Tag Archives: Life

Top Knots, Amish Beards and Comfort Food – A Love Letter To Portland

Top Knots, Amish Beards and Comfort Food – A Love Letter To Portland

 

I am an Oregonian. I say that with no small amount of pride because I love the Northwest in general and Portland specifically. That city is my soul mate. It’s inhabited by such a variety of humanoids that it sometimes smacks of the bar scene from Star Wars.

I love every one of those freaky bastards!

But, here’s the terrible tragedy in my love affair with Portland.

The weather kind of sucks ass.

You see, emotionally I wear Gortex and fleece. My psyche and humor reside in a dark and rainy place.

By stark contrast however, physically, I am a giant weather pussy. Shorts and a t-shirt or death. I eschew the very thought of socks and shoes.

The thing about Portland is that while the people and it’s environs can look dark and, often, grim, in reality they are exceptionally sunny of disposition. Which flies in the face of the stereotype that Northerners are all Kafka-esque, alcoholic Nihilists who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

Nay, these are a friendly, helpful, welcoming and honest tribe who read a lot and compost even more.

And I, just like Oscar Wilde, have been exiled from my home land. Except that he was an amazing writer. And he was exiled for sodomy and gross indecency. I guess I could cop to the gross indecency but you can keep your sodomy thank you very much.

Lest I sound ungrateful, I do live in a very beautiful place. The sun shines pretty much every day and 70-75 degrees with a pleasant breeze of 0 MPH out of the North is de rigueur. (Along with throwing out the occasional snooty French term to prove you are wealthy and well-travelled.)

But, you are not going to see the chunky human soup here that you will see in Portland.

A clown wearing a kilt and combat boots while weeding the community garden? What of it?

A woman who looks remarkably like Betty Paige whilst sporting a Betty Paige tat across her back with an ironic and Escher sort of vibe? All women (and many transvestites) in Portland look like Betty Paige.

Here are a few other delightful and singular quirks about my beloved City of Roses.

The men’s top knot – Here’s your situation. You are running late to bartend at the new badminton/karaoke/tequila bar you work at called “Flick”. But, your exceptionally long tresses that brush your vintage rockabilly belt buckle are in the way.

Do you:

A) Cut them off to free you of the burden?

Or

B) Twist them up into a head bun ala Black Swan?

Obviously, you are going to go with option B. Cut off your hair??? Not even possible! What are you, high? And, if so, quit bogarting.

Facial follicles – Just when you think there is only so much one can do with face hair, you walk down Burnside Avenue and a whole new world is opened up to you. Big mustaches, done that. Retro mutton chops, yawn. The Amish beard, or “face mullet”, well, that’s still kind of cool…to the Amish anyway. Is that a dude with The Rachel on his face walking into The Doug Fir Lounge? Why, yes. It certainly is. Bold move, my man! Well played!

Which brings us to vintage comfort foods. Portland loves it’s eclectic food combinations and genre-specific trends. Like a Yoo-Hoo and Hamburger Helper tapas bar. I don’t know if it exists, but it should.

Allow me to illustrate the depths of the emotional investment Portlanders (Portlandians? Portlandists? The Portlandic?) feel for their food.  The following is a real-life tragic tale that recently occurred one evening at a fine establishment on SE Division Avenue during dinner.

The young adorable nerd (adora-nerd?) looked solemnly through his horn-rimmed glasses and toyed with one of his lip studs.

“I have some terrible news about our menu tonight.”

We sat back and girded ourselves for some horrific story of severed fingers or a devastating kitchen fire.

“Our waffle maker is broken.”

I actually believe I saw a small tear forming on the inside of his left eye.

“And what’s even worse,” he continued, “our back up waffle maker also isn’t working.”

They have a back up waffle maker?

“So, I’m so sorry but any items on the menu that have a waffle involved will now be replaced with johnnycakes instead. I’m so sorry.”

We all look at each other and murmur our understanding of the situation to our forlorn little hipster as he slinks away.

“Wow, he was really upset about that. Should someone go see how he is holding up? Maybe we should buy him a card.”

So, in closing, I leave you with a quote from my 11-year-old son upon our return from a recent visit to PDX.

“You know what I like best about Portland, Mom? I like that no one cares what other people think about them. I think that’s why everyone is so happy and friendly.”

Could not have said it better myself.

