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About the Author

Megan

Advice for Wishing

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“Every Thing You Ever Wanted!”, 9″x12″ mixed media collage by Megan Sukys

When my son was six years old, I got home from work at his bedtime. We would take a few minutes in the dark of his room to talk over our days.

One evening he told me he imagined his closet was a magic closet that granted his wishes.

“What do you wish for?” I asked.

“I usually wish for lots and lots of money to come out.”

“What would you use the money to buy?”

“A Go-Kart!” (He was obsessed with Speed Racer.)

“Then why not just wish for a Go-Kart? It would save you considerable time and effort in trying to locate a dealer. And even if you found someone willing to sell you one, you might run into trouble trying to negotiate a good price as a kindergartener.”

He told me he thought the money would give him the ability to get whatever he wanted, in case he changed his mind about the Go-Kart. I pointed out that he was already in the realm of pure fantasy with his magic closet. Wishing for money just set up an unnecessary middle step to achieving his dreams.

I asked my son what he wanted to do with the Go-Kart. He said, “Go real fast!” I suggested he could get that wish fulfilled much easier than having to deal with the hassle of a vehicle purchase, licensing, storage, taxes, and maintenance.

At the time, there was a Go-Kart track near our house. He was still too little to drive one by himself, but he could ride with his dad. I offered that if he slightly modified his wish – to name the experience he wanted rather than the object he thought was necessary to achieve it – his wish might come true.

It took more than a year for us to arrange, but he eventually found himself speeding in circles through clouds of diesel smoke, inches above the asphalt. His father didn’t hesitate to drive with the reckless abandon young kids crave. My son’s magic closet worked!

Money is only one way to acquire products, services, or experiences. When we wish for money, we are longing for the power to get what we want. That can knock us off course as we pour energy into securing the means to the end, instead of clearly identifying the true nature of our heart’s desire.

One thing I love about talking with kids is that the advice I give them inevitably applies to me as well. I don’t think I could have come to this realization on my own. But, ever since then, when I find myself fantasizing about money I stop and ask myself, “What is it I really want?”

Our dreams are closer than we imagine.

Here Be Dragons

ART: Britton Sukys

 

On Washington State’s Peninsula, nestled deep in the Olympic National Park, the Sol Duc Hot Springs tempted me with warm waters and a fantastic origin story. An online blurb said:

Native American legend tells how the springs were created by dragons.

“Once there were two dragons. One lived in the Sol Duc Valley and the other lived in the Elwha Valley. Neither dragon knew of the other’s existence. One day they were both out exploring the forest when they came face to face on top of the ridge separating the Elwha and Sol Duc Valleys. They exploded with anger as each accused the other of invading its territory.

“The fight was brutal as the dragons thrashed and ripped at each other to win back their territory. After years of fighting and clawing at each other, they grew frustrated. Their strength was evenly matched and neither could win. The dragons both admitted defeat and crawled back to caves in their respective valleys and are still crying over being defeated. The dragons’ hot tears are the source of the hot springs in the Elwha and Sol Duc Valleys.”

I read this back in August, while we were on our annual family vacation to the Olympic Peninsula, and I decided we had to go there. Dragons are kind of our thing.

During our first visit to the Hoh River Valley, we started playing Dungeons & Dragons together.

ART: Britton Sukys

Fantasy plays a central role in the way we talk about the world with our kids.

03-07-14 Mommy Fantasy
My mother and my son’s 3rd grade art

I once suspected a dragon was responsible for a problem under our basement.

ART: Britton Sukys

My husband even summoned a dragon to watch over the alley retaining wall behind our house.

ART: Britton Sukys

The thought of bathing in dragon tears was irresistible to my overactive imagination.With a legend like that, it had to be a magic place. Surely, the waters would grant me some powerful vision.

As we drove to the Sol Duc Resort, I imagined there would be dragon relics everywhere. In my mind, I saw myself discovering a portal to the primordial wisdom of the forest.

We paid the $25 entrance fee to the National Park and another $48 for day passes to the pools, and I mentally budgeted for the dragon T-shirts and traditional dragon art I was sure would be in the gift shop. I wanted to document whatever epiphany I received.

But when I got there, I found nothing about the legend. In fact, I couldn’t find any information on the local tribes. I did find that lunch for four at the snack bar cost $78. Without any beer.

Despite the lack of dragon souvenirs, historic documentation, or a frosty mug, the hot spring pools still enchanted me with their heat and lingering scent of rotten eggs.

Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, PHOTO: Britton Sukys

Soaking in the sulfur, I wondered about the deeper meaning of the legend. Stories, especially ancient myths, speak on many levels. Bathing in dragon tears, shed after bitter, endless battles, seemed like a powerful metaphor for dealing with an unwinnable feud.

The forest hot springs are now channeled into chlorinated, cement pools surrounded by a tall fence. The local tribes were forced off the land many years ago. I could only imagine how the original residents made use of the natural springs.

It occurred to me that the steaming, stinky waters and their accompanying legend may have been a way to cook out the inevitable violent frustration that comes with uneasy truces. Drown your hot rage, sacrifice it to the fantastic beast that also couldn’t vanquish those deplorable neighbors.

After further poaching in the pools, though, I began to think instead that the hot springs percolated warriors for another defense of sacred territory. Absorb the dragon’s rage and strength, fight for your terrible beast’s honor.

Depending on the day and situation, I could see either interpretation as good guidance. If I wanted to hard-boil my hunch, I’d need more context. I decided to track down the source story.

Back at our cabin, I couldn’t find mention of the tale on any of the Peninsula tribes’ websites. All the online references to the legend were on tourist sites and they all circled back on themselves. There were plenty of dragon tears hits, but I couldn’t find which tribe first shared the story – or to whom.

Something smelled fishy. The purported legend started to reek of marketing gimmick. I knew better than to seek enlightenment from a clever commercial.

