Living In The Gravy

From a journal entry written 22 years ago:

“At a time when most of my peers are sending their youngest children to middle school, I’m raising a four-year-old. While these friends can crawl back into bed on a fall morning or zip to work after helping adolescents out the door, I serve up Pop-Tarts and watch Nickelodeon with Alex. I don’t particularly like being awake early, but I do enjoy my little boy and I think the feeling is mutual.

“He’s full of joy and breathes new life into my world of complacent teenagers. When I walk in the door after a trip to the grocery store, he yells, “You’re back! My Mommy is back!’ I’m gobbled up in his enthusiasm and feel kissed by the gods when he throws his sticky little arms around my neck.

“His scent, his look and his personality linger with me emotionally and physically as I go from room to room. He likes to know where I am. I like that someone cares if I’m in the laundry room or the bedroom and would prefer to be where I am.

“It’s fun and easy to make him laugh. He’s always had a deep down, clear-to-the-bottom-of-his-soul kind of laugh. He’s a great audience for strange faces and cartoon-like voices I dream up — things my older kids don’t think are funny anymore.

“I get him to spend a rare moment in my arms when I feign tears. He moves so fast that at times I resort to such measures just to have the chance to hold him. If he laughs easily, he comes to a boil just as fast. He is never just a little miffed at anything.. he is all or nothing. It makes for a bumpy ride at times, but it’s never boring.

“I love that he’s four years old and already plays Nintendo better than I do. I love that his drawings of people at times have two noses or six legs and that to him this is perfectly acceptable. I love it when he sits down, crosses his legs in an adult manner and says he wants to have a little chat with me. I even love it when he gets into the bathroom, discovers he doesn’t have to be there after all and then yells to no one in particular, “It’s not working!”

“I think I have the best of both worlds. I get to see the softer side of older children when he runs into the room and jumps on them. They learn to include him and be patient. He learns, in turn, that the world doesn’t revolve around him, even though he wishes it did. I get new drivers, high school graduations, soccer and baseball games. Plus, I get Sesame Street, kisses on the mouth and size four boxer shorts.

“Sometimes I get incredulous looks from people my age whose children are older, and occasionally, even remarks about my level of intelligence. This used to annoy me. But I’ll bet you a peanut butter sandwich there’s not one of them that wouldn’t love, for just one minute, to once again be the center of someone’s universe.”

Carpool Karaoke and What Really Matters

Maybe you saw it. Late night talk show host James Corden took a drive around Liverpool, England with Sir Paul McCartney. Corden does this schtick frequently with other celebrities, but for me, this one stood out. Paul McCartney in his hometown.. singing his music with Corden in the car as they drove around together, stopping by Penny Lane, McCartney’s childhood home and surprising unsuspecting patrons at a local pub? It was perfect.

This was a long watch. The segment lasted around 25 minutes – but I smiled all the way through, laughed, and may or may not have cried a little. Yes, it was all that. Then I started thinking about why it was all that and here’s what I came up with.

The Beatles entered my consciousness when I was 10. Magazines and news media covered them relentlessly and their first trip to the US was in February 1964. Their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was nothing short of history making. I couldn’t look away and I was 10 – still into Barbies and horses, but leaning toward those haircuts from Liverpool. It was a sweet mix, that skinny wedge of time between little girlhood and young womanhood.

Over the next decade, they were in my field of vision, but I was never the superfan some were. I liked some of their music, reading about their adventures around the world, and staring at their photos. Then I grew up and the Beatles grew apart.

When they all struck out on their own, my only real interest was McCartney, since he was my favorite to begin with.  I also liked the stories I knew about him, including how Linda Eastman, the woman he would be married to for almost 30 years, was really just a fangirl who followed him around. Her photography and breeding got her into places others couldn’t go, but it didn’t matter. Her methods won the day and they lived in the English countryside, had a bunch of children, sang in a band together and were still married when she died of breast cancer in 1998.

McCartney’s love life (which I always kept at least one eye on) involved one failed marriage which produced another child, and then another one to someone he’s still with. I like that he believes in marriage.

When he and Corden drove around Liverpool, they sang Let It Be. Never one of my favorites.. until Paul explained the story behind it. He had a dream during a troubled time in which he saw his deceased mother, assuring him all would be well and to let it be. He wrote a song about that.

