Sunday, September 10, 2017

It's 4 a.m. Do You Know Where You Stand?

It's funny the things that awaken you at 4 am and take hold in your brain with a sudden need for expression- to be rapidly typed in the eerie glow of your cell phone's notepad, lest you forget. Mine was a nightmare with a gruesome Hitler-esque atrocity and a sudden disturbing thought: it wasn't Hitler's fault.

Before I go further, let me say this: Hitler was a very bad guy. I'm not trying to say he wasn't. But he was one very bad guy. One very bad guy who found support from a lot of other average, nameless, faceless bad people. 

Hitler rose to power on a wave of hatred, entitlement and nationalist pride. Angry, bitter people who believed they were better than others, deserved more than others, blamed their personal and national misfortunes on another group of human beings. People who were quietly as sick and depraved as Hitler, without the public speaking skills.

Hitler's rhetoric didn't instill those beliefs, it merely reflected and satisfied those beliefs in an already existing population. It found a warm safe space in the hearts of those who wanted to believe it, wanted to hear it shouted from a high place. Not because it was truth, but because it was power. 

We speak about Hitler as though Germany was a victim. The truth is he was just one man. One insane man with an effective gift, but he had a willing audience. Not a fringe audience either. A large active body willing to participate in, even create their very own sick depraved acts of cruelty and violence against other human beings because they believed it was their right to do so. 

When we share lines from the poem "First They Came" we participate in the "when good men do nothing" myth, as though all that was needed for Hitler's rise was apathy. There were no good men who did nothing. Good men took action, at great person risk, to sabotaged the regime and it's efforts on many levels. Everyone else chose evil.

Germany wasn't an innocent bystander. They were supporters, enablers and actors too. Hitler wasn't responsible for the atrocities of WWII. He's the willing scapegoat. He's the name we gave the boogeyman so we wouldn't have to think about all the others who weren't simply complicit, but actively, gleefully, righteously sought to bring his insanity to fruition.

There have been many brutal tyrannical leaders throughout history. Hitler wasn't the first megalomaniac to seize control and cause sweeping devastation. The reason Hitler is still the scary specter that haunts us is because we know he's not the last. We recognize the dangerous ease with which it will happen again. 

Hitler didn't seize power. It wasn't wrested from the apathetic hands of an innocent nation. It was given to him by evil, selfish, ugly people who looked and behaved and thought just like you and I.

Hatred and bigotry and nationalist entitlement are a blight on society. They have no rights. They should be deprived shelter, confronted and driven out of our culture. There is no excuse for excusing or avoiding it. It is the responsibility of all world citizens to stand up and say "Never again." To blot out the roots of this singular human evil in every corner of the earth, from jungle & tundra huts to opulent white houses and tower spires.

No matter your faith, spiritual belief or personal philosophy, a day of accounting will come. Everyone leaves their mark, large or small, on the world. No one will get a free pass. There will only be two places to stand: with hatred and bigotry or against it.
Choose wisely.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Worthless Ballad of Julianna Fryrear

I know it’s hard to imagine, but in my youth I was “socially awkward.” Back in elementary school, long before I emerged from my cocoon as this anti-social butterfly, worshipped by throngs of admirers, I was sort of clueless—invisible really. I wasn’t smart enough to be a geek, clumsy enough to be a spaz, dumb enough to be a loser, or cute enough to be a dork with potential. I was just a dork and like all dorks I had my share of character building challenges-- in third grade her name was Julianna.
Everyone has a nemesis like Julianna in their grammar school history—a sadistic little monster who, at nine years old, was swiftly whittling away at your lifetime supply of self esteem. In this case my last name alone was provocation for hours of delighted teasing. It wasn’t until third grade that I knew my last name, Ellsworth, could be so joyfully twisted into “Worthless.” Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I can still hear that taunt being repeated relentlessly; in a whisper, across a yard full of other children, in my dreams. (Don’t laugh. I was a sensitive child.)
I recall sitting at our kitchen table one evening, watching my mother cook, and somewhat dramatically expounding on my day of torture. Sobbing, I described the gleeful way she sing-songed my new nickname over and over, “Worth-less. Worth-less. Worth-less.”  My mother’s advice was practical. Tease her back. The thought had never really occurred to me on my own. I apparently lacked a certain gene which endowed a malicious quality inherent in most grade school girls.
I racked my brain, as I continued to snivel and whine about perfect Julianna, trying to think of something nasty to say about her and failing miserably. Her face was pretty. Her hair was cute. She was smart. The teacher liked her. I was stumped. 
“Well, what’s her name?” my mother asked.
 “Juuulieeeeannaaaa Fryyyyyrear” I wailed as a new burst of defeated tears streamed forth. 
To this day I can still see the look on my mother’s face as she turned toward me with disgust, spoon paused mid -stir, “And you can’t do anything with THAT? Fryrear? Really?” She said incredulously.
 I told you I wasn’t very smart back then. Of course, the nickname had caught on at that point, but I assure you Julianna never used it again, once I pointed out that street went both ways.
Now I could leave you there, with this as a cute little antidote about my childhood, but what good would that do?  Why would you care about my dumb little story? Where, you ask, is the life lesson?  What can be learned from "The Worthless Ballad of Julianna Fryrear?" (Why do I keep reading this blog?)
 Well, I suppose what I gained most, upon reflection so many years later, is the knowledge that sometimes, when we are in the midst of our deepest woes, we are so focused on the complexities of our emotions that we miss the possible, and often obvious, resolutions.  In times of trouble, it behooves us to step out of our hearts and get into our heads- detach and get analytical. No problem is without a solution, even the painful ones. We may have to let go of the bad feelings, ask someone else for help, or get creative-- but the answers are there, and finding them can go a long way toward healing the pain we feel in the moment.
Finally, on a side note, I’d like to say-- Julianna, should you ever come across this, you’re forgiven. No hard feelings. I’ve moved on (mostly) and in the end you taught me a valuable lesson I carried through into my adult life—It is better to be a bitch, than to be someone else’s bitch.

