (Summer 2009).  

The IAAM hope to continue this level of exposure in all autoimmune arthritis arenas, including creating web-series awareness commercials for each autoimmune arthritis condition.

If all the autoimmune arthritis sufferers around the world come together, we can make this a reality.  But first, we must raise money to finance the legal fees and start up costs to become an official nonprofit.

Today, many autoimmune arthritis blogs (just like RheumaBlog, which you’re reading now)  are joining forces to reach out to our community of sufferers for help. The IAAM is asking for $1 donations to assist with nonprofit start-up costs.  Every dollar earned will bring all of us who cope with autoimmune arthritis one step closer to being understood.

 To view a complete list of start-up costs and to send your $1 donation, please visit www.BuckleMeUpMovement.com/donate.

Note: This piece has been cross-posted in my other blog, RheumaBlog.

Happy New Year, 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2009 by Wren

May this new year bring you abundant joy, laughter and health. May peace fill your heart and love your soul.


A special gift

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28, 2009 by Wren

I’m one of those maddening people who, when you ask them what they want for Christmas/birthday/Mother’s Day say, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really need anything …”

And I’m (like all those other maddening people) perfectly sincere. I really don’t need anything. There are things I want, but that’s different. Frivolous. I don’t like asking for things that I want but don’t need. And I’m especially careful about asking for expensive gifts.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I never even had to think about that last – there wasn’t enough money in our bank account at any given moment to even consider a gift that cost over $25. But today, even with the poor economy, I have to be mindful because my sweet Mr Wren generally isn’t. He doesn’t buy a lot of things, but when he does, he tends to go overboard.

When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few weeks ago, I gave him the stock answer. He rolled his eyes – just like I do when people give me that response. Come on, I always think, help me out here! They don’t. And I didn’t help Mr Wren, either.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. Here we all sit in the living room, each one of us with a small pile of gifts. We start opening them. I get a beautiful, sparkly bracelet from Cary and Matt, and a comfy warm-up suit in royal blue (my favorite color) from my mother.

I pick up the wrapped gift from Mr Wren. It’s smallish. Solid. I shake it. Nothing moves. He sits there next to me, grinning. “Open it,” he urges. Matt and Cary stop opening their presents to watch. They’re grinning too.

What in the world? I think, and I tear off the ribbons and paper. And … OMG. It’s a Kindle.

I have always, since I was very small, loved to read. And I love books. I love the heft, the feel, even the smell of books. I love thinking about the process – of the author hunched over a desk, writing, lost in her imagination; of the publisher reading the manuscript and deciding the story is worth publishing; of the editor and author working together to clean and hone and polish the words so that the reader forgets she’s even reading; of the graphic designer choosing the font and style and perfecting the appearance of the book; of the typesetting, the huge presses, the book-grade paper, the ink; of the end-papers and the binding. As a reader, opening a new book is the first step of an adventure to me. If it’s a good one, I can fall right into the page and disappear.

There really is little in this world that I love more than reading a good book.

But rheumatoid arthritis has taken much of that pleasure away from me these last two years. I can no longer comfortably read a book for very long. My hands throb and ache. It’s an effort of will to grasp it, even if it’s not very heavy. My fingers are fumbly, making it difficult to turn the pages. As a result, I do most of my reading on the computer these days. But it’s not books I’m reading – instead I read blogs, news sites and other sites that catch my interest. They’re good, but none of them are stories. None are fictional, springing fresh from a writer’s imagination. Being unable to experience that particular form of creativity has saddened me, but I’ve accepted it.

I’ve found that I can listen to audio books if I’m driving, but in just about any other situation I can’t keep my mind on the reader and the story. I’m too distractible. I get antsy. I’m constantly losing my concentration and having to back up and listen all over again. This destroys the continuity of the story and annoys me – mostly at myself.

About six months ago I read a blogger’s post about the Kindle. He was considering getting one, but was holding off because like me, he loves books. He loves the physicality of books. And yet, he wrote that he could see the draw of an electronic reading device. No need to buy and find space for more bookshelves. Digital books were less expensive than the ones made of paper and ink. He wouldn’t have to lug a 450-page tome around anymore. There were upsides to getting an e-reader even though he found it disturbing to let go of traditional ink, paper and fabric books.

I found myself agreeing with the entire post, but for me, getting an e-reader wasn’t even something to consider. They were far, far too expensive, for one thing. Amazingly, prohibitively expensive. And because I love my books, I really couldn’t imagine trying to read them on an electronic screen, minus the solid weight of the book in my hands, even as sore as they were. I blogged about it myself.

I told Mr Wren about it, mentioned my frustration with how rheuma made holding a traditional book too painful for me, but how I also found both the techie coldness and the high cost of an e-reader sort of off-putting. He listened. Nodded.

And he remembered.