The stop at the pub was my favorite part. One would assume that occasionally Paul McCartney might be spotted in Liverpool.. but it didn’t look that way. People in and outside of the pub saw him, came running, took pics, he gave autographs, they all sang together and some were crying.

Why did we all respond that way? Was it just remembering good times and how it was back in the day? That’s probably part of it, but people loved seeing him and the feeling was mutual. Sir Paul and his music provided the soundtrack for so many of our lives. He stood with his guitar in the pub and took requests.. and while he wasn’t 25 anymore, he might as well have been. The feeling of oneness, connection, shared experience and emotion from people of all ages hung like thick drapery in the room.

McCartney said to Corden, “That’s what music does.”

It’s also what an iconic class act does.

5 Ways To Be Happier Right Now

Published in Discover Ferndale, August 19, 2017

Internet clickbait aside, the following five things really work. Also, there’s no need to change your hair color or your spouse, or move to a sprawling estate in the country or visit France – although any of those things could, under certain circumstances, bring on the happy. Here are some things you can do today.

1 – Stop being infuriated about everything. Save your outrage only for the one thing that matters most. There’s a lot to snarl about in our world and everyone has an opinion. Decide now to limit what’s rage-worthy in your life. Positive vibes will find their way back to you and so will your energy. No one is making you mad. It’s your choice to be angry, and by nipping at the heels of every little thing in the news, you’re missing out on the most important news of all – your life. Dump the diatribes and move on.

2 – Sleep more. Figure out how to hit the rack earlier or sleep a little later, or a lot. Take a nap, or two. This isn’t always easy to do, but I promise it will make you a happier person. There are, of course, good reasons to stay up. When children were little and awake late into the evening, exhaustion would set in and I’d think, “If I could just go to bed right now I wouldn’t have to eat the rest of the pie.” Pie is good, but sleep is better. Really.

3 – Give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s been said “To assume makes as ass of you and me.” Sometimes this may be true, but who’s keeping track? And more importantly, it’s tiring and energy sucking to constantly assign ulterior motives. Be aware, be smart. But stop thinking (and yes, you can do this) that everyone is out to get you, that you were lied to, cut off in traffic intentionally or that someone stole something you probably misplaced. Not everyone is malicious. People most often need support, not the stink eye.

4 – Express gratitude. To God, the Universe, Nature or the Grand Poobah. Thank the grocery bagger, the mail delivery person, your kid for doing the dishes. This should be done from the deepest part of your being. Really mean it. Think about what you’re thanking someone for and why they’re doing it for you. Do this everyday. This will become a habit and even when you’re out of money and your car won’t start or you’ve had a rotten day at work, if you genuinely recognize your indebtedness to someone or something, it will start to change your life. I pinky swear on this one.

5 – Care less. We’re often too invested in what other people think of us. We’re afraid people judge us because of our weight, because we wore the same thing to work earlier this week, because of a social gaffe, because there’s hair growing out of our nose, because of that toe fungus we’ve been meaning to address. The key word here is ‘afraid.’ Caring less about what others think is a hard thing to do immediately, but the freedom associated with it is a little heady. And whenever I start taking myself too seriously I remember that quote that says, “You’d be less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

The Dark Side Of Reading Online

Published in the Ferndale Record, November 4, 2015

I used to read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers. Now, most of my reading is done online, and this isn’t necessarily bad, but it places me squarely at the mercy of everyone who posts anything on the internet and the randomness surrounding this medium.

When I choose what to browse or absorb, I’m reminded there are slimy strings attached to brilliant technology. Even major news outlets pander to human nature’s seamy side. Everyone wants a larger piece of the reading audience and their tactics are often shameless.

The result is that I sometimes cave and peruse bits that are only mildly entertaining and far from edifying.

This week, while catching a look at NBC news online to see if there was anything I absolutely needed to know, I saw these headlines:

“Two more women accuse Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct” – How is this even important to the general population?

“Here’s how to make money off the migrant crisis” – Why is this a thing? And why is anyone writing about it?

“Vladimir Putin’s approval rating hits all time high” – Well, good for him.

“Trump takes swipe at Carson: Lower energy than Bush” – No mud slinging, please.

“Costumed canines strut their Halloween stuff” – Harmless, but not interested.