(No names were changed to protect the innocent due to lack of innocence and ensuing hilarity.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

             I spend a ridiculous amount of my time in the act of feeding my family. When the kids were little I just shopped willy-nilly; no really strategy, no menu, no list, no plan. But I learned that can not only be expensive, but it causes multiple return trips for forgotten items. So now, each week I sit down with a calendar, a notebook and a pile of cookbooks and I begin the first of four lists. Using the calendar I determine which days already have events planned that will conflict with meals for that day. Monday nights we have Scouts, better cook something quick and easy; not too much prep or clean up so Dad and the boy can get out on time. Tuesday night I have school, better choose something simple to prepare, like chicken pot pies or pasta, so hubby doesn't have to put in too much effort, (also a good night for foods I don't enjoy, like hot dogs.) Friday night everyone goes out…why bother cooking at all, instead get something each person can just grab and prepare on their own-- grilled cheese and tomato soup.
            Once I have finished this first list I begin paging through the cookbooks accruing my second list-- What can I prepare that will meet each person's tastes and dislikes? My cookbooks have ratings next to each recipe we tried, using a complex mathematical system of averages and a general scoring poll of those who participated in the meal, (with an automatic zero from my younger son who hates all things beyond the sophisticated pallet of a six year old, despite his near adult status,)  as well as notes for future preparations. (I bet you didn’t know I was THIS crazy!) High ratings get put in rotation more than the lower ones. (Accidental Banana Mushroom Shrimp with Bacon has never been repeated due to massively low scores and a general gag reflex when considering it.)
            I also use this time to pursue the store ads and determine what's on sale that week. Then I organize the week’s meals for "variety" and other considerations. Can't have chicken two nights in a row. Pasta is not a healthy meal three times a week. We had that casserole last week, too soon to have it again. This child doesn't like anything with flavor, better plan a bland night so he doesn't feel left out. Saturday is supposed to be 100 degrees, plan something that doesn't require turning on the oven, etc. The point is everyone is taken into consideration in compiling these two lists.       
            Next, I comb back through the list and compile the third-- ingredients. I list all the ingredients needed for each recipe. During this time I check to see what we already have, and what we will need. Do I have 3 teaspoons of olive oil? Is that onion still good or do I need another? Do we have enough milk to get through the week? Did someone leave an empty butter container in the fridge (or a full one on the counter?) Do I even own Cumin? What the hell is "chard?" (Don't get me started on recipes without pictures!)
            Once this list is completed I create my final list by rearranging this third list into an easy-to-shop-from master list: Meats, produce, canned goods, dairy, household supplies and etceteras. This list is subcategorized in order of appearance for the market I will be visiting. Now, after about an hour or two of careful planning, demographic review, extensive research, and a quick review of my coupons, I am ready to embark on the execution stage-- shopping.
            For me marketing takes a few hours and a trip to a minimum of two stores. I used to shop just the local market, but I am enamored by our new Farmer's Market and do the bulk of my "food" shopping there, picking up a few remaining household or sale items from the grocery store (along with 15 items I had no intention of buying, except now I'm tired and hungry and have no willpower to resist suggestion.) I line-up my items on the conveyor belt in the order I want them bagged, for ease of unloading at home. Yes, I realize this is pretty anal and OCD, but don't worry, other than my anal and OCD daughter, I have never met a bagger who understands the concept of grouping. I have also never met a bagger who doesn't believe my cloth bags are made of titanium and can be loaded down with as many items as can be stuffed into them. (Two gallons of milk in the same bag? Come on!)
            Once I arrive home I frequently get a five minute break to pee while people who have NOT spent the day carefully meeting the needs of others bitch about how many bags their sibling did not have to carry because they took too long to find shoes, or who should have to make the final trip outside to close the trunk. Now I begin the thoughtful two part process of putting things away. First I pull a chair and a trashcan up to my fridge. Here I spend some time emptying out containers of leftovers and other expired items. Next I use my efficiency skills to divide my bags into things for the fridge/ freezer, and things for the cabinets (and on occasion things that need to be transported to other rooms.) Here I will reference my weekly menu to decide what gets frozen for later in the week and what gets defrosted first. Finally I cram the remaining goods into my limited cabinet space, pausing to close up half open boxes of cereal, and throw out empty bags of chips etc. I have now devoted my entire day to the acquiring of sustenance to feed my family.    
             Still, only ten minutes after I have dropped my exhausted butt onto a comfy couch, I will see a disappointed child emerge from the kitchen whining, "There's nothing to eat!" The real irony however occurs when I actually prepare these carefully selected meals. I am not one who slaves over a hot stove. I stopped trying to be creative when they started making fun of my meals and giving them clever nicknames like "green eggs and ham" and “Swedish Meat Soup.”  (Side note: It's NEVER a good idea to mock the woman who cooks your food!) What I'm saying is, I'm not trying to be Julia Child. My standards are pretty low-- if it's edible, I'm good. So I'm not trying to dazzle anyone with my culinary talents. I'm just trying to feed my family. Yet it seems that no matter what we are serving in "Chet Knell" someone is unhappy with the selection, someone is not hungry because they had a big snack after school, someone has made spontaneous plans and won't be eating at home tonight, and someone "isn't feeling well." In other words, no one is eating dinner tonight. (Return me to the day when all a woman had to do was skin and cook a Woolly Mammoth and I'll show you the last happy woman.)
            Were I a lesser woman I would take to the internet to complain about this…. Ok, I’m a lesser woman, what can I say? But it is only through this loathsome practice of calling my family out on Facebook that I discovered two important things: One, I’m not the only mom with this problem, and Two, I’m a freakin’ Genius!
            As several other moms commented with their similar experiences I happened on the most brilliant idea to hit Momkind since the Papoose! I call it "The Fellowship of the Leftovers." (One meal to serve them all. One meal to cook them. One meal to feed them and in their hunger, save some time and make some extra cash.) Here’s how it works. Find six friends who are equally tired of being unappreciated. At the beginning of the week you each shop for and prepare ONE meal. Serve it to your family, who will refuse to eat it. Pack up your leftovers and pass them along to the next friend on your list (like a chain letter of food!) Serve the next meal, and repeat. At the end of the week you have saved hours of time, tons of cash, and you only end up throwing out ONE meal. Genius, right?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Princesses, Puppies and Paying Attention

