1109This blog is more of a reflection of me than I realized, or that you knew. Grab a Starbucks or a Big Gulp or whatever they serve wherever you’re reading this, and I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the easy visible part. The blog’s overall look is one of simplicity. Or at least as much simplicity as can be mustered when you’re sorting through all the sidebar options the good folks at WordPress make available. I chose that particular photo of myself because of the grey T-shirt, which lends to the grittiness of city life as seen through the—what are those, anyway? binoculars?—in the header’s image. And the image denotes taking a closer look at the human landscape, and it ties to my blog’s subtitle about observations.

Now for the invisible part.

On the “About Yours Truly” page I’ve listed random facts about myself. Absent from the list is that my 32-year-old daughter is disabled. She is unable to speak and has only gross motor movements as a result of an illness she suffered at age 14. Prior to that she was a straight-A high school freshman in perfect health.

That’s a really big deal, and a really big part of who I am, yet I intentionally omitted that fact. And here’s why:

Human beings are only, well, human, and when we’re at the movies or shopping at Anthropologie (did I mention she’s cognitively intact and has great taste?), I imagine people see The Girl in the Wheelchair and The Mom Pushing the Wheelchair. And therein lies the problem.

We are both, yet we are neither.

That seconds-long encounter fails to tell about us, about me training to qualify for the Boston Marathon or about Erin’s love of all things quirky and retro. That seconds-long encounter invites pity, not conversation.

A few years ago my husband urged me to write a memoir centered around Erin’s illness and the stone-in-a-pond ripples it has had on not just our family, but on people we’ve never met. Currently I’m writing—fingers crossed—the last draft and although in June my editor said he’d like this draft to be completed in three months, I’m about halfway done.

To chronicle something so personal yet so universally relevant is a huge task. And thus my absenteeism from this blog.

Recently, though, an essay of mine was published online at BioStories, so that was cool. It provides a glimpse into the memoir, if you’d like to read it.

This blog, like me—like all of us, probably—has a shiny side it shows the world and a personal side it grants entry to on a selective basis.

Welcome in, friend.

Jack Of No Trades

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

That’s a question I’m still trying to answer. Maybe it’s easier as a kid, before limits are placed and doubts set in. And bills accumulate.

The easier question now is, “What don’t you want to be?” I’ll tell you what—but it’s too much for a single post, so here’s a selection:

A plumber. On good days you’re elbows deep in someone’s grease. On bad days you’re elbow deep in…well, you’re just elbows deep. And don’t get me started on emptying septic tanks. Once as a kid, my family was camping and it was time to empty our camper’s waste holding tank. Dad pulled into a gas station with a waste disposal—I don’t know, pit, I guess—and hooked up the 4-inch diameter hose, only to have it pop off in the middle of the process. Pretty sure Dad threw those shoes out.

An electrician. I have utter confidence I’d electrocute myself, in no small part because there’s not much I find less interesting than electricity—or wires—so I may not have paid the closest attention in school.

A carpenter. I don’t like splinters, I don’t like loud noise, and I do like Pottery Barn. And Ethan Allen. Oh, and there may be one thing I find less interesting than electricity: wood.

A mortician. Too many frozen expressions reminiscent of those Januvia and Botox ads.

A butcher. I. Just. Couldn’t.

A grocery store cashier. It’s not the worst job available, but I’d get fired. Someone would use their food stamps EBT card to buy Dreyer’s cookie dough ice cream and get cash back, and I’d say something; I know it. Same goes for the customer who could pass for the star of My 600-lb Life pushing a cartful of Ho Hos, Cap’n Crunch, and Pepsi.

A Barnes and Noble employee. It could actually be my dream job, but again, I’d get fired—not for sassing the customers, but for getting nothing done. Still, what do they expect with all those distractions?

A teacher. My hat’s off to them—I couldn’t do it; see grocery store clerk above, substituting “unfinished homework” for the groceries and “mouthy kid” for the customer. Add helicopter parents and jail time to the mix, and I’m just better off not. So are the kids.

