Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's Beginning to Feel a lot Like Christmas (Ouch!)

As memories of Christmesses past drift through my brain, I can’t help but compare the pain levels associated with each passing year. No doubt, the holidays are definitely getting less painful as the kids get older. For those of you who are horrified that I would use the words “painful” and “holidays” in the same sentence, you win the prize for Biggest Yuletide Liar.

Before writing this, I re-read my blog posts from past Christmas seasons. Ouch. As much as I’d love to see those munchkins running through the house in their footed jammies, dancing around the room on Christmas morning, I must say that four teenagers (including three girls!) are much easier to shop for. There are far fewer meltdowns and mini-dramas during shopping excursions to crowded malls. I’ve only had to be escorted out by security twice this year.

I think the season is made easier because of lists. My scientific poll of three of my closest friends indicates that normal parents everywhere welcome a wish list from their children in the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Personally, our goal at Christmas is to supply the kids with the things they really want, or at least get as close as we possibly can. Some people I’ve mentioned this to think it’s terrible not to surprise one’s kids on Christmas morning. One parent who overheard me talking to a friend about Christmas shopping even had the nerve to say to me, “But where’s your Christmas spirit? That’s no fun! You’ve got to surprise them…let them think they might not get anything if they aren’t good!”

I actually got a cramp in my eyebrow from furrowing so hard when I heard those words. Because I was at a cocktail party, enjoying a cocktail, I zipped it. But my interior voice was speaking loudly and clearly: My kids are not four years old; they know the score. Plus, they might hurt me. They’re strong. Hey, the Santa era was fun while it lasted (not really), but let’s face it: all good things must come to an end, and by “good” I mean “punishing.” The convos about gifts and giving and receiving have transitioned from, “What are you hoping Santa brings you this year?” to “Gimme your Christmas lists. Everyone’s on my ass about getting their shopping done.”

On my side of the family, even adults exchange lists. Our lists don’t have open ended suggestions, like “kitchen stuff” or “tools.” We’re too practical. Our lists include links to the exact item, including color, size and number of batteries required. All the giver needs to do is click, and buy. This year I got an email notification on December 12th that my gift, a $100 gift certificate to _____________, would be arriving soon. Hmmm. That actually was a new one, but not far off the mark. One year, I was told what was in the box as it was set in my lap, before I could get it unwrapped.

Sometimes, we reverse engineer our lists, and just tell each other what not to buy, like this year, when my brother gave my mother strict instructions not to buy him clothes. He even went out of his way to tell me to make sure our mom doesn’t buy him clothes. So what did we do? My mom and I went shopping together and bought my brother clothes. We opened presents early to account for the fact that we all wouldn’t be together on Christmas, which led to another holiday tradition in my family: handing over receipts because we just don’t listen.

Just in case anyone is interested, here’s my Christmas wish list, in no particular order:

1. Subscription renewal to tranquilizer of the month club
2. Stock in feminine hygiene products manufacturer 
3. Gift cards to DMV
4. Gift cards to Matich-Vukovich Insurance
5. A milk cow
6. Gift cards to BGs
7. Gift cards to local taxi service
8. More coffee
9. Some ibuprofen
10. A little ice water, please

Don’t forget: Let me know what you get me so that I can update my list periodically to keep it fresh for others who ask for it.

Wishing you and yours a painless holiday season! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: No Pressure

For as long as I’ve known my husband, which is 11 years, I’ve known that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. I know this because our souls are deeply, almost cosmically connected, and because every year about this time, I overhear him tell someone, “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.”

I’ve always just assumed it was because of the food. But this year, I decided to find out what was so special about it (to him) that it causes the year-on-year giddiness. I finally asked the other day, when he got home from work (school) and said this:

“I told my class today that my favorite holiday was almost here and they wanted to know why.”

“So do I. Why is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday?”

“Because there’s no pressure.”

I immediately performed a mental inventory of high-pressure holidays. I came up with one: Christmas. For me, Christmas is wrapped in an enormous amount of pressure: satisfying the children’s wish lists; visiting relatives; obeying the budget; pretending that I like to bake cookies; dodging the Jesus bullet. As I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about the Polar Express bearing down on me in one month, my husband expanded on his answer. I should have known it would include his favorite F-words.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because all you have to do is show up, watch football and eat food.”

That made sense. I didn’t have to ask him about Christmas—the multi-chambered vortex of yuletide pressure is just too obvious, with one exception: Baking cookies is his thing.

So then I started wondering what sort of pressure load the other holidays might be bearing on him.

“The 4th of July?”

“It’s a lot of pressure to find a red, white and blue shirt! And sometimes I forget to get the flag out.”

I realized he had spent a considerable amount of time thinking this through. I delved further.


“Doorbell…Barking dog…Calories!”

“Valentine’s Day?”

“Expensive Hallmark card, planning the perfect date.”

“St. Patrick’s Day?”

“Getting to the pub at 6 a.m. for green beer!”

“When is the last time you felt compelled to do that?”


“Anything else? What about New Year’s Eve?”

“New Year’s Eve! Tons of pressure! What party am I going to? Who is going to drive me? How am I going to stay awake until midnight?”

“We usually just stay home with the children on New Year’s Eve.”

“Exactly! Why don’t I get invited to any parties?!”

With that, I decided that 2015 would be the year of no-pressure holidays for our household. I thought I’d get a running start by cancelling Christmas, 2014, and instead plan a trip to Disneyland. After a quick visit to, I realized that the Most Expensive Place on Earth is no place to relieve any pressure whatsoever. Determined to get started with my “No Pressure in 2015” plan, I told all four kids they could invite a friend over on New Year’s Eve. With four teenagers, life has become all about ticking one more opportunity for disaster off the list, one day at a time, and New Year’s Eve is a big tick! Keep ‘em home and keep track of them is what I say.

Moving on, Valentine’s Day will be easy: I’ll just pick a fight with my husband the day before and we’ll call it good. St. Patrick’s Day: It’s on a Tuesday in 2015. Who drinks on a Tuesday? Don’t answer that.

Just when I thought I had spring in the bag, a sickening feeling crept into my gut: Easter. Every year, my moral stance (and normal habit) of only buying organic eggs in protest of commercial poultry farming practices dissolves in the face of buying four dozen of those expensive suckers all at once. But those poor Foster Farms chickens! Which brings us to Mother’s Day. Brunch or Dinner? In-laws or immediate family only? Is it OK to actually let one’s mother pick up the check on Mother’s Day? What if she insists? My husband is right!

I have to give it to my husband on this one: Thanksgiving is where it’s at, if for no other reason that what it doesn’t bring to the table: pressure. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thank You, Teenagers (This is not a paid advertisement.)

So far this November, I’m thankful that Facebook (at least on my newsfeed) hasn’t been deluged with that tiresome habit of people posting one new thing every day that they are thankful for. My eyes were sore from rolling them last year. I finally stopped reading when I saw, “I’m thankful for the love of my turtle.” Say what? Your turtle loves you? But even the obvious thank-you posts, like “I’m thankful for the love of my children” or “I’m thankful for clean air to breathe” get a little old.

I’m not suggesting that we should not be grateful for things like love and breathable oxygen, I’m just saying this: Can’t we dig a little deeper? Not in importance, because what is more important than love and air? (Well, perhaps an unwatched episode of Real Housewives of Beverley Hills on our DVR.) I mean, not even one nod to Facebook? Not once have I ever seen an honest Facebook appreciation  post, like, “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be friends with people I actually thought were dead” or “I’m thankful for having an outlet to broadcast passive-aggressive insults thinly disguised as compliments.”

So I’m borrowing a page from late-night show host Jimmy Fallon, the man who has single-handedly resurrected the lost art of thank-you note writing, and dedicating this pre-Thanksgiving column to my four teenagers. It’s not in cursive, on a notecard, but it still counts. Here we go:

Thank you, teenagers, for standing in the kitchen and saying, “Can I make…” and not “Will you make me…” I don’t even care it it’s healthy; I only care that I’m not being asked to do it for you. For the record, if you were to say, “Can we make deep-fried hot dogs for an afterschool snack?” I’d say yes. And then if you said, “But can we make deep-fried hot dogs using our dog?” you’d still get a yes as long as you can do it without my assistance.

