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Letting Go

Women are irrational. That’s all there is to that. Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags. They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags! ~ Professor Henry Higgins

I came across some items last night that I really wish I hadn’t. They set my mind off in a direction it shouldn’t go – down the road of “what ifs” and “I should have done this instead.” What a fucking incomprehensible jumble the female mind becomes when it winds itself up in such a fashion. It’s really one of the worst things about women – this mental nitpicking.

Sleep didn’t help. I had dreams that could best be described as, “This is what you get for thinking like that!”

Today I’m angry with myself. In fact, I’d like to punch myself in the face except I have errands to run and places to be and don’t want to show up with a bloody nose. Just know, I’m seriously disappointed.

There is a point to letting go. I’m horrible at that. I keep things either in my head or around the house. The Husband is well aware of this fact. “Denise, you can go ahead and let go of some of the baby clothes now.” Um. No. When I’m old, I’d like to look at those. “Denise, get rid of the baby toys – the kids are teens now.” Stop. I need that rattle. Go away.

I’ve always been this way. It’s why I still have toys from my childhood. I’d like to blame my Mom and her moving me from New York as what set me off down the road of not being able to let go of things. You see, Mom got rid of my collection of Dr. Seuss books. I had all of them. Every single Seuss book. I adored them. They were my 3rd favorite items – outside of my Snoopy doll and my precious Fisher Price doll house (complete with people and Tootsie Toy metal cars, thank you).

I don’t like letting go of things. I most certainly don’t like letting go of people. But today I find myself thinking back on the times I hugged loved ones and knew it would be the last time I’d ever see them. They didn’t know. But I knew. I let go. I walked away.

I fucking hate letting go. Did I say that yet?

Sometimes to move forward, we have to scrape the past off the bottom of our shoes just so we can walk on with a cleaner and lighter load. My dreams last night tell me I’ve not done a very good job of that.

Around my house are photos of my children as babies and toddlers, which isn’t to say I don’t also have ones of them as adolescents and teenagers. I have a nice selection of memories framed. And that’s it, isn’t it? Framing memories. Capturing a little moment in time where something was so perfectly beautiful and blissful, you wanted to keep it forever. Relationships are like that. I looked back on those items last night with sadness in my heart that I let something go. That I walked away just so I could move on. But clinging to something that wasn’t working wasn’t healthy for anyone involved.

When my boy comes home from college, I cling to him for the first hour or so. There he is! He’s right here! Look, isn’t he the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? He tolerates it with remarkable patience. Such a good boy. When he’s packing up to leave, however, he is terse and brisk. He doesn’t like tears. He doesn’t like to see me completely dissolve into a puddle of misery. He can’t cope with that. He gives me a quick goodbye hug, tells me when he’ll return, and that he loves me, and then he speeds away. I’d say he’s better at letting go than I am, but he knows he can always come back. That things, as I’ve mentioned before, are kept under glass, just as he’s left them.

It’s that part – leaving things preserved under glass, I guess, which has me so upset today. I’ve preserved memories I no longer want. I don’t want to come across something that fills me with pain. Life is painful enough. Life throws shit on us and if we’re strong, we thrive anyhow. Thanks for the fertilizer, life. Screw you. I’m still here.

Bitterness on the Vine

You are a blip in my life. A bit of flotsam that floated by. Someone wholly unconnected to me in the universe. Or are you there with me for decades now – a part of my inner circle? It doesn’t matter. I feel the need to help you. To pull you up from the wreckage of your life and send you on your way a better and wiser person.

Your envy is indeed a wreckage. You’ve tarnished a good part of your soul living in twisted bitterness for years. No one deserves a life of sadness, and I shall never understand those who gratefully choose one. It does not make you look strong, but sad, weak, sour and vexatious. Your anger is unjustified at those you lash out at. You should scream at the universe for its perverse audacity in not granting you your every wish. Then you should grow the fuck up.

The time has come for you to move on. To pick up the pieces of your smashed fairy tale. Someday your dream may come true. Someday that may be your town/house/car/job/child. And, most importantly, someday your prince may come but he may not be the one you’ve pined for.

Love is not a guarantee. Nor is REAL LOVE always joyful. It can be a vine that twists and curls, destroying with impunity. It has the power to overcome and poison those it touches by weakening them and taking their light. Leaving walking corpses behind. Walking corpses who won’t play dead.

For some, love floats in like Glenda the Good Witch in her pleasing bubble – there as a gift, as the other soul surrenders itself into your hands. When this happens, you will know. Love is not vague. When they love you, they will TELL YOU – and that “I love you” will be the sweetest sound you’ll ever hear until it is whispered in your ear by your warm and cozy toddler.

If love was not the case for you – this time- there’s no reason to believe it won’t be the next time. You should be giving your affections to someone ready and willing to accept them, someone who will tend to your love and watch it grow, not leave it alone to waste and wither.

We have all been walking corpses. We have all not played dead. Love hurts – it is no Disneyesque tableau. It is real, harsh. Love makes you hold the hand of a friend as they gasp their last breath. It makes you cry yourself to sleep at night when you walk away from a relationship that ended too soon (or too late). But you should always do what’s best for your mental and emotional health. Not cling to the hope of a dying vine. You didn’t get what you wanted this time. But love, when coursing through your soul, should not cause you to throw your toys from the cot or blame anyone else. You cannot make love out of nothing. Love will never blossom in toxic soil. You cannot wave Glenda’s wand and have the house/town/job/car/child you’ve dreamed of. No one promised you any of these things. And, sadly, you cannot make them your lover if they are not interested. Life never guaranteed you that.

When accepting advice, you should always consider the source. I’ve been married over 20 years and have friends still from 4th grade to new ones I’ll meet for cocktails just to be girlie. Healthy relationships, therefore, are something I can conduct successfully in my sleep. So you with the bitterness in your soul, rise up, make yourself a cup of tea, go for a leisurely stroll through a botanical garden or museum, and realize that life, love and beauty are all around you. Let go of the hatred and jealousy that’s entrapped your heart because life isn’t going to wait while you pine. Life marches on, stoically and, at times, with much abandon. Fling yourself into the mix joyously and see what develops.


