Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Space and New Lease on Blog Life - Come Join Me

To all my readers, I must first say thank you. I know I've been neglectful of this space over the past two years, so if you're still poking around hoping for an update you're indeed a patient person.

I've decided to moth-ball this blog along with the two others I started over the years. I think I was too ambitious trying to have three separate online spaces for my personal creative writing pursuits, politics, and work. So, I've decided to lump them all into one space on my new blog. I waited a month to make the announcement and see if I would have more success in committing to just one space versus three. I'm happy to report that I am. This is also partly because Tumblr takes away the anxiety of feeling like I have to post a big, long post by offering quick post alternatives. So come join me in my new space where you'll get it all!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dad and Dating

I think I’m a pretty lucky girl to have a dad like mine. Sure, he does all the things you expect a typical dad to do, such as teaching me how to drive a car and having patience when I back it into the side of the house. Or helping me move more times than I can count, co-signing student loans without batting an eye, and coaching me through several exhaustive and expensive career changes.

And then there are the unexpected, extra special things my dad does, such as sending a care package consisting of random nuts and bolts, screwdrivers, an assortment of pens missing their caps, hot pink fuzzy dice, a can of Hamm’s beer, and a hand-written note saying:

My Dearest Vanessa,
The love a father has for his daughter is a special one. It’s high up on a shelf somewhere that can’t be touched, and any guy who comes into your life is going to have to be pretty damn special to reach that high.
All my love,
P.S. I know this care package isn’t like the ones Mom sends, but there are just some practical things people need around the house. You don’t know when you’ll need what’s in this box, but you will.

A unique relationship
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized the relationship I have with my dad is not your standard variety father-daughter bond. I can talk with him about almost anything, he’s one of my best friends, and he understands me better than almost anyone I know.

In our many conversations about life, the subject of dating and love has come up more than once. My dad’s perspective on this topic is always interesting to hear, and no matter how broken of a heart I have or how frustrated I am, I always feel better after talking with him.

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked with my dad about this subject. Mostly because my schedule is much busier than it used to be, which means we don’t get to talk as often. Then, out the blue, he emails me today with an uplifting message as if he had a sixth sense about how frustrated I’ve become with guys and the whole dating scene lately. I won’t go into those details right now, but what I will share is an exchange my father had about me with his best friend from high school.

The dating game
Yesterday I posted a link on Facebook to a blog post titled “5 things you should know before dating a journalist.” While I’m no longer a journalist, I still hold many of the same qualities. Once you’ve been in the trenches as a reporter, your outlook on life is never the same.

My dad decided to share this link with his friend whom I’ve never met, but I gather knows a great deal about me. He tells his friend the blog post does a great job in describing the type of person I am, then adds, “Which probably explains why she has had about 30 boyfriends and most of them have broke it off with her.” (Yes, I inherited my unabashed bluntness from my father, but I digress.)

This past week I’ve pondered the topic of why guys and I just don’t have staying power. The reflection came after a remark an older, wiser woman made to me at a wedding when she learned I was 30, single, and have never had a serious relationship that’s lasted longer than six months.

“I can tell you’re a girl with standards,” she said. “Perhaps, without realizing it, you’re the one pushing the guys away because you know they don’t measure up.”

The words hit me like a Mack Truck. Me? Push guys away? That’s laughable.

Then all of the sudden previous conversations with other older, wiser women in my life washed over me. I could hear echoes of the same sentiments in all of them.

With my perspective of dating completely flipped on its head, I started re-examining some of my more recent relationships. I became unsettled in the truth I was seeing. I do have standards. Pretty high standards in fact.

Not settling for second-best
In the last two years, I’ve become much more discerning about the guys I choose to date. Perhaps it’s because I’ve learned from my past, but I think a lot of it also has to do with knowing that for the first time in my life I’m ready for a long-term commitment (despite my hands trembling a bit as I type those words).

This re-examination of my dating life had been going fine, but then I started second-guessing myself thinking perhaps I might have set my standards too high. That’s until I received my dad’s email today, which included the following response from his best friend (my translations from French are in brackets).