Thank you, teenagers, for being old enough to wash the car, pick up your shoes, socks, backpack and the dog’s poop. You are physically capable, and so I’ll let you, just like I let you use the ladder to get to the top of the playground slide once you were able to do that. Doing it yourself made us both happy then, and it makes us both happy now.

Thank you, teenagers, for occasionally not being able to stand the sight of me, or hear the sound of my voice. The feeling is mutual. I realize this is a natural stage of adolescence, and the level of disgust you feel just being in my general vicinity is evidence of your emerging sense of independence and vital to your survival and successful navigation of the world you’ll be slogging through by yourself in just a few short years. Feel the urge to storm out of the room in a huff? I’m especially thankful for that. Knock over my wine, and you’re dead.

Thank you, teenagers, for each smelling uniquely different, which allows me to identify the owner of random articles of clothing I find around the house. If it’s a sweatshirt smelling of strawberry fields deodorant wrapped in peach blossom bodyspray, cloaked in honeysuckle-rose room freshener, I know exactly who it belongs to. We’ll leave it at that.

Thank you, teenagers, for being old enough to form your own opinions and follow your heart. But the day I catch you watching Fox news or dating a guy with giant fake bull testicles hanging from his bumper, we will be having a talk.

Thank you, teenagers, for not a single one of you insisting I go to 6th grade science camp. It may have been because you knew I wasn’t sciency, or it may have been your emerging sense of independence. Whatever the reason, thank you for not making me prove to your dad that I could go four days without wine.

Happy Thanksgiving, teenagers, for giving me so many things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ironic Reactions and Ravioli Season

I’ve noticed lately that when I read certain stories in the news, my first reaction isn’t always…typical. In fact, I guess it could be called ironic. Like, for instance, the other day I read a story about a dad who kidnapped his 9-year old son in Seattle instead of returning him to his ex-wife, and then sailed away for a tiny atoll off the coast of New Zealand.

As I read the story, I thought, “Some people get all the luck.” (Note: The kid was eventually found unharmed and having a great time.)

That story reminded me of another ironic-ish reaction I had recently. My ex-husband told me that he wanted to get passports made for our kids. Later, I mentioned it to a friend.

“My ex wants to get passports made for the kids.”

“Oh, ok. How come?”

It then occurred to me that I hadn’t asked my ex what his intentions were.

“Not sure. Hopefully he’ll kidnap them.”

T-minus 12 Days to T-Day
My yard is full of turkeys this time of year. I keep telling my kids to come in and get out of the cold, but they never listen. They’re teenagers. My yard also has hens now, thanks to four little ladies we adopted recently. We are all waiting patiently for eggs (well, except for my husband, who was against the idea of having chickens for years, until the moment we got them, when he began calling them “my chickens”). He can’t wait for the day he can fetch an egg and cook it up for his breakfast. On the bright side, at least I’ve finally figured out the answer to the age old question, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Speaking of turkeys, we’re at my parents’ house for Thanksgiveit this year, which means the day will be steeped in tradition, including setting the table three days prior, and homemade ravioli with Italian gravy the day of. Other traditions include unsuccessfully avoiding political discussions and never, ever running out of wine.

My mom makes hundreds of ravioli this time of year and freezes them, to get the family through ravioli season. We’ll also have pumpkin pie made from my Great-grandmother Boitano’s recipe, with its super-secret ingredient (brandy). I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie. To me, it tastes like brandy-laced baby food, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that to brandy. I also don’t care for turkey, no matter how perfectly it’s cooked. I typically eat just a few bites strictly for its protein properties, drench it in gravy, and load up on my favorites: potatoes, stuffing, and ravs. Oh, another tradition: certain family members judging other family members for the amount of food on their plate. Before you assume that we shame fat people at our table, kindly recall one important detail: We’re Italian. At our dinner table, if you don’t sit down with a mountain range of food on your plate, or god forbid pass on a second helping the size of a Volkswagen, or shun dessert, you will be treated to a delightful interrogation game I like to call, “Whatsa matter with you?” It goes like this, and it happens as the offender tries to slide into his or her seat at the dinner table, unnoticed:

“Is that all you’re eating?”

“Um, yeah.”

“How come? You on a diet?”

“No. Because that’s how much fits in my stomach.”


Then, fifteen minutes later, it’s the Lightning Round:

“I guess you’re done eating.”


“What’s the matter? You afraid you’ll get fat?”


“Boy, wish I had your willpower.”

“It has nothing to do with willpower. I stop eating when I’m full.”

The stare I get back is so blank, so devoid of any understanding of what I’ve just said, it’s as if I’ve suggested that we engage in a new Thanksgiving tradition consisting of spraying gravy and whipped cream around the room and throwing the plates in the garbage instead of washing them.

At the end of a nice evening, we all end up disgustingly full of something, whether it’s food, wine, dessert or hot air, which, after all, is the American way. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Self-Awareness Never Hurt Anyone

It’s not every single day, or maybe it is, when a moment presents itself to us that just stinks of importance. That is, if one is interested in taking their human experience to the next level. It is in these moments that people could benefit greatly from a little reflection, and time to allow the words, “I think I could use a little adjustment here” to bubble up.

For all you lovers of remaining exactly the way you are, consider this: Unless you are seriously deranged, you are not the same person with the same beliefs that you were at the age of six; you no longer want to marry your mommy, or have an imaginary friend. These ideas have been discarded and replaced because you’ve spent time really thinking about them: You’re actually not that attracted to your mom and/or you could probably do better, and imaginary friends don’t have private parts.

Why should it be any different when one is 40, 50, 60, or even 70, for that matter? There is no magic age that we get to when the universe suddenly makes complete sense and as a result, so do all of our thoughts and actions. One has to be willing to shed old beliefs and make room for new ones that help society. And by society, I mean me.

By practicing a little self-awareness, we can achieve new levels of understanding, about ourselves and others. What better place for a person to start than with grammar.

Specifically, I’m referring to pronoun usage.  

As a refresher, pronouns take the place of (rename) nouns: I, me, he, she, it, that, this, etc. Overuse of pronouns, a.k.a., pronounarrhea, results in vague sentences that require even more talking.  And if there is one thing the world doesn’t need more of, it’s talking. The irony of this statement is not lost on me.

Allow me to illustrate. Recently, my husband and I were carrying a high-backed loveseat down our staircase. Halfway down, our stairs split and go in two directions toward the first floor; there is a small, 4 x 5 foot landing at the split, where one can go left, toward the front entryway, or right, toward the family room. So there we were, on either side of the cumbersome couch, which prevented the sharing of non-verbal clues of any kind. And then, this happened:

Husband: Okay, you can lower it a little and go this way.

Wife: Which way?

Husband: THIS way, THIS way!

Need I say more?

The relative pronoun, “THIS,” even in its all-capped glory, really didn’t tell me a friggin’ thing. So I guessed left. Turns out, I was correct, which is why I said this:

Wife: Just a note for future reference: it’s ok to be specific and say, “my left” or “your right.”

Husband:  (silence)

Had I guessed wrong, and zigged when he zagged, we’d have probably dropped it, which would have resulted in this long-winded conversation:

Husband: I said THIS way!

Wife: This staircase has two THIS ways, Einstein!

Parking lots are another location where one can experience messy bouts of pronounarrhea.

“There! That one!”



Now I ask you: Would it be so hard to say, “to the right,” or “on the left?”  I mean, I see frantic pointing going on out of my peripheral vision, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to glance over and see exactly where my passengers are pointing. I don’t know about you, but when I have an important decision to make, for example, whether to take my eyes off the road while I’m driving, I think ahead to when I might have to explain my decision to another human being who is not in a coma.

“Well, the reason I just rolled into your car going 15 mph is because despite the fact that the State of California has allowed me to possess a valid driver’s license for thirty years, I was unable to find an open parking space without the help of my co-pilot(s), who are fond of pronouns. Can I go now?”