A Lowe’s/Home Depot employee. Fired again, I’d be. Not for sassing the customers, not for reading the books (if they had books), but because the first time some guy put down a fistful of loose nuts or bolts or washers and I had to figure out what they were, I’d tell him just to take them.

Looking at that list, I’m sure any aptitude test I’d take today would recommend I not work with the public. Probably a pretty good call for both of us.

Image: tumblr

Things Grown-Up Me Does That 10-Year-Old Me Would Never Do

Pass on buying Girl Scout cookies. I sold Girl Scout cookies a very long time ago (point of reference: they cost 50 cents a box), so I know what it’s like to spend Saturdays schlepping around your neighborhood trying to meet “each girl’s quota” so that “each girl may experience the wonder of Camp Stickittoya this summer.” It was a learning experience, though, because I learned I never want to go into sales. Today, 10-year-old me would buy a box just to be nice. But the grown-up me dials my cell phone just before leaving the store so that when I’m accosted approached by Girl Scouts hawking $4.50-a-box cookies from a card table, I can smile apologetically, shake my head, and point to my phone.

They've looked worse. Really.

They’ve looked worse. Really.

Go barefoot. Ten-year-old me went without shoes three consecutive months of the year, but 10-year-old me had decent toenails. Not pedicure toenails maybe, but toenails of normal color, length, and thickness. Had hers looked like mine do today, she would have said, “Ewwww! Gross! I’m never going barefoot again!” (Cue the slamming door.) Running may do a body good, but it wreaks havoc on the feet. Especially on the toenails. But you know what? I don’t care. If it’s above 75 degrees, flip-flops it is. Do I garner stares? Sometimes. Do I care? Not really—at least not as much as 10-year-old me would care.

Wear sunscreen. Growing up it was called suntan lotion, and it was for the beach. Never mind we lived 20 miles from the beach and playing outside sunup to sundown equated to more exposure than a few hours at the beach. I use sunscreen now, but since data suggests most sun damage occurs during childhood maybe I shouldn’t bother.

Skip dyeing Easter eggs. Seeing that Paas display in the grocery store as a kid always held such promise, didn’t it? The fact that the end result never resembled the pictures on the box was of no concern. Those displays held the same luster for our girls, and every year they’d open the box, ooh and aah over the stickers and the “magic crayon,” and we’d dye eggs. And by we, I mean me. Because I don’t count basting a few eggs then ditching the project when it got boring as dying Easter eggs, which is pretty much how I remember it. After the tablets dissolved, it was downhill excitement-wise and I was on my own—just me, the cleanup, and a vinegar aroma that lingered for days.

Ten-year-old me didn't have these, either.

Ten-year-old me didn’t have these, either.

Pay to run. At age 10, running wasn’t exercise; it was transportation. The only competition involved was outrunning cars as you crossed the street. Ten-year-old me would have scoffed at (1.) adults running, and (2.) paying for it. That’s because 10-year-old me wasn’t (1.) trying to outrun old age, or (2.) willing to fork over a nonrefundable $100 race entry fee for the privilege. Ten-year-old me was only trying to get to Karen Miller’s house before Mom noticed I left without cleaning up the Easter egg mess.


Thanks to Peg-O-Leg’s Ramblings for the inspiration!

Linda, Row Your Boat Ashore

Okay, so there was no boat and no shore. But I still rowed this morning.

It’s supposed to rain this weekend in Southern California, which makes us natives want to cocoon and get all cozy—unlike our East Coast brethren who, at the prediction of more precipitation, are probably ready to book a flight out. Going anywhere.

Rainy mornings make me want to knit, bake, and drink hot tea. Too bad I don’t have a rocking chair—and hair long enough to stick in a bun, like that old lady in the Tweety Bird cartoons. I even set out butter to soften for a new recipe* from Pinterest.*

There were just two flaws in my plan.

One, it wasn’t raining this morning.

Two, I’d signed up for a 7 a.m. rowing class. A rowing class with a $15 cancellation fee.

So I pushed aside my fantasy of remembering where I’d put my circular knitting needles and drinking hot tea—I actually don’t like tea and would much rather have a Diet Coke anyway. The butter, however, was still softening.

