Friday, December 27, 2013

The True Meaning of Messaging

“Mom, the Elf on the Shelf brought back a letter from Santa.”

Yack was staring at Frosty who was wrapped up in a Christmas tree branch holding a folded up note. Frosty goes to the North Pole every night to make a full report to Santa about Jack’s recent behavior. Frosty finds a new place to hide every night for a month – quite a commitment she makes for keeping an eagle eye on my six year old. And quite genius of the inventors of the Elf on the Shelf – first off, I hate you, wish I would have thought of it first and second, thank you. It’s great to point to a stuffed toy on the ceiling fan and say, “Yack, eat your breakfast or Frosty may not deliver a favorable report to Santa.” It's questionable; a threat in the shape of a cotton stuffed Christmas character. Whatever, I firmly stand by bribery and threat as two vital parenting tools.

As far as the note folded between Frosty’s ringed arms, the dilemma my son faced was that if he touched Frosty, her magic would disappear, but he was bursting from the inside out, dancing around that note, thinking of ways to get at it. He would spontaneously combust if he didn't get his mitts on that note.

Mom to the rescue. I pulled it out from Frosty’s ringed arms as if I were playing an intense game of Jenga, and handed it to Yack. “Dear Yack," he read, "I want you to give away two toys you get for Christmas to kids who need them. You are a good boy. You need to help those kids who don’t have money.”

Yack started jumping up and down in excitement after reading the note out loud. So did I. My parenting skills hit the mark on two counts: (1) I am encouraging him to read, and, (2) he is learning the valuable lesson about helping others less fortunate.

Man, I should do this parenting thing more often.

As Christmas approached, Yack’s anticipation grew. He spent most of his time on his belly staring at the wrapped presents under the tree playing the guessing game. “I think this one is a Red Rider BB gun.”

He shook a present the size of a, well, glow in the dark pillow. I told him I didn’t think anyone, including Santa, would get him a BB gun. “That’s weird because he gave one to Ralphie.”

I explained that movies are not real life and people like Santa have a better understanding about things like safety and getting toys for kids who are too young who might get hurt.

When we visited Santa a couple of days later, Yack sat on his lap and told him he wanted a skateboard. Santa nodded at me and then gave him a candy cane. Way to have a better understanding of age-appropriate presents, Big Guy.

The countdown began and to promote our new found True Meaning of Christmas, Pants and I decided to do a little purging of toys and clothes and pay a visit to the nearest shelter. Yack reluctantly participated, negotiating every outdated item in his room. His favorite line: “I know those pants don’t fit, Mom, but they are made by Shaun White and I could cut them into shorts.”

I asked if he even knew who Shaun White was.

“The guy with red hair who rides a snow board and wears cool clothes.”

I had to wonder, has Yack been alive that long to see Mr. White’s Olympic performances? Then I remembered where we got those pants.

Thanks, Target, for the brilliant marketing strategy aimed at my six year old.

With a tremendous amount of lobbying and negotiation, we convinced Yack to load three large bags in the car and high tail it to a local shelter. Here are a few sound bites from that afternoon:

“Yack, you have a house and clothes and food. Many children don’t have those things. We need to do what we can to help them out.”

“Yack, it’s important to help kids who don’t have the means to have nice things.”

“Yack, what if you didn’t have a house or clothes or toys? If mommy or daddy lost their job, we could be in the same situation. Would you hope others would help you?”

We thought our message was sinking in when I found Santa’s phone number on the Google and prompted Yack to leave a message. This was his last chance to be very clear about what he wanted, as Christmas was a mere 2 days away. After the beep, Yack left the following message: “Hi Santa. It’s Yack. I have been a very good boy this year. I hope you are able to give toys to all the kids in the world who can’t pay for them. That’s all I want. Besides a skateboard."

He wouldn't let go of the skateboard idea, which sucked for me thinking of the brain injuries, the wrist cracks and the numerous trips to the ER, but cool that our message about taking care of less fortunate people was sinking in.

And so, Christmas Eve had arrived, which meant opening an obscene amount of gifts with the older siblings in their 20s and my parents and brother’s family. Christmas day was strictly left for Santa’s gifts and nothing else. As Yack tore through his gifts, I noticed he didn’t give two craps about who they were from or what types of joy the gifts actually brought. He was a lion tearing into a helpless gazelle. I prompted him to stop, read the card, and then thank the people they were from. He did this with tremendous speed and an utter lack of compassion, often times seen embraced in a side hug as his eyes were lasered in on the presents yet to be unwrapped.

After opening more presents than humanly possible, Yack looked around and whispered to me, “Is that it? That wasn’t a lot.” I grabbed his arm that continued to rifle through unopened gifts still scattered around the tree and yanked him into the bedroom. I sat his spoiled can on the edge of my parents’ bed and in my best growl proceeded to tell him all of the reasons why his behavior was unacceptable. I wrote down every present he got on a loose piece of paper I found on my mother’s bedside table and showed it to him. “Look, Yack. Look at all of the presents you got. You are a very lucky boy. You know, today is about being with the people you love and who love you back. It’s not about how many presents you get. Do you understand?”

“Does Santa come tonight or tomorrow?”

Was this kid serious?

But before I was about to put him and all of his toys in a large garbage bag to be left on the back porch, he then said, “because it’s important he reach those kids who don’t have toys first.”

Sweet, we are back on track. You just saved your own life, kid.