Don’t Expect A Fish To Climb A Tree – #4 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

Don’t Expect A Fish To Climb A Tree – #4 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

 

“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

~ Albert Einstein

 

 

Judging others is built into our DNA. I’m sure we crawled out of the primordial soup, looked at the slimy amphibian next to us and judged him for his weird lazy eye. That is if you believe in that particular theory of evolution….not that I’m judging creationists….honest….that wouldn’t be very Christian of me, would it?

OMG, did you totally check out Hank's middle eye?

OMG, did you totally check out Hank’s middle eye?

See, you are most likely judging me right now. Who does she think she is? Does she even have data to back up that last, oddly-constructed sentence? And, while I’m at it, what’s with the over-use of elipses? Pause much?

And, I’m judging you right now for that weird-ass haircut you got. And that shirt. What the hell are you thinking wearing that shirt?

We all do it. Definitely inside our heads and, after a drink or two, outside our heads. Often loudly.

There are a lot of reasons to judge. Much of the time we judge because it simply makes us feel a little better about ourselves and our lives. It’s also why I binge watched “Cheaters” and “The Anna Nicole Smith Show” right after having twins.

Thank you Anna Nicole Smith! I do feel better!

Thank you Anna Nicole Smith! I do feel better!

But, it’s also a means of discerning what is or is not acceptable to us. We have an innate need to choose people who do not threaten our pre-conceived notions of who we are and our belief systems.

I don’t like myself when I judge people. But, I also have a really hard time just not doing it.

So, rather than shutting down what appears to be a natural human response, maybe there is a way to simply not do it so harshly.

You’ve all heard a great deal about my Mom. But, I tell you , she passed on some of the most amazing advice I have ever gotten. And, she had a wonderful take on judgment that went something like this:

Everyone on earth is in a different phase of their lives. Some are advanced in their overall, spiritual development while others are just beginning to walk. Judging all humans on an even playing field is like expecting a toddler to win the Boston Marathon. It not only makes no sense, it’s a disservice to them and to you.

Don’t assume you are the marathon runner in this analogy….you may still be in diapers so don’t be getting all high and mighty.

But, imagine the opportunities for interesting relationships with people if you just keep that idea in mind. Not only do you open up the possibility of helping another person get on their feet, but you may also benefit from a helping hand now and then.

Life can be a real slog, people. I know I’ll take all the help I can get.

So, next time I start down that path and think or say those petty, shitty judgments, I’m going to attempt to step back a bit and think about it.

I’ll forget to do it more times than I remember, I’m sure. So, I’ll apologize in advance if I forget with any of you.

All that being said, for the love of God, go change that shirt. Really. You look like a lunatic.

Nevermind. A bad Hawaiian shirt is the least of your worries.

Nevermind. A bad Hawaiian shirt is the least of your worries.

 

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only
their own  pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the
right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

~ Paulo Coelho

Don’t Be Defined By Your Dining Set – #3 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

Don’t Be Defined By Your Dining Set – #3 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

“That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff,
you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”
~ George Carlin

I’ve never been one to keep stuff. I was raised by a couple of minimalists who came out of the Great Depression (as opposed to the Mediocre or Meh-Not-So-Great Depression). They  realized that owning possessions can be a fleeting thing and it can all vaporize with just the bad intentions of a couple of greedy bankers.

Yeah, THAT could never happen again, right?

Yeah, that could never happen again, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong. This aversion to owning a bunch of stuff is not rooted in any sort of noble goal to make the world a better place. Nor is it coming from some philosophical belief or my life-long study of Immanuel Kant.

(That’s right, bitches, I got me some Wikipedia!)

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with being able to put everything I own in the back of a car and take off at a moment’s notice as if I lived the life of some seedy criminal, needing to steal away from a broken down motel under cover of night.

Ultimately, it’s always just been a sign of freedom and independence for me to travel light and not get too attached to things.

My tidy little bubble burst when I got married. Of course, even if you marry someone who has the same minimalist mindset, you still end up with twice as much shit.

It’s pretty hard to avoid unless you are marrying a Buddhist monk. And I wouldn’t recommend that. They are super hard to buy for at Christmas.

I, on the other hand, did not marry a minimalist. To his credit, he is one now (probably because I threw out all his stuff while he was sleeping).  But, at the start, not so much.

When we first moved together to a new house, I watched in horror as we filled up both our cars plus a fair sized U-Haul.