***

Don’t be fooled by the vast forests and languid mists of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s not a serene wilderness. Much like the Elwha and Sol Duc dragons, people have been battling for control of its rich landscape for centuries. Since the 1880’s, Native tribes, non-Native settlers, tourists, timber companies, and the U.S. military have staked claims to it.

When we first drove along Highway 101 out to the most Northwest point of the contiguous United States, it looked like a 1960’s travel postcard. The overexposed light, the blankets of evergreens, and the isolation made it seem frozen in time.

Then I passed the lumber company clear cuts and ramshackle homesteader sites with crudely lettered signs protesting federal land grabs. The remote tribal reservations, clinging to the coastline, vulnerable to rising ocean waters, were a mix of extreme poverty and fierce cultural preservation. The illusion of the Olympic Peninsula as a pristine sanctuary dissolved.

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Clearcut on Highway 101, PHOTO: Megan Sukys

radio story I edited back in 2009 first drew me to the Peninsula. The self-proclaimed “Sound Tracker” Gordon Hempton determined that deep in the Hoh Rain Forest he found the quietest One Square Inch in America.

I live on a busy city street, near a major Air Force/Army base, up the hill from train tracks and a shipping port. Noise is my life. So, I took my family out there to discover the balm of silence. For a few years we were heard the world as our ancestors did.

The serenity didn’t last. Recently, Navy Growler jets drowned out the frogs with sonic booms. The U.S. Forest Service granted “permission to the Navy to route its Boeing EA-18G Growler jets over Olympic National Park on electronic-warfare training exercises”. (Seattle Times, 4/17/16)

We listened to the jets fly for an hour at a time, twice a day. Then, we inhaled the peace that returned once the jets went back to their hangars.

While I searched the internet for the dragons of legend at my remote woodland vacation rental, the real-life, roaring, fire-breathing beasts of today flew circles overhead. My cursory Google inquiries only yielded dead ends, so I promised myself I’d do deeper research back at home.

***

With my magical Sol Duc dragon fantasy under review, and hoping to distract us from the military maneuvers overhead, I started reading “The Buried Giant” out loud to my husband. My mother-in-law gave it to me as a birthday present, and I knew very little about the plot when I started it.

I had to use my outside voice to be louder than Navy Growlers, but we were still drawn into Kazuo Ishiguro’s take on post-Arthurian Britain. It’s a story of a living under a fragile truce between deeply divided cultures. In the wake of wars between the Britons and the Saxons, Ishiguro follows an elderly couple searching for their estranged son through a mysterious mist causing amnesia across the land.

My husband and I noted the coincidence of the novel telling another story about territory disputes. Then we reached the part of the book where Ishiguro reveals the source of the mist. A creature named Querig. A dragon. We upgraded the coincidence to synchronicity.

ART: Britton Sukys

I reserved our cabin in the woods for six nights, but just before midnight on the fifth night Navy jets began nonstop exercises. The Growlers screeched across the sky for five minutes, then circled to the other side of Mt. Olympus, giving us five minutes of quiet, and then came howling back into our airspace. I didn’t sleep at all.

The maneuvers continued into the morning and stretched past noon. Five minutes of sonic shrieking, five tense minutes waiting for the war machines to return. Finally, I admitted defeat and packed the car to leave early, returning to my urban cave to cry hot tears over the money I spent on a rental I couldn’t use.

Back in Tacoma, I finished reading “The Buried Giant” and all of its resonant themes of mutually assured destruction, military occupation, wounds that won’t heal, cultural divides, and the challenge of forgiveness. Ishiguro’s dragon was not the same as the Sol Duc dragon, or the Navy Growlers, but they all told the same story. Beasts of battle die hard.

***

I expected that my further investigation into the Sol Duc dragon legend would reveal it as a modern fabrication. But, like all my other expectations, this turned out to be wrong.

I contacted the Olympic National Park, the Burke Museum, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and the Quileute Nation. They were all incredibly helpful.

I found that the story being used by the National Park was originally in the book “Gods & Goblins” by Smitty Parratt. Smitty grew up with a National Park Ranger for a father. Smitty went on to work with the National Park Service himself. The dragon legend was one of many stories he catalogued from the Olympic National Park. However, Smitty wasn’t a tribal source. He re-told the story as he heard it.

Then, the Quileute Nation helped put me in touch with Larry Burtness, the tribe’s grant writer and planner. He sent me this link to a Quileute account of the Sol Duc legend by Chris Morganroth III. There I found the same story of evenly matched opponents and hot tears, but the beasts were not called dragons, just monsters.

And then, Larry put me in touch with Jay Powell, an anthropologist who, along with his partner Vickie Jensen, has helped preserve many of the languages, stories, and traditions of Washington and British Columbia tribe. Jay sent me this account, as told by Hal George. Hal’s telling gave me a much richer description of the weeping creatures beneath the hot springs:

Both monsters were fierce, like martens, and strong and wiry and real smart because they were old. They had big mouths full of teeth as big as a man and sharp toenails. And their breath was like a hot wind that could burn you if you stood close, and they cooked their meat by just blowing on it. They were real big; when they walk through the woods you can see their heads and backs above the trees. When they fight they whip their tails on this side and on this (other) side and roll around. Their tails break off trees. And when they roll they flatten the trees they roll over. And sometimes the hard breathin’ sets the woods on fire around the battlefield. So that’s why nothin’ grows on Boulder Peak.

Well, then. Those two monsters are just covered with scars. They have scars all over their bodies from fightin’ because they have been meetin’ to fight for a lon’ time. They have big scars where their skin was ripped and tore. Every time they fight, they fight until they are bloody and tired, all bit, bones broke, skin ripped and burned. They have scars on top of scars.

But, they are even matched so one of them can never kill the other one. Neither one can kill the other one. We say they have ¶ibiti taxîlit, real stron’ spirit power. If you are a good warrior, you need that power. Neither one can kill the other. But they cause real bad injuries to each other every time they fight. Often them fights went on all day until night and it got dark. Then, they stop and roar. Both of them roar and roar and sing a victory song. The Quileute monster sang his song: “¶ip•ll• abi/ ¶ib•ti ti/l. ¶qpitilawli. Ahii. Ahiii. ‘A’a’aaaa. (four times) He’s talkin’ about havin’ a strong power and that’s why he is always winnin’. The Elwha monster sings, too. And then they roar some more and go home. They go to their cave.