Père [Father] Casavant,
Very entertaining — the article on dating a journalist. And well written!!
However, I would offer the following:
Daughter Vanessa had a mind of her own LOOONG before she first took up the pen of a scribe.
Her insistence in high school that she settle for nothing less than going to New York to study theater, right out of high school, took incredible courage and determination. Staying there, FOR SEVEN YEARS, once she arrived, is yet another HUGE accomplishment and testament to perseverance. Finding a way, enduring one audition after another after another and not being called back tests the ego of the best of any who make that journey. Dealing with the dining customers of New York will certainly give one an opportunity to stand one's ground — with a smile!
She has every good reason to feel good about herself. She succeeded and chose — on her terms — when to leave the city. She was not thrown out, replaced, chewed up and spat off the stage scene.
Taking that type of personal success to an occupation in which she is given the freedom to chase down "just the facts ma'am" must be an exhilarating challenge each day. Making the story factual, actual, verified and passing muster of an editor or two must be a genuine sense of "nailing it" when seen in print.
Yes, mon amie [my friend], she would try the patience of any man of thin skin and a lack of convictions. But, oh, happy is the man who is strong in his sense of self and happily, gainfully employed and can wait for Miss Vanessa!

So there you have it. My standards and I are just fine!

Miles ran: 2.5
Time: 34.08

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dear Anonymous,

Unlike you, I do not to hide behind a shroud of anonymity. I have nothing to hide. So I am addressing your attacks on my character and intelligence in a public forum.

Yes, I removed your spiteful comment from blog. It’s not because I’m unable to respond, but because you made it on a post completely unrelated to your hateful ranting.

In fact, I find it interesting you decided to attack me on a post about overcoming the physical and emotional side effects of 9/11 and the recent loss of my grandfather. In addition to being blinded by rage, you seem to also lack a certain amount of common decency.

On March 8, 2010, you wrote:
I'm posting a response here to something I saw on facebook. I don't want to reply on facebook for reasons that will become clear when you read this. I think you're a really smart girl, you know that? So smart that you realized a long time ago that you wouldn't have to actually use your brain and learn how to take part in a logical debate, because all you have to do is accuse your opponent of being racist, and (in your mind, at least) you win. As a conservative, I have plenty of ways to logically disembowel Marxism and its numerous noxious contemporary offspring without having to resort to throwing rhetorical sand in my opponent's eye. You, however, don't even make an ATTEMPT at discussion, preferring instead to draw attention from your own ignorance by pointing a finger and crying racist. Let me explain something to you- just because you loudly proclaim (to every man, woman, and child that will listen to you) that you're an Obama supporter, that doesn't magically give you the right to use the race card. Your people didn't spend hundreds of years enslaved only to spend a hundred more as second-class citizens (most of the time, at the hands of Democrats). The most "liberal" thing about you is the use of the race card, and it's not yours to use. See, I AM black. And I wasn't raised anywhere as pastoral as North Dakota. Who do you think you are? You don't know what it is to be black, and if you automatically think conservatives are racist, you're just as ignorant as the people you claim to despise. It makes me sick to see people like you USING my ancestry and the history of my family for political gains. Shame on you.
Response one
I find some of your facts in this comment to be very interesting because it means you’re a friend of mine on Facebook. I know this because my privacy settings are at the highest level, meaning only friends can see what you’re referring to in this rant.

So, not only are you a friend, but you’re a friend who is African American that didn’t grow up “anywhere as pastoral as North Dakota.” This reduces the number of people who you could actually be to a fairly small amount, which makes me suspect you aren’t who you say you are.

I am very protective of who I friend on Facebook. So, I’m fairly certain if you’re indeed someone left in this small pool of people, you wouldn’t have chosen to lambast me anonymously on a public forum such as my blog.

Also, in being my friend, you would know that your argument about my people not spending hundreds of years enslaved as second-class citizens is wildly inaccurate being that I’m Native American. So, if you want to talk oppression. Let’s talk oppression.

Crazy-pants rant kick-off
Furthermore, I believe what you’re referencing as seeing on Facebook is a heated conversation that transpired three days before your comment on my blog. That conversation, much like this one, was also started by an off-topic rant. Only that rant came from a childhood acquaintance named Justin who grew up in North Dakota and has since unfriended me.