Twice.

overloaded-car

Here’s a sampling of a typical conversation that day.

“Why are we keeping all these random pieces of wood?”

“Because it’s perfectly good wood.”

“But what do you plan to do with it?”

“I was going to make a book case out of it….or something.”

“We already have a book case. And, you don’t know how to build stuff.”

“But, what if in 30 years I decide that I want to learn carpentry or whatever and I find that it’s a huge talent I never even knew I possessed? I’ll need wood for all the awesome furniture I’ll build in my new career.”

“Have we packed the vodka yet?”

Thanks to a healthy combination of booze and compromise, I pushed through the crisis and no one was harmed.

I still have an overwhelming urge to purge. I lose sight of myself if I’m sitting in clutter and start to feel oddly invisible.

I’ve started to realize that I’m allowing my discomfort with clutter to define how I feel about myself. And, at the end of the day, is that really any different than someone who is happiest surrounded by a lot of stuff?

Tomato/tamahto – we have the same affliction at the end of the day. It’s internal definition by outward elements.

I shouldn’t be defined, or define myself, by my possessions or my lack of possessions. Both are false representations of who I really am.

My fear of being weighed down by material items must be some indication that I have issues with commitment, right?

Maybe I have some weird sort of ADD and get distracted way too easily by objects in general.

Or, perhaps it all boils down to some psycho-sexual Oedipal complex. Can women even have an Oedipal complex?

How the hell should I know? I’m not a therapist. I barely even own a couch!

I do suspect, whatever the core reason is behind it, that any reaction that is not within a moderate spectrum warrants closer examination. Getting too much pleasure from buying stuff or feeling too much joy in getting rid of it, is indicative of something else.

Hoarder, minimalist or monk. I guess the bottom line is to be sure it’s a choice and not a band-aid.

“I flipped through catalogs and wondered:
What kind of dining set defines me as a person?”
~ Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club

 

 

Image credits:

Image #1 – http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2011/1/11/
1294755406420/Michael-Douglas-in-Wall-S-007.jpg
Image #2 – http://www.khmer440.com/chat_forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=16852

Don’t Be An Emotional Litterbug – #2 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

Don’t Be An Emotional Litterbug – #2 In The Achieving Emotional Grace Series

“Always leave a bathroom cleaner than how you found it.”
~Viola Barnett, armchair philosopher

Really, you couldn't light a match?

Really, you couldn’t light a match?

I was the recipient of many sage nuggets of advice from my Mom. And, as with most of her lessons, it was intended to be applied in a  much broader context.

Don’t get me wrong, it is no small thing to leave a literal bathroom cleaner than you found it. Only since having children have I truly understood how that can change a person’s life.

But, what if we took that concept and applied it to human interaction? I’m not suggesting we Purell the hell out of the world and its inhabitants. Not that I haven’t had that overwhelming urge when stepping out of a children’s museum.

Hurry, I think we missed a couple over by the touch tank!

But, what if, every time you had any interaction, large or small, with another human, you decided to leave them better off than when you found them, even in the very smallest way?

What if you challenged yourself to step outside of how you are feeling that day and, instead, make it a point to turn someone else’s day around?

And, what if you don’t get to see any results from your effort but you do it anyway, knowing you may not get any immediate satisfaction?

You know the saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? I’ve had a few backfires in this quest to spiff up my fellow humans.

Some of you may already know my story about trying to help out a local hobo who was very verbose about the fact that he did not like carrots.

In fact, he tore me a new one and I ran away like a coward. So, that is an example, at least on the surface, of my good intention going horribly wrong.

But I posit that maybe it didn’t go as wrong as it seemed. Even if the outcome wasn’t what I’d hoped for, I still would like to believe that I have added a positive intention into the world. Whether it’s noticed by the I Hate Carrots Hobo or anyone who happened to see me try, at least the attempt was made.

And, I did walk away with a huge lesson learned. (Aside from looking more closely at a person’s dental status before offering hard food.)

You can’t go about this with the expectation or hope of a particular response. That sort of takes the focus off of someone else and puts it right back on you. It defeats the purpose of getting outside your own bubble for a minute.

On another occasion, I decided that I was going to try to walk around all day with at least the glimmer of a smile on my face, as opposed to what I expect I usually look like – confused and annoyed.