And so it passed:

The birthday of the friend I watched die. It was last week. I didn’t go to her grave this year. I’ve stopped doing that. The last time I’d gone, her grave had slid down the hill because of torrential rains. I had to report that to the office there at the cemetery. Of course it would be me. Her own family doesn’t visit her grave.

And so it passed:

Without me shedding a tear. I think my son expected it. He watched me a few times that day waiting for that or for me to withdraw into myself. I didn’t. I had an art project, a gift, that was occupying my time. I was busy agonizing whether the portrait I was doing actually looked like this person it was meant to or whether it looked like I painted it with my toes whilst high on crack. That was easier to focus on than to remember the shuddering sounds of a body shutting down against its will. It’s a long process, that shutting down.

And so it passed:

Without me thinking about going in day after day, week after week, to sit there and watch as her husband deluded himself into believing that her eyes were much more lively that day. Couldn’t I see it? Look, she’s responding.

And so it passed:

Without me thinking about those three beautiful children coming in a few days in a row to “say goodbye to Mommy.” The head that had previously resided on the ceramic angel on the table there suddenly snapped off on its own and rolled across the surface and onto the floor during that final goodbye. It needed to be done. And soon.

And so it passed:

Without me dwelling on how those three beautiful children will not remember how warm, funny, gracious and talented their mother was. How much she loved and doted on them.

And so it passed:

Without me damning myself for being there. For being the only one there. For having the courage to remain while everyone else crumbled and left her alone in that room to take her last breath. No one deserves to die alone – let alone someone you love. It’s a final gift to remain there with them.

And so this too shall pass:

My friend told me a few days ago that I’ve done “a damn good job” of “freezing” chambers of my heart, one by one. That I’m in danger of becoming numb. I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about. He’s English. He can’t help it. All I know is that her birthday passed and next week another anniversary of sorts will pass. A time when I walked away from a friendship that cost me more to be in than it gave in return. I gave a final gift then, too. A painting. With the humor the universe possesses, this painting seems to be everyone’s favorite in my catalog of work. No. I won’t make you one. Next week, as my friend says, I shall be “impenetrable.” And he says this with no sense of irony. Personally I think he’s full of crap. I passed a dead bunny in the road yesterday and it made me weep. Poor little fuzz ball.

Forever Friends

Years ago, when my friend was still alive and on a Left Ventricular Assist Device, a study came out saying women need to have regular time with their friends. That it’s healthier for them. This is nothing against spending time with their significant other, just that they need their friends. To laugh with. To share with. The study showed that women who regularly spent time with their friends had lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Therefore, she and I needed to go out more often!

After her 2nd big stroke, when she was learning things all over again, I would go to her house and bring DVDs. It didn’t count as “going out” anymore but it was still girl time and, it mattered. Her husband knew it did. He’d bring us food and beer and then he’d wander off to care for the kids while we sat, giggled, and yammered about how horrible the movie was. I have a book she gave me a few years earlier of quotes of friendship. We’d been friends since 10th grade. On the opening page she wrote, “For my forever friend. Thank you.” Four years on I’d be the only one in the room as they unplugged her life support.

Women are emotional creatures. I tell that to my sons all the time. This is usually after I’ve burst into tears about something they consider so slight that they’re now staring at me as if I’ve gone mad. Women need other women if just to have them tell us, “That’s what I do!” Our friendships mean much more than just someone to go shopping with. For many of us, your friends were there with you through grade school (think roller skates, clip-on bears, and Dittos for you aging ladies like me), middle school (wooden clogs!), high school (Madonna…), and college (finally getting to drink – legally!). Your friendships last from school crushes to divorces. Your friends are your friends, no matter what. No matter how much she hates your significant other, she’ll still be your friend, and she’ll be there to help you put your life back together again when your relationships, finances, or physical health crumbles.

Time with your friends gets more precious as you get older. You get married, you have kids, you move away. But one things remains the same, your friends are there for you. Whether via text, telephone, email, Skype! They’re there. No matter how crappy things are. Women need other women to socialize with – particularly during times of stress. According to the study (seen here ), our brains react to stress differently than our male counterparts. “It seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

So, pick up that phone and schedule some time with your friends this weekend. Tell your significant other it’s for your own health. If they don’t like it, have them drop me a line…

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” ~ Aristotle

Tips to Keep YOU from looking like a Clueless Jackass

Now that we’re in the New Year and have suffered through another holiday season of visitors or visiting, I thought I’d post some handy tips for those of you raised in a barn.

When visiting someone’s home…

1.     Come bearing a gift. This, people, is called a HOSTESS GIFT. This does not mean you come bearing Hostess baked goods. I don’t mean Twinkies, Ho Hos, or Ding Dongs. I mean flowers, a bottle of wine, sea salt caramels, a book, whatever. A thoughtful gift for your host.

2.     With children – keep a tight rein on your brat, I mean child. Some people own breakables. Breakables which are precious to them and they put on high shelves on their armoire only to have some brat come along and smack them to the floor, thus breaking the head off the purple ceramic bunny their child made for them five years earlier. (*true story*) “Oh, no, don’t worry about it…” they’ll say with tears in their eyes. YES, worry about it. Contain your brats. Leash them if you must. Leashes can be found at the front door and can be purchased for $5. Please speak to your hostess once you’ve stowed your luggage.

3.     Offer assistance with preparations. This shows that you’re interested in the trouble they’re going through to feed you. If they decline, don’t argue. Just go have a seat like they asked. They’re being gracious, your job is to be grateful.