The next morning, Yack awoke at the crack of daylight and ran into the living room to see what Santa had brought. Santa didn’t disappoint; the skateboard was propped up against the fireplace along with body armor equipped for battle. Yack was pleased but a little confused. I asked what was on his mind.

“I am glad Santa brought me a skateboard, but I bet he doesn’t bring these really nice gifts for kids who don’t have a lot of money. That’s why he asked me to give away 2 of my gifts. Santa needs to help the poor kids more.”

As I sat there guzzling my coffee, I pondered the life lessons over the past 30 days and had a profound thought: I completely missed the mark in teaching the true meaning of the holiday. “Giving” too many toys to my child actually counteracted my message of “giving”. Oh, and Santa does not discriminate, contrary to Yack's stark conclusion.

And as far as the two toys Yack gave away? An Iron Man action figure he received twice and Jenga. I wish he didn’t decide on Jenga. I love that game.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Good Genes

I always wonder what types of characteristics parents send down the shoot to their offspring, what sticks and what doesn't when these little human beings turn into full fledged adults. What we could have been had we picked up this gene, not that one? These unanswered quandries keep me up at night. I'll admit it.

What could I have been? A florist? My mother has a green thumb; her garden could have put those high end entries in Sunset magazine to shame. Alas, I have a hard time keeping a indoor cactus alive.

Could I have been a repo-woman? Surely, my dad had the skills of scaring the shady to cough over an unpaid T.V. with one look. But when I give the infamous Brown side-winder-stink-eye, people hand me a tissue and ask if I have something in my eye.

How about a pianist? My mother made records, started out as a music major at Cal Berkeley. I can barely stumble through Mary Had a Little Lamb.

My parents, collectively, are artists, golfers, cooks, health nuts, travelers, fiscal conservatives, social libs and politicians. Out of these wonderful talents, I picked up the least appealing: politics. Yet, I am not the true politician, the one who precinct walks, has a campaign promise or two, someone who adheres to their constituency. I am a lobbyist. I adhere to my clients, relationships, the classic art of negotiations. It's a great living and I am proud of what I do. Most of my friends are curious, some even intrigued.. that is until they find out what my brother does for a living. Then it's: "Can we change subject from California politics to what your brother does? It's not that I'm not interested in what you do, I just can't get over the success of James Brown."

And yes, that's his name: James Brown. No, he does not sing about being too hot in the hot tub. He doesn't sing period. In fact, I don't even think he can dance. (He's white.)

He did, however, win the lottery in the genes department and got the golden ticket: he's making it big as an artist. I will stop there and let the eye rolls and sighs commence...

Read on if you have enough self confidence to feel happy for his success while counting the blessings in your own life. It's a hard pill to swallow.. especially for his barely stable sister. *Two sighs coupled with a triple eye roll*

Let me start from the beginning so we can all appreciate his struggle to get where he is today. (It's easier to accept this way, trust me.)

JB spent his childhood drawing little action figures when he was sent to his room for fighting with me. And since that was often, he got really good at creating monsters, Star Wars figures, animating stick figures into fire rings as he shuffled post-it note paper. He took after my mother who was always painting, always creating art on wood slabs, recreating her favorite dolls in some crazy art deco brilliant nonsense none of us artist neophytes quite understood. By way of example, my artistic talent was stunted by a 1979 Christmas present for mom made of old rubber bands, nails and a 2 by 4 slab, which spelled out, "I love yov." Making the "u" had me stumped.

JB began his career in his old 7 ft by 7 ft childhood bedroom as a resent college graduate. He was broke, refused to adhere to the "man" and tried to find animation work, while my parents forced him to pay rent and do his own laundry. His dream was to find work in the movies.. or commercials.. or clever youtube videos. I do believe at that point, he would have animated a pile of dog poop had someone given him a chance and backed it up with a few hundos.

JB was offered a (free) internship in the Bay Area to animate something like poop. He accepted with gusto and worked as if this was the best animation job on the planet. He became a sponge, soaking up every detail of creation: how to draw, move the thing you draw, and transfer the thing you drew and moved to a computer. (Pardon the elementary narrative of process. Oh, and if you are one of JB's geek animator friends, eat me. I am doing the best I can with the non-creative gene I did NOT get from my folks. Pound sand. Your non-talented siblings are thinking what I am expressing.)
Cut to circa 2000 when JB got a job offer from an animation company in Santa Monica where he lived (was forced to share rent) with our equally jealous cousin who also did not win the artiste gene from the parental units. Sorry, Abe. You did, however, acquire the writing gene from my uncle, your father, so I am pissed at you too. See all of overused commas in this piece? Thy angst is evolving exponentially.

JB then got the opportunity of a lifetime to join a reputable studio in Berkeley and return to his Bay Area roots. He and his smart and beautiful wife did not have to move into my parents’ house due to Bay Area prices. They actually bought a house in Pleasant Hill and JB got to work on projects such as Stepford Wives, Enchanted, the classically grotesque movie Ted, and my favorite, those Blockbuster commercials with the chipmunk and bunny.. or was it a hamster?

JB had made it big. He followed his goofy little action figure dream that every 6 year old kid fantasizes about after watching Cars or Toys or The Incredibles. And if the story ended there, you would feel green-eyed but happy for him and his family which now includes two kids, right?