I won’t lie, I think I probably looked a bit creepy.

Well, this is what it FELT like anyway…..

Well, this is what it FELT like anyway…..

It’s really hard smiling for no specific reason. And I think I was so preoccupied with trying to look natural, I never noticed whether I got more smiles in return than normal or anyone seemed a tish happier.

OK, so again, I lazily went back to focusing on myself, thereby missing the entire point of the exercise.

It’s like any habit, I suppose. It takes repetition to make it a natural part of who you are.

At the very least, if I can’t leave someone better off than I found them, I’m trying not to add to the mess.

You don’t have to try to feed the homeless or frighten children with your forced smile like me. But, at least start by making sure you don’t leave anyone in worse shape than you found them.

Baby steps people. Baby steps.

“Just because an animal is large, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want kindness;
however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.”

~ Pooh’s Little Instruction Book (inspired by A.A. Milne)

 

 

Image credits:
Photo #1 – http://www.kab.org/
Photo #2 – http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcas_cherry_point/8580947002/
Photo #3 – Drew, fledgling cartoonist
Photo #4 – Willem DeFoe, who is often not this crazy looking and I’m guessing this is a selfie

Achieving Emotional Grace (AEG#1) – Find Your Naked Truth

Achieving Emotional Grace (AEG#1) – Find Your Naked Truth

blacksheep5

“Not being yourself is like walking around in shoes that are
two sizes too small. At best you will be endlessly uncomfortable,
at worst you will end up bloody, scarred and crippled.”

~ Irene Barnett, after several lemon drops, half of a joint and an Excedrin PM 

 

I’m not going to lie, I have been tortured by this first post in this series about Achieving Emotional Grace. I just felt like this first one should hit on a more foundational level and set the tone.

Oh, and also the debilitating realization that I’ve committed to something I have no idea I have the insight nor the cohones to deliver on.

I tend to get most of my ah-ha moments either in the shower or on the toilet. This one came to me on the toilet. And, knowing that many of you will read this while sitting in the same place, there is a certain synchronicity to this.

It occurred to me that much of the sage advice to come would be more useful within a bigger context.

So, I landed on Personal Authenticity.

Or, your naked truth…or intrinsic self….or genuineosity….because “Authenticity” is such a patchouli-smelling word that brings forth images of mood rings and Stevie Nicks.

Muddy Gray = Lower intestinal distress

Muddy Gray = Lower intestinal distress

The crux of it, regardless of label, goes like this: Lack of falsehood or misrepresentation.

When we are children, it would never enter our minds or hearts to be anything or anyone other than who we just…are.

Pretty sure this guy is fairly comfortable with his naked truth. Though I can’t imagine other parts of him are feeling all that great….

Pretty sure this guy is fairly comfortable with his naked truth. Though I can’t imagine other parts of him are feeling all that great….

But, as we get older, that truth can become clouded by outside influences for any number of reasons. Acceptance, insecurity, societal norms or just plain survival – any or all are solid reasons to create a persona or skin to wear in life.

What I think we don’t realize is that we are damaging ourselves in our pursuit of protection.

The longer we wear these personas, the deeper our authenticity is buried until it takes a team of archeologists to uncover the gem at the center. So, knowing who you are means clearing the debris.

I lost any connection to my personal foundation when I had kids. I know, I seem to blame them for a whole lot of stuff that seems pretty unfair given their small 11-year-old shoulders.

(I am, however, pretty certain they, alone, are responsible for the entire economic meltdown of 2008. And, I’m still looking into it, but, I think that whole ozone thing may be their doing as well.)

Mayhem on three wheels.

Mayhem on three wheels.

Mine was a slow disconnect that occurred without my even realizing it. Out of necessity and survival, I shifted most or all of my energy to these little people who depended on me so completely, losing sight of myself in the process.

It wasn’t until about 8 years into it that I realized I no longer had a clue as to who I was. For nearly a decade I steadily became untethered from myself until I barely had a memory of myself.

Bummer, huh?  God, go get a drink. This broad is DEPRESSING!!!

Hey, the good news is, eventually, my survival instinct kicked in and I pretty much declared, “This next decade? This one is MINE, bitches!”

Which is all well and good but, how in the hell do you find your way back? I know I still struggle a lot with paying attention to those internal cues that tell me something just doesn’t ring quite true for me. It’s so easy to lose that in all our daily noise.