4.     Join in conversation, don’t dominate it. No one likes a monopolizer.

5.     Don’t bring up topics that are contentious. This could be politics, religion, or especially something your hosts are in disagreement about. If you bring up a topic with the intention of stirring the pot, you are a pot stirrer. People don’t like pot stirrers. They spit in your tea when you act like a jerkface.

6.    Take your dishes to the sink after meals. Rinse them and put them in the dishwasher. If this bothers your hostess or you get tutted away and told to sit, once again, do so.

7.     Clean up after yourselves. This is especially true when spending the night. Make your beds, tidy the bedroom and bathroom. If it’s your final day, remove sheets from the bed and towels from bathroom. Put in hamper or on washer. Ask for fresh linens to put out. I always use whatever cleaning products they have visible in bathroom and clean my way out. I like to leave the place as sparkling as it was when I first entered.

8.     Compliment your host on their food, home, taste, whatever. This shows you didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

9.     When you’re staying multiple days, take the host out to a meal. PAY FOR SAID MEAL. This is another sign that you’re grateful for their hospitality.

10.    …I can’t say this enough…It bears repeating: CONTAIN YOUR CHILD. Don’t, for instance, let the child wander off to the bathroom and disappear for long periods of time without your watchful eye. When this happens, the hostess may pass by the bathroom a short while later only to find he’s used her good hand towel in place of toilet paper and wiped himself on it. (*true story*) Fecal matter is pretty much a deal breaker. Pack up and leave.

*** My original post yesterday failed to include the following 2 tips. You’re welcome. ***

11.    Keep to your host’s schedule. If they’re early risers, try not to sleep in until noon. If they go to bed early, don’t stay up all hours of the night blasting television or rap music.

12.    Once home, always, ALWAYS send a thank you note for them having hosted you.

The Books I Want You To Read

The reason I read and have always read is because books transport me. They take me on mini-vacations and away from whatever needs to be done in my life. Who wouldn’t rather go on a hike in Scotland than worry about their stack of bills or a clothes hamper overflowing? Even now, as we’re nearing the end of the holiday season and the year, I’m still on the lookout for new books. Though now it is more to keep me away from the massive amount of sweets in the house.

In the last year I’ve read some wonderful books (and some so-so ones). As friends and family are always asking me for recommendations, I thought my last blog post of 2010 should be a celebration of the books I loved and highly recommend. So here goes!

These are in no particular order and the list only includes the books I read in 2010. It has no basis on when the books came out.

The Embers by Hyatt Bass. This novel had me from the beginning. It tells the story of a family and the splintering that occurs after the death of a child. The characters are so rich and their pain so real I had difficulty putting it down.  I wanted to go in and offer counseling to them! The father is guilt-ridden but I won’t tell you why. Emily, the daughter, is getting married and her choice of wedding location has her divorced parents troubled – it’s the spot where her brother, Thomas’ ashes were sprinkled. The smallest scenes in this book offer glimpses into the lives of the Aschers and the complete breakdown of their communication. You shouldn’t miss this.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. This is a true story of one man’s obsession with orchids and the legal (and personal) battles he had. Orlean went down to Florida and delved into the life of John Laroche. She accompanied him to orchid shows and onto Native American reservations. Laroche is certainly an interesting fellow! At the beginning of the book, it seems so ridiculous that someone could become obsessed with flowers but Orlean’s writing and research are so thorough that by the end, you find yourself looking at these little plants in a whole new light. Oh, sure, you’ll likely not become as wacky about the plants as some of these people (you MUST read how crazed some collectors get) but you’ll be intrigued nonetheless. You’ll even find yourself Googling “Ghost Orchid.” Believe me, you will.

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. This debut novel follows the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, a young woman who was forced to marry an older nobleman. Her brother and mother meddled in her life and she was told to forsake her true love, a man they felt unworthy of their noble status. Needless to say, this forced marriage had its bumps and soon Gabrielle is thrust into the danger of Paris in the revolution. Delors brings the mob scenes and turbulent times to life. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Oh no! Poor Gabrielle!” a good portion of this book. And, once again, you’ll not want to put it down. The research and historical details are what make this a rich and fascinating novel.

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon. I have a queasy stomach. I need to preface this review with that sentence. Therefore I went into reading this debut novel with every bit of wincing and furrowed brows as possible. Me, reading a book about an undertaker’s life? Uh huh. But MacKinnon’s character of lonely Clara Marsh and her job takes a sudden turn for the bizarre when a child she sees hanging around the funeral home shows up in some pornographic material. This material is at the home of one of the bodies Clara goes to collect. The ensuing investigation and the blossoming relationship between Clara and one of the police officers kept me enthralled. There were many times during this book that I had goosebumps!

Diamond Ruby by Joe Wallace. As a New York Yankees fan, I loved this book from start to finish. I’m gratified to hear that Joe is working on another book in the life of Ruby. This novel is based on the true story of a female pitcher who struck out Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Ruby Lee Thomas, however, is all Joe’s character. Ruby, a young Jewish girl, grows up in New York. She watches many members of her family succomb to the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak, and at a ridiculously young age becomes responsible for the welfare of her nieces after their father emotionally checks out of their lives. Ruby, who has always hated her incredibly long arms, finds herself the star of a circus sideshow as a southpaw pitcher. This book kept me up way past my bedtime because I didn’t want to leave Ruby’s world. Just when you think things are starting to look up for her and the girls, something comes along that has you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to give anything away though. If you’re a baseball fan, buy this book.

Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman. Having seen the movie (Someone Like You) based on this book, I was well aware of the subject material of this novel. Even so, I found myself laughing pretty much through the whole thing. Laura’s writing is so sharp and dry, it was an absolute pleasure to read. This novel follows Jane Goodall (not the anthropologist) and her love life in Manhattan. After being dumped unceremoniously by a man who claimed to have loved her more than anything and who had made all these big plans with her just days before, Jane is thrown into a whirlwind of confusion. When she sits down and really thinks about it, his behavior seems to be a pattern and not one that’s particularly original to him. Jane develops a theory, “Old Cow/New Cow” and from then on, you’ll be laughing. Men, it would seem, only want the “New Cows” and once their “New Cows” become “Old Cows” they need to go out in search of a new “New Cow.” The movie starred Greg Kinnear, Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman. After reading this novel, it’s no surprise it was turned into a movie!