The morning wasn’t entirely a bust, because I rowed my little heart out—and I mean exactly that. During a 500-meter sprint, I felt like I might have a heart attack (it’s not like I’ve ever had one for comparison—I just knew). On the bright side, it gave me something to think about as I rowed. Usually I spend the entire sprint with my eyes glued on the meter timer, simultaneously swearing at it for being broken and at the studio’s owner for shoddy equipment maintenance. And this morning what I thought about was how far away the fire station was, and how fast could they get there.

Ta-da! Over 7000 meters rowed!

Ta-da! Over 7000 meters rowed!

That’s the problem with being the oldest in a class of four—I will not be beat. Not by some 35-year-old punks, and not by my own traitor of a heart. So I sprinted those 500 meters and beat my last time by eight seconds. Eight seconds may not sound like a lot, but try this: grab hold of two objects equaling a thousand times your body weight then push them and pull them as fast as you can for two minutes. Puts mere seconds into prospective, doesn’t it? And maybe rowing isn’t equal to a thousand times your body weight, but still…

The rain is supposed to come later this afternoon. I still haven’t found those circular needles, and I still don’t like tea, and I put the butter back in the ‘frige because, well… Just because. But if we need to row out of a deluge, I’m ready.

*See “About Yours Truly” page. Sometimes new recipes from Pinterest just don’t work anyway. Why waste the butter?

What Happened the Morning I Didn’t Check My Email

I’ve been waiting for two emails most of my adult life. Okay, maybe not. Maybe for four months and ten days, respectively—but it feels like most of my adult life.

Since checking my phone every two seconds wasn’t making them appear any faster, I took a stand this morning: it was time for that inbox to release its chokehold on me, to take its scrawny fingers off of my scrawny neck. At least until after lunch.

But could I do it? Go a whole morning without checking email? Because that also meant not looking at Facebook or Pinterest or the weather just in case—whoops!—I hit the mail icon by mistake. Plus, I knew seeing the inbox’s number creeping up would make the challenge unbearable.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn't hear me. Sad.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn’t hear me. Sad.

So instead of scrolling through friends’ cat videos on FB while I ate my oatmeal, I watched Wayne, our Welsh Corgi who turned 13 in January, through the kitchen window. Wayne waits for the pool filter to come on every morning at 8:30 but he seems to have gone from hard of hearing to deaf within the span of a week, so now he looks for the bubbles to percolate instead of listening for the hum of the motor. He walks slowly, and his hind legs have a weird scissoring motion. The poor boy has arthritis, I’m sure.

After breakfast I went for a run, and noticed tiny lily-of-the-valley blossoms I hadn’t seen since last spring. The sun felt warm on my shoulders, and I marveled at our 83-degree mid-February weather.

Back home—after stopping at Chevron for a 32-ounce Diet Coke—the scent of the Molton Brown Gingerlily bodywash my daughter bought for my birthday filled the shower, and I stood under the water far longer than was beneficial for either my dry skin or the drought.

Lunchtime. In a supreme demonstration of self control, I didn’t even wolf.

Finally I swiped my phone, certain my virtuousness was about to pay off.

Nope. Nothing. Oh, lots from Banana Republic, Gap, Amazon, Pottery Barn, Petco, et al, but not the ones I’ve been waiting for.

Still, I felt victorious. I’d been mindful in my morning—present for those lily-of-the-valleys instead of cutting my run short to check my phone; watching my own dog instead of someone else’s pets. I’d conquered the inbox.

And hey—so what if I ate lunch at 9:45?

Happy Hallmark Day

Driving through a parking lot this morning I had to stop several times for people rushing in front of my car. Wild-eyed men-type people.

Then it hit me: tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. They were going to See’s.

Once I was out of elementary school and no longer decorating shoeboxes for my Valentine “mail,” the day lost its charm. I get the sentiment—it’s the hype I hate. It feels manufactured, like See’s and Hallmark are in cahoots. Oh—and Target.

I was in Target on December 27 and they had Valentine merchandise displayed. Hand to God.