Ariana Huffington wrote a fantastic piece called Are You Living Your Eulogy Or Your Resume about living a life that is true to you. It’s a very compelling idea.

And, it’s your assignment.

(I know, you didn’t think there’d be homework. And no, this will not be on the mid-term. Don’t you give me that Judd Nelson look! Now stop asking questions and get back to your seat or it will be detention for you!!)

Don't mess with the bull, young man. You'll get the horns.

Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.

So, come on, kids, let’s write our own eulogies!!

Write it as it would be delivered today, not when you are 90 or 100. No need to hide behind that fabricated skin any longer. Just pure, unsullied, bona fide YOU.

You don’t care what anyone says or thinks.

Cuz’ you’re dead.

Get it?

Do people REALLY know you? Do you REALLY know yourself?

Now that we have that first crazy-ass insurmountable goal in place, it will help to put all the other tidbits of wisdom to come in context. And, you can then pick and choose which insights ring true for you and which ones don’t.

Phew, I feel a little better now. Gotta go figure out the next installment.

Guess it’s time to take either a shower or a shit.

“Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

~ Dr. Seuss

Achieving Emotional Grace (Or, Don’t Be a Tool)

Achieving Emotional Grace (Or, Don’t Be a Tool)

My birthday is in September. Now, simmer down and stop buying me extravagant presents.

The reason I mention this is because, as opposed to January 1st, I consider my birthday my new year. I tend to stop and think about what went down this year and what I’d like to see happen in the next.

Sometimes I land on simple stuff like staying on top of the laundry, which is swiftly followed by swearing to stop wasting time on stuff like laundry. So, you see, I really never get too far.

This year I’ve decided that I need a lot (and I mean A LOT) of focus on just being a better person. Clearly not the challenge of my laundry debacle, but a worthy cause none the less.

I came to the realization that I have approximately two more years of my kids actually hearing a word I say before hormones clog them up into a sound-proof cocoon and they emerge like a butterfly at 25 as functioning humans. I hope.

I had better stuff as much usable information into their pre-pubescent brains before that time or god only knows what I will have unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

Like many of you (I hope), I say a lot of useless crap to my kids. I like to think that I’m carrying on a very proud tradition, having been the recipient of just such crap from my own parents.

“Life isn’t fair”

“Because I said so”

“Money doesn’t grow on trees”

“What? This? This is Mommy’s medicine.”

I do not think that means what you think it means.

I do not think that means what you think it means.

But, every now and then, when the stars are aligned, the winds change direction and Kate Middleton farts at a precise moment, I say something pretty freaking brilliant that has some decent substance.

Approximately 100% of the time I am regurgitating some gold nugget that was passed on to me by some advanced human. I’m talking about those people we’ve all come across who seem to have life in sharp focus. They have, what I call, emotional grace.

So, I had this idea that, as a reminder to myself, I would start to write a series about all these little lessons and analogies that have resonated with me throughout my life. Sort of like an emotional personal improvement plan.

In addition, because I am lazy, I don’t want to continue to repeat myself with my kids. I suspect that this, in and of itself, makes me an emotional lummox.

I present, the Achieving Emotional Grace primer. Or, as I like to call it Don’t Be a Tool.

Let me just start with this disclaimer: I have absolutely no expertise in what I’m writing about. I have no degrees, certifications, doctorates in anything.

In fact, I chose to study film at an agricultural school in Oregon so clearly my educational decisions in general can be called into question.

I am tripping and guffawing my way through the shitpile just like everyone else. I screw up. A  lot. I have insecurities and personality blemishes too many to count. I have warned you sufficiently.

If Child Protective Services comes to your door or you are detained or incarcerated because you did anything I said, you have no one but yourself to blame.

So, what is emotional grace? We’ve all seen countless examples of physical grace – the ballet dancer, the gymnast, the ice skater. Everything they do appears effortless, almost as if they are not confined by the weight of gravity like the rest of us.

A stark comparison would be me. I walk into walls. Just talking will cause me to bite my tongue. I am convinced that I am being drugged and beaten while I sleep because I am constantly finding bruises and scrapes and can not tell you where they came from.

I have never been, nor will I be, graceful. I’m tight and don’t bend easily. I’m like dolls before they invented the bendable limbs.

What? I am relaxed.

What? I am relaxed.