In the pursuit of full disclosure, let’s review that heated, off-topic conversation and see the eerie similarities it has with your comments. You'll see I never once played the race card. In fact, the accuser doth protest too much, methinks.

And, for the sake of posterity, here is your most recent comment that I haven’t taken down.

On March 10, you wrote:
Hahaha! I see you removed my comment. Racist. That's typical of a lefty. You can't call me a racist because I'm black, so you quickly delete my post because you have no ammunition. ANYWAY I was having a look at your blog...Do you ever use the words "in my opinion" or "my point of view is" or anything of that sort? You seem to profess on and on as if what you're saying is gospel, without ever exploring the possibility that you're outside the extents of your knowledge.
Response two
Now who’s calling the kettle black? Also, I'd like to point out that being this is my blog and my voice, the words “in my opinion” and “my point of view is” should pretty much be a given.

So Anonymous, whoever you are, here’s your chance. Crazy-pants rant away! The world is watching.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I’m back! In more ways than one . . .

First, if anyone is still out there checking this blog for updates, thank you.

Where I've been
The demands of a new job and elected duties with the 43rd District Democrats forced me to curb my extra-curricular writing for bit. I’m happy to report though I’ve started to find a little more work/life balance. Something I’ve always failed at doing, but have now committed myself to finding.

During this time away from blogging, I’ve reflected a lot on what I want out of life. There’s nothing like a triple whammy to get the mind thinking. Last spring I was faltering professionally with a seemingly inevitable layoff, and personally in dealing my mother’s ailing health and the unexpected loss of my grandfather.

I pride myself on being a survivor with the ability to rise above when my world starts crumbling. This time things were different. The crumbling never gave way, and soon I found the fight within me being beaten to nothing more than a withering pulp on life support.

I had so much of my self-worth and identity tied to my job that the prospect of losing it made me feel like a complete failure. Combining that with the loss of one of my greatest beacons of support, my grandfather, and preparing myself for the possible loss of another with my mother, heartbreak had been redefined.

In the months leading up to my 30th birthday, I had settled into a pretty deep depression accompanied by a series of mini panic attacks. I was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed, much less out of my funk.

The only other time my emotional perseverance had been tested to this extreme was in the aftermath of 9/11. During a truth-telling reflection over beers with my best friend in Seattle, I examined this period of my life. I discovered there was one solid difference between then and now. I had running as a coping mechanism.

At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I was well on my way toward accomplishing a lifelong dream of running in a marathon. Despite putting my marathon dreams on hold so I could focus on healing, I kept running. I pounded the pavement harder than ever, escaping all my anxiety and depression through a constant rush of natural endorphins.

My pace and endurance eventually started diminishing until I got to the point where I couldn’t even run a mile without becoming completely winded. Severe asthma had set in from breathing six to eight miles a day worth of horrid air at Ground Zero.

Protecting myself from the fierce blow, I shrugged off the loss of not being able to run by telling myself I was luckier than the thousands of others who didn't survive the attacks. I refocused my life and started putting all of my energy into my career. I thought it was a healthy obsession at the time, convincing myself that as long as I was on a path toward a great career nothing else mattered. I could fail at everything else, be it personal relationships or running, and I would still be a success.

When I found myself on the verge of being without a career, reality hit like a crushing wave stinging every inch within me. I had sacrificed time with my family and given up all my personal dreams for nothing.

That’s when my friend, who helped me make this discovery, reached out and gave me a gift that would change everything. She signed me up for a class with Beth Baker of Running Evolution. It was a smart and sneaky move. I couldn’t very well return the gift, and it forced me to not give up on myself at a time when I wanted to the most.

Where I'm going
My first time back on the pavement in almost eight years was terrifying. I felt overwhelmed by how much of myself I had let go, both emotionally and physically, when I was diagnosed with asthma. In facing that fear by putting my running shoes back on, I was able to start rebuilding the fight within me.

My confidence started combing back, and so did my energy for life. Before I knew it, I was filling out job applications like crazy and recommitting myself to making family and personal time a priority.