We last went out for Valentine’s Day about 20 years ago. My husband made reservations at a small upscale Italian restaurant I loved. We arrived and were told they were running late, that we’d be seated—hopefully—within an hour.

How is that even possible with a reservation?

So we went across the street to In-and-Out. We sat there, all dressed up, eating our cheeseburgers and fries. Best dinner ever.

Here’s how I’ll spend tomorrow: I’ll go for a short run pending knee cooperation, then I’m scheduled for a rowing class later in the morning. I’ll take a shower, then bake peanut butter cookies with Dove chocolate hearts pushed into the tops just because I’m not a total Debbie Downer. If it’s not too late, I’ll do some weeding because it’s supposed to be about 85 degrees. Dinner’s still a question mark. Ordinarily we’d go out on Saturday anyway, but everything’s going to be packed so maybe we’ll just see what time Gonzaga plays and order pizza.

Sounds like a perfect day.

It should have been a sign--I never did like these candies.

It should have been a sign–I never did like these candies.

An Offer I Should Have Refused

“Club what?” I asked.

“Club Pilates. It’s opening next to Subway,” the woman on the bike next to me answered.

Hmmm. When one door closes…

Because as it turned out, a door was closing—the door to the spin studio I’d joined eight months back. I’m not a fan of cycling, but it gave my legs a break from running without sacrificing endurance. So last week when I learned the studio was closing, like, tomorrow—and me five weeks postop from knee surgery and not cleared to run yet—I thought I’d be stuck.

Until the Club Pilates door opened.

“Yeah, they open tomorrow,” she continued. “Their website’s up with a schedule. The first class is free.”


Still, Pilates? I knew little about it, other than it had a lot of Hollywood-type devotees. At least according to People, they were devotees. But Pilates.

These people are paying big money for this torture. Big money. Courtesy: CC/Flickr

During my free class the instructor explained the philosophy, and she used all the key words they’re told to tell runners rehabbing an injury, like stability, flexibility, and core strength. The class worked every part of me as promised, and I was hooked. But their schedule only has a few classes a week that fit my schedule, and their 3-classes-a-week package is close to $125 a month. Yikes.

But stability, flexibility, and core strength!

I visited another Pilates studio in town that has an expanded schedule, plus they offer barre and Indo-Row. The classes are unlimited, so I could go 7 days a week if I wanted! Actually, I’d have to go 7 days a week to make it pay for itself, because it’s almost $180 a month.

So that’s where it stands—me and 100 hits on each studio’s website as I toggle back and forth, trying to decide which is the better deal. And I use the term very loosely. That free class was anything but.

Why Time Travel is a Bad Idea

When my brother was about 4 and I was about 5, we tried to build a time machine out of cardboard boxes. I’m not sure why Mom let us think it might actually work, but since this was the same mom who gave us a bucket of water and brushes so we could “paint” the house, apparently she believed any activity that kept two bored kids busy wasn’t worth upending.

Anyway, I’m glad our contraption was unsuccessful.

Who knew time travel was a real thing? Photo: Flickr

Who knew time travel was a real thing?
Photo: Flickr

At first blush certain eras seem like an interesting—if not grand—time to be alive. But think about this:

The First Thanksgiving. Since it was America’s original block party/potluck, I assume everyone brought their specialty. Meaning, back then, there weren’t too many Jell-O salads—there was too much venison. Or swan. Yes, swan. Pass the Pepto.

Downton Abbey’s 1920s. I’ve never watched it, but I know the premise. It all looks so luxurious until I remember that the odds of my being Lady Grantham are slim. More likely, I’d be her servant. Or a servant. I understand there are many.

July 1776. It wasn’t all sparklers, picnics, and central air, that’s for sure. WeatherSpark.com says Philadelphia has a “humid continental climate with hot summers and no dry season.” We were in Philadelphia one Fourth of July that fell on a Sunday, and attended services at Christ Church. I remember two things: awe and heat. No, three things: humidity. Crowds, heavy clothing, and—if memory serves (from history class, not first-hand knowledge)—a lack of regularly-scheduled bathing? A revolt of some sort was inevitable.