The emotional equivalent of the ballet dancer are those people who seem to know how to navigate the intricacies of human relationships and situations. They know how to say the right thing at the right time. They appear unflappable but still have appropriate emotional responses. They expect a great deal from themselves and those around them while still being forgiving and realistic with both. They are often kind, giving, funny and honest. They do all of this naturally, without effort or artifice.

And, you want to hate them for all this but you simply can’t.

As I trip my way through life, I have been given so many lessons, large and minuscule, by people who have passed through my turnstile. Many were completely unaware they were schooling me. Others did it very purposefully.

I’ve listened and tried to apply those lessons to my life with rare success and more often in failure. Recognizing noble behavior and practicing it in your life are two vastly different things.

So, stand by while I pull some sage wisdom out of my back side to share. I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats.

Except those of you who are out shopping for a birthday present for me. Good choice!

 

Image credits:
Photo #1 – http://i.imgur.com/FKhBR.jpg
Photo #2 – personal image
Photo #3 – http://www.jakks.com

 

On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

If all goes as it should, we all end up being orphaned at some point in our lives. If we don’t, our parents have outlived us and that either means you have died a tragic and early death, or you are the offspring of vampires. And everyone knows vampires can’t procreate so…..

Just because we may see the total logic in this sequence of events doesn’t mean it isn’t a huge mind-fuck.

Whether you have a healthy or therapist-inducing relationship with your parents (I suspect the latter is much more rampant….and interesting), no matter what age we are, we rely on having our parents on earth and kicking.

They are a touchstone to where we are in relation to death and the natural pecking order.

They are also the keepers of our personal history in a way that siblings and friends are not.

Having just entered orphan-hood myself, I’m still navigating the sans parents world. I suspect I will settle into it. Right now, however, I can’t stop the loop of a cockney accent asking for another bowl of porridge that keeps running through my head.

I think I’ve been watching way too much PBS.

This transition was made even stranger this past week when I was in Minnesota for my mother’s memorial service. After the very touching and lovely tribute, my sisters and I decided we’d check out our childhood house.

I had not been back since I was 10 years old.

The real shocker was that not a whole lot had changed. The house was still there, well-kept, familiar and much smaller than I remember.

As we stood around outside the house, no doubt looking like the most inept and best dressed thieves ever, a nice, young Midwestern man came out to start to mow our….his….lawn.

We let him know that we were not some sort of middle-aged organized crime ring (though I may have to start one of those) but that we had grown up in his house. Like all Midwesterners, he was exceptionally friendly and warm.

But here’s the crazy kicker. He asked us what our last name was and when we told him, he smiled widely and told us he had something for us.

He ran into his garage and came back moments later with a tarnished brass door knocker with the name “A.J. Barnett, MD” inscribed on the face.

We were the original owners of the house and this knocker hung on our front door, identifying the town doctor and intimidating every boy who came to take my sisters out on a date. And, 40 years later, it was kept and passed on from owner to owner until this nice father could give it back to us.

I couldn’t help but picture my parents hanging that knocker on the door of their new home, my Mom pregnant with me, her sixth (yes, I said SIXTH!!!) child, my father thinking about opening the doors of his new private practice in this rural outpost.

They would live in that house for over a decade, struggle with raising a hoard of kids, mend broken bones and broken hearts, struggle with starting and keeping a medical practice going, make lasting friendships and build many memories for us.

They were very much like me….except the six kids. I’m not insane after all!

 What the hell, Irish Catholics? Keep it zipped up why don’t ya!!

As I walked around my old back yard and watched my kids standing by the river that I played endless hours in, my new status of orphan didn’t feel so bad after all.

Man, I loved that sweater! I was pretty fond of that dog too.

Though I still have a real hankering for porridge.

The Five Stages of Summer Grief

The Five Stages of Summer Grief

image1

Every year around mid-May I start to get the same feeling I did when I was young. Summer is coming!! Summer is coming!!

Summer has always been a sun-kissed, dreamy time of beaches, lakes, boats, booze and making out with strangers on various docks. Nirvana!!

But now? Oh, my how the times they have a’ changed.

I suddenly remember that I don’t really get a summer anymore and I begin my annual “Stages of Summer Grief” process.

You see, now that I’m an exceptionally reluctant grown-up, a work day is a work day is a work day. Only the temperature in my office and the clothes I wear seem to change. But, my psyche still fucks with me and for a few brief moments, I imagine that the next 12 weeks or so will be a cavalcade of extreme fun and freedom.