            Right after my youngest turned three I took her shopping for the first Halloween costume she would choose for herself. It was also the first year none of them were wearing home-made costumes. As we browsed the isles at Party City looking at all the pictured costumes she was certain of one thing: she didn't like the scary stuff. Finally she settled happily at the end of one row and stared at a costume bag for a long time.
            "I want to be that," she said pointing at the costume.
            I  bent down to see the picture. It was a dog costume; pictured on the front was a yellow cocker spaniel dressed in a pink princess dress with a pointy hat. Ok. A Princess. We can do that. I lead her back to the people costumes and started looking for an affordable princess. The best ones cost too much for a one night event but I found a pink one with a tiara and pulled it off the rack.
            "Here's one." She frowned and shook her head. "Let's see what else we can find. They have Belle. Do you want a yellow one?" She examined the picture on the front of the bag and shook her head. I showed her three or four others and she started to look sad. The corners of her little mouth turned down and her big brown eyes looked at me like I was crazy. She walked back to the dog costume and said again,          
            "I want to be that."
            "Ok. But that one is for a doggy. You need a little girl costume." She sighed heavily and looked like she was going to cry.
Ok. Time to try something different. "What do you like about that one? Is it the pointy hat? I can make you a pointy hat." She shook her head.
            "I want to be her." 
            Suddenly the whole thing was clear.
            "You want to be a puppy?" She nodded her head and started to smile. "You want to be a puppy princess?" Her whole face lit up and she nodded with a dreamy look in her eyes. She could see herself as that Cocker Spaniel princess.
            I explained to her that the puppy costume was FOR a puppy, and not a costume OF a puppy, that she could be a puppy, or a princess, or some combination of them both, but that it would not look like the picture. She would still be a little girl dressed as a puppy/princess.
            She was slightly disappointed and abandoned the idea of being a princess if she wasn't going to look like the dog in the picture. She eventually settled on a little Pocahontas costume. When Halloween came she happily carried her bucket around and gathered her candy and never thought twice about her disappointment, but I have always recalled how sad I was that I couldn't make her into a puppy princess.
            We've had a lot of rough times over the years and the kids have often had to deal with the disappointment of not getting the things they want most. But they have always recovered quickly. Quicker than I have. As some sort of compensation I have always tried to make them whatever they wanted to be for Halloween. This year, she came to me and asked me to make her and a friend Native American Indian costumes. I ended up making hers and three others-- they're a  whole tribe now.
            So you might think the lesson of this little tale is about dealing with life's disappointments, but it's not. What I learned most that day was that even though you think you know exactly what is going on inside your child's mind, you never really have a clue. I learned it's important to slow down, take the time, listen, and not assume I know what's going on, just because it seems obvious. How many times has a teenager told me "You don't understand!" And they are right. I probably think I do, but really I haven't got a clue.
            Two weeks ago an acquaintance of the kids tragically committed suicide. Another friend ran away from home (and thankfully returned after several days.) I have been reminded to remain vigilant-- to pay attention and listen better, because sometimes the princess is really a puppy and I don't want to make that mistake again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

            Yesterday a Massachusetts library lifted a ban which has existed since 1906 on a Mark Twain book, making two copies available for check out. Yes, book banning is still alive and well in America-- land of the superficially free. Each year the ALA lists the top 10 challenged books for that year. This year's books include the "normal" reactionary nonsense involving explicit language, realistically depicted sexuality, religious objections (like vampires), drug usage and one nonfiction book for "being inaccurate." Number one on 2011's list is And Tango Makes Three, a beautiful picture book inspired by the true events at New York's Central Park Zoo, where two male penguins shared the incubation of an egg together. That's right, the objectionable factor here is that it represents homosexuality and is offensive to religious values. No word yet as to whether anyone has told the actual penguins they're gay.
            As a former children's librarian I choose Banned Book Week each year to climb on my soapbox, but I am offended by all types of censorship, on the grounds of, "who do you think you are?" I live in a country which was founded by people seeking freedom from oppression; people who wanted to make personal choices for themselves and their families, so much so that they risked their lives in search of a place they could have that freedom. So important was this freedom, that it was number ONE on the list of things to protect when the constitution was written.
            The freedom of an individual to say something, despite the objection of another, is protected because it's important. No one has the right to silence the speech of another, because they don't approve of what is said, or disagree with the point of view. If I want to say the sky is purple, you can disagree with me, vehemently, but you cannot prohibit me from saying it, and more importantly, you cannot prohibit others from hearing it. My biggest objection to censorship is that those who advocate it don't just want to stop the speaker. They want to stop the listener. They want to prohibit my ability to hear an idea and make my own decision regarding its validity. If I don't want to hear something I can walk away, but to censor it means you want to control what *I* have access to hearing. And I have a problem with that. "Who do you think you are?"
            As a young reader, heck as an old reader, I have found myself in books. I have identified with a character or a feeling. This cathartic experience is why we read books, go to movies, and listen to music. But everyday someone is trying to stand between you and those experiences. Someone is saying that reading about a fourteen year old boy who masturbates will somehow damage other fourteen year old boys, (who by the way, are masturbating like fiends already!) Frankly, the real damage comes from not having these experiences, from feeling a disconnect with society in general. Fourteen year old boys who can't identify with their peers, who can't find themselves as a part of the world around them, who can't empathizes with others, are dangerous ugly creatures. "Who do you think you are?"
             One of the biggest tragedies that arises from censorship is that the creators of art, film, books, music, begin to censor themselves in order to avoid being a target of censorship. Everyday an author or a musician hits the backspace and erases an idea because they fear the backlash, the controversy. It's just easier to make everyone happy, right? It's just better to use this word instead of that one, or to give a character this quality instead of that one. But are we succeeding in erasing these words from the individual's mouth and mind; these characteristics from the lives of real people? No. We are just getting better at pretending we live in a Utopia where things we disagree with don't exist, remain hidden and feared. Of course the most ironic thing about this year's banned book list is the inclusion of Brave New World, an 80 year old book about a future  world where human beings are manufactured into lives that are predetermined and painless-- Complete conformity. "Who do you think you are?"
            Censorship is turning off the lights and pretending what we know exists in the darkness, isn't really there. Censorship is about fear and hate. Censorship is about negativity, close-mindedness, and immaturity. Censorship is not just sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming "LALALA."  It's about muting the voices of others, obscuring the ability of others to hear as well. 
 I know who you think you are!

            According to the ALA " Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them." This year the number of books challenged more than doubled from 1990.          
          So, with that in mind I encourage you to read a banned book this week, and make an informed decision on its content for yourself (and yourself only.)  Take a look at the 100 most banned classics, or the top 100 challenged books from 1990-2000. You'll probably be shocked at what someone tried to prevent you from reading. You may even find one of your favorites.

  ( In addition to the books listed above, which received official challenges, imagine all the books that were just quietly removed from the shelves by someone with your best interest at heart, without any fanfare at all.)

How many have you already read?
Which one will you read this week?

Friday, September 16, 2011

It’s Not Stalking. It’s Relationship Reconnaissance.