Have a crazy grammar story of your own to share? Email it to me at

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nine Things You Don't Need to Know About Me

Lately, Facebook has been deluged with a “game” in which participants are tasked with divulging some random number of things about themselves that others might not be aware of. If you click “like” on someone’s list, you get a number assigned and you are supposed to play. I have not participated in the Facebook version of the game, mainly because I don’t have time for such silliness—I’m too busy snooping.

Recently, I saw a list of things posted by someone I knew quite well. There was not a single thing on the list that I knew, prior to reading it, which told me that I really didn’t know this person as well as I thought I did. I felt sort of bad for a minute. But then the feeling passed.  

I got to thinking: How well do we know the people who we think we know? How well do we need to know the people we think we know? The answer is, I don’t know. But just for the sake of absolutely nothing, here is my list of things you may not know about the Surreal Housewife.

Did you know…

1. I can drop five F-bombs in one sentence when I’m looking for my pen that I know I just set down on my desk three seconds ago. (Hint: insert an F-bomb immediately before each noun in the previous sentence. There are five. Yes, “F-bomb” counts as a noun. Insert it. It’s fun.)

2. I can do four hours worth of housework in 20 minutes when my back is up against the wall. And by wall, I mean my aunt, mother or mother-in-law just called to say they are stopping by. I call this the “ax-murder-clean.” I pretend that I am cleaning up after an ax murder and the forensics team is on the way.

3. I once ate an entire sandwich sprinkled with dead ants, which I think perished in the tub of mayo sitting out on the counter of the restaurant where I was working at the time. I was hungry and it was a really good sandwich. I picked them out as I ate. I can pick hair out of my food and keep on eating, too, providing I am at home and not in a restaurant.

4.  I have a minor in Italian Studies and spent a semester living in Italy. Twenty years ago I was fluent in Italian, but now I’m not. It was fun while it lasted. So was Guido.

5. I have worked at more than 30 jobs in my lifetime. I have only been fired once, when I was 20. It was a blessing. No further details available.

6. Occasionally, I tell my children “I’m going upstairs to take a shower” and then instead, I climb into bed for a nap. An hour later, when they see me walk out of my room in my pajamas, they say, “I thought you were going to take a shower?” And then I say, “Oh right, I forgot,” and the cycle continues until I get busted in bed.

7. I failed at being the tooth fairy so many nights in a row once that I finally told my child, “It sometimes takes a week for the tooth fairy to come by. She’s very busy. Keep checking back.”

8. When my kids were really little, I sometimes skipped pages in books when I read to them at bedtime. I had a harder time getting this past one of them. Have you ever had a four year-old give you the squinty-eyed “Are you sure that was an accident” look? It’s unnerving.

9. I am a Real Housewives of ... addict. I recently binge-watched the entire season of Real Housewives of Melbourne in the course of one week and it was awesome. In fact, some of my kids watch them with me and we’ve had many frank conversations about how not to behave. It’s a virtual cornucopia of teaching moments.

And there you have it: Nine things you probably didn’t know about me and are no better off now that you do know. Sorry not sorry.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Women to Match My Mountains, Part 2

When last we met, I had just spent the first night of my weekend alone in my mountain cabin, mostly reading, writing, and trying to keep up with my hound’s extreme neediness, including sleeping in the exact center of the bed and needing to go outside in the pitch blackness to pee.

8:00 a.m., second day: Determined to stick with my new workout regimen even at the cabin, I scavenge around looking for something to serve as a dumbbell. I settle for a cast-iron Dutch oven. After my lunges, tricep raises and bicep curls, I make a mental note to brag to my friends about how dedicated I am. And so here that is.

9:00: I decide to see what my faux beau, Kit Carson is up to, and so I grab “Blood and Thunder” and saddle up my horse (press the start button on the quad).

9:10: Down at the lakeside, I stretch out on a rock as my thoughts drift back to a simpler time and place, though by now I am pretty convinced that it doesn’t get much simpler than the edge of the lake on a warm summer morning with a book, a dog and a motorized vehicle.

11:30: After traipsing across the Rocky Mountains with Kit, and making our way down to Monterey to see what the Mexicans are up to, I grow weary of his vagabond ways and decide to take my leave of him and the horse he rode in on. Plus, I’m thirsty. I decide to ride back to camp and tend to my afternoon chores (find a shady spot on the deck). Mountain woman life is exhausting.

Noon: After much strenuous activity (hosing off the deck of pollen and errant pine needles), I find that my sarsaparilla (beer) rations are depleted, so I make a plan to go the store to replenish my provisions. Glancing in the mirror before leaving, it comes as a bit of surprise to me that despite my morning beauty routine of rolling out of bed and slapping on a ball cap, and then sweating in the sun for two hours, my hair is, in fact, “pert’ near” perfect, as Kit is fond of saying.

12:30: Back at the cabin, I’m feeling just right about my negotiations with the proprietor of the trading post, and lay out my haul of beer and pistachios. I’ll miss those fine beaver pelts, but that four-pack of tallboys was just too good of a deal to pass up.

1:00: A neighbor from over yonder stops by for a spell, and I am obliged to share with her the chuck wagon special that I am enjoying. We catch up on the hectic weekend we’ve had so far and lament the distance between ourselves and our loved ones back home. Not really.

1:30: The neighbor, before taking her leave, invites me to visit her camp come nightfall, for some fellowship. I kindly accept her gracious invitation and turn back to my writing to catch up on this here blog. But first, a muse. Flipping through my CDs, I take care not to select something too upbeat, which could encourage another beer, or too sad, which could encourage a tenth. I opt for Willie Nelson.

1:35: Alas, my trusty companion (laptop) is dead. Scouring the cabin for artifacts that might help me with my plight, I locate a bundle of thin, flat, dry white material and a tubular tool that appears to contain a reservoir of black liquid. I commence the ancient art of handwriting.

4:30: Three hours, two beers and one nap later, I prepare to call on my neighbor. But first, I must assess my countenance. Upon close inspection, I confirm an earlier suspicion that one side of my hair around my face is longer than the other. Finding a pair of utility shears, I commence self-barbering.

10:30: Six hours, two bottles of wine and zero food later, I return to my cabin for the night. Before retiring, I pack my belongings in order to get an early start. In the morning, I must bid my summer encampment farewell…at least for now.

Day 3:
7 a.m.: Westward, ho!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Women to Match My Mountains, Pt. 1

Within a few hours of arriving at our mountain cabin this past summer for a weekend alone with my thoughts and to do a little writing, I realized something: Without my kids around, I didn’t have much to write about. Or did I? Not more than a couple of hours had gone by when it became clear that I had something to share. So I decided to do a timeline—a moment by moment chronology of what it’s like to be me in a cabin in the woods.

7:30 p.m., Friday: I arrive just in time to unpack the truck and make my way around in the fading twilight without turning on the propane lights. Did I mention there is no electricity, cell service or Internet access at the cabin?

7:35: My first task is the same as any grown-up’s would be upon arrival at a cabin for a solitary sojourn: check the upstairs for boogeymen.

7:40: Satisfied that the cabin is clear of any squatters, I unpack the truck: duffel bag of clothes, laptop, food (barely enough) and wine (more than enough). The fading trickles of natural light remind me that I’d better find the matches I’ll need to fire up the propane lights, which will be difficult to do in the dark. That’s me: always thinking ahead. But first, I pour a glass of wine and decide to enjoy the shift change of day to night, on the deck. That’s me, too: always prioritizing responsibly.

8:45: Stumbling around in the pitch black, I locate matches and make my way to the bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom.

8:50: With the pretend dog (no dogs allowed in the cabin) happily lazing by the door, I settle into the couch to read.

8:51: Realizing I have forgotten to bring my Kindle to the couch with me, I get up, hunt around, find it, and return.

8:52: Realizing I have forgotten to bring my glass of wine to the couch with me, I get up, hunt around, fill it, find it, and return.

8:53: Realizing I have forgotten to bring my glasses with me to the couch, I get up, hunt around, find them, and return.