The story doesn’t end there. Grab a beer. It gets better (worse)..
For the past three months, JB has been employed by Pixar. Yes, the same Pixar with the bouncing ball and the lamp and Monsters Inc., University, Cars, Toy Story, the Incredibles, and on and on and on.

He is one of a group of animators working at the college-type campus on movies that shall remain nameless, the story lines are under a lock and key. It’s like he works for the CIA or something. Or, perhaps he just doesn’t want to tell his big mouthed envious sister how he spends his day.

I recently visited JB at work for two reasons: 1. It’s effing Pixar! And 2. I didn’t believe he worked there and had to see for myself.

Wow. Pixar. Really, JB?

The story doesn’t end there. Grab a shot. It gets better (worse)..

He’s also making a killing on selling his art. I had to pre order.. PRE ORDER.. a print he made before he showed it at an art show in Berkeley. Since when do blood relatives have to reserve a piece of art from their immediate family members? Where's the complaint form?

Talent runs in this family. It sure does. The tributary that carried the art gene, however, ran right past me and hit my little brother like a firehose.

And frankly, it pisses me off.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Small Ball, Long Stick

Listen up. I have pretended for far too long to be good at a sport that has me wrapped around the axel of narrow fairways, collared shirts, and an obscenely expensive bag of alloy batons that are good for nothing other than breaking car windows of philanderers.

I am just about to call it quits. The seven iron I held in my death grip today almost went through the nose of my fifty-dollar-an-hour coach whose only objective is to get me out of the “embarrass myself” phase during career networking opportunities. Arguably, potential clients seeing me use that piece of titanium as an axe to chop the greens up and then launch it like an Olympic javelin in the next fairway while yelling profanities that would make a sailor blush is not good for business.

I @%S$&ing hate golf.

I don’t want to. I consider myself pretty athletic and given enough time and practice, I figure I could get pretty good and hold my own among most hobby golfers. Typically, they tend to be men who keep better track of their scores than their checking account balances. Just a friendly observation.

The fact that it’s considered a man’s sport (i.e. Augusta, Bagger Vance, the “chick tees”) has me even more motivated to actually make contact with a ball the size of my father’s kidney stone he passed back in '91. Ludicrous.

Let’s back up and recap how I came to hate the stupid game of golf, and thus myself.

My grandmother, who I lovingly called Dama, was an avid golfer back in the 70's and 80's; she was almost obsessed with the sport, and frankly quite good at it. She figured those who weren’t as high on it just hadn’t had the exposure. For my birthday one year, she thought it would be a true gift to take me to the driving range to hit an offensive amount of range balls. I might have mentioned I would be just as happy at Chuck E. Cheese playing skeet ball, but she thought she was simply providing me an entrĂ©e to a lifetime of athletic prowess and bourgeois stature.

She did this by bribing me. She preceded our sessions by dangling the Shirley Temple carrot in my face after our outing. "If you don’t throw your golf club in frustration out into the range like you did last time, I will by us a tasty beverage.”

My favorite times with Dama weren’t swinging the clubs. They were hanging out at the bar afterwards, flirting with the crisp white shirts who fawned over her swing.

I wanted that attention.

When Dama died in 2000, I took up the sport in her honor as if it were my own. I told people I was a decent golfer (not true), that I had my own clubs (I borrowed them from my short male friend from work), and that I could drive about 200 yards from the tee box (also not true unless you counted the ball bouncing down the cart path two fairways to the right.)

When I started playing at work functions as a way to network, people saw me for what I was – a lump who was vaguely familiar with the rules but who knew the drink cart ladies by first name. I became kinda popular.

What I lacked in talent, I made up in embarrassing incidents – anything to keep the attention off my Happy Gilmore-esque swing. For instance, I noticed early on whilst tootling around mindlessly in a golf cart, that public restrooms were a scarce commodity during an 18 hole outing. Totally misogynistic, in my opinion, so I took it upon myself to, as my fellow golf groupies referred to as “drop trough” behind a tree and relieve myself of the copious amounts of tasty beverages I consumed on the front nine.

Granted, I was very close to getting 86’ed after several warnings, but bright side: no one was talking about my five foot worm burner off the first tee… in front of the world.

I tried to get serious about the sport after people started referring to me as the post-Bay Watch David Hasselhoff of the golf world. I was an embarrassment to myself and others and would mask my inability to hit that minuscule orb with inappropriate behavior.

I hired a golf pro to fine tune my swing and give me a few pointers. I tricked a girlfriend who sucked as bad as I to join me – again, another subtle diversion to get the focus off of me.

On that first day of lessons when Very Attractive Golf Teacher showed up, I knew I wasn’t going to learn a thing. Girlfriend and I would try to whiff the ball on purpose to get his attention and then giggle behind his back. He called me Amykins. My fate was sealed when on the third lesson he arrived with a nice sized marijuana nugget stuck to his polo vest, his eyes bloody half moons.

But I plugged along over the years, hacking up manicured fairways, losing a good $500 in golf balls that claimed to improve my aim, and throwing my back out when I swung too hard without club to ball contact.

After a while, I made up excuses not to play. Those included the following: “I have to work.” “Oh, look at that. I went and forgot my golf shoes.” “Sorry, I can’t be farther than 30 feet from the facilities at any one time.”

Years went by without me picking up a club, which frankly, felt liberating.

Then my son, Yack was born, which allowed for additional excuses to not play the bloody sport. But, what do you know, when he turned three he asked if he could take up golf. His father, Pants bought him some peewee golf clubs off of EBay. Where was all of this coming from?