Remember when you were young (I’ll give you a minute…. Got  it? Ok.) So, anyway, remember when you were young and you first discovered you were becoming attracted to someone?  Not actually dating them yet, just discovering that you were getting the makings of a wicked good crush. Remember that stealthy way you started getting to know them better, without actually making contact? Watching them from afar, until they glanced in your direction, then quickly looking away; pretending you were actually deep in thought studying that tree/ bathroom door/ flyer for the math club/ bare wall etc. Remember changing the way you walked to class so your paths’ would “accidently” cross, even though you didn’t have class in that building? (That school.) The casual way you would “wander” by them at nutrition, lunch, the bus stop (…their house at 1am in a headlight free car with your best friend? No? Just me then?) If you were really brave, and had the right kind of friends, you could find yourself bumping into your new obsession in the mall, the movies or the local hang out afterschool or on the weekends.
However you chose to do it, you probably spent some time in your youth aim-fully wandering around somewhere, hoping for a chance encounter where you would do absolutely nothing, except pretend that the encounter was chance, if you even acknowledged it in the first place. Casually appearing on the radar. Notice ME! Remember me! Think about me just before you fall asleep at night! PLEASE!
                Until recently I was unaware how much having adult children is like being back in the pubescent world of stealthy pursuit. My two oldest moved out a month or so ago. My excitement for their adventure has not waned. I'm not pining for them. I'm not wandering my empty halls at night, holding discarded pillowcases or items of clothing, in order to reconnect with their particular smell. I know that description sounds a little too on target for someone not actually performing these actions,  but I swear I haven't gotten there yet. (Yet.)           
              Mostly I don’t do this because I have two other wonderful children still at home, so the emptiness echoes less. Also, because in their desperate escape they left no stone unturned. (At least no stone I’d like to wander around sniffing.) Still, I've been able to avoid intruding on their new found freedom, mostly. I've managed to limit the Skype sessions, (one apiece in a month) and the phone calls, to “necessities.” I sent a few cute post cards, to keep in touch but not annoy. I’ve been doing great. I don’t know what everyone was so worried about. This is not that hard. I hardly even notice they're gone. On the other hand I feel I have a great advantage over my predecessor generation. The internet.
Thanks to this wonderful modern invention I find myself on Facebook a little more frequently (if you can imagine that possibility.) Each time I go online, I nonchalantly glance at the list which indicates “who’s online now” just to see if they’re there, you know, in case of a chance encounter. I wouldn’t say I check it frequently, so much as more frequently than before.  I casually look over the status updates to see if they posted anything about their day, their classes, their job hunts--scanning for new photos, added friends, their high score in Bejeweled; pretty much any crumb which creates a connection to them.  
I've had to be stealthy though. I don’t want to smother them or be accused of cyber stalking my child (the new ultimate sin of invasion visited upon youth.)  So there I was last week, in the middle of a response to one of my son’s Facebook statuses, when I suddenly realized it was the fourth or fifth I had made that day… ok, that hour. I was about to blow my cover and get caught. (Quick…look at a wall, duck into the first open doorway, RUN!) I went back over his page deleting my comments; carefully editing myself back out of his day, leaving a couple of noncommittal comments and smiley faces. Just enough to remind him I’m here. Still here. Just, you know, hangin' out and stuff. (Psst. Notice me.) God! I so thought this part of life was long over!
            For now I’ll have to settle for reminding myself, that it’s enough just to see them from afar. Love them secretly from here-- hiding out in the Facebook bushes, where I am carefully planning my next coincidental collision in the cyber corridor. It’s not stalking. It’s relationship reconnaissance. Totally different!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tight Rope: Life's Ups and Downs

            Watching your children head off on their own into the world of adulthood is a lot like watching a high wire act. You are filled with excitement and anticipation as well as the underlying feelings of fear and doubt. Consumed by this mixture of horror and awe, holding your breath, you gaze up at them, eyes wide, as they take those first pensive steps-- establishing their grip on the tight rope, wobbling slightly, focused and intent. Part of you is confident that they have been properly trained to work without a net; that no one in their right mind would just let them out there, so high and alone, if they didn't have the skills to complete the performance. The other part of you maintains its full grasp of reality-- shit happens.
            This was of course my exact feeling as I hugged my child goodbye and drove the 400 plus miles home. You spend a lifetime preparing for that moment, and there is so much you want to impart to them in those last seconds. You wish it was like the movies, where you are able to give them some profound piece of advice which will guide and protect them on their new adventure-- words of wisdom. Father's give practical advice: Keep your doors locked, Turn down the air conditioner at night, Park close to your apartment. Fatherisms, meant to subtly convey love and concern. Moms are faced with a particular dilemma at this point-- how to give last words of advice without sounding like a mother.
            As mothers we are plagued with the awareness that everything we say at this time in our children's lives is discounted as overprotective evidence of our inability to "let go" and often met with an eye roll and an impatient sigh-- the universally renowned,  wordless communication of "Let me go." One day these words of wisdom may be sought out by frustrated adults who find themselves in one of a dozen situations, and their cry for help will always begin with one simple word, "Mom." But in the meantime, there I was, standing there as each family member hugs goodbye, my turn coming closer and closer, pressure growing, knowing this is it-- my parting words. As everyone stands by impatiently waiting to get going I hug tightly and say, "I love you." Hoping it says it all, and knowing it will never be enough. Disappointed I couldn't come up with something better.
            A few nights later I came across some old letters I thought were long gone. A decade or so ago, when they were all still young, I was going to have major surgery and I was very nervous. I was concerned that if something happened to me my children would be without a mother. They would miss out on all the important motherly advice beyond "wear clean underwear" and "brush your teeth." I would never have the chance to teach them the really important stuff they would need to know about themselves and life. So I wrote them each a letter, trying to tell them everything they needed to know about growing up, and being a good person. I remember I felt the same writing the letters as I did saying goodbye-- like it was too much to cram into one moment.
            Curiosity caused me to open the letters and read what great wisdom I had left for my children in the case of my untimely demise. I don't know why, but I was surprised to find it was all the same things I had wanted to say a few days ago. Although, I was happy to see that while I had missed the opportunity to say them out loud, I felt confident I had managed to impart them in other ways. Things like: don't doubt yourself, value family, laugh as often as possible, don't waste time with anger, make informed decisions that represent you well, be open minded, treat people well, always do your best and help others do the same, don't worry-- accept change as a gift, always look for the silver lining, never let others define you, don't grow up too fast, it's ok to be vulnerable, you can always come home, unconditional love is limitless- pass it on, follow your beliefs, if it's worth feeling- feel it passionately, speak up- you have a voice be heard, and remember I am always with you. All the meaningful advice had already been given.
            A tight rope walker has to count on a lot of people and factors before they ever set first toe on the rope. Not only do they rely on a lifetime of training, but they have to be able to count on the guys who set up the rigging, the guy operating the lights, the rosin they used on their shoes, even the participation of the audience is key. Everything has to come together in perfect harmony for the show to end successfully, for the performer to avoid plummeting to the ground. That's a lot of pressure, a lot of "ifs." As I reflected on my feelings saying goodbye, and those involved in writing the letters, I am faced with a new revelation: I am the tightrope walker.
(and I made it!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Allies, Rivals, Partners in Crime (otherwise known as Sisters)