The Department of Lost and Found by Allison Winn-Scotch. This novel follows the story of Natalie Miller, a senior aide to a New York senator. In the beginning of the novel you feel Natalie has it all but after she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, everything changes, dramatically. Her live-in boyfriend leaves her, her boss and her co-workers seem to want her out of the way, and she has a hard time with her chemo treatments. She begins to keep a diary as she’s forced to stay home during her treatments. Thankfully she has friends and a hot gynecologist, Zach, to keep her company. This book is funny and warm while also being a realistic look at how cancer affects not just the victim but the people around them. It’s a must read.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. This is a true story of one woman’s unhappy life as a Hollywood executive and her decision to move to the east coast with her husband to become a baker. If that doesn’t hook you, it includes delicious recipes, each with a story of its own. Gesine’s beloved mother, Helga, died of cancer and this book lovingly tells of Gesine and her sister’s upbringing. Helga and her influence are everywhere. You’ll see the toll that a fake Hollywood had on an adult Gesine and the transformation into the lovely woman she’s become once she escaped to the country. Every page is a tribute to her family and the sweetness abounds. This book is a treasure and, being half-German myself, I often run to it to share bits of Germany with my mother. Buy this book. You will love it. It will leave you wanting to begin a daily ritual of sitting down to tea or coffee with a treat and your loved ones. Honest.

All Saints by Karen Palmer. This book takes you into the gritty world of Louisiana in the 1950s and tells the story of a man, Harlan Desonnier, newly released from prison. Harlan has a grudge against a former friend who Harlan believes was having an affair with his wife. Harlan, one night in a fury, accidentally killed his wife. Now that he’s been released from prison, he wants his revenge. This isn’t your typical story. It delves into the lives of not only Harlan but a beautiful nurse, and a Catholic priest who’s lost his faith. The combination of characters and Karen’s atmospheric writing is haunting at times. This is a wonderful and original novel.

You Had Me At Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam. After having read the hilarious “Please Excuse My Daughter” by Julie in 2009, I knew that I’d enjoy this book. I just didn’t realize that in addition to all the laughter there would be plenty of tears. Julie is a member of a Boston Terrier rescue organization. She hadn’t intended to have so many dogs but once she adopted her beloved “Otto” she was hooked on these little black and white fellows. This book shows us that, like people, all animals have their own personalities (and such personalities!). Julie takes us into her home and shows us how her family copes with the little furry blessings and the gifts they leave on the rugs around the house. It is touching, heartwarming, and hilarious. You’ll find yourself so engrossed in their lives that you’ll not want the book to end. It’s a true gem. Why not buy it and then consider adopting a little furry friend from (or making a donation to) a shelter near you?

Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees by Jane Heller. Oh, God, I don’t even know what to say about this book. Jane and I could be related. This book will have you howling at Jane’s antics and her ever-patient husband, Michael. It is the true story of the author Jane Heller following the New York Yankees on the road. It began after she wrote an Op-Ed piece in May of 2007 in the New York Times about how disgusted she was with the Yankees’ performance and how she was going to “divorce” them. The response was amazing and a deal was struck with a publisher that Jane should go on the road following the Yankees for the last half of their season. Jane’s quest to meet a Yankee and interview them will have you laughing. The word “tenacious” springs to mind. I won’t go into the whole book but it’s a riot and a definite must read.

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town by Elyssa East. This book is amazing. It’s narrative non-fiction and takes us to Gloucester, Massachusetts where we learn all about “Dogtown” a ghost town that at one time had been a colonial village. Since that time the 3,600 acres surrounding it have claimed it back. We learn about the murder committed there in 1984 and we follow along in the investigation. This book is intriguing on so many levels: the history, the art, the wilderness, the people. I clung to it and brought it with me everywhere I went. Elyssa became engrossed with the landscape of Dogtown and its story. You will become engrossed in her telling of this wild place. The rocks. The people. Even the crows!

Five Finger Fiction by Veronica Brooks-Sigler. I’ve made it my place to repeatedly bother Veronica about a sequel for this book. It is hilarious. It follows Lila O’Farrell and her huge Irish Catholic family. Lila, ever one to take digs at her mother’s dominating ways, becomes a bit of a kleptomaniac. The items she takes and the stories behind each piece will leaving you rolling with laughter. Veronica’s style of writing and the phrases she uses is what captivated me the most. There were plenty of times I’d be in the school parking lot waiting to pick up my son and people would look over at me as I barked with laughter. Lila and her family need to be in more books. Help me convince Veronica this is the case by BUYING THIS BOOK. You’ll love it!

Too Great a Lady: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton by Amanda Elyot. As an Anglophile, I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Emma, Lady Hamilton and her love affair with the hero, Lord Horatio “Hornblower” Nelson. This Napoleonic historical fiction novel is gripping. Emma’s life is captivating and made me long to watch the Vivien Leigh movie (That Hamilton Woman) over again. Elyot’s Emma goes from selling coal on the roadside in North Wales to London at the age of 12. From then her life takes so many twists and turns as to be dizzying. Emma has always been an intriguing character and Elyot (author Leslie Carroll’s pen name) tells her story in what could easily be Emma speaking. You believe you’re reading her words as she guides us from town to town, party to party, and man to man. Lady Hamilton wasn’t just Lord Nelson’s lover, she was a diplomat in her own right. If you love history, you’ll love this book.