Karma, meet Dama.

And yes, I do believe you don’t turn into worm food after you die. Instead, you come back and haunt your living family members via their offspring.

Yack started asking for golf school.

“What about baseball”, I probed, “have you considered karate?”

He responded by taking his shiny new clubs out of their bag and swinging money shots into my bushes.

Now we are both beginners, taking lessons with pros at a nearby golf course once a week. Yack is improving dramatically, now working on his aim rather than his swing.

It’s an entirely different story on my end.

Irrespective of my inability to make contact without front loading the entire green, I have a solid coach. He’s engaging, patient and all business. He has a soft approach but he’s hard on focus (of which I have none) and he won’t let me leave until I hit a ball long and straight. Note: I have been there until almost dark most days.

And I am a pretty good student. Yack and I go to the driving range at least two times per week and report back when lesson time rolls around. I concentrate (to the best of my ability) and play out the instructions of last week’s lesson.

But here’s the thing: After close to a dozen lessons I either chunk dirt, hit worm burners or loft elephant butts – those are the high and stinky ones. In fact, I actually ripped off the band aid and played nine holes with Yack and Pants recently. And true to form, I drove a dirt clump off the second tee farther than my ball.

Yack laughed his little 5 year old butt off.

When I reported back to New Golf Pro about the train wreck, he asked about my favorite song.

That’s an easy one: Ramble On by Led Zepplin.

“I want you to put that song on repeat in your ear plugs, grab your nine iron and swing back and forth until you don’t have to think about it.”

No ball?

No ball.

We were really starting from ground zero.

But I did what I was told: sweep the earth, right shoulder even with my left, start with the hips, heels back, don’t grip the club like I am holding on to a last call beer, and let my left eye stare at the back of the ball. Get out of my head.

Now if I were a sane person, I would forgo this little exercise and use said club to un-lodge Yack’s action figure out of the dryer vent.

Alas, I had something to prove to New Golf Pro during our next session so I zeroed in on a lawn patch in my beautifully manicured backyard and began my quest: leaves are falling all around, it’s time I was on my way. Thanks to you I’m much obliged, such a pleasant stay.

After an hour, I was supposed to be in a groove. The only groove I felt was the major divot in my lawn that almost caused me three sprained ankles.. and served as a place for our cat to relieve himself.

But all wasn’t lost. Recently, I took a trip to see my cousins in Colorado and my annoyingly stellar 10 handicap cousin offered to take me to the driving range. I obliged but provided the requisite excuses of my pending shankers. “I’m taking lessons. He’s readjusting my swing. It’s a new game for me.”

For those who golf, it’s universal knowledge the three wood is the hardest club in the bag to hit. Perhaps that’s not true. Perhaps that is what I have been told from the people around me who cringe when I yank that puppy out and swing like a banshee just to have the ball dribble a few feet in front of me.

For what it’s worth, I garnered the courage to whip it out in Colorado and test my newfound head space. And after a few vital tips from Golf Cousin, I lofted those balls far and (relatively) straight. I hugged Golf Cousin and told him he was the Viagra of the three wood.

When I returned to lesson number whatever a couple of days later, I made the grave mistake of bragging about my new found loftiness with the three wood.

New Golf Pro asked me to show him.

He probably thought I was lying, considering I couldn’t get that blasted ball above 1 foot off the ground and 20 feet in front of me.

We worked on my swing until the sun went down, promising to leave on a good note, which never came.

All the while, Yack, finished with his lesson, yelling from the sidelines words of encouragement, “Mommy, you’ll get the hang of it someday, but let's go. I'm hungry and it's dark outside.”

Shhh, little man. I almost have it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Not A Diet, It's A Lifestyle Change

If eating healthy is boring, I am Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe. Sure, I change it up frequently, probably to combat that boredom which has likely lead to the unintended consequence of an unhealthy obsession with what I put in my pie hole. Of note, it ain’t pie.. or cookies or candy or creamy chocolate – unless it’s 85 percent cocoa or higher – or never anything custard-y or cold and creamy.

Whatever happened to balance? Everything in moderation?

Whoever asked this question does not know about my misgivings. Bottom line: if I could, I would... but finishing an entire pan of brownies before they go into the oven is standard operation. My involuntary licking of the bowl resembles a big giant eating his goulash with his giant wooden spoon accompanied by his giant grunts of pure delight.

Yeah, I got a problem. So do you, probably.

So, instead of tackling that problem and dissecting the inner workings of my need to emotionally eat everything sweet or salty or creamy or crunchy, I’ve banned it altogether.

Boring. Totally.

My lifestyle (it’s not a diet) consists of kale, spinach, avocado, almonds, chicken, tofu and eggs. Throw in a nice vinegar based squash and top everything with toasted pine nuts in coconut oil, and you pretty much know intimate details of my staple intake. Way back in the 90s, it was a completely different story. And to fully understand how I managed to spend  an exorbitant amount of money on every fad diet to hit the airwaves, one must understand how this all started.

Enter the Carb Head, circa 1994 - a term coined by Jillian Michaels, or was it Richard Simmons? No, he coined the tootsie roll, which was/is an exercise that involves some gyrating core and butt cheek movement from the floor. Now that I have the 69 Boyz Tootsee Roll song stuck in my bean, we shall move on..