            A few weeks ago Sister's Week circulated on Facebook. I obliged by reposting the status, something I rarely participate in,  and posting a picture of my sister and I on my profile. But I knew immediately that I wanted to do more. I wanted to blog about her. When I look back over my life my sister is a player in all the major events, and she left an indelible mark on me. She is the person I have most admired and respected in my life, my role model and at one time my best friend. I doubt she knows this. I doubt she knows about all the memories and memorabilia I still cherish, or how often I regret the space which has grown between us over the years.
            My first memories of my sister come from the family photo albums. While there are a couple of years between us, you would think we were twins-- a combination of her diminutive stature and my mother's wacky need to dress us identically-- but our personalities have always been very different. She was more reserved and introspective, more thoughtful and responsible. I was a little more obnoxious…. Ok, a lot more, but that isn't the point.
            I know we did things together when we were younger, but the real memories come around the time she became a teenager. I remember envying milestones she reached first, like shaving her legs, getting her period, wearing make-up, and having boobs. I realize now that I probably resented her moving on without me too.  We went a few rounds, like I imagine most sisters do. As the bratty adolescent, I recall several fights that ended in something getting broken in the ensuing chase and the resulting fights about whose fault it was. I can't recall what caused the fights but I know that I laugh about the mayhem now.
            It was really when I became a teenager that she became my best friend.  I was a Freshman in high school her Senior year. It was a small school with fewer lockers than students. Siblings were expected to share lockers. So there we were two teenage girls forced to share a one by twenty metal box in Senior Hall-- a privilege she had waited four years to achieve. I have no recollection of  her ever complaining about it. She took me under her wing from the first day and made me feel safe and wanted. She showed me where to eat at lunch and kept me from getting hazed on Frosh scrub day.
            I joined her in the drama club and delighted in sharing the two leading roles, Maggie and Casa, in the school play. She totally stole the show! It was at that time I had my first date. My costar in the play, a boy I had to kiss onstage for the first time in my life, asked me out to a dance. My sister helped me get ready and then presented me with a list of talking points. Two hand written pages torn from a spiral notebook. One being her "Guide to Easy Conversation" listing recommended topics like Boy George's new haircut, the sexual orientation of President Reagan, cannibalism, triangles, Aristotle's Poetics, and TV commercials (but not radio because they're boring.) The second sheet was titled "Things Not to Discuss" and listed topics such as: your hobbies (nobody cares), dead animals (one of grandma's favorites), mooses, squares, Edwin Moses, and your tongue (just think about it and you'll see why.)  You can probably see my sense of humor runs in the DNA. I'm sure she has no idea that now, twenty two years later, I still have those two lists close enough at hand that I could quote them. She probably also doesn't know how much those two lists helped to relax me and relieve the anxiety of my first date.
            The last week of school one of the clubs sold balloons for a dollar and delivered them to your classroom with a telegram from the sender. I was surprised when I received a bouquet of a dozen balloons from my sister with a note (yes I still have it) reading, "Congrats on making it thru your frosh year! Remember familiarity breeds. Love 'Casa.'" I was also envied by every other one-balloon carrying kid!
            We shared a million other amazing memories in that one year of high school together, but instead of growing apart when she went to college, we grew closer. Most of my friends were hers. Together we went to movies, the beach, Disneyland, and pretended to be The Monkees (Don't even ask!) When I was learning to drive and wrecked my car in our driveway my sister was the first out of the house, camera in hand, to document for posterity and make me laugh rather than cry. When I took my first plane trip anywhere, she was my seat mate. We skated in Rockefeller Center and rang in the New Year in New York City. She helped me get ready for a blind date to a stranger's prom (don't ever be a blind date to a stranger's prom. Awkward!)  She organized summer picnics on the college campus where we splashed in the fountains together. She threw me the best Sweet 16 party with all our friends where we played poker all night.
When I graduated high school she went with me to Europe, where we shared rooms so small you could wash  your hands from the bed, flirted with swarthy men, played drinking games with our tour group, and almost missed our bus to the next country on more than one occasion. In Venice she helped me try to buy a stick of deodorant (impossible) and later, she helped me scour drug stores trying to mime signs for feminine hygiene products (go ahead…try it. I'll wait.) and never complained that I was disorganized or wasting her tourist time.
            After high school we worked together at a preschool. We took field trips to the pumpkin patch and gossiped while standing yard duty together. After I found out I was pregnant she coerced me to walk with her every day at lunch, claiming it would help ease my labor, and unknowingly eased my burden by being a good listener and motivator. I still have my first Mother's Day card, sent in-utero from my baby, via her auntie. She took a horrendous 4000 hour train trip with me when I was too pregnant to drive, and drove the long road trip to visit my mom after I had the baby. When my newborn got sick and needed surgery it was my sister who showed up at the hospital and brought me clean underwear and other necessities.
            When I fell in love after only a few months of dating and decided to get married she never told me I was being rash, or rushing into it. She wore the bridesmaid dress she hated and never mentioned how much she disliked it. Instead she made all the bridesmaid's matching tennis shoes for our outdoor reception. She caught my contagious giggles during the ceremony and stood next to me while I gave my vows.
            When I had to rush off to the emergency room at 3am with sick babies she came to my house to sit with the other children. She paid for my daughter to go to preschool, having her husband pick her up every morning and drive her to school and home again. She took my daughter every Wednesday night for dinner and tutoring. We took our children swimming together at Great Grandma's in the summers, took them sledding one winter and vacationed together in Yosemite last year. She is Godmother to my daughter  and a wonderful aunt to all my children. When I was cooped up and isolated as an at home mom she invited me to join her friends in a Bunco group where we played together for 12 years.
            I have innumerable memories of her making me laugh, consoling me when I cried, protecting me when I was scared, supporting me when I was weak and dispensing sisterly advice. I have long admired her; her intelligence, motivation, cleanliness, and keen sense of fashion. So why, with such rich material did it take me three or four weeks to finally write this blog? Because, despite her excellent example, as a sister I am an epic failure. I was never any of these things for my sister.
            I was never a good listener for her. I never made her laugh to relieve her stress or just hugged her when she needed support. I never sent her balloons or brought her clean underwear. I wasn't a very attentive aunt for her children. More than anything else I have always regretted not standing up with my sister when she married. I was five days from delivery of my second child on her wedding date. I couldn't afford the dress and alterations for my giant belly and due to preterm labor issues I had to back out. To this day I bear an enormous amount of guilt for abandoning her like that, but I never told her. I knew she was hurt and angry with me and I felt it was best to just let it be, rather than bring it up, even to apologize, and I have let that guilt interfere with our relationship. I don't know if she ever thinks about it, but I have never had a conversation with her where I haven't longed to tell her I was sorry. I have allowed it create a distance between us for almost 20 years.
            I didn't want to write this blog, until I had some sort of resolution; until I had told her I was sorry. I have spent the last weeks trying to summon the courage to tell my sister how I felt and that I love her. I have spoken to her on the phone and sat in her home across her table trying to make the words come out, but I couldn't.  In my whole life hers is the only opinion that I has ever mattered to me and I am afraid to bring up the topic. If she has forgotten I don't want to remind her, and if she hasn't I don't want to drive her further away. That is what I have said for almost 20 years and I just can't move past it.
             While writing this blog, as I tumbled through the box of old memories-- Mother's Day cards, dating advice, photos and telegrams-- I came across a letter my sister wrote to me when I was 17. In it my sister confesses having a hard time telling people how she feels and that my ability to be open and vulnerable with people is something she admires and hopes I never lose. Ah! The irony!
            With those words of encouragement I sucked it up and sent the original draft of this blog  to her via email explaining I have only one real regret in my life and it is not being a good sister, not being there for her when she needed me. I was preoccupied by my own life, my own problems and my fear of hurting her more. I thought a lot about her, but I never acted. I said all the things I have waited too long to say.
             I wasn't sure when I started this, what I would end up with; how I would tie this up in a neat little bow with some sort of meaningful lesson. I am happy to report that she responded back and, in addition to letting me off the hook for my failure, she made me laugh (because that's how she is.) and corrected me-- she was Godmother to my daughter and not my son, (God I suck!)  I guess if there's any lesson in all this it's not to let things unsaid come between you and those you love. I wasted a lot of years dreading the worst. If I had just had a little faith in the sister who had so clearly loved me so much for so long I could have been a better sister myself.
            I'm sorry it took me a month to finally write this blog. I'm sorry it took me 20 years to tell her how I felt. My sister doesn't have a Facebook, but now she knows:  "Your sister is your first friend in life. No one will ever understand your crazy family like your sister. Even if you don't get together or talk as much as you could, she'll always remain your best friend. Your sister will hold your hand for a little while, but will hold your heart for a lifetime."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Come Over to the Dark Side.