The Perfect Royal Mistress by Diane Haeger. This historical novel introduces us to Nell Gwynne, King Charles II’s mistress. Nell has had a tough life and was raised in plague-ridden London. She eventually stars on the stage in “bawdy comedies” and this is what makes her famous. King Charles, notorious for his many affairs, sees her there and is captivated by Nell. As they become involved, Nell tries to balance her life as a royal mistress with that of an actress. She must also navigate her way through his royal court where his lovers, past and present, reign supreme. This is a richly detailed piece of fiction and one that will definitely entertain you.

Now I’m sure I’m forgetting some books so I may come back and add to this list. Again, this isn’t exhaustive and only includes my favorite books read in 2010, not those in 2009 or earlier. If you have questions, feel free to ask me.

Wishing you all the best for 2011. Happy New Year!

And Then the Damn Bird Blew Up!

It was the first (and only) time my older sister and her children came for Thanksgiving. It was November 2001. This date is ingrained in my head for a reason that will soon become obvious.

In any event, I’d planned on being a perfect hostess, as you do. I cleaned as well as I could with two young children, and had guest beds and linens all prepared. The menu was done in advance, as well. Everything was good to go.

Isn’t it funny how at these times when you really need something to turn out well the most bizarre things happen?

My sister and her two daughters arrived the day before Thanksgiving. I can’t really remember what we did, maybe we went to the beach. This is hardly a salient point. So, Thanksgiving morning arrived, as it does when you fall asleep the night before… I began the day, as I do every Thanksgiving, with the typical sobbing over the dead bird as I rinse it out in the kitchen sink. As a vegetarian, this is a heinous task. There is a lot of “I’m sorrys” said to the bird and plenty of retching on my part. My sister walked in to experience this floor show of mine first hand. My husband and sons are well-versed in this annual exercise and remain as far away as possible during my penitential process.

She found me hunched over the sink with a bottle of beer beside me. It was 9:00 AM. I was whimpering and gagging. She pushed me aside and rinsed the bird, while making tutting sounds amounting to what an idiot I am, or thoughts to that effect. I continued to sniffle and snuff as she removed the bag of innards and the neck. UGH! Eventually the carcass was stuffed in its pan and I began the preparations for its descent into our ancient (and burnt-sienna-colored!) oven.

I should digress for a moment and give some background. Our house is old. It was built in the late ’60s. There have been no significant updates to the structure in all that time other than a new roof. This was years ago and at that time, the kitchen hadn’t been kitted out with new appliances.

Anyhow, into the hideously colored oven the bird went. I breathed a sigh of relief. The hard part was over and I didn’t look like too big a failure in front of my older sister. An hour later, she went down the hall to shower. I finished my beer and ruminated on my many faults.

Soon, as she was blow-drying her hair, we were treated to a colossal series of explosions, not unlike the 4th of July or a missile attack. I ran up the hall with visions of the Taliban standing in  my dining room. Had they been driven so far out of Afghanistan they sought to create havoc  in a small San Diego coastal village on Thanksgiving Day? As I ran in, many cats and a dog were running out with that wild-eyed, “WHAT THE -?” look animals in distress have. The explosions continued.

I looked into the kitchen and there was burnt sienna Old Faithful, smoking and banging away. The oven, which had lasted decades, had picked TODAY, THANKSGIVING DAY, the day my always-makes-me-feel-like-I’m-an-idiot older sister was visiting. This couldn’t have happened a few days before Thanksgiving, or a few days after, no. The Goddamn oven needed to pick Thanksgiving Day to explode with my bloody bird in it!

At this point, the husband lumbered in. He may have come due to my hysterical shrieking, I’m not really sure. Behind him, still holding her hairdryer, came my sister. Behind her, a combination of children, all equally dumbfounded and scared. The husband eventually realized he should unplug Old Smokey before all smoke detectors picked up on this event and contributed their own shrill voices to this Thanksgiving Day extravaganza. I watched him hunch over the beast and attempt to pull it from the wall. I would have offered assistance but if one of us has to die…

Once it was disarmed, we all gaped at the brown behemoth, billowing smoke and making odd crackling death sounds.

“I thought the hairdryer did it.” My sister said, brandishing the appliance as if it were evidence in a Conair trial.

I couldn’t have been more mortified if I tried. “What do we do with the bird?” I wailed. “It’s only been cooking for an hour!” After a series of back-and-forths, and a hasty phone call, I bundled the bird and the husband in the car and sent them away to finish the cooking process at the in-laws.

We strapped the bird in using a seat belt…

When they returned, everything was fine. The meal passed in an uneventful fashion, meaning nothing else exploded and I hadn’t poisoned anyone. Success!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of Old Smokey for your entertainment, so these excellent examples of 1960’s and 1970’s wallpaper taken just now from areas around my house will have to suffice:

This wonderful assortment of Brady-Bunch-on-Acid fruits and vegetables is in a corner of my garage.
Entire walls & shelves in the house were once covered with this. I call it "tequila vomit."

I wish you all a happy and stress-free Thanksgiving with your loved ones. I, once again, will be hunched over the sink, sobbing and apologizing with a beer beside me. Happy Holidays!

“Oh my God! You’re SO white!”

It’s safe to say I’ve met my fair share of lunatics. Some in real life, some online. My friend Gloria and I often joke that we could write a book entitled, “The Freaks We’ve Met” and we’d likely make a fortune on it.

I don’t know how I attract lunatics – perhaps it’s a vibe I give off, you know, like a fish in distress? Maybe nutjobs have some form of advanced echolocation and know how to hone in on the people least likely to tolerate their craziness? All I know is they find me. They’ll root through a crowd and find me. They’ll root through hordes of online personalities and find me. It’s not my red hair, in case that’s what you’re thinking. When I was blond, I’d lure them in, too.

This time, though, it was my skin…

It was last year. It was supposed to be a fairly quick shopping expedition. I needed a few things for dinner. I had planned on running in, grabbing items, and getting out in time to make it home for the start of a Yankee game. I had just rounded the end of the aisle and was making my way towards the dairy section when it happened.