8:54: Realizing it would actually be just perfect if I had my slippers on, I get up, hunt around, find them, and return.

8:55: I settle into the couch with my book, glasses, wine and slippers. Life is good.

8:56: Realizing that I have forgotten to bring my old-school ghetto blaster and CD case with me, I get up, hunt around, find them, and return.

8:57: Realizing that I might, in fact, be crazy, I wonder if anyone would believe my first few hours. I decide to find out. Hence, I open a Word doc and begin typing this blog.

9:15: Having caught up to myself in real time, I shut down the computer and notice a large fossil (hardback book) on the coffee table. It’s a narrative history of the settling of the American West. It’s called Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. I’ve heard of him. Recalling my fondness for the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and my on-again, off-again fantasy of being Butch’s squeeze (or was it Sundance’s?) I open the book.

11:00: Thoroughly convinced that I should have lived in the Old West, I say goodnight to my new boyfriend from a past life, Kit Carson. Just then, my hound signals me that he indeed must go out and have a look around in the pitch black, Indian-infested wilderness. With just enough whiskey (wine) under my belt to be brave, my four-legged companion and I complete a successful expedition, trekking almost ten feet from the porch, before returning to the safety of our camp.

11:15: Lanterns out.

Day Two
7:15 a.m.: My A-hole dog, having slept soundly in the exact center of the bed for the entire night, thereby keeping me alert enough to ward off bear attacks or rattlesnake invasions, alerts me that it is time to face the day. We depart for our morning walk and poop in the meadow. The dog goes virtually unnoticed; I, on the other hand, draw curious looks from passers-by. Could it be the coonskin cap?

Next week: Day Two: Varmints and Vittles.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Last Word

Despite regular threats to throw myself off the porch, which actually means grabbing a beer out of the garage fridge and heading to the front yard for a time out, I’m in no hurry to die, or overly curious about what happens “on the other side.” I’m just reminded of the topic now and then, like when my uncle died unexpectedly last year. His family found some letters outlining his last wishes in the event of his death. Keep in mind, he was 74, and while he wasn’t in poor health, at that age, one never knows. Unfortunately, he left the letters in the “drafts” folder of his email program and they weren’t found until after he was laid to rest. Nevertheless, my uncle would have been ecstatic about the send off his wife and four children gave him. Or more likely, he would have shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever’s right,” even if it wasn’t exactly what he’d written down.

I suppose he figured he’d have time to whisper the words, “drafts folder” from his deathbed, but alas, there were no last words that anyone was witness to. There was a tree, and a single car accident in the middle of an otherwise perfect, sunny Colorado afternoon.

I admire his courage to write down his last wishes. He also left letters to his wife and children, who were devastated by his untimely death. But having those letters, knowing they were written with the understanding that they would someday be navigating this world without him, must have brought them what I can only assume was a shred of comfort in a sea of pain. It’s a brave thing to do, to face one’s own mortality and write stuff down.

As soon as we returned home from the funeral, my husband and I had that conversation usually reserved for late in one’s life. But that’s the thing: How do we know how late (or early) it is in our life? One of my kids could be sneaking up behind me with a heavy frying pan as I write this.

My point is this: Why leave it to your grieving relatives, who will be furiously looking for your will, to make important decisions about your send-off? Regardless of how comfortable you are thinking about your own demise, isn’t it your responsibility? And besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have the last word, once and for all?

Here is how my letter to my children might look:

Dear Children:

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope your Grand Theft Auto score or your rating on Kim K. is not terribly impacted; I’m sure you’ll be a C-lister in no time, even without my guidance. Regarding my last wishes and life in general, here you go:

You must do your chores this week, but take next week off. By then, the fridge and cupboards will be empty and you will be weak with malnourishment. Behind the microwave you’ll find a few twenties; call in a pizza.
Since you already know everything, all you must do is remember it, along with the location of your shoes, phone, homework and head, if it weren’t attached. Nevertheless, follow this last bit of advice if you want to get ahead in life, or at least to the corner: Accept your responsibilities and the consequences of your actions; treat others the way you would like to be treated; look both ways before you snatch the last slice of pizza.
Please cremate me. (In the event this letter is found while I’m still alive, I take that last sentence back). Please, no weepy gatherings in a dark mortuary with hard benches or I will haunt you for eternity. Have an outdoor get-together somewhere with wine, music and flushing toilets. Sprinkle my ashes to the winds at any location above 7000 feet. Whatever you do, please don’t leave my ashes in the closet for eternity, or until someone needs the shoebox to wrap a Christmas present in and I am poured into the recycle bin, which, come to think of it, would create a new circle of Dante’s hell and serve as fitting punishment for having sent so many wine bottles to the same demise.

Love, Mom.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Freshmen on my Mind

Freshman orientation is today. Since I have two of that variety in my household, the freshman experience is really on my mind lately.

I had just moved to a new town at the end of eighth grade, so I began my freshman year with one friend—my next door neighbor who was kind enough to follow her parents instructions to be nice to me. I quickly branched out and began accruing friends in a more organic way, which helped calm my nervous stomach as I walked on campus those first few weeks. By mid-year I was settled in. But that was in a school of nearly 2500 students. When you don’t know anyone, in a sea of bodies that vast, you can both blend in and feel even more alone than ever at the same time.

I’ve got four kids in high school this year, and for the next two years, when the eldest graduates and likely heads either north, to my alma mater (Chico), or south, to San Diego. At least, that’s what he’s thinking about this week. The two freshmen, my daughter and youngest step-daughter, escorted their dad down the driveway this morning, each taking an arm for the long walk to the truck. Was he going willingly? I think so. He’s been waiting a long, long time to have all his kids on campus with him. I upgraded his classroom mini-fridge to a slightly larger, dorm-style version last year, when our second-eldest, my other step-daughter, started high school. Now, he’s got five lunches to store, including his own, not to mention water, yogurt and whatever else they can cram in there.

Where did the time go? I don’t just mean this summer; I mean the last 16 summers. Seems like just yesterday I was packing bikes and kids into the truck and heading to the elementary school to teach them how to ride a bike, which was impossible on the hill we lived on. Or I was killing time at the park, pushing them “higher” on the swings and catching them at the bottom of the “loopy slide.”

A lot of time definitely went to operating car seats. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, or even at the beginning of what surely would become one, just thinking about taking the kids along somewhere would lead me to conjure up and then calculate exactly how much work it would entail, and whether it was worth it. Into the car seat, out of the car seat, into the car seat, out of the car seat. Those days when I had to run three or four errands, to the drug store, the cleaners, or god forbid, the grocery store, it became a shit show of buckling and unbuckling, keeping one on track (alive) while the other was either being removed from or put back into the car. And back then I only had two kids. In fact, I recall moments in the early evening, when this single mom was not up to cooking even mac n’ cheese, and I’d decide to get takeout. Hmmm, I’d think. Do I want to pile two tired, sweaty, not to mention mostly uncooperative kids into the car, drive to whatever fast food joint we could all agree on, spend the money, come home, and pile them out of the car, just to avoid boiling water and mixing in some powdered cheese and butter? Some days the answer was “hell, no” and other days it was “hell, yes.” Funny, how that works.

 Now, I pull up at the softball or soccer field, leave the motor running and wait for them to scramble out, grabbing their gear, water and sweatshirts. In less than ten seconds, I’m on my way. We’ve come a long, long way from car seats. So far, in fact, that the junior is now driving himself around and the sophomore will be soon.

The time went to a million different places: family movie night, when we’d pile onto the couch and shush each other for two hours; dinners at Mel’s, endless trips to the park, or the museum, camping, vacations to Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, trips to the City (San Francisco), baseball games, an endless stream of softball tournaments, Saturday soccer games that seemed to end in a different time zone they went on so long, holiday dinners,  family reunions, and most recently, sitting in or around the pool at all hours of the day or evening.