These were my dragons! Mouths full of teeth, huge tails, breath to ignite the forest, and “real stron’ spirit power”. And there was the message to the warriors, “If you are a good warrior, you need that power.” Spirit power.

This documentation of the story titles it “The Border Monsters”. Jay Powell says that this tale takes place, “in the liminal region of peaks and rain-forest riverine headwaters where Elwha and Quileute territories come together”. The world liminal jumped out at me.

Liminal” is used in anthropology, medicine, and literature. It refers to that confusing, slippery space of transformation between an old way and a new way. Terrible things can happen when we leave known territory and venture into wilderness. But, moving through that space is the only way to achieve lasting change.

In the 16th century, liminal space on a map was noted with the phrase, “Here be dragons“.

***

The idea of dragons as threshold guardians resonated. They have held that job in stories around the world, including Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant”. But, border monsters didn’t set my imagination running. Soaking in their tears did.

I set up a makeshift hot spring in my tub at home, adding epsom salts, leaving out old eggs, and stewed on the matter. Wading deep into the realm of metaphor, I remembered that the phrase “take a bath” can also mean losing big on a major investment. Certainly, not being able to vanquish a perceived threat can feel like going broke.

In the Sol Duc legend as told by Hal George, though, “both of them roar and roar and sing a victory song”. The Quileute monster sings about having a strong power and “that’s why he is always winnin’. The Elwha monster sings, too.”

It’s only once the monsters go home from the fruitless battle that they move a rock over their holes, lick their wounds, and cry. “They cry and cry because they are hurt bad.”

The description of the monsters sounded a lot like what I know as dragons, but the Quileute don’t use that word. According to Hal George, the Sol Duc dragon was named “the monster who cries in the woods”. It wasn’t named, “the monster who lost”, or even “the monster who sets the woods on fire”. The monster was known for the sorrow it feels that its perceived enemy was so evenly matched.

***

As preface to the Sol Duc legend, Hal George tells how the mythic Quileute hero Q’wati, called “The Transformer” in English, established the border between the Elwha and the Quileute. Q’wati piled up boulders at the boundary because the two tribes fought over territory “until Stormking Mountain had enough of it and tore off a big stone from his head. He threw it down and killed the warriors…” That’s how Lake Crescent came to be.

Mount Storm King over Lake Crescent, WA PHOTO: Wikipedia

The dragons of the legend guard a border meant to keep human battles from fracturing the earth itself.

***

Stories, especially ancient myths, speak on many levels. They also speak different lessons to each person, depending on what the person needs to know.

The Sol Duc legend tells me that if I want to venture beyond the boundaries that fence me in, I will have to face the dragon at the divide. I cannot expect to defeat that dragon, not even if I have a dragon of my own.

Unable to eliminate my foe, I can soak my head in the sorrow of my limitations. But if I go too deep into those bitter tears, I could drown in despair. Or, I could steep myself for another painful, fruitless fight. Either way, those waters stink.

Instead, I’m going to let those tears wash away my fiery rage, a rage so powerful it could burn up the very land that nurtures me. If defeat is impossible, for either side, then I’ll make sure to wear only my human form, and to pack my real stron’ spirit power, as I venture once more into the liminal space that promises true transformation.

Megan’s 3-Step Method for Getting Things Done

Megan's 3-Step-Method

  1. Decide what needs to be done.
  2. Figure out how to get it done.
  3. Do it.

This method is pure gold. If I follow the steps, in order, things get done. If I find myself freaking out over not getting things done, it’s always because I skipped a step.

Perhaps the most common mistake I make is to jump to Step 3 before I think about Step 1. Often, I lose momentum at Step 2. (Right now, I’m avoiding Step 3 for something that’s closing in on deadline.) But, once I double-check my Method, it’s a simple matter of going back and taking it step by step.

For a long time I kept this formula all to myself, even considering a patent for it. Seeing how often things don’t get done, I thought for sure it would be worth money.

One day, though, in the middle of a tough work meeting, I offered to share my super secret process with my boss. When I told him, he laughed. My method wasn’t as marvelous as I supposed.

Since then, I’ve revealed my 3 steps to other people and received the same response. (The only other wisdom of mine that gets even more amused reactions is when I confide that I think, “This internet thing is big.”) It’s enough to make me doubt my highly effective strategy.

Despite the dismissals of others, I follow this method whenever I want to Get Things Done. Send out a business proposal? Start at 1 and keep going. Plan a major event? Just a 1-2-3 till it’s showtime. Clean the House? It’s only 3 Steps away! My method has never failed, so long as I complete every step, in order.

Because I believe so deeply about truth in advertising, I must admit that adhering to the method is not always possible. If the plan depends on agreement from large groups of people, kids, pets, weather, or politicians, among other things, you may never get past Step 1. If accomplishing your goal requires changes to the laws of physics, the involvement of superheroes, or a time machine, among other things, you could get stuck at Step 2 for the rest of your life. If doing your thing takes more time, money, passion, or voter turnout, among other things, than you can ever make happen, Step 3 can be an insurmountable obstacle.

That said, being able to diagnose why I can’t Get Things Done is a balm to my frustrated soul. If I identify that my 3-Step Method is thwarted, then I can turn to another surprisingly simple, yet effective 3-Step approach, The Serenity Prayer:

  1. ***, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  2. Courage to change the things I can,
  3. and Wisdom to know the difference.

Traditionally, *** is where one says, “God”. My faith ebbs and flows and sometimes changes Streams of Consciousness. For me, this invocation is most effective if I fill in *** with the name my heart calls out at the moment, “Jesus”, “Universe”, “Goddess”, “Great Spirit”, “Santa Claus”, and in times when I don’t believe in anything anymore, “Brain”.

Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, is credited with writing that prayer. Although I agree with him on some things, I don’t on everything. Looking at his opinions about Getting Things Done in America in the 20th century, I can’t say I’d ever get past Step 2 of my Method with him. That’s where his Prayer comes in handy.

One thing Niebuhr didn’t do was patent his Prayer. For that, I am grateful. I’d owe him a lot of money if he had.

Another thing he didn’t do was to keep his insights all to himself. For that, I am also grateful – whether I agree with it all or not.

Life isn’t as straightforward as my 3-Step Method. Learning from the successes and failures, big ideas and bad decisions of people from all walks of life has helped me avoid some mistakes, and soothe the pain when I’ve fallen awkwardly.

With that in mind, Megan’s 3-Step Method for Getting Things Done is my gift to you.

But wait! There’s more.

For reading all the way to the end of this post, which is payment enough on the Short Attention Span Internet (this thing is big), I give you the awareness that your wisdom, no matter how simple or obvious, is also valuable. You don’t need anyone’s permission to share it.

 

The Mother of All Jobs

photo by Britton Sukys
photo by Britton Sukys

 

“Not everyone has to become a mother, Megan. The world also needs good aunties.” If I could remember what prompted my mother to tell me that when I was a teenager, I might not harbor this suspicion that she thought I’d make a lousy mom. That, in turn, might make me feel a little less like a lousy mom.
Then again, I may just be a lousy mom.

***

My mother died before I had children. In her final years, she continued to downplay the importance of parenthood. “You really don’t have to have kids, Megan. It’s okay to focus on your career. You don’t have to try to do both.” I lived three-thousand miles away from her at the time, but we had money problems in common. She could barely afford to stay in an apartment and cover medical care with her disability payments. My husband and I were under a mountain of debt, barely making minimum payments and rent with our entry-level salaries. Her reassurances were a relief.

Less than a year after she died, though, I was pregnant. It seemed like an act of rebellion. “I’ll show her. I WILL do both. And I’ll like it!” Giving up my career was never an option. I might disregard my mother’s advice on kids, but her lessons about making a living were sacrosanct.

***

When I was in junior high I’d sit at the table with my mother every day after school. We’d drink ice tea and she’d lecture me about the importance of getting a college degree, earning my own money, never relying on a man, learning what it took to succeed in an industry and then doing whatever that was with passionate intensity.

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My mother would point out to me that it was only because she got Multiple Sclerosis that she was at home. “If I hadn’t gotten sick, I’d certainly still be working.” Before she had to take disability retirement, she earned her Masters in Education and considered moving from teaching into school administration to improve remedial instruction.

She fondly recalled the brief time when she worked and my father kept house, back when they lived in Chapel Hill and only had one child, just before I was born. “You know, that was the perfect situation for us. He was so good at homemaking, and I loved having a career.”

My mother in Chapel Hill, before I was born.
My mother in Chapel Hill, before I was born.

 

But then I was born, my father took a job at his father’s mattress plant, we moved to Hope Mills, and my mother was diagnosed with MS the first week in the new house. To her, the correlation implied causation. To me, it was a cautionary tale.

I concluded that all of the other factors that contributed to our family’s crises – my father’s bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and hereditary depression, my mother’s chronic, degenerative disease, the socio-economic shifts during the 80’s and 90’s – could have been avoided with better employment decisions. Specifically, NEVER LEAVE A CAREER FOR FAMILY.

Family is unreliable, marriage is vulnerable, love is blind, but a career gives you freedom. I hard-wired that into my brain and made professional success my priority.

At the start of my senior year in college, my boyfriend broke up with me, accusing me of wanting to trap him into a traditional married life. He thought I wanted him to work and take care of me so I could have babies. He said I’d stop him from pursuing his dreams.

Ending the relationship hurt me deeply for many months, but that accusation burned me for decades. There was no greater insult than to say I might be willing to just be a mom. I had dreams too, and they didn’t include staying at home with kids.

***

I went back to work full-time when my son was eight weeks old. After my daughter was born, I started working from home only four weeks postpartum. My husband cut down to part-time work: three days a week with the first baby, then just one day a week when I was pregnant the second time. He assumed the primary parent role so I could hold on to my career. I became the breadwinner.

Our situation echoed my mother’s best times. According to my teenage judgement, I should have been as happy as my mother remembered she was before I was born.

I wasn’t happy.
I also wasn’t healthy.

Even though I put my job first, the factors that contributed to my family’s crises still affected me. Professional success did not rewrite DNA nor avert socio-economic shifts.

Not only did I have less and less time to see my kids, the stresses of my job drained all my emotional capacity. I couldn’t offer them any support through the daily challenges of growing up. I couldn’t even offer my husband much. And no matter what, I didn’t have anything left over to take care of myself.

I started to crack. Then, I cracked. A debacle to call my own.

As much as I wanted to fulfill the dreams of my fourteen-year old self, and as much as I respected my mother’s experience, life didn’t turn out the way I planned. I broke up with my career. My husband went back to work full-time. I started part-time consulting. Our family budget took a huge hit, and our lifestyle is exactly what I feared most as a senior in college.

Ever since then I’ve had time to sit down at the table by myself, with a glass of ice tea, and re-examine what my mother told me. I am now the same age she was when she imprinted the primacy of a professional life. Rather than seeing her as an irrefutable authority – and she had an amazing authority about her – I have tried to see her as a fellow mom, as a peer.

photo by Britton Sukys
photo by Britton Sukys

 

My mother raised three girls while slowly losing the use of her body. She counseled us through school work, boyfriends, frenemies, lousy jobs, cruel teachers, car crashes, and most notably, our father. Despite his long decline, the drunken insults, the DUIs, the embarrassing public displays, the inconvenient absences, she believed in his better nature and told us not to hate him because it would only be hating ourselves.