On the day of my 30th birthday, I started the new decade of my life on a high note, quite literally. I was on a plane flying to a work conference in Washington, D.C., for a dream job as a content strategist with a federal project. More importantly, I was basking in the glow of knowing this job was just the icing on the cake for rediscovering myself, my relationship with my family, and what I wanted out of life.

Jobs will come and go, but how I live this life is what will define me.  I can only hope that by the time I am reunited with my grandfather, my gravestone will read: dedicated public servant; loving wife, mother, and grandmother; accomplished marathoner and writer.

Miles ran: 1.5
Time: 19.5 minutes

(As a side note, I’m going to end every blog post with my miles ran and time for that day to keep myself committed to my goal of running in a marathon. I’ve shaved two minutes off my MPH average since starting to run again, but I still have a lot of work to do in building my lung capacity and endurance.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

GOP hypocrisy: Video of Reagan’s 1988 address to students of America

All week I’ve been riled up about the GOP’s ignorant attacks on a speech President Barack Obama plans to give students across America tomorrow about the importance of staying in school, getting good grades, and working hard to achieve success.

Before anyone had even seen a draft of Obama’s speech, the GOP jumped back on the fast track of the Fear-Mongering Express to insight anger along partisan lines.

Members of the GOP have good reason to fear the power a president holds for indoctrinating children. They needn’t look any further than a speech the golden boy of their own party, former President Ronald Reagan, gave to students in 1988. I was one of those children forced to sit in a school gymnasium listening to the importance of “our duty to bring the values of the American Revolution to all the peoples of the world,” which Reagan defines as a rebellion against “economic restrictions, taxes, and barriers to free trade.”

Reagan’s full speech, which you can also view below, is a complete overreach and abuse of power to spread a political ideology. Of course, only being a second-grader at the time, I didn’t realize this. All I saw was a very important man, someone even more important than my teacher, the principal of my school, and my parents, telling me what my duty was. I didn’t know what the American Revolution was about, much less what economic restrictions were. All I knew is that they must be an important reason for me feeling secure and safe, and that if I wanted to continue feeling secure and safe I should never want things to change.

If Reagan’s remarks had been more like President George H.W. Bush’s speech to students in 1991, then there wouldn’t be a need to post my thoughts on this subject. However, I feel it important to point out the complete hypocrisy of the GOP on this issue.

The last thing our country needs is another division along partisan lines, and I find it completely shameful one was created that will keep American children from hearing a message they all need – stay in school, respect your teachers, and work hard to achieve your dreams.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A public servant to the very end

There is no tribute I could post or words I could write to truly encapsulate the loss our country has had in the death of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts). He wasn’t a politician. He was a public servant.

Despite serving more than 46 years in office, the third longest of any senator in the history of our country, he remained passionate and diligent to his responsibilities. He was not swayed by special interests or power, and never wavered from his commitment to fighting for the working class.

Even when facing down certain death, Kennedy put the public’s interest first. Just last week he sent a letter to key leaders of the Massachusetts legislature urging for laws governing succession of office to be changed. This was to ensure the state would not lose a vote in the upcoming showdown over health care reform after the summer recess.

My heart aches tonight in a way it hasn’t hurt since the loss of my grandfather in May. Only the sadness I feel is not of a personal nature, but of realizing the void Kennedy’s death will create. When he knew things were blatantly wrong, he didn’t hide under a smooth veneer that was politically safe. He would speak from the heart, reminding his colleagues in Congress they were there to serve the public and nothing else.

So with that, I will leave you with the greatest tribute I can think to post. Kennedy, in his own words, fighting the fight he fought best. The fight of the people.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunday’s Super Savings

With my hours at work being cut by one day a week starting in July and new job prospects slim, I’ve started putting some cost saving measures into practice.

Almost everything I’m doing to cut corners were lessons I learned during childhood when my parents were living paycheck to paycheck and raising three kids. There’s so many images forever branded to my brain of spending all day Sunday at the supermarket loading up five to six carts worth of food because it was double coupon day. Or waking up at 4 a.m. to hit the sales early for our back-to-school supplies in a town 30 miles away because the deals were better. And always guarding the mounds of clothes, toys, and household goods my mom would pile by me at rummage sales while I pilfered through the free boxes searching for hidden treasures of junk.