So I am now the surprised owner of an Amazon Kindle e-reader. And you know what? Forget all that techie coldness stuff. I absolutely love this thing. I feel like I’m living in Star Trek time. The Kindle is so light – it weighs only 10.2 ounces — that it’s mostly painless for me to hold onto. I can (and have) increased the size of the font to accommodate my dimming, middle-aged vision and find pressing the flat buttons on the side of the device to turn pages forward or back an almost automatic response to reaching the end of a page. And to my delight, not only are e-books much less expensive than their paper-and-ink counterparts, there are hundreds and hundreds of them that are free. Anna Karenina, anyone? Pride and Prejudice? The Invisible Man?

I am so happy with this gift – and Mr Wren’s sweet thoughtfulness – my eyes tear up every time I think of it. He spent wayyyy too much on this gift, but I’ve already forgiven him. He made this Christmas a particularly special, very merry one for me. Mr Wren gave me back my books.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2009 by Wren

Wishing you a joyous and cozy holiday

filled with love and laughter.


Thoughts of the meandering type

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 by Wren

I’m up early-early after sleeping not-so-well. I took Tylenol PM last night, as I have the last three, but this time it didn’t work even a little. So I saw each hour on the clock, waking in annoyance from image-and-thought-crowded dozes to wide-blinking-awakeness as I flexed my throbbing, gravel-filled digits and wished for hands less demanding of my complete attention.

The single, bed-time Elavil tablet my rheumatologist prescribed – which I looked so forward to as a solution to the two a.m. ceiling stare – worked only half-heartedly and erratically to help me sleep. But it worked enthusiastically to increase my appetite. This is aggravating. I don’t need help with my appetite; in fact, I’ve only just this year gotten the beast under control after a lifetime of bad eating habits. To suddenly crave buttery Ritz crackers, salty-crunchy tortilla chips and sweet slice after slice of Thanksgiving spice cake with fresh whipped cream – and to mindlessly indulge the craving – is to look away as Doom creeps in the back door, quiet, breathing the rancid-sweet breath of the ketosis-plagued diabetic.

Bleh. I’ve shoved the evil Elavil to the back of my pill cabinet (yes, I have one, to my chagrin) and put ranks of vitamin and supplement bottles in front of it. I’d rather lose sleep than regain those hard-lost pounds. Besides, I gave all my fat clothes to the local hospice thrift store. My wardrobe consists now only of lesser sizes. I like them.


 Yesterday Mr Wren and I took a ride down the mountain to Home Depot. The reason? To buy door levers. Our house is currently equipped with nice, small, round, ubiquitous doorknobs. I’ve never given them much thought. But with my hands in a seemingly endless flare, it hurts like a _________ (fill in the appropriate curse) every time I open a door. My right hand protests loudly at grasping the knob and then shrieks when I twist. The result is me standing in front of the still-closed door, clutching my angry hand to my chest as I turn the air around me blue. And sometimes, the door does not open.

This is not good.

When I told Mr Wren that I wanted to change all the doorknobs in the house to levers (and this after 12 years during which the knobs did the job just dandy), he didn’t even blink. Off we went.

After perusing the door-paraphernalia aisle and exclaiming in dismay over the stunning prices, we bought five “brushed antique” door levers. Two with deadbolts for the front and back entry doors, and three with thumb locks for the bedrooms and bathroom. That leaves one bedroom and one bathroom still to change out, but as I don’t use either of them very often, they can wait for their levers. If I need to get into one or the other, I’ll either grit my teeth or holler politely for assistance.

The hard part will be the actual removal of the old knobs and installation of the new levers. Mr Wren will do his best to procrastinate this unpleasant task until Hell freezes over, but I can’t wait that long. I’m going to give it a try myself today. And if I can’t do it, then perhaps Matt will come to my rescue. One way or another, I’m going to be able to open doors with my elbows if I need to before the day is out.


 It took its sweet time arriving, but early winter (such as it is) has tentatively arrived here in the California mountains. The daytime temps are just reaching the mid-50s; nights are down into the mid-30s. I realize that for most people, these temperatures are downright balmy for this time of year, so I have no right to complain. And I’m not. I like the cool weather. In fact, I live through the warm springs and sizzling summers dreaming of the chill breezes of late fall and the hard frosts of winter. Over the next three months or so we’ll have some snow – more than a little, if we’re lucky – and plenty of rain, also if we’re lucky. I know this sounds perverse to those of you who dread the cold and damp of winter because of rheuma or simply out of preference. But along with the fact that California’s well into its Third Official Year of drought conditions (more like five years, if you ask me), I just prefer bundling up to stay warm to stripping down to stay cool. I like wearing sweaters and thick socks. I adore hot soup – the aroma as it cooks and the flavor when I eat it. I love working and playing outside in the cold so I can go inside and warm my hands and backside at the living room wood stove. I love the way snow transforms the world and the sound rain makes when it spats against windows and drums on the roof.

Yeah, I’m cracked. So what’s new?