I can clearly remember countless days of talking with her for hours. In my memories, I’m in a parade of different hairstyles, fashions from halter tops to floral dresses to vests and then overalls. And always, my mother is there, listening, asking questions, offering advice.

There was no way for her to know what I needed to do to have a secure future. She didn’t even know how to secure her own future. In fact, she didn’t know a lot of things. She didn’t know that I might marry a man very different than my father. She didn’t know that a good job is still no guarantee. She didn’t know that I’d take one thing she said one afternoon and try to build my whole life around it.

Most importantly, my mother had no idea what kind of a mother I might be. I know this because I have no clue how my kids will turn out. I’m still surprised they made it out of diapers. I dispense wisdom and warnings in equal measure, hoping that the right things will stick so they’ll make the best decision they can when they’re all on their own. Only now can I see that that’s what she did as well.

As a child, I listened to her words. As a mother, I look at her actions. Rather than saying the perfect thing or accurately predicting any future, her greatest gift was showing up day after day. If I still followed all of her advice, I’d be wearing patterned sweaters, oversize glasses, and have a smart, short haircut. If I follow her example, though, I give my kids my time.

Mothering is in the minutes.

***

I think my mother was right that not everyone has to be a mom (or dad). The world does need good aunties (and unkies) because kids require a tremendous amount of guidance and support. But whether or not my mom thought I might be good at it, I can’t back out of motherhood now. I have two kids and if I’m lousy the only thing I can do is try to get better.

That’s where all those years of institutional indoctrination and management training might help me gauge if I truly am a lousy mom. I need a personal performance review.

Since a performance review is based on a job description, I wrote one for myself. I put down what I think I’m supposed to be doing – not what I want to be doing or what I think would be ideal. My hope was to capture any illusions and unrealistic expectations as well as the daily tasks I expect of myself right now.

***

JOB TITLE: Queen Megan

Reports to: The Higher Power
Colleague: Captain Britton
Supervises: Young Padawans

Work Hours: All of The Hours

PURPOSE: This position manages the physical, emotional, and spiritual development of the family which is defined as the four humans and three cats currently living Chez Sukys, Tacoma, WA.

DUTIES:

  • Physical Needs
    • NUTRITION: Provides food eating routines consistent with a healthy body, community, and planet.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: grocery shopping, meal planning, meal preparation, school lunches, Receiving Complaints
    • SANITATION: Develops and maintains routines which inhibit noxious germs, odors, and clutter on people, in rooms, in the yard, and in cars.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: dishes, laundry, garbage, recycling, compost, kitty litter, floor, dusting, pest control, disinfection, bathrooms, windows, filing, organization, winnowing, gardening, car maintenence, showers/baths, haircuts, handwashing, medicine cabinet, veterinary, doctor and dentist appointments, Lectures on the Black Plague
    • SUPPLIES: Evaluates and maintains stocks of necessary possessions.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: food, cleaning supplies, clothes, shoes, school and office supplies, art supplies, games, entertainment, catnip, incense, cars, household items,  gifts, tools, luggage, garden supplies, bath products, appliances, Saying No
    • ENRICHMENT: Researches and schedules opportunities to enjoy and learn through physical, mental, and artistic experiences.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: after-school clubs and sports, summer camps, family vacations, educational opportunities, screen time, library, home improvements, dining out, babysitting and child care, parties, playdates, movies, bikes, watching baseball, Judge of What’s Funny
    • BUDGET: Creates and maintains resources to accommodate all needs and duties.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: contract consulting work, financial software, taxes, reconciling accounts: checking/savings/retirement, insurance: health/car/life, loans, budgeting, allowances, charity, debt collection, low balance warnings, Uncomfortable Family Finance Meetings
  •  Emotional Needs
    • SELF: Assesses and provides the care and treatment necessary to maintain a loving, compassionate, Cosmic view self and this incarnation.
    • COLLEAGUE: Communicates with and supports Captain Britton to maintain a loving, compassionate, cooperative, creative, Cosmic, sensual partnership and parenthood.
    • PADAWANS: Communicates with and nurtures children to help them recognize their unique needs and personalities, assists them in creating routines for self-care to maintain loving and compassionate Cosmic views of themselves in this incarnation, offers love, compassion and personal Cosmic views where they need it, allows them room to also practice their routines of self-care.
    • EXTENDED FAMILY: Maintains relationships, knowledge and communication with family members outside the house, as well as ancestors, to share and understand the care and treatment necessary to maintain a loving, compassionate, Cosmic view of self and this incarnation.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: journaling, napping, sleep schedules, eating schedules, meditation, yoga, books, storytelling, family photos, character analysis, videos, letters, cards, ancestry, dates, holiday celebrations, visits, music, artistic expression, hugs, kisses, tickles, Apologies 
  • Spiritual Needs
    • SELF: Develops and maintains daily routines to connect to the timeless, Cosmic view and applies any lessons to daily activities.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: journaling, meditation, research, classes, reading, rituals, oracles, retreats, fellowship, Being Alone
    • FAMILY: Shares insights and lessons from self-spiritual path when appropriate, encourages others to find their own connection to the timeless, Cosmic view. Listens and dialogues about others’ questions and insights, learns from others’ unique perspectives, offers fellowship and participation in spiritual seeking.
      • RESPONSIBILITIES: listening, inquiring, storytelling, artistic expression, rituals, wilderness trips, Fielding Questions about Santa and the Tooth Fairy
  • Continued Development: Recognizes that all listed duties are subject to change at any moment without notice, accepts continual evolution of physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies within the family, adapts assignments and delegates tasks as soon as possible, maintains health and energy reserves to handle any and all eventualities, including the ones that cause insomnia.
    • IMMINENT CHANGES: puberty, menopause, male-pattern baldness

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Superior Communication Skills
  • Compassion
  • Humility
  • Ability to Clean Up Bodily Waste from Humans and Animals
  • Situational Focus
  • Internet Security
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Negotatiation
  • Selective Memory
  • Logic and Debate
  • Semantics
  • Photography
  • Eyes in Back of Head
  • Interrogation Techniques
  • Search and Rescue
  • Karaoke
  • Love

Death Star Public Radio

11-14-15-Princess-Points2

“Star Wars: A New Hope” premiered when I was four years old, and I blame the blockbuster for warping my expectations for my career. I wasn’t even aware of the power the story held for me until I got my first public radio job back in 1998.