I used to run eight to ten miles every other day and then top it off with a piece of Boudins sourdough bread the size of a basketball, a plate of pasta with two handfuls of Parmesan cheese. The sauce was too unhealthy for the likes of me. I was a runner. I needed to carbo load.

For lunch on most days, I thought I was out smarting most health experts (and my wallet) by ordering the soup of the day at a local restaurant and eating two (free) loaves of crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside warm baked French bread. I saved calories and money. It was brilliant. I felt great, aside from the nagging sensation of smuggling a punch bowl under my clothes as I stumbled out of the restaurant, along with my head weighing about 200 pounds by 3 p.m.

Hey, at least I wasn’t gorging myself on potato chips. Instead, I ate Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, the whole box, along with the processed powdered cheese salt that covered my spit ridden fingers. Subsequently, I would lay my head down on my pillow and dream of sour cream and onion French fries.

Then came the whole wheat craze. When my grandmother died of diabetes at an early age, I thought it was because she drank a case of soda a week and ate Otter Pops for breakfast, but in the early 2000’s I began reading about the glycemic index and how bleached flour and “white carbs” were really just sugar. Perhaps white carbs were my grandmother’s demise. She loved her tortillas and pastas and breads.

I began familiarizing myself with the signs of white carb addiction. I even took a Cosmo-type test and learned that if these carbs were alcohol, I would be serving out my third stint at Betty Ford.

So I switched to light beer, aka whole wheat.

It just so happens, I wasn’t quite expecting my body’s impeding rejection to this wholesome alternative. My gut preferred the machine washed version of the carb over the unwashed, unprocessed carb. This new lifestyle gave me a painful and inconvenient case of colitis. I attributed this health impediment to the red wine I was guzzling to numb my loss of sourdough bread, but when I ceased to drink per my doctor’s orders (boo!) my colitis got worse. Don’t know what colitis is? Look it up on your own time. It ain’t pretty and I would prefer keeping my lunch below the gullet where it belongs.

A typical meal under the wheat carb colitis diet, er, lifestyle change: Whole wheat crackers with cheese, whole wheat tortillas filled with cheese and brown rice, topped with sour cream and tomatoes (veggies), topped with some light cheese. Breakfast would include three pieces of wheat toast, sugar free jam, and a whole wheat bagel with cheese exactly one hour and 22 minutes later. During this lifestyle change, I became obsessed with what food was doing to my muscle mass, aka, my sag arm wave, my muffin top and my jean-to-snugness ratio. I started weighing myself two times a day, thinking, it must be working.
After a typical good carb, low glycemic meal of whole wheat products, I gained about 3.5 pounds in one day. This, of course, had nothing to do with water weight, and after close to a year of said lifestyle changes, my midsection was an architectural overhang.

I attributed this body change to an increase in my muscle mass from working out, but the heaviest thing I was carrying was my farmer’s walk of wine from the grocery store to my car.

Besides, due to the colitis, I couldn’t very well make it to the gym for a workout or around the block for a run without immediate access to a restroom.

Then, some a-wipe friend suggested I do a Tough Mudder race and I again, had to change my “lifestyle”. I joined the Midtown Strength and Conditioning torture chamber, which I praise as cult-like (I sprouted traps), and have blogged about it ad nauseam. I also changed the way I ate… again.

It was what I affectionately referred to as the substitute lifestyle change. I wouldn’t necessarily give up the foods I loved, I would just make a few modifications. Here’s what it looked like:

Instead of sour cream, I used plain Greek yogurt. Huge yuck factor unless you douse it in lemon pepper, dried oregano flakes and processed onion dip, topped with cheese of any kind.

Instead of rice, I used quinoa (keen wah). This tastes like poppy seeds mixed with pine needle nubs and dirt unless you cook it in chicken and beef broth, the oil from chorizo sausage and topped with two large handfuls of Parmesan cheese. I typically ate this meal with a dollop of the Greek yogurt processed onion dip. Semi-delicious.

Instead of eggs, I used tofu. I would load up the skillet with an inch of vegetable oil, garlic, soy sauce and butter until it was a nice caramelized color, threw in the tofu with some shredded sharp cheddar and, for good measure, chopped basil and Asiago cheese. To thicken things up, I added a handful or two of wheat flour (a small amount couldn’t hurt, no?) and two handfuls of shredded cheese. Tasted like dirty diapers, but seemed healthy enough.

Instead of mashed potatoes, which I would just as well bathe in, I used cauliflower, steamed in beef broth until it condensed into something resembling a pumpkin in the hot July sun, accompanied by two handfuls of Parmesan cheese, the aforementioned Greek yogurt processed mixture, some 2 percent low fat milk, buttermilk, whipped cream, a cup of regular milk, two large tablespoons of butter, a block of high end deli merlot soaked cheddar, and some bacon grease for flavor.

Instead of sugar sprinkled on my fruit, I used flax seed mixed with a sugar substitute, typically Equal or Nectresse or Splenda or Stevia or fill-in-your-latest-aspartame-cancer-causing-chemical-here. A tad bitter, but hey, at least I cut out that raw sugar cane. That’s a gut-tearer-upper.

After about three months, I nixed the "Instead Of" lifestyle because I was too preoccupied at work staring down at the bread loaves that had become my feet. I managed to stuff those things into tiny party hats I called my fancy work shoes. The image was fascinating; I wasn’t getting a lick done at work. I googled, “bloated during non-menses weeks,” and realized I had an "Instead Of" problem..