          I have spent the last few years trying to lure my sister into joining the social networking community. (Come on. All your friends are doing it.) Her response is always, “I don’t have time.” Which is a legitimate excuse, considering how much of my time is sucked up by the internet. Although, upon reflection, I have found this reason lacks accuracy and understanding of the social networking phenomena.
          I began my foray into social networking with a MySpace account. I joined so I could keep track of my teen and preteens as they hitchhiked along technology’s superhighway. After all, you wouldn’t just drop your kid off on the side of the freeway and hope they get home safely (although admittedly that has crossed my mind on several raucous family outings.)
          This was back when you just had a plain profile page, no cool backgrounds, creative fonts, or colorful texts—simply a picture of your face and just enough personal information to get you into trouble. Then my daughter, techy that she is, redesigned her space. Well, that looked kind of cool. I’d like to give MYspace  a fresh new look, just for fun. I could do that…couldn’t I?
          No. I couldn’t. What I knew about computers at the time was that they were glorified typewriters/encyclopedias. I learned binary in high-school.  Oh so useful in real life, (especially to a dyslexic.) Technically speaking I think I should actually say I was SHOWN binary in high school. I learned nothing. So I went to the source, asking my 14 year old question after question. How did you do that? Where do you find that? Why is it doing that? Did I just enter the atomic launch codes that will begin World War III? (Yes, I had an inane fear that I could somehow affect some serious damage by mistakenly entering the wrong data. Don’t laugh. You weren’t there. It could happen!)
          It was not long (about 10 minutes) before my daughter discovered two important details. One, I was an idiot. And two, without her help I had less of a chance to stalk her every teenaged move. It was at this point she adopted the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. Except her version was more “give a guy a pole and throw him in the river, then laugh while he struggles to survive.” Needless to say, I was on my own.
          I spent countless hours poking and prodding my Myspace. I had never seen HTML, the new language of computers. I still have only a loose grasp of its form and function. But slowly I discovered how to change a font, add a background, place glitter graphics as section heads.  And I felt wonderful. I felt young and accomplished and a little bit smart. I had conquered the internet, and along the way I had “friended” a few fellow moms trying to keep track of their own kids. I had wished Happy Birthday to a few people I probably wouldn’t have conveyed the sentiment to otherwise. I had shared a few laughs at a Youtube video or two and checked out photos of my friends’ families doing a myriad of activities.
          And so I was rolling along, enjoying my new found creative outlet and feeling accomplished; spending more time catching up with my own friends and refurbishing my home page than monitoring my kids, when I realized, someone was missing. Where was my teenager? Why were her posts fewer and fewer? Why were her friends commenting less and less? Why was my newsfeed getting shorter and shorter?
          Facebook. Yes, as soon as I mastered (and I use the term in the loosest sense) the world of MySpace the children disappeared down the rabbit hole into the land of Facebook. Dutifully and begrudgingly I followed. This new land was sort of plain and I didn’t “get it.” It wasn’t personalized or creative. Other than the fact that your parents weren’t there yet, what was the big draw? Statuses? Really? That’s it? Just random status updates about what your friends were eating for lunch, or what weird thing happened on the way to school? But this is where my kids had gone, and so I followed.
          Soon I started getting friend requests from the other parents transitioning over from MySpace. My high school reunion started taking shape and requests came from people I had not thought of in years. Most I didn’t care to become reacquainted with, but some were just lost in the shuffle of growing up; misplaced with the other youthful playthings I had cherished but set aside as memory while life unfolded. My Facebook exploded, albeit slowly over time, with the faces and voices of my past and present; merging into one hub of collective ruminations.
          Being a stay at home mom can be isolating. It’s not your fault. It just happens. And in my case, because I started my family so far ahead of all my friends, I had lost contact with most of the adult world, unless it pertained to one of my “mom” activities: school, scouts, little league etc. Everything I knew, everyone I knew, revolved around the lives of my children, and to a lesser degree my spouse.  Now, suddenly, through the wonders of modern technology I was connecting and reconnecting. I was existing as an individual.
          I have read some articles about how social networking is stunting our ability to interact in reality. In my case my life has been enhanced by social networking in a way I can not imagine living without. I am more connected than I ever could have been without it. I converse almost daily with two sisters I had barely known in their childhood. I have followed my niece’s pregnancy updates with excited anticipation, despite only having seen her twice since she turned 16. I met up a few weeks ago with my cousins and a family friend who I have not seen since my wedding 20 years ago.
True, with great effort these things all could have taken place in the real world, but I live in the real world and sometimes, I’m only available at 4am. How nice to know I can leave a thought for you without waking you up.  And in the real world, I couldn’t have shared in the joy of that new birth, or dance recital, because in the real world you are 12 states away and neither one of us can afford to travel. Social networking is just more convenient. It is the pen-pal of our generation.
Sure, I have spent countless hours posting photos or silly updates or quoting a particularly funny thing I heard that day. I have lost an entire day connecting little colored jewels, and rolling virtual dice, although I have never tended a crop or traded mafia equipment with anyone. I have spent entirely too much time reading YOUR updates, commenting on your photos, and laughing at the memes you shared. (I even learned what a meme is!) But I have also discovered a support network. When my day sucks, you’re there to give me a boost. When I am excited I have someone to share it with. When my husband had his heart attack, you knew about it right away, and I didn’t have to call 100 people to give them updates on his condition, I could do it in one 30 second post. And you could respond, send well wishes and prayers, offer assistance, in a way you could never have done before.
          This year I received almost a hundred birthday wishes. I probably sent at least as many. I was a part of your life. I watched your kids grow up a little. I saw your cool vacation photos and little Suzie’s first ballet recital. I heard about the demise of your Great Aunt Tilly and the family turtle. I have seen your new haircut, your new pet, your new house, your new car, your new husband. I invited you to a show and then actually got to hang out with you in person after a 20 year hiatus. I reconnected with old relatives (and yes, I meant “old” both ways.) I have taken and given advice with you. I have laughed with you and cried for you, and generally wondered what the hell you were thinking. What I have not done, was waste my time.
          I know you better now. I have invested in our friendship. I may have left a few real world chores undone while I did it, but I consider it time well spent. So I will continue to extol the virtues of social networking to my sister, and anyone else I’m dying to spend more time with, in hopes that we can share a little more, be a little closer, drift a little less. Resistance is futile. Come over to the dark-side. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
One of us. One of us. One of us…..