Below is a loving homage to the epic, with support from John William’s genius soundtrack, about what happened when my path crossed a media Empire in the place I least expected it. There is no written version, as is only fitting for a story about radio.

ART: Britton Sukys

ENGINEERING & EDITING SUPPORT: Britton Sukys

11-14-15Death-Star-Radio

An Inventory Of My Mother’s Recipe Box

06-26-15 Recipe Box-1

My drawer of plastic storage containers recently reached maximum capacity and I had to make some hard decisions about what to toss. After I matched tops and bottoms, separated the Rubbermaid from the Tupperware, and accepted that I would never use the pastel bunny-face popsicle molds, I discovered a slightly rusty metal box with a hinged lid. My mother’s recipe holder.

This box lived in the drawer beneath our wall oven at my childhood home, along with all my mom’s cookbooks. When she moved out and got rid of most everything, I kept the box for sentimental reasons. I can’t remember my mother ever using the box when she cooked. In fact, I can barely remember her cooking.

Due to her declining health from Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.), family meals disappeared by the time I reached puberty. However, I learned to cook early, thanks to her encouragement – and benign neglect of my kitchen experiments.

Southern Living, Betty Crocker, and the Amana Touchmatic II Radarange Microwave Oven Cook Book were my early cooking instructors. On my own I figured out how to dispose of the evidence: muffins like hockey pucks, briquette brownies, and a confusing puddle of sugar syrup that was supposed to be microwave taffy.

My fondest memories in the kitchen are all at my grandmother’s house. At home, I blazed a solo trail of culinary inquiry because even before M.S. made cooking impossible for her my mother had a tenuous relationship with food.

She told me about starving herself all day in high school so she could have a plate of French Fries and a coke after class and still stay skinny. Smoking was a great way to stay thin, but she said she never liked it enough to keep going. She blamed growing up during World War II for malnutrition and told me that was probably why she had such bird bones. Indeed, old photos and dresses show that she didn’t eat much.

Mommy Bathing Suit

(This is not a physical trait I share with my mom. I couldn’t fit into her wedding dress when I was eight years old.)

Back when she did cook for the family, my mom’s rotation included lemon chicken, beef-and-rice, and liver-and-onions. I vividly recall her attempt at stuffing a whole head of cabbage. It freaked me out because it looked like a brain stewing on the stove.

My mother’s taste in food always seemed odd to me. She liked peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, crystallized ginger straight from the container, and liver-and-onions. If I ever wanted to give her a food gift, I’d just think about the last thing I’d ever want to eat and get her that.

The tin box of recipe cards, dishes my mother made a point of remembering, sat under the spare ice trays at the very back of my storage drawer. It escaped the trash can in past years because I promised myself I would find a recipe I liked and think of my mother as I made it. As long as I didn’t open the box, I imagined there was some wonderful meal with the aroma of her loving memory.

This time, the tin box couldn’t deflect my organization zeal with a nostalgic fantasy. A husband, a son, and a daughter all need copious containers to fill their lunch sacks. Storage in my kitchen is a high stakes Tetris game, and I can fit an entire sandwich kit in the space those old recipes occupy.

To purge any sentimentality, I took a calculating, clinical look at the box’s contents. Below is my Recipe Inventory. All recipe names are directly from the cards.

Drinks: 4

+ Mulled Wine
+ Unnamed Punch with Apple and Cranberry Juice
+ Instant Russian Tea
made with Tang 
+ Strawberry Tea Punch
recipe printed on a Lipton Tea Bag envelope

Sauces: 2

+ Hollaidaise (sic)
handwritten card with 11 drips obscuring words
+ White Sauce
handwritten card with 1 large brown drip

Bread: 1

+ Quick Family Dinner Rolls
total time to prepare rolls: 2 hours

Salads: 6

+ Congealed Salad
ingredients include orange Jell-O
+ Blueberry Salad
ingredients include Blackberry jello {A&P} (sic)
+ Fruit Cocktail ‘N Cottage Cheese Salad
recipe cut from a label of a Libby’s Fruit Cocktail in heavy syrup
ingredients include lime-flavored gelatin
+ Strawberry & Banana Salad
ingredients include 3 pks. strawberry & banana jello
+ Salad
ingredients include Marshmallows, crushed pineapple, mayonnaise, and lime Jello
+ Shrimp-and-Rice Salad Ring
ingredients include shrimp, green onions, rice, broth, mayonnaise, red food coloring, heavy cream, and gelatin

Casseroles: 8

+ Apple-Banana Casserole
+ Hamburger Casserole
+ Ham and Rice Casserole
+ Broccoli Casserole
handwritten
+ Broccoli Casserole
exact same recipe as above, but in a different handwriting
+ unnamed cornbread dressing casserole
+ Seven Seas Casserole
recipe cut from a box of Minute Rice
ingredients include 1 can tuna, condensed cream of celery soup, and cooked peas
+ unnamed chicken casserole
typed
ingredients include 4 chicken breasts, cream of mushroom soup, chipped beef, bacon, and sour cream
+ unnamed chicken casserole
handwritten written on back of State Employee’s Credit Union withdrawal slip
also written on slip is the number of someone named Dave

Dips: 2

+ Tomato Dip
+ CAL-O-RRIFIC DIP
recipe cut from a box of Wheat Thins Crackers

Spreads: 1

+ Beef Spread
ingredients include Smoked Chopped Beef, cream cheese, mayonnaise, sherry, and olives