Cut to current day. I am on to lifestyle change obsession number 2,339. The experts call this the Paleo. I call this Open Caveman Style. I have resorted back to my ancestors’ way of consuming food: chest pounding meat, green leafy veggies and twigs and berries. In fact, look closely, and you may catch me in my backyard picking wild mushrooms out of my dogs’ compost pile. I may or may not be wearing leather (cow) skin shams and Ugg boots during backyard hunt. I may or may not be holding a spear, eyeballing the neighbor’s pet chicken. The only thing missing is the lip jewelry… cuts into my eating.

The typical breakfast is a spectacle, which my son, Yack always interrupts by asking how many people I am feeding. “It’s only me, sweetie,” to which he replies, “it looks like you’re feeding three or four people.”

Whatever, kid, eat your gluten rich cereal and let’s see who’s still holding up at 10 a.m.

He’s five.

I’m forty.

But I have to say, this current “lifestyle” sure has my energy on the rise. I never feel sluggish. I don’t do a header into my computer come 3 p.m. and I don’t really crave anything like sugar or carbs, aside from a few Red Bulls and Go Girls a couple of times a day, but seriously, whatever.

And by the time I turn forty-one, I will be rid of the kale, crushed pecans, chicken thighs, liquid glucosamine and vitamin B12 that have become a staple of consumption in my everyday life. At that point, I will on to the next fad, which I will proudly call a lifestyle change that I will claim gave me an unexpected spring in my step, healthier hair and a shinier outlook on life. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Most of my fears are legitimate. I hate snakes, big hairy spiders. I also hate roller coasters. They are typical in nature: it terrifies me when my son thinks he’s a goat and has to stand on everything higher than two feet tall.

I have also been so scared, my bowels ceased to function properly when I mortgaged my home to start a business. I got the same physical reaction when I signed a death waiver the first time I did the Tough Mudder race back in ’10.

These situations, I’d like to think, would scare the average Joe.

But sometimes my fears don’t make a lot of sense. And I am about to share one of them so go easy on me. Please refrain from the kitty cat comments. Do me that favor.

On a vacation to Maui recently, my husband talked my son and me into taking a snorkeling trip. I had only attempted the "sport" once in my life and was so clumsy that before I even entered the water, I snagged my ankle on some coral which bled like a sieve and that was the end of me. The trail of blood could have brought on some unwanted ocean predators. That was back in 2005 and I was fine sitting on the shoreline with my warm Corona Lite watching my friends – or so I thought they were my friends. I couldn’t tell who was who with the tubes sticking out of the water and their butts in the air.

Up until our recent trip, snorkeling never crossed my mind. Scuba diving has, only because I have a friend who travels all over the world going on scuba trips. She is a certified dive instructor, meaning she could probably save people. She also claims she has been eyeball to eyeball with eels, sting rays, dolphins, even sharks. I am raptured hearing about her underwater adventures, but have no desire to join her. Just the thought of being out there in that underwater jungle with no quick exit gives me the heebs. I love hearing about her dives, though - the complex nature of her equipment, what could go wrong if you aren't careful, the creatures she has seen and touched. She seems so brave and I swoon over her stories.

She interprets my interest in her stories as interest in the sport. She has even offered to come over and show me how it’s done in my pool. Fine, I say, but can you guarantee there won’t be any coral or creatures or slimy fish when we do it for real? She can’t.

I placed this little thought of panic into the very back file cabinet of my brain as we set off to snorkel in what Greg the Maui Activities Coordinator said was some of the best snorkeling on the island. I mean, really. My five year old was thrilled. What was my problem?

Yack and Pants were first to get in the warm Pacific ocean. The waves were calm and warm, inviting me in. I remembered my little equipment lesson from Clayton at Boss Frogs and synched up my mask by sucking in a deep breath through my nose. The mask was so tight, my eyes felt like they were coming out of their sockets. And I made the very uncool mistake of talking which caused my son to convulse in fits of laughter. Apparently, I sounded like Goofy and looked like him too.

First lesson in snorkeling: once the flippers are on, walk backwards. I learned this the hard way, doing a face plant in the sand while Yack and Pants laughed at me. Another way of putting on the flippers is waiting until you get in the water. Plain common sense – eluded. Oh, and don't call them flippers. Apparently, these clown shoes are called fins.

After three false starts and four mask adjustments, I was ready. Pants and Yack were already out about 15 yards, leaving me and my anxiety behind.

While submerged, I noticed my noisy, labored breathing. I also noticed the way I felt: like a Cro-Magnon heaving air through my mouth while biting furiously on my nozzle. The only time I find myself in this state is when I am sweating at the gym, running from bad guys, or engaging in other activities that shall not be divulged here.

As the adrenaline coursed through my veins, I told myself to keep calm, to enjoy this. When you’re under the sea, checking things out, your peripheral vision is shot because of the mask, so you can’t know what creepy crawly things are beside you, or worse, behind you.

The biggest challenge for me was avoiding the coral. The pain I felt the last time I nearly decapitated my foot at the ankle came back as a vivid memory and spazzing through the giant coral reefs became the norm. Not to mention, the further the tide carried me out to sea, the bigger the sea creatures became. I saw a purple and red fish the size of my head. He stared at me, daring me to float closer. I could have sworn I saw teeth the size of chiclets on that one. I also experienced a school of smaller yellow fish following me, nipping at my toes that peeked out of my fins. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eel-snake-like green thing swimming below me with antenna and a whipping tail.