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Family Table


Once upon a time, back in the land of "When I Was a Little Girl," we had an enormous dining room table. It had once belonged to my father's Nana, my great-grandmother, and had come to us after a Great Aunt's passing. It was dark mahogany wood, almost black in color, thick and heavy. Without any of the six leafs inserted, the table comfortably seats six to eight fully grown adults with elbow room. Once it was fully extended, it stretched from our dining room out into the living room and could seat about 20 kissing cousins, (and often did.) The kids had to all sit on one side of the table because the only access to that side was by crawling across the floor underneath.
             Which brings us to my favorite part of this particular monster, the underside. I spend an inordinate amount of time under our dining room table. It's massive center leg resembled the trunk of a redwood, thick with massive ornate feet curling out in several directions. When you were under that table, especially when a tablecloth hung around the edges, it was easily the kind of tree in which you imagined millions of fairies living. The rails which were meant to support the extensions closed up to create a convenient cubby hole, perfect for storing secret messages, stuffed animals, or something you swiped from your sister. Hot Wheels tracks could be balanced from that nook, at precarious angles, down across the feet, creating an Evel Knievel-worthy death-plunge. Barbie and her friends frolicked there in a fantasy forest, and I'll admit, it's where she first lost her virginity. It was a magical place to spend a rainy day.
          Above the tablecloth there were some equally wonderful memories. As a family unit we ate our daily meals at the kitchen table, but special occasions meant "company." Extended family, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, gathered around and sharing laughter and love at birthdays, holidays, and religious events. I know there are hours of eight millimeter film somewhere in Dad's garage--70's version of us all, faces blocked to deflect the spotlight, tongues protruding, arms waving, and bunny-ear making. Formal occasions and casual get-togethers all celebrated with multigenerational fervor. Some family lived in other cities or states and were on a rare visit, some lived only a block away and we saw them on a regular basis, but there was always something significantly more exciting about those special events involving the table.

            I remember the anticipation that came with watching the table grow and the folding chairs set up next to the mahogany and crimson-velvet thrones that accompanied the table; the linen and lace tablecloths and napkins and the special box of silver, clearly an honor to use; the big knife my dad would use to carve a turkey, and the box of accessories to sharpen it. I can still hear the singing of  metal against metal. I had no idea what he was doing, but it was all part of the show.
            Then there were the stories-- both the stories shared around the table, and the stories created there.  Meals didn't end when dessert was served. They ended when the stories had all been shared-- dirty plates, drained wine glasses, wadded up napkins and half empty coffee cups-- right before restless children began scurrying to and from my brother's room, accessible only by tunneling under the table. We were regaled with the tales of our parent's and grandparent's  youthful adventures and follies. I recall a great uproar of hilarity (and the oft retelling afterward) when my grandmother, rather than requesting the cranberry sauce, asked someone to "pass the poison apples." The meticulously prepared meal all the more enjoyable for the way it was shared.
            I remember the first big family gathering after my oldest was born. My mother, step-father and older brother had traveled together from up north, my sister, father, best friend and I, all together around that table to celebrate the beginning of the newest generation. As always I recall the laughter and comfort…well discomfort for me on my doughnut shaped pillow, but that's a private story. There were more ordinary days, special occasions and new additions celebrated around the table in the years that followed; holidays, family get-togethers, and the first meal my husband cooked for me. The chairs have been refurbished and the table relocated to Reno, where it has continued to host family and friends of all ages.
            My own family table is an ordinary pine-top, used for all occasions, special or otherwise. It is marked by years of daily living, with spilled paint, remnants of markers that slipped off paper, divots and scratches, and something sticky that can never be scrubbed off. A card table has been butted-up to it, to accommodate overflow, and it has been shoved against the wall to serve as a buffet.  It has had linen tablecloths and paper ones and seen at least four sets of dishes, and 60 birthdays come and go. It has seen joy and laughter, sadness, fighting and tears. Armies have been conquered, monopolies acquired, and Mrs. White killed a man with a candlestick there, as board games have been won, lost and thrown across the room in a fit of anger. It has heard more than its fair share of movie dialogue recited verbatim (as have I!) It is the place where we come together to celebrate our special occasions, and our ordinary moments, and where we share our stories, old and new.
            My childhood memories revolve around the special occasions, but my memories of my own family are filled with nightly meals and homework duty. One day I hope to surrounded our table with new additions-- spouses and grandchildren. Everyone has a memory of their family table. Whether you had Nana's epic six extensions or a card table for the kids in the kitchen, some of our greatest moments of bonding have taken place around the family table .