Monday is the big day. Four kids in high school. R.I.P. Summer of ’14, and all that came before you. You will be missed.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Room of One's Own

It’s almost that time of year again—the time when my kids go away for a summer visit to their dad’s house in Southern California for a couple of weeks. I miss my kids when they’re away, but not right at first. Right at first I do a lot of skipping, and singing, and then once I leave the airport, I get sad. Typically, on the first or second day they’re gone, I do a deep clean of their bedrooms. In other words, I make it nice-nice so they can crap it up again. I leave the doors open so that I can enjoy the view; the sense of accomplishment I feel at taking their rooms from looking like a category 5 twister ripped through on its way home from getting a double root canal sans Novocain to Pottery Barn-catalogue-worthy, is huge.  

As long as they allow me my twice-yearly cleaning frenzy, I allow them to live in their own filth. Not really. I have my limits. I don’t like clothes on the floor. I like clothes in one of four places: on one’s body, on a hanger, in a drawer, or in a laundry basket. I suppose it had something to do with my own mother’s insistence that I clean my room on the half-hour. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but that’s how it seemed at the time. But now, I get it. Clothes are expensive. We don’t do shopping as recreation, but when we need something. They seem to really appreciate it when we go shopping for clothes, and it hurts my feeling when I see their clothes trampled on. It also hurts my foot when I step on a belt buckle. When they get to college they can experiment with a horizontally organized closet on their floor.

I’m an optimist. I never give up hope that one day, my son and/or daughter will walk into their room upon returning from vacation, take one look at the dusted, cleared off desk with room for a book and a pen, and say, “Mom. I really don’t know how I ever lived like that. I shall forever embrace a clean living space.”
Sometimes, when I glance into their rooms and my vision becomes obscured by the blood seeping out of my eyes, another one of my senses take over: smell. The odor emanating from my son’s room has no category. I really can’t describe it, so I’ll just call it “wrong.” Like emotions, smells can be wrong or right. Like, when my husband feels sad because I’m staying up late to work, or because the Giants lost, I tell him he’s wrong.

“When are you coming to bed?”


“Oh, darn it. That makes me sad.”

“You couldn’t be wronger about that.”

“Huh? But I am sad. I don’t like to go to bed without you.”

“You are fine.”

“Well, I’m sad that the Giants lost.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes, I am!”

“I’m sorry, but you are wrong.”

“I am?”

“Yes. You are fine. Now go to bed.”


When I open my son’s door and breathe through my nose, there’s just nothing right about it. I seriously feel pain. The only time I’m brave enough to enter is 1) when I’m super pissed off about something or 2) there is no two.

It’s a constant mental battle with myself every time I open his bedroom door: Do I leave it alone or tell him to clean it up? What’s the right thing to do? Is my health something I am willing to sacrifice? Where is haz-mat when you need them? Why do I care? Why can’t I just ignore it? Is my own room a shining example of how to care for one’s things? With this last question, my Woody Allen-esque internal struggle comes to an end and I back slowly away from the room, but not before sprinting to the window and throwing it open. Tomorrow, when the stank tank is empty, I shall clean, fully prepared for the fact that in less than 30 seconds after he returns, the carpet will have disappeared.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Stick Diet

For me, just thinking about a state or county fair brings to mind fond childhood memories of hurling through the air on the Scrambler, clattering through the fun house, and most vividly, the smell of goat manure in the morning. There really is nothing quite like it, except for possibly the smell of a mixture of pig, goat and cow manure, oh, around 4 p.m. on a 100-degree day. Oddly enough, it’s when I leave the animal exhibits that I can’t help but think about food.

More specifically, stick food.

The smell coming from the food stalls is amazing; and by amazing, I mean unidentifiable. Nonetheless, for the better part of four days a year, the stick diet is the only one I have ever made a point of sticking to.

I like to open my four-day county fair diet plan with a deep-fried artichoke heart on a stick. It is a strange concept, as it is kind of a strange thing, the heart of an artichoke. Only in America would someone take an exotic looking plant, impale it on a piece of wood, fry the life out of it and sell it for a profit. Speaking of profit, just what is the mark-up on cotton candy? Last time I glanced at my recipe card there was just one word: Sugar. Is it a recipe if there’s only one ingredient? I mean, is there a recipe for banana? Anyway, if you really want to get technical and count air as an ingredient, then you might actually have a recipe for cotton candy. How much are they making on that stuff? Whatever it is, it’s way too much. It does however, come on a stick, and therefore, I get to eat it.

And who doesn’t like corn dogs? Well, my mom, for starters. She hasn’t eaten a corn dog since she was eight, when she consumed the original stick-food at our very own Amador County Fair. Let’s just say it wasn’t the last she saw of it…If you see her at the fair this year, offer to buy her one.

To be honest, there is one thing on a stick that I never consume at the fair: caramel apples. It does contain the required stick, and therefore qualifies to be in the diet plan, but the presence of that apple, all natural and juicy and obviously grown on a tree just ruins the whole experience. One would have to consume a helluva lot of fry bread on a stick to cancel out a crisp, fresh apple.

Even corn-on-the-cob gets stuck with a stick, and really just barely qualifies due to the natural nature of corn itself. The saving grace is that it’s slathered in butter and doused with salt. It could only be better if it was fried. (Why in tarnation hasn’t anyone figured out how to batter and deep fry an ear of corn? To whoever does figure this out, please keep the butter on the inside of the batter so that it doesn’t drip down my arm.

Even Asian food has gone stick, with the introduction of the eggroll on a stick. I remember seeing that little hut for the first time at the State Fair several years ago and wondered what happens when you bite into a bunch of shredded cabbage on a stick? Doesn’t it just fall apart? My guess is that cabbage isn’t the main ingredient, but most likely some mysterious, sticky meat product is, one that packs nicely around the little wooden spear. I passed on that one.

Each year, I longingly search for my favorite foods, hoping to find them stuck on a stick: pizza, tacos, beer. Wait a second! I just realized something: If I carry around some chopsticks, then technically everything can be on the stick diet! And a straw is basically a stick with a hole in the middle, so technically beer is in! I can see it now: My pre-Destruction Derby meal plan: a few hours visiting the beer booth, drinking beer through a straw, followed by nachos-with-chopsticks. Who’s with me on this?

Keep it classy, Amador!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Talkative or Silent: Which Kid Do You Prefer?

Recently, on Geniusbook, a friend of mine groused about her teenager, who seems to be perpetually on mute. She can’t get a word out of him. The responses to her post were split pretty evenly when it came to what’s worse: verbal diarrhea or the silent treatment. Some moms complained of constant chatter and too much sharing. Others were equally frustrated with the silent treatment.

Of my four kids, I have one who never shuts it, one who rarely shuts it, one who is mostly quiet until he’s completely insane, and one quiet soul who I refer to as the hovercraft, because of her ability to move silently through the house: no footsteps, no voice, just a delicious absence of sound.

Can you guess which way I’m leaning on this topic?

In any given moment, but most commonly in the morning when I’m vertical, yet still asleep, or during dinner prep time when I wish I was, I’m flanked by Chatzilla, with her verbal stream-of-consciousness, and Talkasauras Rex, telling a “story.”

Sometimes I have to interrupt T-Rex, like after I’ve pulled out all my hair, strand-by-strand, bitten all my nails down to nubs and scratched at my ears until they resemble shredded, bloody rags dangling limply from my head.

“This story was over an hour ago. Do you realize you are still talking about the look someone gave you when they passed back the paper today in math class?”

If her stories were a U2 album, it would be called “Where the Details Have no Point.”

In fact, I’m thinking of calling the State Department and offering up her services at Guantanamo. Water-boarding is no match for this form of torture.

Trust me, I listen to the important stuff, and yes, I am qualified to make that determination. But there are times when I just have to yell “Cut!” It’s hard to break her little storytelling spirit, but I’m not doing her any favors by not pointing out to her that her ability to digress and include every painful, unnecessary detail of a situation may result in a distinct lack of listeners eventually.

Sometimes I hear myself saying things that I know my therapist would scold me for, if only I admitted them to her, which I don’t. Like, the other day, twelve minutes into a story about how she misplaced her sandwich at lunch, I interjected, “Only those details that affect the meaning of the story, I’m begging you.”