Party Mix: 1

+ Toasted Party Mix
recipe cut from a magazine ad for Cheerios

Chicken Dishes: 7

+ Chicken Diable (sic)
+ Hungarian Chicken
handwritten on Tiki stationery, not my mother’s handwriting
+ Hungary
handwritten in my mother’s handwriting
+ Chicken Tahitian
+ Chicken Kiev
written on PARKS BUILDING SUPPLY COMPANY note paper
+ Boned Chicken Stuffed with Wild Rice Dressing
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish
recipe cut from newspaper
headline above recipe: “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”

Beef Dishes: 13

+ Teriyaki Steak (Island Favorite from Japan)
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Braised Short Ribs of Beef for a Crowd
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Grenadin of Beef Tenderloin
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Filet Steak Diane
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Chuckwagon Beef on a Skewer
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Beef Burger Barbecue
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Marinated Steaks
recipe cut from newspaper
+ 30 Second Pan Fried Steak
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Steak San Marco
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef and Rice
handwritten
+ NGO YuK Fan Kay (Beef Tomato)
handwritten
+ Ris de Veau Braised au Jus
recipe cut from a magazine

Specialty Dishes: 10

+ Egg Fried Rice
+ Shrimp Eloise
+ Asparagus Venetian
+ Fondue for Every Taste
recipe page cut from TV Guide, October 7, 1971
includes recipes for Cheese Fondue, Chocolate Fondue, Fondue Bourguinonne, and Fondue Orientale (made with only chicken broth and white wine)
+ Chile Rellenos
+ Taco Pie
handwritten
ingredients include canned “creasant” (sic) rolls, Fritos, burger, sour cream, american cheese, more Fritos, and “sreaded” (sic) lettuce
+ Beefy Quiche
+ Surprise Tuna Quiche
recipe cut from a magazine
last line of directions reads, “This quiche is unique in that it has its own ‘surprise’ cheese sauce.”

Sweets: 26

+ Butter-Cinnamon Delight
+ Butterballs
+ Congo Cookies
+ Marshmallow Treats
recipe cut from a Rice Krispies box
+ Cinnamon Coffee Cake
+ Glaze
made with sugar, butter, and rum
+ Icing
made with 1 can Baker’s coconut
+Quick Trick Fruitcake
recipe cut from Betty Crocker Date Bar Mix box
+ Carnation Five Minute Fudge
recipe cut from a can of Carnation milk
+ 24 Min. Chocolate Cake
+ Pillsbury Create-a-Cake Mix Recipe Booklet
+ Fresh Strawberry Pie
recipe cut from magazine ad for Cool Whip

+ Lemon Ice Box Whipped Cream Pie
+ Cherry Topped Cheese Pie
ingredients include cream cheese
+ Lemon Cheese Cake with Lemon Cheese Filling
ingredients do NOT include cheese of any kind
+ Coconut Pie
+ Candy Apples
2 copies of same recipe
+ Coca-Cola Cake
2 copies of same recipe
+ Orange Kiss-Me Cake
+ Orange Candy Cake
ingredients include a 14 oz. box of dates and 1 lb. orange candy slices
+ Carrot Cake
the only recipe she wrote her name on
+ Banana Nut Bread
+ Pineapple Nut Bread
+ Strawberry Nut Bread
handwritten in my sister’s handwriting
+ Brownies
handwritten by me, around age 10, on notebook paper
ingredients include “shorting” (sic) and “baking power” (sic)
corner of recipe page burned

 

You couldn’t pay me to prepare or eat the vast majority of these recipes. How can a person have SIX salads, all gelatin-based, and nary a one featuring lettuce? A casserole with chicken, beef, AND bacon is just pandering to the barnyard. My surprise about the Surprise Tuna Quiche is that anyone would think canned tuna and American cheese quiche would be a good idea. TV Guide simply isn’t a source I trust for fondue. Popular cuisine from the late 60’s and early 70’s just didn’t have legs, like a lot of culture from that time.

Nostalgia looks best with movie lighting, and very little analysis. Under the harsh glare of retrospect, many things that were special in the past become grotesque, outdated, and revolting. I think it’s time to let go of those wistful dreams of reliving good old days that never were.

At the same time, opening that box released a flood of laughter, and nausea, and happy memories. Each recipe took me back to church potlucks, neighborhood barbecues, family gatherings, and ordinary weekdays after school when my mother would talk with me for hours. While we didn’t have gourmet meals, we had delicious conversations and shared juicy stories about our lives.

Even if the recipes are ready to be retired from active duty, they still have value. I can use them to tell my kids about the grandmother they didn’t get a chance to know – and how lucky they are to have me in the kitchen instead.

This is why my house is cluttered. This is why I’ll never achieve the modern minimalist decor that looks so exquisitely clean and child-free in the magazines. This is why the storage drawer is always at maximum capacity. Family history is the reason I live in Dirty House Beautiful.

***

In all of the box, there is one recipe that I’ll keep in the kitchen – the one written in my sister’s handwriting.
Strawberry Nut Bread is a heroic treat.

According to my sister’s testimony, one day she pulled into the parking lot of the fabric store and saw an older woman lying on the ground, and another woman helping her get up. Then my sister noticed a man running away with a purse in his hand. So, she revved the engine on her Toyota Celica and drove after him, even jumping the curb in her little red two-seater and pursuing him down the sidewalk. The snatcher finally threw the purse back at the car’s windshield to get my sister off his tail.

My sister carried the purse back to the woman. Then, they came to discover that the victim was a close friend of my grandmother. A few days later, my sister received a fresh baked loaf of Strawberry Nut Bread, with the recipe attached, and a lovely handwritten thank you note.

I’ll save you from the Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish, even though it bears the headline, “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”. Instead, take some U-pick strawberries out of the freezer and give this a try.

06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 1 06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 2

 

Sunday School Squadron

05-25-15 F-8 Collage-1

My dad taught my Sunday School class for a brief time when I was fifteen. I wouldn’t have gone if he didn’t. He wouldn’t have gone if my mother didn’t make him. He wasn’t the Bible study type; he was in alcohol recovery for the second time, at the age of forty-five. Redemption was on the line.