Then those moments abruptly stop and the process begins.

1. Denial – This first stage is a doozy. It’s when I still feel a sense of optimism about this summer being different. Hey, it’s mid-May, I can lose 15 pounds and get a rock hard six-pack by June 1!! Sure I can!! Then I’ll go buy a little bikini just like the one I wore when I was 21. So what if I had twins! So did J. Lo and she can still rock it!

2. Anger – Now comes the rage. After two weeks of binge eating and goal-avoidance, it’s now end of June and not only did I gain 5 more pounds, I haven’t gone near any kind of bathing suit. Or mirror.

Yes, this one will do quite nicely, thank you.

Yes, this one will do quite nicely, thank you.

Along with this epic failure comes the end of school year blitzkrieg of potlucks, celebrations, after parties and parental guilt. I feel fortunate to have escaped with only one bout of food poisoning and an eye twitch.

And, now the kids are home and driving me to the brink of insanity.

“I’m bored!”

“I’m hungry!”

“Mommy, why are you drinking wine with breakfast?”

The good news here is that the eye twitch is really an effective addition to my look of maniacal rage that stops them in their tracks. Turns out they do have a survival instinct after all.

3. Bargaining – The idea of deal-making starts up right around the 4th of July holiday. What is more representative of the good ole’ summertime than bad food, fart-inducing beer and blowing a few fingers off with illegal explosives? All in the name of patriotism.

This is when I tell myself that the 4th is the REAL start of summer. So, all my previous June failings really don’t count, right? And, on the 5th of July, after the high-sodium hotdog and beer has left my body in whatever form God intended, THEN and only then will I REALLY start to prepare for my summer of amazing fun.

I will make summertime my bitch!!

4. Depression – With the first of August comes the realization that we are staring straight into the abyss of Fall. August is really the Sunday of summer. You want to enjoy it but Monday morning is looming.

All attempts to harness that sunny optimism, to join in numerous games of beach volleyball, to frolic carelessly in the surf have been reduced to middle-aged, tummy slimming bathing suits that are so tight you feel like any oxygen flow has, thankfully, been cut off to your head. Hey, at least it’s a buzz.

Get this woman a good waxing, stat!

Get this woman a good waxing, stat!

The kids are as ready to get back to school as you are to have them gone. The lethargy that comes with the dog days of summer has rendered you all a sweaty mess.

Ah, screw it!

Whatever!

Who cares!

5. Acceptance – The trigger for acceptance is receiving the supply list from school. It’s like watching the Western Union kid ride up to your house with eternally bad news.

Wipe that smile off your face you tiny harbinger of doom!

Wipe that smile off your face you tiny harbinger of doom!

Now it’s time to join the hordes of other frazzled parents (who also didn’t seem to have much of a summer) on the annual trek to Target for backpacks, pencils, T-squares and lunch boxes.

I’ve now accepted the fact that another summer has come and gone.  We are fast approaching Labor Day and the official end of summer.

Now there is a new excitement in the air.

Every year around late-August I start to get the same feeling I did when I was young. School is coming!! School is coming!!

The Amazing Viola De La Parra

The Amazing Viola De La Parra

 

Mom

Today my biggest supporter, my best friend, my mentor and the best woman I have ever known passed away peacefully at the age of 90.

I can never come close to thanking her enough for being the amazing mother she was to me. There will never be a day that I do not think of her, miss her and attempt to be the kind and loving person she was.

In honor of her, I am re-posting a Mother’s Day piece about my awesome Mom with a few additional facts:

Her family was from Chile and she was the only one born in the United States. New Jersey to be exact.

Her maiden name was Viola De La Parra.

She spoke Spanish first, French second and English was her third language.

She hated mayonaise.

She lost her father to pneumonia when she was 9 years old.

During the Depression, her mother opened up her home as a boarding house to make ends meet for her four children. Most of the boarders were traveling vaudevillians who would spend hours teaching my mom how to tap dance.

She met my father on a blind date.

She discovered she was a very gifted watercolorist when she was about 60 years old.

She believed in reincarnation. So, good thing the world will get to have her back again because we need more humans like her among us.

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“An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest”
– Spanish proverb

With Mother’s Day here, I feel compelled to write about the most influential person in my life – my mother. Her name is Viola and she just turned 89. She is in the final stages of dementia but continues to smile through it all like a champ.