“Oh my God! You’re SO white!” This was said by a blond woman holding a forgotten jug of kefir. She was looking at me.

I raised my eyebrows and turned to see if there was someone behind me. There wasn’t. I gave her a look which could best be described as, “Oh, joy, another nutjob.” Then I swung my cart wide and around her. I wasn’t in the market for kefir.

She would have none of my evasive maneuvers, however, and followed along with her jug of raspberry dairy product. “I mean, you’re really, REALLY white!” She exclaimed this with a sense of wonder, like Jesus had just shown her the way towards my pale self.

I had reached the relative safety of the eggs and grabbed my free-range, organic browns. As I contemplated her craziness, I peeked under the shelf, expecting Ashton Kutcher to come barreling out. No. No Ashton. I wasn’t being Punk’d. I glanced back at her and said, “I’m sorry?” in a tone that brooked no easy entry to a conversation. It was meant as a “Back the hell off you complete nutjob” and was said in a particularly fierce manner. I may have even furrowed my brow. This act scares the crap out of most people so I figured I was safe to move into the bakery section unaccompanied. I toodled away.

As a dessertatarian, I have great difficulty passing the baked goods section without loading up on items that will soon be dimpling my thighs and buttocks. That day, as I compared the various dimpling qualities of pies versus cakes, I heard, “Your skin is what I mean. It’s nearly translucent against your red hair! It’s SO white!”

I put the Boston Cream Pie down and turned to gape at her. Had she escaped from a local asylum and was now seeking shelter in the baked goods section of my supermarket? Was she dangerous? Was I soon going to have to put my foot up her ass? I tried a different approach.

“Yes, you’ve said that.” I may have put my hand on my hip and thrown her a scowl.

“I just want to touch it. It looks so creamy!” As she approached, now holding a Hostess Fruit Pie (Cherry), I weighed my options. I could either (a) chuck the Boston Cream Pie at her (b) ask her what the hell is wrong with her, (c) tell her she was being incredibly rude, (d) stick my foot up her ass…or,

“Yeah, I generally don’t allow complete strangers to touch me, soooo, off you pop.” Now I put my back to her and (making a rash decision on a box of 12 croissants) I quickly left the bakery section.

It was sometime later, while I was comparing the fat content of the light ricotta cheese versus full fat that I heard, “I just have to ask – do you go out in the sun?”

I dropped the ricotta (full fat) in the cart and looked at her. “WHAT?”

“It’s just that we’re here in sunny San Diego, do you ever go IN the sun? Are you one of those people who carries an umbrella with them when they walk?” She looked truly interested in my outdoor activities. Scary.

“You know, I have to say, this is one of the most bizarre conversations I’ve ever had – and that says a lot, I’ve got in-laws.” I moved down towards the aluminum foil.

“I’m not trying to be rude.” She called, pushing her cart after me. It had kefir, donuts (which surely counter out the healthy benefits of the kefir?), and the Hostess fruit pie (cherry).

“And yet you are…” I said, tossing in paper plates.

“What about hats? Do you wear hats when you leave the house?” She was standing in front of the Oscar Mayer meats. I couldn’t help thinking her skin matched the bologna.

I shook my head and walked away, again. You know, I’ve never considered myself to be anything other than pale but I’m no circus freak. In fact, I’m many shades darker than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man:

I had had enough. My skin and hair combo doesn’t stop traffic. Clearly this woman was another whackjob to be added to my collection. As I motored off to the paper towel aisle, I began to seethe. I started to hope she would come back so I could rip her head off and kick it into the sushi display.

“I have several hats that I’ve bought, but you know, they just don’t look good on me. I bet you’re a hat person!” She gleefully proclaimed as she rounded the corner and grabbed toilet paper (Cottonelle) off the shelf.

“To be honest,” I said. “I don’t go in the sun because I have had 2 different types of skin cancer removed off half a dozen spots on my body. Painfully removed. Dug out, in fact. Now, you and your quasi-stalking and spurts of insults have irritated me enough.”

As I began to head to the check-out she said, “I’m sorry. It’s just really pretty.”

“THANK YOU!” I shouted as I pulled into the express lane (15 items or less!). I have no idea still to this day what the woman was banging on about. I’m freckled, and “creamy” wouldn’t describe anything about my skin. Some minutes later, as I was hoisting my bags in the trunk, she popped up behind me like a mad Jack-in-the-box and said, “I bet you wear a lot of sunblock.”

I sighed. The nutjob was parked two cars away. She drove a minivan. She was a mom. I returned my cart and spun. She was standing behind me, gripping her Coach handbag. “I bet you can’t guess how old I am,” she said with a sort of crazed smile.

“I bet I can’t.” Then I hopped in my car, shut (and locked!) the door, and peeled away lest she follow me home. I’ve seen her minivan several times after that. I’ve yet to have another run-in. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that someone I know put her up to it. It’s only a matter of time before I learn the truth. And, yes, damn it, I wear sunblock, OK?

Chivalry is Alive and Well…and Living in Scotland?

I know, I know. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re already aware that I have a certain partiality towards Scotland. However, I’ve a tale to back me up.

Three years ago I took my youngest child with me to Britain. He’d always wanted to go and, as he pointed out to me several times, his older brother had already been there with me twice. This fact galled him and clearly (according to him) smacked of favoritism. Well, naturally, I felt a need to return and what better use of our mileage awards than a San Diego – New York – London – Glasgow – London – Los Angeles – San Diego series of free flights?

I should mention here that I hate flying. Hate. It scares the hell out of me.

That night as we flew, I watched our progress on the cartoon map and tried not to vomit in fear as the plane made odd “YOU WILL DIE!” sounds as we got over the deepest, darkest section of the North Atlantic. Hey, thanks for that graphic, American Airlines. I really needed to see that sea canyon at 3 in the morning!