Then, there’s my son. His stories have to be pieced together like a letter that’s gone through a paper shredder.

“Mom, Mrs. ____________ is so dumb. I got an F on the assignment for no reason. I’m going to play basketball now. Bye.”

“Hang on there, Turbo. Which assignment? What were the instructions? When was it due?


Huh? I didn’t ask him any yes/no questions. Why is he saying “no?” I quickly think back to my list of queries.

“Okay, let’s break this down. When was the assignment due?”

“Last week.”

“When did you turn it in?”

“I didn’t.”

Now, I’m really confused and on the verge of tears. I just want to know what the hell happened without having to ask obvious questions, like, “what the hell happened?”

“Okay, try to tell me what happened from beginning to end, in that order. This is what is called a s-t-o-r-y. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end serves to wrap things up and leave the listener with a sense of accomplishment that they’ve learned something. Ready? Go.”

“I did tell you! I got an F!”

“You told me the ending! I need some rising action here, Chief!”

And there you have it: One child thinks a story is a chronology of every nuance of every person she’s come into contact with throughout her day, and the other thinks it’s a one-sentence expression of his current mood.

There’s actually a third category. These people begin a story in the middle, then work forward and backward until the person desperately trying to understand (me) asks the wrong question. That’s when the storyteller cops an attitude and has the nerve to say, “You’re not getting it, are you?”

But that’s another story.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Ultimate Diet Plan: Do Nothing

Doing nothing is not only not exhausting, but, as luck would have it, calorie-burning. Check out this data from
Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2% of total body weight, it demands 20% of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of energy our bodies expend in one very lazy day of no activity. If we assume an average resting metabolic rate of 1,300 calories, then the brain consumes 260 of those calories just to keep things in order. That's 10.8 calories every hour or 0.18 calories each minute.
Clearly, the take-away from that is if one is careful about calorie consumption on any given Sunday afternoon, it is possible, in theory, to expend more calories than one takes in, just by lying on the couch all day. The question is: Which burns more calories, turning a page or activating remote control buttons?
              Did you see that number? 260 calories “just to keep things in order.” Considering the fact that I mentally keep a lot of things in order most days, and at least half as many things in some degree of disorder, I’m burning calories just simply by being me. Sweet!
               Alas, that was the old me—the one who did yoga a few times a week and ran around the block now and then. I’m now into week four of a new personal training regimen, and on week two of the meal plan. It’s not a “diet” in the traditional sense of the word. The goal is to adjust how your body responds to food, to change its cravings, and gain an appreciation for green things. Instead of filling up on carbs, your body learns how to feel satisfied with lean protein and stuff like spinach, kale and tomatoes. One downside is that I’ve had to go back to eating meat, which I’d spent the last three months avoiding for the most part. And since last weekend was the annual Serbian goat feed, my return to eating things with a face could not have come at a better time. I also gave up dairy about three months ago, just because everyone else seemed to be doing it and reporting great things. Considering it is my favorite food group next to fermented grapes, I was ecstatic when I feasted my eyes upon the meal plan’s first day menu: Laughing cow cheese (with celery) for a snack! Lettuce wraps with chicken and string cheese for lunch! Wow!  
               The only carbs for the first two weeks came from some of the vegetables. No fruit, wheat, bread, rice, potatoes, etc. It wasn't that difficult, which my trainer says is due to the fact that I wasn’t a big bread person to begin with. Or course, I veered off path temporarily at the goat feed,  surrounded by gibanica and prijesnac (variations of Serbian cheese bread), but I stuck to vodka sodas, which have no carbs. Pretty clever, eh? Complex carbs will be phased back in over the next couple of weeks, things like oatmeal, brown rice, red wine...
               The workouts are going well. Within two weeks I noticed my pants were fitting tighter, but in a good way. I’m firming up and gaining muscle mass in my legs and butt. Not quite a Brazilian butt yet, but I think it may be somewhere north of Venezuela. My waist is shrinking ever so slowly, in part thanks to the wide variety of abdominal torture maneuvers my trainer thinks up. The conversations during the ab work sound something like this:

Me: Hi, how ya doin’ today?

Trainer: On your back.

Me: OK.

The trainer hands me the TRX straps, one for each hand, that descend from the ceiling like stretched out black mambas.

Trainer: Ok, press down with your hands, toward the floor, cross your ankles, drop your knees to one side and crunch. 20. Go.

Me: So how’ve you been? I squeak out after my second set of 20.

Trainer: On your stomach.

Me: OK.

Trainer: Elbow plank. Touch your knees to the mat. 20 times. Go.

Me: We can catch up later…

Of course, this isn’t completely accurate. There’s a lot more cussing than that. Like when my trainer is smiling and encouraging me, and I say, "You do it, asshole." But then he does do it, which leaves me to do it next. 

There is definitely something to the old saying that you get what you pay for. Like my home exercise regimens, which are free, and fairly non-existent. But hand someone some hard-earned dollars and suddenly, working out rises to the top of the shit-pile of priorities. And when someone says you've lost an inch around your waist, and another two inches from various other private places (back fat, upper arm dingle-dangle), lost a pound of fat and gained 1.5 pounds of muscle mass in four weeks? Well, that's just priceless. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Menopause: A Beginner's Guide

About the only times I’ve really spent any money on myself to get in shape throughout the years is for gym memberships and yoga. I think I’ve belonged to a gym three times in my adult life, for about a year each time. The first time was post-first baby, when I lived in Southern California. I joined a gym and had a one-time appointment with what was called a “fitness trainer” and then I was on my own. I did the circuit three times a week and then hit the treadmill. It was a yawn, but I slowly got myself back into shape.

Fast forward 12 years, when I got divorced. I decided that shedding 230 pounds was not enough; I needed some muscles. Again, I joined a local gym. Again, I was highly motivated. I knew I had to get “back in the game” as they say, but the other thing driving me was my desire to be strong, and take care of my children. As a single mom, I knew it would fall on me to carry sleeping children from the car, up the stairs and into the house; I would need to pack up the car to go camping, lift bikes into the truck and boxes of wine into the shopping cart, all by myself. Then, I got married for the second and last time, and while I've managed to keep myself up fairly well, there's a new motivation for exercising: Ol' broad Menopause is gaining ground.

A couple years ago, I started doing yoga. My body changed rapidly and I had tone where before there had been little. Plus, I really enjoyed it. I was doing the right thing for my back, which happens to be chock-full of issues: degenerative joint disease, mis-alignment, arthritis, etc. Keeping the muscles in my core strong will counteract the effects of the arthritis in my spine, my doctor said. I also began running about five years ago, but my back doesn’t like running, and it doesn’t like sitting either, which I do a lot of as an editor and writer. So lately, I’ve been at a crossroads; my yoga teacher moved away, I got busier at work, and as a result, I have fallen out of my yoga routine. But time marches on, and so does peri-menopause. (For those of you with a penis, that’s the period of time before actual menopause.) It’s the time when hormones start tinkering with a woman’s body and mind; moods shift unexpectedly; muscle tone begins to change, and wine consumption rises sharply. Of all people, it was my 16-year old son that asked me about it recently.  

“Mom, I was watching ‘That 70’s Show’ the other day and the mom was going through menopause. The husband said she was having ‘mood swings.’ She was super nice one second and the next second she was screaming like a maniac and then she was back to being nice, in like three seconds.”

“Yep. That about sums it up.”

“Are you in menopause?”

“Nope, but it’s gaining on me. Those same symptoms are starting to happen to me.”

“How do I know which mood you are in?”

“Just don’t be an a-hole, ever, and we’ll be good.”

“When am I ever an a-hole?”

“Well, you know when I ask you to put your clothes away and you mumble, “yeah,” but then you don’t do it?”



“You know when I’m about to put dinner on the table and you chase the dog through the kitchen?”



“But that’s just me being a kid.”

“You asked me.”

“Are you getting that feeling right now?”


“I’m going to go clean my room.”