The following links were more to my liking, but still not anything I needed to know to survive:

“Mets to start Harvey in game 1 of the World Series” – The teams in this year’s Fall Classic are not my favorites, but there might be some good baseball, and I’m thrilled that the New York team playing doesn’t start with a Y.

“The 6 biggest health mistakes women make in their 50s” – I haven’t clicked on this yet, but I might. On principle alone, I usually move quickly past headlines claiming “6 things, 10 things or 17 things” that are critical for my wellbeing and promise that “number 4 will blow your mind!”

“Watch time lapse video of Hurricane Patricia” – OK, I clicked on this one.

I’m positive I would have lived another day without any of this information. It’s clearly up to me to make good choices and not just gobble up information because it happens to be in front of me. That’s really the problem, isn’t it?

I don’t dispute the value of everything written online, just a lot of it. Sensationalism is rampant. Grabbing readers and filling space seems more important than printing anything worthwhile.

Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker said, “ ..Why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices..? [They] prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their.. words can burrow into our lives.. Is it wise to place our.. well-being in the hands of strangers? .. These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media, hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.”

Choosing wisely shouldn’t be hard because there’s a lot of goodness out there, too. Try reading the high road. See where truth and fairness take your mind and heart.

School Pictures: The Good, The Bad, And The Really Bad

Published in the Ferndale Record, September 30, 2015

It’s that time of year.

Cameras are poised, little heads are done up with gel and bows, photographers practice their best kid-speak to produce winning smiles. But when you’re an adult working in a school, you get your picture taken, too.

I don’t know many grown-ups who are casual about having a portrait taken of themselves. Most of us don’t like it – at all. Selfies? Oh sure, bring on the phone! Best friend’s birthday? Jump in the shot! But, sit on a little podium by yourself between a paint-spattered backdrop and a professional photographer? Um, no thank you.

However, the buzz in the teacher’s lounge is EVERYONE has to have a picture taken, “for school records.” So we do, and we hate it.

As the school Administrative Assistant, it’s my job to hand out the pictures when they arrive in the mail. Just to be nice, the company taking the shots, gives each staff member a free picture packet – complete with an enormous 8×10 where nasal hair can actually be counted, two 5x7s to presumably use for target practice, some wallet size (because everyone carries wallet size pictures these days), and don’t forget the tiny ones to share with all of our friends!

Almost without exception, when a staff member sees his or her school photo, their response is something like, “Oh NO! Oh, please. Oh.. just. Oh no..” Nothing against the photography, just the massive, single face on the page.

A couple of years ago, most of the staff hated their pictures so much that one of us, with a particularly artistic bent, decorated the wallet sized photo of anyone willing to share. These were classic: missing teeth, eye patches, scars, and most notably, one of us was made into a clown. I kept these posted in my office to the delight of adults and small children alike.

The good pictures: These are, in my opinion, almost all of them. Even ones teachers hate of themselves, are good. They’re representative of that person. You recognize who you see in the picture. It makes you happy inside – if you’re not the person in the photo.

The bad pictures: These are the ones where someone was obviously trying too hard to look nice or different. You don’t know exactly what it is, but something’s wrong. It looks pretend, weird, or makes the viewer feel uncomfortable somehow. We’ve all seen these – or been in one.

The really bad pictures: These are, of course, the most hilarious. A school photographer usually gives you one shot. They may capture a surprise look, like you were caught picking your nose, or your smile is clearly fake. Maybe the spinach you ate for lunch is lodged in your teeth. That decision to get a haircut before picture day was a really bad idea, or maybe you should have rethought the lime green argyle sweater.

This year, I know what I’ll wear, how I’ll smile, what to do with my hair. Odds are I’ll still hate it. No big deal. Thank goodness for retake day in November, when we’ll all get another chance at a really bad photo.

Here’s Transportation Everyone Uses

Published in the Ferndale Record, August 26, 2015

The fact that I often discuss food in this column is not lost on me. I’ll admit to passion about the subject and think I inherited more than a few tendencies and practices concerning it from my mother.

She loved whipped cream on most desserts, so it was common to have it around. I don’t mean the kind you spray from a can. Hers was whipped in a chilled mixing bowl with sugar and a dash of vanilla, and it was spectacular.