While my panic attack sent warm and fuzzy feelings throughout my body, I envied The Boy, sound asleep, not hearing the “YOU’RE ABOUT TO PLUMMET FROM THE SKY AND DIE!” sounds the plane kept making. I was the only one awake outside of the cabin crew. I’d had 2 pints of Guinness at JFK before taking off (pre-medication), and 2 beers on the flight. As I hadn’t slept the night before (due to the “YOU’RE CERTAIN TO DIE ON THE FLIGHT!” thoughts), I was getting just a little slap-happy. But, hey, we’d almost made it over the scary SEA CANYON OF DOOM.

By the time we landed in London, I was bone-deep tired. I had been awake 40 hours straight. Tea had little effect and my patience had long since waned with people invading my space and serving me food that could best be described as flavorless gruel. The layover was an hour or maybe two. By the time we landed in Glasgow and I collected my brand new luggage, it looked like it had been dragged behind the plane. Fabulous. There was concern on the part of the rental car staff that my luggage wouldn’t fit in the trunk. By this point, there was also concern I may punch someone for no particular reason. My son, however, smiled happily beside me – well-rested and fed, looking forward to our adventure.

Ah, Glasgow. You’re a lovely, lovely place. Surely (even though it was pissing down rain) I could safely navigate our way up to Loch Lomond and our destination of Luss without incident. It had only been 43 hours without sleep… Easy peasy. I flipped on my UK cell phone (which I bought ahead of time) and took off. The Boy laughed delightedly. He was loving the scenery. I wanted to get out and randomly kick a tree…

Our hotel was beautiful. It sits directly on Loch Lomond and is the only building you can see from your room.

We had decided at this point that we should eat. We traipsed down to the restaurant and presumably ate something. I say presumably because I have no clear recollection of this time. According to my son, I would burst out giggling for no reason while we were at the table. My giggles turned to guffaws. In due course, I was out of control. As tears of laughter streamed down my face, my son eyeballed my orange juice and wondered if I’d spiked it. The lack of sleep had gotten to me. People were looking…

After this humiliating event, we headed out for fresh air. At the time, my judgment may have been somewhat askew because I kept thinking surely what someone who hasn’t slept in almost 48 hours needs is a nice, long walk… And so we walked. We walked and walked and walked. I had at least stopped laughing uncontrollably by the time we got to the old cemetery.


By this point, there was a very real fear the caretakers of the cemetery would see me and think I’d crawled my way out from under one of their stones. So we headed back to our hotel and, I’m told, had dinner. This too, apparently, was such a mortifying affair that The Boy signaled for the check. Sleep deprivation. Good times!

My friend Murdo called right around this time. Murdo, as you can tell from the name, is Scottish and was born on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He’s a darling man who has always tolerated my silliness. We’d been friends for ten years by this point. He, his wife, and two children lived not very far from my hotel. His call was to make sure we’d arrived without incident. I like to think I handled myself coherently, but if I had, Murdo kept banging on about how I needed to “go to sleep” “get some sleep” and “go to bed” for no apparent reason. Clearly he’d forgotten my need to immediately acclimate to my current time zone. We didn’t go to bed until nearly 11 PM.

I called Murdo the next day and, being the kind soul that he is, he offered me his satellite navigation device. I can’t remember the name Murdo had given his sat nav, but I’m going with “Morag”…

The Boy and I set off to Murdo’s to pick up Morag. He had given me directions on how to get there – something about turning at the roundabout, but I couldn’t remember whether it was the second or third. I figured I’d better call him. In the UK, as in many US states, you’ll get a ticket for driving while talking on your mobile. I, in my infinite judgment, hadn’t purchased the hands-free gadget that goes with the phone. Therefore, I decided to pull over and call him. The road I was on, the A-82, is the main thoroughfare south to Glasgow and north to the Highlands. It didn’t seem like the smartest place to pull over. I therefore turned off on a tiny B road – the B832, which heads west to Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde. It was an empty 2-lane country road. After several miles I came to a turnout with a barely perceptible slope and a cattle gate, which led to an open field. This seemed like the best place to park. I wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. I even checked – the ground was gravel, not dirt. There was no way in hell I would be caught pulling into dirt after all the rain Scotland had that summer. Oh, no sir. I was far too clever for that…

The directions to Murdo’s house were given to me (again) in a manner tantamount to, “Hadn’t I already told you this, woman?” Ha, silly Murdo. I’ve navigated my way around Scotland, England and Wales twice before. Don’t patronize me. I got off the phone, put the sedan in reverse, stepped on the gas, and sat there. Yes, sat there. You see, my gentle slope had turned into the SLOPE OF DESPAIR and the gravel that I had congratulated myself on finding had transformed into the GRAVEL PIT FROM HELL. I got out of the car and stared at my tires. Uhhh. Sunk…in mud. The Boy gaped at me from the back seat. Well, there was nothing to be done than to call Murdo and make him come help me. I plucked up the courage and called him back.

He sat there listening for several minutes without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he’d put the phone down and run away, but no, he was there, listening intently. Finally he snorted, “Are ye sure ye’re stuck?” Now, I’m no NASCAR or F1 driver, nor (and this may come as a shock to you) am I an auto-mechanic, but I can tell when a car isn’t moving. Yes, I was sure I was stuck. I got out of the car and stared at the tires once more to tell him how many inches the front end had sunk. He sighed and made a show of what a ridiculous creature I was. By this point, any feelings of remorse I had for disturbing him had fled.

It was then, as I was plotting revenge on my dear friend, that I heard a car approaching. I was standing there, phone to my ear, vehicle in no apparent distress, when this car passed me. I barely spared it a glance. It was a small, older car – cream in color. Moments later I heard it reversing. I told Murdo as much. He perked up at this point – I’m not sure, he may have been hoping he was off the hook for my rescue. All of a sudden, out of the passenger side, came BOUNDING a man. He was around my age – wearing a black sweater and camouflage trousers. As he BOUNDED at me, I whispered to Murdo, “The car’s pulled over. There’s two men – one is BOUNDING towards me!” Murdo’s interest again skyrocketed. I think by now he was hoping I’d be butchered. The Bounder, as I’ve come to call him, shouted, “Hello! D’ye need any help?” Perhaps it was his camouflage pants that made me think serial killer, perhaps it was my inherent lack of faith in humanity, who knows? But I stood there, debating how to answer. Murdo, in the meantime, began asking me questions about The Bounder (for later recognition in a police line-up?).