If you think about it, dementia has its benefits. You can see the same movie or read the same book over and over and enjoy it just as much the first time as the tenth. And my stupid jokes and stories are always hilarious and fascinating no matter how many times I repeat them. So, in short, an 89-year-old with dementia is my perfect audience.

Here are some Viola-isms and Viola-facts:

“Always leave a bathroom cleaner than you found it or you’ll never be invited back.” To my knowledge, there are much bigger reasons to not invite me back to your home than this.

She has a terrible singing voice. She sounds just like Alfalfa from Little Rascals. It’s really quite disturbing.

Uncannily, she knew the moment I lost my virginity because I abruptly stopped talking about and asking questions about sex.

“Even the strongest man on earth cannot properly squeeze the water out of a sponge with one hand.” I have no idea how to prove or disprove this theory. But, she stated it with such conviction, I have to believe she has somehow witnessed this.

She taught me that to judge people was a waste of time. You wouldn’t judge a kindergartener for not acting like an MBA student so think about what “spiritual grade” a person might be in. (I am clearly in some sort of Special Education department.)

My mom always reminded me of Edith Bunker. Seemingly a bit ditzy on the outside but solid and smarter than everyone else in the room on the inside.

She graduated with a degree in Psychology with a minor in Latin Studies the same year I graduated from high school. She could psychoanalyze you in Spanish, thereby making you feel decidedly paranoid.

She regaled me and my friends at Mom’s Weekend in college about how terrific sex is after 50. The truth of this remains to be seen.

“I’ve taught my kids to be able to eat dinner with a king.” This skill has never been tested.

So, on Mother’s Day, I thank you, Vi, for being my biggest fan, my most honest critic, and my guide through the numerous missteps of my life with unwavering love and loyalty. I will always remember these things, even if you can’t anymore.

Holly Hunter and Me (Or Is It Holly Hunter and I?)

Holly Hunter and Me (Or Is It Holly Hunter and I?)

First of all, I’m back. No, I wasn’t arrested nor did I slip into a coma brought on by some horrendous, newly discovered STD, but I can understand why you may have considered both as a possibility.

No, I had to take a little bit of time because I had a flare-up of this pesky little recurring disease I contracted called “A Job”. I don’t know why Bill and Melinda Gates are working so hard on a cure for Malaria when this disease is way more debilitating and epidemic in nature. But, I live with it, like a brave saint.

I’d like to see Sarah McLachlan do a PSA about this. I can look super sad and needy for the camera. I tend to look super sad and needy most of the time these days.

For only $800/day, you can help take one mid-level executive out of the job market.

For only $800/day, you can help take one mid-level executive out of the job market.

Anyhoo, even amidst the chaos, I did, of course, observe some stuff. I do that.

One  observation is that when I am under more stress than the norm, I turn into Holly Hunter.

Not the Holly Hunter of The Piano. That would just be weird and I would like to keep all my digits.

The Holly Hunter from Broadcast News. Which, by the way, is one of my all time favorite movies and one that provides me with constant connections to my own life. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. My two favorite Brooks are involved (James L. and Albert) and my least favorite Brooke is not (Shields).

Specifically I turn into the Holly Hunter that deals with her stress by locking herself in her office, taking her phone off the hook, then proceeding to sob uncontrollably for several minutes before straightening up and getting back to it.

Since I don’t really have an appropriate office to do this in I notice that driving in a car alone does the trick. People stare at you at traffic lights and you often miss your exit, but we work with what we have. Driving at night is the best option if you can hold it in until the sun goes down. Kind of like an emotionally unbalanced vampire.

Over the last several weeks of this up tick in work/life stress, I’ve had many Broadcast News moments.

For instance, this scene where Albert Brooks has some bodily function issues. Click the picture, you won’t be sorry.

Any woman over the age of 48 most likely knows how this may apply to me without explanation.

Additional quotes from the movie, both from Albert Brooks, that seem to be resonating for me right now:

“Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If needy were a turn on?”

“At some point things got so bad it just became funny.”

That last one will be on my headstone.

So, maybe I take it all back. Maybe I’m not Holly Hunter so much as Albert Brooks. Regrettably, that just makes an awful lot of sense.

Maybe Holly would be open to shooting that PSA.