“I’m glad we had this talk, son. I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

So now I’m working out with a personal trainer. It’s not cheap, but the results come in a fraction of the time. And there’s accountability: Every week, he watches me do those reps and crunches and lunges and I need to be better than I was last time. It's also keeping me on the lookout for new and inventive ways to cuss. (Firm) bottom line: I’m highly motivated to stay ahead of the menopause curve, build muscle and be strong. 

After all, those boxes of wine aren’t getting any lighter.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Blurred Lines

Sometimes, the lines that define the relationships around our house get a little blurry. Like a recent Sunday morning, when I served up a hot breakfast, including cinnamon rolls, to my husband and daughter. Breakfast for three. Easy, right?

The patrons sat down at the table, side by side, eyeing one another’s portion of potatoes, looking disgruntled. She stared at his plate out of her peripheral vision. Knowing what she was up to, he did the same thing to her plate. I ignored them. Until this:

Dad: You got more sauce on your cinnamon roll than me.

Landry: No I didn’t.

Me: I poured the sauce myself. It was exactly the same on both.

Dad (under his breath, head ever-so-slightly tilted toward Landry): Well, you did.

Landry (louder than necessary): Did you hear what mom said?

Me: Really, you two? Were you siblings in a past life?

It was a rhetorical question, but I knew the truth: they were siblings in a past life; they were a mutant brother-sister combo that spent the majority of their time planning ways to one-up the other. No plot was too wicked. No insult too petty.

It wasn’t the first time I suspected they’d met before.

A few days before that, one of them stood at the sink doing dishes, and the other sat at the counter (see if you can figure out who was where), I walked into the kitchen and heard this:

“Would you just stop and let me win for once?

“Would you just stop and let me win for once?”

“Gosh! So stupid!”

“Gosh! So stupid!”

“I’ll tell you what’s stupid.”

“I’ll tell you what’s stupid.”

“Your face!”

YOUR face!”

Having a hard time figuring out which one is the kid and which one is the adult? Welcome to my world.

“Aren’t you going off to college soon?

“Aren’t you going off to college soon?

“I already went off to college.”

“I already went off to college.”

Unfortunately, the abuse they inflict on one another does not stop at verbal. Here’s a transcript of what happened recently, when I returned to the cuckoo’s nest after attending an AA (Alcohol in Abundance) meeting at a local wine bar with my girl friends.

“I’ve been getting beaten all night!”

“So have I!”

“She’s hurting me!”

“He started it!”

“She’s strong!”

“He’s got wimp-alitis!”

They can’t even walk by each other in the hallway without provoking a situation. The really frustrating thing is that it always starts behind my back, or out of eyesight (but within earshot, unfortunately). Like the other day, when one simply tried to pass the other in the hallway near my office. He did the head fake and foot shuffle, as if to make an aggressive move, and she pounced. Then comes the discussion that makes everyone stupider just for having heard it.

“Why is she so violent?” my husband pleaded in my general direction.

“He started it!”

“I started nothing. I was simply standing here talking to Mom.”

“He shuffled his feet at me!”

“I did not. I was preparing to walk down the stairs.”

“You did too!”

“Did not!”

It’s not all bad, mind you. I quite enjoy their British “Tea Time” routine. Most recently, it happened on the way home from practice with my son, who finds their British schtick slightly less amusing.

“Dear brother, how was practice?”

“Shut up, Landry.”

“Father, I’m afraid poor Jackson has had a dreadful time at practice today.”

“There, there, my boy. Sister is just concerned about how your practice went off, as am I. Tell me, dear Son, did you have a smashing good time?”

“Shut up, Dad.”

“Oh dear! I’m afraid we’ve gone and poked the hornets’ nest now, Landry!”

“Father! (glancing in the mirror). Jackson is pointing the finger gun into his mouth!”

“Dear god, Son!”

“Dear Brother, don’t do it! Don’t use the finger gun!”

Click, click—Bang!

Ahh, if only it was tea with the Queen more often, instead of meth with honey badgers.

And they wonder why I lock the doors after they leave. They think it’s because I’m afraid of maniacal strangers wandering in. They’re partially right: maniacs, yes; strangers, no.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Love You, Long Timers

Recently, I was invited by my mom and aunt to be their guest at the Long Timers’ Luncheon. This group gets together once a month (some say it takes the place of that other thing that happens to women once a month that none of the members have to worry about, “thank Heavens!”). These lovely ladies visit, eat, and compare aches, pains and funny memory lapses. For example, at the most recent luncheon, the third I have attended, our table was called to enter the line for the buffet. We all got up and toddled over. When a certain lady with whom I share DNA returned, she placed her plate down on an empty table near the one at which we had been sitting, prior to getting up. I spied this from my vantage point at the correct table, the one that the rest of us had made it back to. I immediately leaned in and whispered into the ear of the gal sitting next to me:

“Hee hee, look at ________. She went back to the wrong table.”

Just then, ________ looked up, rolled her eyes and laughed out loud. Then she hustled over to her spot at our table.

“I wondered where the hell everyone went! You guys were ahead of me!”

The Long Timers are an exclusive club. Applicants are subjected to an intense screening process. This interrogation, I mean, interview, takes place in a broom closet, which is lit by a bare light bulb swinging from a frayed wire hanging above a wobbly card table. At the center of the table sets a candy dish with a crocheted doily underneath. The interviewer is all business. I won’t mention any names, but it rhymes with “Margie Piccardo.” Rumor has it that not only did Margie hold the pink slip of the “Straight Talk Express” bus before eventually selling it for an undisclosed amount to John McCain for his failed presidential bid, but she was his first choice as a running mate. Unfortunately, her refusal to disclose the coordinates of her favorite fishing spot at Silver Lake during the Secret Service’s vetting process eliminated her from the running.

Here is the complete transcript from a recent Long Timer inductee’s membership interview:

Margie: Do you have anything better to do?
Applicant: No.

Margie: Have you been alive a long time?
Applicant: Yes.

Margie: Congratulations! You’re in!
Applicant: In what?

My first experience with the Long Timers was in November of last year. That luncheon was held at St. Sava Mission. I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than some good grub, since the Lady Serbs were cooking.

Settled into my chair, nestled between my aunt and my mom, with my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law at a nearby table, the event’s hostess began calling off the November birthdays, including age. I was beaming—not because I had a November birthday, but because every name/age they called was decades older than me. I felt younger by the minute—right up to the moment I overheard this from across the table:

“For God-sakes! I can’t seem to ever use that cross-town freeway in Stockton without missing the exit to Hwy 88!”

Hold the phone! Had I found my people? Was I home? I looked around, into the soft eyes of those seated near me, and began picking up snippets of conversations. I noticed the confused look on the faces of the people asking the questions:

“How ya doin’?”

“Been pretty regular, so I can’t complain.”
“How’s your bunions?”

“Great! I planted two rows yesterday!”

It was the very same look my kids display when they talk to me.

“Where’s Dad?”

“Dad who?”

“What time will dinner be ready?”

“You need dinner again tonight?”

I noticed other similarities, too, such as the 10-second threshold for reapplying one’s lipstick after the last bite of food is finished. My weapon of choice may be lip gloss, and not the opaque, coral-colored glue-stick preferred by my new pals, but nevertheless, I proudly applied it several times throughout the afternoon, knowing that nobody was judging.

Back to my most recent visit to the Long Timer’s Luncheon. With Maura behind the bar, and Bart on the food (literally…what a mess) what could go wrong? I breezed in at the end of cocktail hour, which meant that I ran past my mom, waving, as I hurled myself in the direction of the bar before it closed. What happened next was not my fault.

I ordered a glass of wine. Maura poured it. Everything seemed fine, until I sat down at the spot my mom had reserved for me at her table. My glass was twice the size as everyone else’s. Crikey! Maybe they wouldn’t notice, I thought to myself. No such luck. Not only did they notice, but it was the first thing they noticed! Comments flew in every direction:

“Good gravy!”

“Look at the size of that!”

“Well! I guess you rate!”

“Super-buddy courtesy?” I said meekly, shrugging my shoulders.