Once, after consuming what was left of the whipped cream on top of a mug of cocoa, Mom faced a dilemma – there was cocoa left to drink, but no more whip. In a story that is still told in family lore, she simply went to the mixer and whipped more cream so her cocoa would be properly topped. That really happened.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was probably my first experience witnessing food as a vehicle. You know – when one food is consumed mainly because what you really want is the food it’s commonly eaten with. In my mom’s case, the cocoa was good, but what she craved was the whipped cream.

I blame propriety. Why not just bring the bowl of cream to the table, add a spoon and eat up? It’s a good question that could be asked about a lot of food we use this way.

I’ve written about my love of frosting before. The following is a short list of items that, in my experience, serve as excellent conveyances for frosting: Cake, cupcakes, brownies, graham crackers, donuts, cookies and pie. Yes, pie. Fingers, spoons, forks and knives, while not edible, also have a place on this list, and if it weren’t for the trappings of convention, they would be used more often.

We want to eat healthy food so we stock up on veggies. This is commendable. But let’s get real. Those scrubbed, sliced carrots, celery and peppers are vehicles for ranch dip, peanut butter or sour cream.

Baked potatoes are not only an exquisite comfort food, but are supposedly good for you. However, in my world they’re also solid transportation for butter and blue cheese salad dressing. Also, baked chicken breasts can be part of a healthy diet. But how much easier do they go down when dressed up in a cream of mushroom soup and sour cream mixture?

Ketchup and salt transport French fries, Hershey’s chocolate syrup carries down the ice cream, salsa and melted cheese for tortilla chips, onion dip for potato chips, milk for Oreos, tartar sauce for fish, any dressing for salad, Strawberry or Chocolate Nesquick for plain milk, even hamburgers serve as a ride for bacon. Some vehicle foods come pre-packaged for our convenience. Case in point: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Some things just taste amazingly good together so we consume them as a duo. I understand this. But the next time you face a naked carrot (not because you’re dieting, but because it’s in front of you) odds are you’ll look around for the Hidden Valley Ranch because, well – you know.

Shopping And Frosting: Two Important Decisions

Published in the Ferndale Record, June 24, 2015

Once I wrote a column about how people encourage others to be outraged concerning causes they feel are important. I understand this mentality, the wanting to share, the “You’ve got to FEEL what I’m feeling!” sentiment. I have pet subjects, too.

But here’s what’s happening: I’m mellower and not as easily whipped into a frenzy as I used to be. Maybe it’s simply energy related and choosing carefully where my focus ends up, rather than being led all over the map – passionate about everything and effective in nothing.

Although weightier issues squeeze into my consciousness, there are some tiny preferences upon which my mind is set, and surprisingly, these less than urgent decisions make life a bit easier.

I hate shopping for clothes. So, when I do, an item has to shout to get my attention. I rarely start by looking at sizes. If the color catches my eye, I go there first. If I love it, but the fit or style isn’t right, I move on. I won’t buy it because I might like it better at home.

That’s how I shop for clothes. Totally based on love. I have functional clothing, but if I don’t adore it, won’t wear it, if it doesn’t fit right, or if that shade of red doesn’t blow me away, it goes back. The end.

Here’s another example. I decided years ago that frosting is my favorite part of the cake. Someone offers you cake, you say yes, and the frosting to cake ratio makes no sense. It’s all cake with just a sliver of frosting. You know what I mean. This doesn’t work for me, and if I’m being honest, it never has.

I boldly decided that if I’m going to eat those kinds of calories, they’d better be worth it. So, when I buy or create baked goods with frosting, I get as much bang for my sugary, decadent caloric buck as possible.

The bakery at our local Haggen makes a fantastic single-layer German chocolate cake. If I’m buying one, I check carefully to make sure the chocolate and coconut frosting layers are thick enough for my liking. I’ve been known to pick out a cake, take it to the counter and ask for more frosting, and they kindly oblige.

Additionally, when I get the cake home (and since no one else likes it), rather than slice it in traditional wedges, I just carve off the edges to my preference, producing a perfect amount of frosting on the slice, without an overabundance of the delicious, moist, yet secondarily preferred cake.

If it sounds like I’ve thought all of this out meticulously, I have. Also, I feel no shame, just freedom from the shackles of ‘polite society.’ I also recognize these are options largely confined to a first-world inhabitant. For this, I’m grateful.

So, if the color or fit doesn’t make me a little giggly, I won’t buy it or keep it. And if there’s too much cake and not enough goodness on top, I sweetly decline. But if I know you well enough I might say, “More frosting, please.”