“The Good Ol’ Days.” No particular time in history, but at least 20 years prior to present day. I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, and remember your summers as a kid: the ice cream man, playing outside after dark, foregoing shoes. Ah, those were the days. Now open your eyes and remember how things really were: your hands sticky from Popsicles melting faster than you could eat them, mosquito bites, and stubbing your big toe on the curb.

Interesting? Sure. Grand? Not exactly. All things considered I’m content ignoring today’s robocalls and electronic spam, thank you very much.

I Missed My Calling

Today’s Daily Prompt got me thinking about words. New words, specifically.

When I learned the Oxford Dictionaries issue quarterly updates, I presumed it was because (1.) these newly-minted words are much too important to wait a whole year for, or (2.) they have to justify lexicographers’ paychecks.

After viewing a list of new additions, my money’s on #2.

Here’s why: a couple words added in 2014 were merch and queso. Had I read merch somewhere, I would have first assumed it was “march” misspelled. But when “march” made no sense, a little third-grade trick would have saved the day: using the word in context. Granted, I don’t often speak like the example Oxford gave (“people mobbed the merch stand to buy T-shirts”), but I’m smart enough to figure it out. And queso I would have understood from those obnoxious Ro-Tel commercials. That, and quesadilla.

No, it wasn’t urgency that prompted the updates so it must have been the paychecks.

Since lexicographers seem focused on pop culture—and clearly they’re grasping for new material—I’ve got two nominations for them.

Ports and shants.

The words are interchangeable. They refer to those sagging garments you see on 13-to-23-year-old guys—those sagging garments that look like a combination of pants and shorts. Ports and shants. Makes perfect sense. I realize a snafu is possible with ports, but in context the reader or listener would discern between clothing and a harbor.

Is he wearing pants? Or shorts? With "ports" or "shants," there's no need to decide! Photo: Flickr

Is he wearing pants? Or shorts? With “ports” or “shants,” there’s no need to decide!
Photo: Flickr

According to mymajors.com the average salary of a lexicographer is over $70,000, so I think they should show a bit more ingenuity than trolling the Web or eavesdropping at Starbucks for new material. But if they’re ever in a bind—like if their Internet connection goes down—I give them permission to use ports and shants. No royalty required.


Sure, It’s Funny. But Am I Allowed to Laugh?

The other night I saw a Jack-In-The-Box commercial promoting their breakfast burritos. The tagline was, “Burritos so big they make everything look smaller.”

I stared at the TV, then rewound it.

Yep. I saw it again.

Little people, dwarves, midgets—call them what you will—holding burritos the size of bricks.

Initially it was more surprising than funny. The funny came the second time around.

But was it funny? Was it allowed to be funny? If I’d seen it in public (like in those grainy newsreels where crowds gather outside the appliance store’s plate glass window to watch catastrophe unfold on the town’s only TV) instead of in my own kitchen, would I have shook my head and muttered to strangers, “Well, that was in poor taste,” or would I do what I did in private: Say “Ha!”?

Likely I’d walk away silently, and when I got home I’d find it on YouTube to show my husband. Because taste aside, it was funny. Maybe just not a public kind of funny.

I’m not sure when the societal shift occurred, when we were deemed boorish for laughing at Blazing Saddles, et al. Is it because we’re perceived as laughing at people, people who are different than us? Because I’m here to say, I don’t discriminate. I laugh at myself more than I laugh at strangers.

I also laugh at Asians, blacks, and gays. I laugh at Russians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. I laugh when people do or say funny things, regardless of their income or religion or where their parents came from.

But that commercial made me squirm. My “Ha!” was a “Ha! How clever! But can they do that?” not a “Ha! Midgets!” Okay, maybe some of it was the midget part, because it was unexpected. I felt bad, though, because those little people weren’t saying or doing anything funny. They were just being themselves.

And for me, that’s the difference, and why I felt bad: It’s not funny when people are exploited. But give me cowboys waiting in line at a tollbooth in the middle of the desert—or better yet, around a campfire eating beans—and I’ll laugh every single time.