My mom probably doesn’t realize how much of an impression she left on me about how to make every penny stretch a mile more than it should. These of course were lessons she learned from her parents, who were farmers raising nine kids on next to nothing while having their income at the complete mercy of Mother Nature.

Never in a million years did I think I would be back to spending my weekends clipping coupons and strategically planning out my shopping trips so I could get the best bang for my buck. But with $500 less a month coming in, I don’t have much choice.

That said, I’m finding a bit of satisfaction in being frugal. It’s probably just the romantic in me thinking of it as getting a first-hand experience of what my parents and grandparents went through. I’m sure the nostalgia will wear off sooner than later, but for now, I’m going to be a bit of a braggart in how much I saved today.

After a day’s worth of coupon clipping and shopping, I ended up with a total of 64 items for $116. That’s less than $2 an item—even with the $1.50 I spent on Sunday’s paper factored into the mix.

My total savings at the end of the day came to 31 percent, meaning $52 extra in my pocket. So, what exactly did I get for less than $2 each?

Fresh Produce
  • 5 apples
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 4 cobs of corn
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 bags of salad
  • 2 mini watermelons
  • 1 bag of carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • 3 loaves of bread
  • 2 blocks of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 carton of eggs
  • 1 bag of marsh mellows
Nonperishable & Frozen Goods
  • 10 packages of Ramen noodles
  • 6 boxes of cereal
  • 6 packages of Morning Star sausages
  • 4 packages of Boca Burgers
  • 2 bags of brown rice
  • 2 packages of Morning Star crumbles
  • 1 bucket of Smart Balance
  • 1 jar of peanut better
  • 1 bottle of ketchup
  • 1 box of Hamburger Helper
Household & Pet Goods
  • 2 packages of razors
  • 1 package of paper towels
  • 1 bottle of dish soap
  • 1 box of dog treats
  • 1 post card
  • 2 shirts
Sure, I had to stop at six different stores, but they were all along the same street. Yeah, some of my stuff probably isn’t completely organic or necessarily healthy, but I’m living on a tight budget now and organic is luxury and non-healthy foods are comfort.

So there you have it. A penny saved is a penny earned. There’s still more I need to trim out of my budget, which is already as lean as it can be with $75 in reduced rent and putting all my student loans into forbearance, but I’ll figure it out. I am my mother’s daughter after all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A year ago today

Last year at this time I was waking up in North Dakota for a traditional Wheeler breakfast at my grandparents' farm--a pan of homemade caramel rolls and a selection of Grandma's jams and jellies to put on freshly made toast.

It was Grandpa's 80th birthday, and I had flown in the day before to surprise him. We ate our breakfast while talking about the upcoming presidential election. Of all the people I have talked politics with in my life, and there's a lot, my conversations with Grandpa were the ones I always enjoyed the most. He was a steadfast catholic and dedicated farmer who lived almost his entire life on the rural plains of a sparsely populated state.

Grandpa was also an ardent Democrat, but a man who'd only vote for the person he thought could do the job regardless of party lines. It was still early in the election cycle, and Grandpa and I had already made up our minds Obama was the man for the job--much to the dismay of many in our family.

While Grandma washed dishes, Grandpa and I got so busy gabbing about politics we didn't notice her trying to join our conversation. She finally walked over to the table with dish towel in hand and said, just on the verge of yelling, "That's enough talking. It's my turn to say something."

Grandpa and I looked up from our cups of coffee and caramel rolls surprised.

"Well Ma. You have the floor. Speak," Grandpa said.

"Well, you two have already said it all. I guess I just wanted to say I agree," she said.

Grandpa looked at me, smiled his big smile, and said, "She's getting assertive in her old age. I like it."

I think the impromptu conversations like this one that took place before, during, and after meals, are what I'll miss most about Grandpa. They weren't always about politics. Sometimes they were about my career, and other times they were about my love life.

Unlike most women my age, I took delight in talking about my relationships with Grandpa. Maybe because unlike most grandpas, he took an interest in knowing.

It's only been a few weeks since I lost Grandpa very unexpectedly in an accident on the farm, and today is an especially hard day. Even though I'm fairly certain he went the way he always said he wanted to go, fast and without pain, I think about and miss him every day.