I closed my eyes, tried to calm myself and swam further from shore. Pants advised me that I would see some spectacular sights if I just make it to the reef about 100 yards off shore. So, I trudged on.

Up ahead of me was a very large shadow. It was hovering between two big pieces of coral that just about touched the surface. I stopped swimming but the tide swept me closer towards it. Reality hit me: I was five feet from a sea turtle the size of a beanbag chair. It inched it’s neck my way, lifted its fin and swam out of the coral wedge right towards me.

After I urinated in the water in the hopes to set off a warning signal, I whipped around and swam like hell back to shore, grabbing on to any piece of coral in front of me to leverage my speed back to terra firma. The theme song to Jaws began playing in my head as the door knocks of my breathing pounded my ears.

I stood up in knee high water and began running for shore, forgetting I was wearing fins and took a nose dive in front of my family.

Pants asked if I was okay. I told him I was a little shaken up, but that’s to be expected when you are being hunted down by a giant sea turtle.

Pants then put on his snorkel gear and headed out into the abyss for a glimpse of the terrorist. He found his friendlier brother – probably the one who played Crush in Nemo - and followed him for ten minutes out past the reef.

When Pants returned, he was enveloped with adrenaline, but not the kind I was experiencing. His adrenaline made him want to go back out again the next day and have lots of beers and talk about how great our trip was.

My adrenaline made me wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare I had where attack fish were biting my legs. As it turned out, it was Yack who had crawled in bed with me at 4 a.m. and was rubbing his untrimmed daggers we call his toenails against my shins.
I didn’t fall back asleep after that. Nor did I snorkel the next day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nimble Thoughts From a Step Mother

The eight year old is the boy. The eleven year old is the girl. They like my dogs. That’s about the only thing they like of mine.

The girl is a little bit of a challenge, but I get the attitude. I am dating her father. At least she’s not outright rude aside from the occasional eye roll coupled with a hushed, “whatever.” She’s a pre-teen dealing with another non-family related alpha female in her life. And she’s handling it better that I would if I were eleven. I would have hated me. I would have put dog crap in the woman's shoes who was dating my father.

And the boy, what a sponge. I have to be careful what I say around him or it will be regurgitated either to his classmates or more dicey, his mother. Using the profanity laden speech to express my inner self has to be curbed. I also can’t leave my clothes lying around. That will conjure up a sit down at the dining room table about why my tank top or bathing suit is hanging from the shower curtain. Oh, and teaching him to pump my gas is not a life lesson every eight year old should know. It’s child labor and it’s wrong.

I also have to be strategic in what I cook. Nothing too “vegetable-y”. Nothing too wholesome or organic. Nothing too healthy or high in fiber or low in fat. And dinner conversation has to be engaging, but not too personal. Discussing our funniest moment of the week is acceptable, discussing who we have the hots for is not. I must always go first. Must break the ice. Make it lively, set the tone. But be careful not to over share.

I have to watch my alcohol intake. No more than a glass or two of wine. Can’t let these kids thinking I am a lush. And I should probably let them slide a little on dishes, but not on cleaning their rooms and making their beds before they leave to go back home. I can’t let them treat me as though I am a pushover maid type.

I can’t play favorites even though hanging out with the boy is less stressful. I mustn’t over compensate because hanging out with the girl is a mild struggle. Tears may ensue. Doors may slam.

When teaching something new, like snowboarding, I must provide enough guidance and pedagogical feedback, but not so much that they want to throw their boots at my head.

I must be generous in gift giving, but not blatantly over the top so I don’t appear as though I am sucking up.

I have to be aware of their body language if I go in for a hug or a kiss, especially in public. I can’t discipline them for sneaking out of the house or lying or fighting with each other. The punishment comes from their parents. I should feel free to offer up my keen observations to their father as to the type of discipline that should be administered seeing as though I have parenting skills and all.

I shall express my love for them on a gradual scale, knowing their love for me is not unconditional, nor mine for them.

I must provide the right amount of sunlight, carbon dioxide, soil, water and oxygen to enable our budding relationships to flourish..

Lastly, I must sit back, keep my pie hole shut and hope for the best.

The balance beam which was my life 10 years ago has turned into an effervescent, buoyant trampoline. My love for those two is unwavering. My actions, not so strategic. There’s nothing to prove. They are my step children, my family, and I beam with pride.

The girl is turning 21 next month. She just ventured out of her comfort zone and took a solo trip to Chicago for six days to “see if it’s a place I want to live after college.” Anxious, trepidatious and full of excitement, she hopped on the plane to a city of art museums, theater productions and deep dish pizza. She got stuck in a thunderstorm, her plane was struck with lightening. She stayed with a stranger in Colorado after being stranded overnight. She came back ready to take a head dive into her next big adventure. She’s changed – a bit more confident, a lot more hopeful. I put a new rug in her old room, hoping it would make her want to come home every once in awhile and visit her toads.

The boy turned 18 back in December. He’s leaving for Wake Forest University in North Carolina in approximately 14 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes. Despite his step mother’s undo influence, he managed a 4.4 GPA, an 1900 on his SAT, was a varsity basketball, soccer and track and field player. To boot, he enjoyed a robust social life outside of normal business hours. He is his own worst critic. I don’t see him having any academic challenges in NC, nor challenges in other areas of traditional college life. Toga, Toga, Toga..