The high school class never had many attendees. On the first day, when only two other students showed up, my dad took out his wallet and counted his cash. Then he pulled out his car keys and said, “How about a field trip?”

He drove us to McDonald’s. After we got pancakes and sandwiches, he sat down at the booth with a small black coffee and an aluminum ashtray. He lit a cigarette and admitted he didn’t know how to teach Sunday school. But, he knew the Bible was mostly stories to help you live your life. Since he couldn’t think of any Bible stories, he said he’d tell us a story from his life, from his days in the Navy.

My dad never talked much about life in the military. He was a Navy fighter pilot stationed in Hawaii during the Vietnam War. That sentence pretty much summed up all he ever told me. His photos shared more words.

Composite of Official Photograph U.S. Navy and My Father's Message on the Back
Composite of Official Photograph U.S. Navy and My Father’s Message on the Back

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My dad would say “Fighter Pilot” like that was all I needed to know, like that title was beginning, middle, end. Before our McDonald’s breakfast, the closest he got to sharing Navy stories was when he tried to explain the flight simulator program on our new home computer.

I ate my Egg McMuffin, elbow to elbow with my fellow fast-food acolytes, while my Dad smoked and looked in the direction of the Mayor McCheese playground with a faraway gaze. He knew how to use the dramatic pause. I wondered which amazing adventure he was going to share.

Almost everything I knew about my dad I heard from my mom. My mother talked about his service more than he did. When he wasn’t around – which was most of the time – she told me how much he loved flying, to explain his manic depression.”Once you go supersonic, how is anything else in life going to match that?”

She told me how everyone in his squadron had alcohol problems, not just my dad. “Was it the men who became pilots or what being a pilot did to the men?” The planes he flew were notoriously difficult, earning the name “ensign killer”. My mom told me a friend of my dad’s was killed during take-off from a carrier’s flight deck – the jet just flew straight into the ocean.

My mother also told me my dad never seemed to recover from the trauma of his Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (S.E.R.E.) training. It was POW training, required of all pilots. She said he came back different, that the experiences left him shaken for years. The training is what he told us about in McDonald’s.

That Sunday, he was a long way from his high flying F-8 glory days. After three years sober, he fell off the wagon a couple weeks before my sister’s wedding. He lost his job at the car dealership. He had nothing better to do than accept my mother’s Sunday School enlistment.

The thrill and honor of his piloting was the farthest thing from his mind. Instead, he remembered the pain, the fear, all the things I never heard about from him. He said he had a hard time thinking of a story he could share with kids our age, but he thought he’d tell us what changed him most during his service.

In one part of the training, my dad learned to find food in the wilderness. He told us how an officer held up a dove. My dad said it was the most beautiful bird, coo’ing softly as the officer pet its head. The officer talked about the importance of getting the most nutrition from every meal, that they should cook the whole bird body, no plucking or dressing. Then he ripped the bird’s head off and tossed the whole thing into a pot. My dad said that probably upset him more than anything that was to come.

Once they had their survival skills, his group was released in the woods and told to evade capture while crossing to a check point. He saw some soldiers just hide out, opting to wait till the training was over to emerge. Even though he tried to run, my dad said he got caught. His captors took him to a building where he was given a cigarette and a water. Then he was interrogated and a couple burly guys beat the mess out of him.

Once he was released into a cell, he found the other guys who hid out during the exercise. Evidently, they were picked up when the all-clear was given. Officers took them to a building where they were given cigarettes and water, then they were interrogated and got the mess beaten out of them.

He finally looked back at us Sunday Schoolers, across the pile of empty wrappers on the table. He said, “See? Either way, same ending. You can try to hide out, try to play it safe, but you don’t learn anything along the way. I mean, if you’re just gonna get a cigarette and a beating when it’s all over, why not try to get the most out of it you can before you get caught?”

Being only fifteen, I was still struggling to get past the dove decapitation, and the terror of imagining his training, and the brand-new awareness that my dad had an interior landscape totally foreign to me. I couldn’t begin to understand what his POW story meant to me, or even to him. I excused myself to get a refill of sweet tea.

My dad “taught” a couple more classes. Two more McDonald’s trips, but no stories. Just coffee and cigarettes and greasy biscuits. Then he told my mom he couldn’t do it anymore.

Soon after, he opened a consignment store. Then, he took up acting for the first time. My mom said it had always been a dream, but lifelong stage fright held him back. He decided he could finally face that fear.

I wish I could say that was the start of a whole new life, and a happy ending. It wasn’t. There were DUIs and mental commitments and the wild swinging of bipolar disorder still on his flight path. But, for a few more years, my dad got back into the pilot seat and took life for another spin.

Looking back, I could define my dad’s life by his failures, but I would only be cheating myself. I’m almost the same age my dad was in that McDonald’s, and I have debacles of my own.

I didn’t join the military, haven’t seen combat, I’ve avoided ever getting pummeled, and I can’t begin to understand the ways that his service during the Vietnam War affected his life. Despite his Sunday School lesson, I tried to play it safe, to hide out, to avoid getting caught. And I ended up having the proverbial mess beaten out of me all the same.

When I was fifteen, my dad’s advice to “get the most out of it you can before you get caught” seemed kind of obvious. (It’s easy to be smart before you actually learn anything.) I now see my dad’s advice is about having the courage to get back out there and play the game again. Even though you know exactly how much it’s gonna hurt at the end, and how little that affects the final outcome, you might squeeze a bit more learning out of life.

As resonant as his ‘get back out there’ message is, though, what means the most to me now is that when he was at his rock bottom it wasn’t old glories that got him through. It was the tough times. Remembering his POW lessons, that’s what gave him hope when his high flying days were over – not the promotional photographs.

That gives me hope because while I don’t have any dazzling achievements, I have plenty of painful lessons. Rather than letting those failures bury me, I might be able to use them – even if it’s just to pass on a little wisdom to kids who are still too young to use it.

Official Photo U.S. Navy
Official Photo U.S. Navy