I explained to The Bounder that I had intentionally chosen to pull over on this driveway because it barely sloped and was gravel. How had he known I needed assistance? Why had he bounded out to help like someone had just released the rabbit at the greyhound track? I’ll never know. He smiled at my son, surveyed the scene, and asked questions. He was handsome with dark hair and a broad smile. As I answered as truthfully as possible, I could hear Murdo’s ringing laughter screaming through the phone. The Bounder heard it as well. I explained it was my friend who just lived down the road in Balloch and who may be slightly unhinged (just to be safe). As he went back to his car and began giving instructions to the driver to park and UNHITCH THEIR BOAT, I thanked him profusely. He waved me off and set to work. By now, their car and boat were completely blocking one lane of traffic. Ugh, could this be any more humiliating than having a hot Scot rescue me? Why yes, it could…

Moments later, this heretofore empty country road became gridlocked as cars attempted to pass them and the boat. The Scots took it all in stride and continued to wave my fussing off. Murdo continued to howl with laughter. It was around this time I decided I could hang up on him. I could deal with that embarrassment later. The Boy, in the meantime, had gotten out of the car to survey my shame. He may have laughed, I’m not sure. To be honest, I hadn’t truly forgiven him for sleeping on the plane, the fiend. While The Bounder worked, and traffic piled up, other Scottish men got out of their cars to come over and chat to the red-faced, red-haired Yank who’d pulled onto a gravel drive. Oh, what a sight. I then addressed the assembled throng, explaining that I had felt gravel had been a perfectly acceptable place to park! “Oh, aye, it would be any other time but we’ve had a stupid amount of rain this year. Don’ worry yer pretty little head.” This was said by a ginger-haired man in a white Range Rover.

Soon I was told to start the engine while The Bounder and his friend stood in front of my now sloping car. They told me to put it into neutral and that they would give it a shove. Moments later I watched in horror as my car rolled forward and proceeded to crush The Bounder and his friend. They stared through the windscreen as I shrieked. Their nonchalance was daunting. Somehow they extricated themselves and The Bounder walked by my window laughing. Plainly Scots have no fear of death. Important safety tip.

Soon the car was free. The Scots waved off any offer of compensation and my undying gratitude. By now, at least 8 carloads of men had stopped to gape and/or offer assistance. I was sent on my way seconds later. As they’d completely blocked up the east-bound lane, I was too humiliated to ask them to move. Nor did I want to stick around for the next several minutes as they re-hitched their boat. I headed west, towards Helensburgh – going in the opposite direction of Murdo. The Boy, in the backseat, mewled about this. Apparently his feelings of security with mommy in a foreign country had disintegrated. I explained, still shamefaced, that I would rather chop off my own arm and beat myself senseless with it, than to drive by The Bounder as he rehitched his boat.

So to The Bounder and his friend and all the Scottish men who stopped to help the red-haired Yank in the black Mercedes 3 years ago on the B832, you’re lovely and prove to me that chivalry is alive and well, and living in Scotland!

*** UPDATE *** I have recalled the nickname of Murdo’s shrill sat nav. It was not “Morag” but “Nagging Nora.” I most humbly apologize to my readers, Murdo, and indeed, Nora.

The Clock Stands Still

It was just a little slip of paper – something inserted in a baby shower gift. A note. A poem. The top had a pretty bouquet on it. She had written it, I’m sure, on the spur of the moment and had no real thought that I’d keep it forever in his baby book. She certainly could never know that one day I would use it to eulogize her.

I stood before a packed church, straight as a rail, with a powerful voice and no quavering knees and spoke of my friend. I did so without crying. At the end I read her poem – the one she’d meant as a welcome for my baby born fourteen years earlier.

Isn’t it funny how we keep little things that, after we lose someone, become so important? They’re like nuggets of gold in the stream of our lives. We catch a glimpse of them – these gifts – sitting on bookshelves, mantels, or hanging in our closets, and all of a sudden they take on new meaning. They’re gone. The person who shared such times with us is gone and we’re left with these tokens of a life spent together.

On my mantel is a clock that stopped working years ago. I keep it because on the back, written in permanent marker, my friend wrote, “Friends for all of time.” She is gone but the clock stays. I’m sure that’s just a sign I’m far too sentimental (and disorganized!) for my own good. I like the clock. I don’t mind time standing still. If it had, my boy wouldn’t have moved away to college and he’d still be here – trashing the kitchen with his midnight meals. But time doesn’t stand still. It marches on and drags down our jowls until soon our necks resemble turkeys’.

I have a collection of rocks. They began as a gift from my friend Andy. He sent one as a Christmas gift in 1998 and one shortly after. They’re the largest in my collection – more like bricks – and they’re also the most valuable to me.

I have a drawing of an olive from 10th grade typing class. It was drawn by my friend Millicent. She knows I still have it. It’s in a photo album. I have no idea why I kept it. I mean, sure, I like olives, but why I’d have kept that over the masses of horse and shark drawings she’d done since 5th grade, I have no clue. To me, that olive means the world.

I have nearly all my boys’ drawings. Really. I used to have a wall covered entirely from floor to ceiling. They were taped together like wall paper. It was glorious. The drawings are precious.

I have shiny decorative objects and jewelry from Marcia. They glitter and remind me I’ve friends who think I’m sparkly.

I have a lifetime of gifts from my family, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s all about – giving? Your time, your effort, a smile. They end up being memories for those you leave behind. Priceless.