Luckily, just then, one of the gals near me spilled her wine. I jumped at the chance to leave the table and get her a refill. Off I went.

“Maura, __________ spilled her wine. She needs another glass. And they all want to know who I had to sleep with to get such a big glass. I told them Bryant.” (Maura’s 23-year old son, who happened to be standing right next to her, wearing an apron.)

Maura: “Hahahaha.”

Me: “I’m not joking. Four of them have already asked me for his number. ”

Bryant: “Right on!”

At the end of the day, it was, as always, a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a couple hours. Not unlike a spa day, a forty-something like me walks away from the Long Timer’s Luncheon feeling wrinkle-free and (almost) fertile.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Commuting to Work, Vegas Style

It isn’t often that my job requires me to travel; in fact, it isn’t often that my job requires me to get out of my pajamas. But once a year, the biggest trade show of the year for electronics manufacturing takes place. For the last two years it was held in San Diego, but this year the venue changed to Vegas. There are few places I’d rather not be than in Vegas. I don’t like to gamble, so that’s out as a draw for me. I also don’t enjoy loud, sustained noises and I’m not a fan of being surrounded by people, especially people who have a cigarette in both hands.
There’s really only one, no two, perks of being in Las Vegas over San Diego: accessibility to food and beverages. At the San Diego Convention Center, the only food at our fingertips is a Starbucks kiosk; we wait for food to be brought in at lunch. When we wrap for the day, I’m either waiting for everyone to finish and piling into a rental car and going with the herd, or catching a cab to wherever I want to dine and then back to the hotel. It’s a pain. But in Vegas, there are no rental cars, no cabs, and no waiting. Dozens of restaurants and bars, including four Starbucks, lined the mile long stretch of enclosed mall that connected our hotel (the Luxor) with Mandalay Bay, where the convention was held. In fact, on my walk to work the first morning, I counted 32 places where I could get a cocktail, which means I made 32 good decisions and my day had barely begun! Wow! What are the odds of that?
The evening commute went a little differently.
After spending most of the day not only out of my jammies and slippers, but on my feet, which had shoes with actual heels attached, I must admit that the lure of Naugahyde lounge chairs was pretty inviting. How cool is it to walk home from work and pass not one, but nearly three dozen places to wet one’s whistle? Who would be able to say no that many times? Not this gal! For all intents and purposes, my evening commute and happy hour "were one," as the Buddhists say, which is why I referred to it as the daily “happy ending.”
Evening commutes of this sort have traffic issues all their own. I tried to call my kids and check in at the first sign of a “slow down” and definitely not during the final “pile-up.” One evening, while “carpooling” with two uber-British colleagues, I decided to phone home. We Facetimed my daughter, who typically just listens to my audio Skype meetings with these two and then spends all day trying to perfect her accent. Our Facetime convo began like this:

“Landry, is it often your Mum Facetimes you from a pub whilst sipping a pint in a fancy frock?”

“Um, no.”

“Well, what do you think of that?”

“Um, what’s a frock?”

               On the downside of the Vegas venue was the lack of fresh air. I breathed nothing other than recirculated air for five days. Sure, I could have stepped outside once in a while, but one thing prevented me: I was in Vegas. My lungs suffered at the expense of sparing my eyes the garish view. On the first day in town, a Sunday, I did take a stroll over to New York New York to meet a couple of co-workers for a beer at an Irish pub called Nine Fine Irish Guys. On this particular Sunday afternoon, it could have been named “Five Drunk Rugby Players,” or “Two Lame Bartenders,” but that’s beside the point. The point is, there is no point. It was Sunday, it was Vegas, and so we enjoyed a couple of black & tans and then went back home to the Luxor, where my cohorts and I decided to…have a drink. Then, in order to walk back to the room, we had to pass some lovely looking establishments where people were drinking, and because there were no doors or walls between the comfy chairs of the lounge and the path upon which I was walking, there was nothing at all keeping us separated from a relaxing beverage. It was kind of like participating in the slowest, stupidest marathon of all time: instead of occasional helpers who lined the route handing little Dixie cups of water to the exhausted runners, cocktail waitresses were sliding cushy chairs under our rear-ends and enticing us with things like “Bucket of Beers for $5” and “Coconut Mojito Madness.”
               Ultimately, quite a lot of work did get done, and I returned home to my family, whose most major disturbance while under their dad’s guidance all week was a farting incident at the dinner table. My husband opted out of admonishing the offender, which upset a certain fair maiden. Of course, had I been there, it would have gone another way; but I wasn’t there. I was in Vegas, probably working, or at the very least, sipping in “traffic.”
               There's an old saying: If one farts at the dinner table while Mom’s in Vegas, does anybody hear it? The answer, apparently, is no. And the Neon Rule is almost intact: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, (except for happy endings).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How I remember things

I have a multitude of safety nets in place that protect me from forgetting appointments, meetings, meds, etc. Those raggedy nets, in no particular order, are: Post-it notes; alarms on my cell phone and laptop calendars; a 4 ft. x 3 ft. chalkboard on the wall of my kitchen, which I divide into 14 large boxes that change every two weeks and display sports practices, meetings, appointments, due dates and important social engagements (happy hour). I also have audibles from my kids and husband: “Make me a hair appointment;” “We’re out of ice cream;” “Try to stay awake the whole time.” Of course, these verbal reminders as good as gone before they hit my eardrums. So I tell my people, “write it down.” For this purpose, I have a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator, on which we can all jot things down as we realize we’re out of something, especially patience.
All of this attention to remembering five other peoples important data, and by important data, I mean crap, is on top of remembering my own work-related tasks and deadlines as editor of two monthly trade magazines. Weekly deadlines bear down on me like a speeding locomotive, and there I am on the track (at my desk), jumping out of the way (hitting the send button) at precisely the last second before getting a face full of train.
The elephant in the memory room, so to speak, is age. How does one compensate for the decline in memory as one ages? Buy more Post-its? Put chalkboards in every room? (The bedroom wall chalkboard could get interesting.) Set alarms for our impending alarms? Surely, there’s got to be another way.
I contemplated this at length the other day, while driving across town (all two miles of it) and forgetting where I was going. So I asked my 15-year old passenger.
“Where are we going?”
“To Save-Mart for milk and then Play it Again Sports for cleats.”
Wow! Not only did she remember the places we were headed, but the items we were buying! Eureka! The sure-fire way to compensate for an aging brain is to surround oneself with young, fresh brains! And since I’ve got between one and four much younger brains around me most days, this had to be the answer.
To test my theory, I made sure I wasn’t alone from the time the kids got home from school, until they went to bed, so that I could compile some simple stats on how many things I didn’t let slip through the cracks. Here’s how it worked out:
               On day one of my experiment, my 16-year old son told me that he needed to go to his dad’s classroom to get a book that he had forgotten (an early clue that my fresh-brain theory may not be airtight).  The trip required that we first drive to the softball field where Dad was coaching, in order to retrieve the classroom keys from his truck. Halfway between our house and the softball field is the classroom, which you must drive right past; there is no other route. To illustrate just how short of a journey this is, the entire round trip takes approximately four minutes with no stops. And, the road runs so close to the classroom that the room number painted on the door can be read from the road.
Off we went, son at the wheel, me in the passenger seat, enjoying the sunset view of cows, fields and oak trees. In about two minutes, we were pulling up to the truck. We got the keys, which took ten seconds, and turned around to go back the same way we came. Two minutes later, as we pulled into the garage, I said, “Don’t turn off the car. I have to go run an errand.” My son mumbled something that sounded like “ok” as he put the car into park and set the brake. Then, we looked at each other.


               “Oh my god.”

               “I can’t believe....”

               “Let’s go.”

That’s right: In the two-tenths of a mile between the field and the classroom, we’d forgotten to stop the car. And the whole point we were in the car, at all, was to get into the classroom, which we’d driven right by on a quiet two-lane road with no traffic, no distractions, not even any conversation.

               Now what do I do? Install a chalkboard in the car? Make sure a second teenager is present? Or should I call protective services? Child or adult?