An image of Grandpa bringing me solace during this difficult time is the picture to the right. I took it on his 80th birthday last year, the day that started out with the story above.  I remember taking it because the look of complete contentment on his face. He was sitting in the living room he'd built with his dad many years before while taking in his wife, children, and grandchildren all playing games and laughing.

It had been a long and wonderful day of surprises for Grandpa. Not only had his loving wife of more than 60 years planned a huge surprise party with many of his friends and family, but he also received a gift that fulfilled his lifelong dream of a fishing trip to Alaska. I also surprised Grandpa with a video montage of pictures showing the complete and full life he'd lived (full video below).

This photo, to me, encapsulates a quote I read yesterday in the book Mortalism: Readings on the Meaning of Life. I bought the book a few days ago to help me figure out all the thoughts and emotions running through me right now. The quote this picture reminds me of is from the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus:
"But the wise man neither begs off from life nor does he fear the loss of it. For life does not offend him, nor does not being alive seem an evil to him. And just as he doesn't automatically choose the largest amount of food, but the tastiest dish, he doesn't grasp for the longest span of time but the most pleasant one."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Grandpa

It's amazing how a person's life perspective changes in the blink of an eye. Two weeks ago I was consumed by anxiety over being reduced in hours at my job and wondering how I was going to make rent and my student loan payments. Then on May 4, my life changed forever with the news of my grandpa being killed in an accident on the farm that's been in my family for more than a century.

I have grown in more ways during this last week at my grandparents' farm than I have any other time in my life, including recovering from the aftermath of 9/11. My grandpa was one of the closest people to me, and I never knew how I would cope with losing him. Now I know, and will probably share more of what I've learned in this last week at a later time. For now, at the request of several family members, I will leave you with the words I spoke at his funeral last Friday.

Lorne Wheeler
May 28, 1928 – May 4, 2009

When I got the news about Grandpa's accident on Monday, I was at work. My boss, sitting on the ground next to me in my cubicle holding me while I cried, said, "I never met your grandpa, but from all the stories you tell I think he left this world in a way fitting of him. He left strong and working on the land he loved."

Over the past two years, I’ve been in the process of writing Grandpa’s memoirs for him. As a trained journalist I'm supposed to be able to sum up a person's story and fit it all into a few inches of printed words. But when it comes to Grandpa, there's not enough paper in this world that could ever hold the fullness of life he lived.

The names of our family alone would take up several Sunday editions of The Fargo Forum, not to mention the names of the thousands of people whose lives were touched in some way by Grandpa.

We are his story. All of us, in our own way, have taken on characteristics of him that will live on for generations to come.

For some it's his irresistible humor and robust, hearty laugh that can be heard above everyone's in the room.

For others it's his incredible compassion and strength of spirit that can put anyone at ease the moment you quietly and gently reach for their hand, instinctively knowing the exact amount of time to hold it.

For others it's his sense of duty and diligent work ethic that inspires those around you to press on and press through, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

For others it's his appetite for adventure, and perhaps his appetite in general, in appreciating the here and now by taking joy in all of the simple day-to-day blessings life brings.

For others it's his shrewd business sense and honesty that garners the immense respect of those around you.

For others it's his selflessness and willingness to always be the bigger person who regularly sets aside their own needs for the sake of others.

And in all of these things, a characteristic held by each and everyone one of us in the Wheeler clan is knowing the importance of family. We are big, both in numbers and in love. The reason for this is because of the incredible love shared by two amazing people, Lorne and Libbey Wheeler, whose priority has always been and always will be the family.

So as we move forward with our lives from this incredibly sad time, we can take solace in knowing that Grandpa will always be with us so long as we have each other.

Monday, April 27, 2009

WTF Seattle?

Aside from the shooting on the corner of where I work the week before last, or the several strong-arm robberies in and around the University of Washington campus in the last month, here is run down of current headlines on the local section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at this very moment:
These are in addition to news on Twitter from Wallyhood Seattle, the news and events blog for my neighborhood, that there was an altercation on Saturday a block from my house that may or may not have involved gun shots.

Am I the only one wondering what the hell is going on and why I no longer feel safe living in the city that I love?