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Geek Among Goddesses

            I'm an LA girl, born and bred. I've lived here my whole life. Only, my LA is not the LA you see on TV. I live on the outskirts of LA in "The Valley." The Valley is the suburban terrain occupied by the near-normal residents of the LA area, meaning-- no one I know accessorizes their giant designer  purse with a miniature dog. We still have giant knock-off purses …and tiny dogs, but not usually as matched sets. We are the part of LA which spawned the dreaded Valley Girl of the 80's-- and yes, they were real. If you look close enough, you can still find a few. In other words, we breed a unique idiot of our own here, separate from those nuts over the hill.
            Basically my life has been typically suburban, with a few star sightings tossed in along the way for flavor. I was never one of those "Lifestyle" women; with their business-casual day and their cocktail-party night-life with the girls.  I went to PTA meetings, and Scout meetings, and council meetings. That's where my ladies hung out. I had some pretty wicked Friday nights with the girls…all 17 of them in their little uniforms, selling cookies door to door. We were a force to be reckoned with, I tell you.
            Then one day,  into this mundane little universe, an idea was introduced, and I was just restless enough to try it. I had this new friend, who was not from The Valley originally. She was one of those elusive, bohemian  "California Beach Girls." And typical of her kind, she made friends with all sorts. She knew a group of LA Ladies, and one of them was having a party, and she invited me to go with her. I was a little intimidated. It was "A Goddess Party." (Did I say a little intimidated? I meant a lot. )
            My first instinct was to decline the offer because I didn't really need any sex toys or lingerie. However, as it was then explained to me, these lovely LA Ladies just got together for a fun evening of relaxing music and wine and conversation-- just a "girls night-in." No purchase necessary. They celebrated their womanhood by taking time out to appreciate themselves and woman-kind, in a way only a woman could.  It sounded kind of interesting, (albeit a little like a tampon ad.) A night with a group of adult women, that didn't involve kids and husbands in any way. It could be fun. And I was ready to embrace my womanhood…figuratively speaking that is. So, I agreed to go.
            I was a tad overwhelmed. I was a small fish headed for a big ocean. I knew I was going to be out of my league. I am not a Goddess. I'm barely a minion. I fussed about what to wear, and how to dress, and how to do my hair. I didn't have a hairstylist, unless Super-Cuts counts (which it doesn't.) I didn't think Wal-Mart sold anything that anyone else would qualify as "designer." I rarely wore make-up, and what I did wear came from the corner drug store-- on a classy day, otherwise that little compact that came with Barbie would do in a pinch. I didn't travel, or have an interesting job. I couldn't imagine what I would say to these women, and despite determining that I would go, I wasn't at all certain there would be anything relaxing or refreshing about the evening.
            My girlfriend picked me up and we drove along the hillside finally arriving in an upper-class neighborhood. She found a place to park and we leisurely walked down the hill to a little house nestled in the dark. A sophisticated woman answered the door and greeted us appropriately. She had big earrings, beautiful skin and a giant glass of wine. I followed my friend around like a lost puppy while she hugged women she knew and was introduced to women she had never met, and as we were given a guided tour of the little guest house we were all gathered in. It was decorated with love and care. Plush furniture, coordinated colors, splashes of uniqueness in every corner that said, "The woman who lives here knows herself….and she doesn't have any kids."
            I relegated myself in typical fashion to a stationary location-- the one chair I was, to some extent, confident could support my weight. The last thing I needed was to shove my fat ass through her designer wicker. Eventually a few other women would make their way into the area, and I would join their conversations, mostly listening, occasionally asking what I hoped weren't stupid questions. One or two asked about me, most just moved on to other locations with company they knew better, but I am comfortable as an observer and it really didn't bother me, much.
            I grazed a little on the exotic snacks, but I have a steadfast rule about eating food I don't recognize. I was pretty hungry by the time the pizza arrived. I waited my turn with my cute designer plastic plate in one hand and my "I'm not drinking alcohol" red-plastic cup in the other, anxious to finally eat. Huh, designer pizza. Who knew? I mean, I just always thought pizza was pizza no matter where you went. I ate pizza in Italy, it was a little different than American pizza, but well within the range of normal. I had never eaten an artichoke alone, much less on a pizza. Over-sized mushrooms and a host of other items, some I didn't even recognize, on a sauce-less dough disk. My most daring pizza experience to date had included pineapple! I was FAR less adventurous then than I am now.
            After dinner everyone lounged about enjoying their goblets of wine. Mind you, I own one wine glass. It was a free gift with purchase of a romance novel. It is the size of a "normal" glass of wine. I had never seen wine glasses like these. They were big enough to wash my hands in-- both, at the same time! This of course is when the real fun began. The hostess broke out a set of Tarot cards, and some Runes. There was a book about reading palms, and one about the mystic healing power of rocks. Some sage was burning, auras were being read and cleansed, and some new age music played soft in the background. A few hours of amateur fortune-telling, and a tureen of wine later, I was having a pretty good time. I was actually relaxed. I didn't feel fat and frumpy. I felt enlightened and rejuvenated; as though I had received a spiritual facial.
            As the night was winding down, before it was time to say adieu, the group gathered together for a Goddess Walk. Wine tankard in hand I joined the haphazard procession of women as we strolled into the cool night air and began the short journey to the end of the paved road and into the canyon, guided by the bright light of the full moon and the soft voices of my fellow Goddesses. There was an easy, slumber-like quality to the meandering, at least until it became a hike, then the soft conversation gave way to heavy breathing and snide comments about the practicalities of combining wine consumption and mountain climbing. But most of the Goddesses just ignored me and continued onward and upward.
            At last we reached a clearing and our death march ended. The women gathered in a circle together, absorbing the ethereal beams of the moonlight. "Now," our fearless leader announced, "we howl at the moon." En masse the woman began to howl. I was doing my part, by not howling with laughter, out of respect to these fine ladies who had welcomed me into their coven. When they were done howling at the moon. The hostess then encouraged everyone to close their eyes. At this point I was pretty well sure if I closed my eyes I would open them to find everyone naked…and I am never drunk enough for that game. Luckily for me they just did a little swaying and chanting. With my one eye open I peaked up at the hillside above us, at the lone house with the canyon view and imagined Mrs Kravitz from Bewitched peering out her curtains and calling "Abner, Abner! Look, they're down there howling at the moon again. ABNER!"
            The night ended there. We all wandered off back to our homes, as though everybody spent their Friday nights in the knee-high weeds howling at the moon with a bunch of Goddesses. It's one of those "only in LA" kind of things. Still, I consider myself better for having taken the ride. I could have spent that night sitting in my dark living room with my husband watching an episode of The X-Files, instead of participating in an episode of my own. And that would have been fine, but what would I have gained. No one would want to read about that. You have to embrace the unexpected adventures life offers. Most of your life will be ordinary. Some nights you just need to howl at the moon.