I have committed to working until I am 85 to help pay for his and his sister's college education without any complaining or apprehension. It’s non negotiable. It’s all a part of the plan.

I am lucky. Not many can say they inherited a couple of kids they would be privileged to call their own.
And now as they become acquainted with adulthood, I must sit back, keep my pie hole shut and hope they know their evil step monster loves them unconditionally.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Little Red Purse

The Brown men in my family don’t do well with macho. They are more your garden variety feelings type – talk about it, hug it out.. especially my brother. Growing up, that kid could cry over a sad song, a ripped shirt, a mild pinch in the arm to establish territory. I am convinced he learned this soft demeanor from my father, who cried quite a bit too. And so it seemed the touchy feely self expression was a prerequisite for being a Brown male. Sweet, huh? Most of the time it was, but every once in awhile, that sensitivity came with price.

 “What the hell is your son doing?” 

Mr. Shiteed nudged my father in the side after seeing my brother with a purse swung around his shoulder.  Mr. Shiteed was a family friend by default.  My folks loved his wonderful wife, but Mr. Shiteed was the purulent sore that stuck to wifey’s cheek. He was unavoidable. 

"Love me, love my husband,” she once told my mother over coffee and cigarettes after the subject surfaced of her verbally abusive counterpart who launched assaults at her young children, who by the way were not his own.
Mr. Shiteed was a brazen, mouthy, hells angel who couldn’t help but throw in a cuss word to describe his hot piece of meat wife, which he felt compelled to share - along with their sex life - on a regular basis.  We all hated him.  He drooled, yelled and shot death stares at young children right there in the open public. 

Us Browns had a way of sucking in all the tolerance as if holding our breath when he was around, especially my dad, the 6 foot 4, 250 pound softy that he was.. Bottom line, we truly loved everyone in the family with that one menacing exception.

My parents agreed to meet the Shiteed family for pizza at a very neutral location with the intention of eating and leaving on their time, not Mr. Shiteed’s. Left up to him, the entire crowd would be subject to countless alcohol soaked hours of loud stories about his time in ‘Nam. 

On this night, my mother enticed us kids by offering up the treat that is the rare visit to Luigi’s Pizza.
My brother asked if he could take his purse. My folks, being the self expressionist hippie parents they were, said of course. JimBo stuffed his “action figures” aka dolls into the little red vinyl purse which donned three yellow daisies on the front. It was cute, especially slung over my brother’s shoulder.

The little red purse used to be mine but I had since outgrown it and had moved on to a hot wheels carrying case. The little red purse went to someone who appreciated its versatility. I, however, yearned for a modern, hardened look. I was so over convenience.

By the time we were buckled in and half way down the block, my folks mentioned as a side note that we were meeting the Shiteeds. I asked for clarification: was Mr. Shiteed gracing us with his presence? 

“We have to accept people for who they are,” which meant 'yes' coming from my sensitive and diplomatic father.

“Turn the car around!” JimBo and I screeched from the backseat.

Thoughts of Mr. Shiteed shouting at our friends and picking his teeth with his straw plagued our young minds.

My brother clutched onto his little red purse in fear. He was at that stage where his purse went with him everywhere and the thought of Mr. Shiteed poking fun at him was paralyzing. But he wouldn’t have pizza without it. The purse was his security blanket.  It carried life.  Aside from his “action figures”, the purse carried his candy, baseball cards and his Merlin game. He couldn’t very well leave it behind. Thus, we all felt the anxiety of that purse in the presence of Mr. Shiteed, including my father.

The Shiteed family was already outside, waiting impatiently for us. As my folks stopped to greet them with hugs for wifey, head nods for Mr. Shiteed, JimBo and I darted for the door without acknowledging the daunting clutches of Mr. Shiteed’s wisecracks.

“What do you mean, what is he doing?” My father corralled Mr. Shiteed to an outside ashtray for a pre dinner smoke, and an attempt to shuffle him outside of JimBo’s earshot.

My father tried to quell Mr. Shiteed’s judgment by explaining it was just a bag to hold JimBo’s toys. “And as his dad, I don’t mind.” 

“Yeah, if you don’t mind your kid growing up to be a fairy.”

My father warned Mr. Shiteed that if he so much as looked at his son funny, they were going to take it outside and have a nice long chat. What my father meant was they were going to have a discussion about acceptance and tolerance and subsequently have a meeting of the minds on the subject. What Mr. Shiteed heard was that my mammoth ex semi-pro football playing father would pull the stuffing out of his abdomen with his bare hands.

During dinner, Mr. Shiteed didn’t even so much as glance towards my brother or his little red purse.

That was the last time we ever saw Mr. Shiteed. My mother made it very clear that if wifey and kids wanted to continue to have a relationship with the Browns, they had to ditch the machismo.

And so, Mr. Shiteed disappeared, never to be heard from again.  

But the little red purse? That’s another story. It’s securely tucked away in the attic with a couple of JimBo’s Pittsburgh Pirate baseball cards in the side pocket. I think I remember seeing an old Andy Van Slyke card in there when I was going through some old photos and happened upon the vinyl gem. I bet it’s worth something – the card and the purse.

I hope JimBo digs it out of storage and let’s his son tote it around someday. It's good for sensitivity training for the Brown pedigree.