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The Weekend List of Awesome

05/06/2022
Notebooks from Daiso

The Good List

04/24/2022

I forgot this fact: grattitude journals really work. I started this idea because I was getting in my feelings about all the shit in the world – you guys know- plus things like my mom in an assisted living facility, mother-in-law has a terminal brain tumor, grandma and mother-in-law moved next door, the kid is almost a grown up, weird shit happening to my body, new job, global pandemic, anti-LGTBQ legislation, climate change, the graying of my dog’s face… okay I’ll stop but you understand.

To stay out of the bad place I write down five things I am thankful for per day, and then sometimes a short memory or quote. There is a lot to be thankful for in the ordinary moments of life. I had to buy a second journal because I filled one already, and that itself is something to feel good about.  If this post of my life had a theme song, it would be Spread Too Thin by the Dirty Heads.  Aren’t we all? The good list also coincided with Shayne’s mom Pam and her Grandma Janet moving in with us while they looked for a house, so some of the notes relate to that.

Here are some of the items from the good list:

  • Coffee all set up for tomorrow
  • Cooking with Shayne
  • New We Can Do Hard Things podcast
  • Thursday is Fantasy Island
  • Morning walks
  • Buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies
  • My kindle is at 100%
  • Marco Polos from friends
  • Super Burrito
  • Taking the dogs to the park, and just, dogs
  • Truckee Baking Company English Muffins
  • Games with Grandma, Pam, Shayne, Tommy and Todd
  • Extension cords, because I am charging my phone in Sap Point, listening to a podcast
  • Feeling like I’m helping people at work
  • Cat Stevens/Yusef
  • Nine Perfect Strangers on Netflix
  • My coworkers think I’m wholesome because I go to the library and know how to bake. I guess being called wholesome is better than being called old? Nobody ever called me wholesome before.
  • Meeting the book box lady and thanking her for having it. I love my walks to the book box. Shit, maybe I am wholesome.
  • Good coffee
  • It feels good to do food prep: enchiladas, dog food, salsa, lettuce for salads
  • Lianne Moriarty for lightening things up, kind of
  • Sunday New York Times
  • Making tamales with the whole family – “We need more masa!” Loved it
  • Being able to pay bills
  • Firepits
  • The bear on the beach at Tahoe
  • Seven deer crossing the street in Carson, and everybody waited
  • Shannon coming to town
  • New Top Chef
  • I made grilled chicken with mango salsa, and now everyone is at the table, poring over cookbooks, flagging all the pages of other “recipes Tammy should make.” This is the sweetest thing.
  • Music I forgot: Cowboy Junkies
  • Air and water
  • My body can still run
  • Watching Tommy perform – he loves it
  • All the journals of the world I could buy (I didn’t)
  • Halloween, kid candy, Jell-O shots with neighbors, fire pit in the driveway
  • Tommy – he appears on the list a lot, as does Shayne
  • Caramel vodka

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” Penny Reid.  I don’t know who Penny Reid is, but I like this quote.

Stories from living with someone who has a brain tumor:

Words are hard, so Pam calls radio “music from the sky,” and it’s my favorite thing.

Pam is a doer. She doesn’t like to sit around. If you ask, “What are you doing?” she will say, “Oh you know, getting things done.”  Having a brain tumor means she doesn’t always understand what people are saying. I take her to the Safeway pharmacy to see if she can get her Covid booster. Getting Covid would be terrible for Pam, but because she had the J & J vaccine, she can’t get her shot yet. The pharmacist explains this to her three time in three different ways, because she still seems confused. He is a kind but probably beleaguered man. He explains again that the CDC is not ready to approve J & J yet, and Pam says kindly, “Will it help if I give them a call?”  I love her willingness to go to bat for him and herself. “You are going to call the CDC?” he asks, incredulously.  I walk Pam away before she asks for the name of who to contact at the CDC. Later, I text Shayne, “Your mom can’t get the booster, but don’t worry, she is going to call the CDC, so it’ll be okay.”

On a road trip to Empire Mine, Shayne asks, “Are the twisty roads bothering you, Mom?” She says, “No, I don’t like Tootsie Rolls.” On this trip we play Pam’s music: Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Bread, Cat Stevens, The Eagles. I tell her nobody likes Tootsie rolls, which I believe to be true.

We go to Tahoe and Pam reminds us of all the ways we could be killed. Armed with this information, we go anyway.

Pam loves the dogs so much. For Shark, our picky eater, Pam will sit on the floor and hand feed her the food she doesn’t want to eat. It’s sweet but also, she is wrecking this dog for future meals.

I am realizing I am trying to control people with my mind. We do Tuesday game night (fine, wholesome, I get it), and I want Pam to play the game without her earbuds in. I don’t say it, I only think it. But why? It’s her dance, not mine. Her wave, as Shayne calls it. Loud music in her ears is likely not ignoring us, but tuning out the fear and bad thoughts.

It’s interesting to observe one’s own neuroses. For example, some of my notes are less gratitude and more complaining. Re-reading them, I look neurotic and it makes me laugh, like this one: “The dishwasher is loaded wrong. Plates are on top. Huge pans in there. You are supposed to hand wash the big stuff yo! Also, I can’t find anything in my kitchen. Coffee cups are stored open side up. No, no, no.”

Sharing space with people is tough. But we survived it. And I have been keeping my list going, in a new, less cute, journal. Because I did not buy all the journals, as wholesome as that would have been.

Reading: I Take My Coffee Black by Tyler Merritt. I have some others going but this one is so good. I love it and highly recommend. It’s all the things.

A Story of Dessert

04/10/2022

I am revisiting an old writing coach via The True Secret of Writing. I found Natalie Goldberg’s works when I lived in Albuquerque, and I felt a kinship to Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind because of Natalie and my proximity to each other. We both lived in New Mexico, we were writers who loved coffee shops, and I of course thought we should be friends. To be clear, we were never friends. But I love her books on writing. I’m only halfway through the book so I don’t know the true secrets yet, but I’m using the prompts.

The prompt I like today is Tell Your Story of ______. Not THE story but YOUR story. So simple. Isn’t that what we are all doing in writing, sketching, painting, singing, even coffee or wine with our friends? My friend who is a painter tells me the story of her painting as she creates it: the story is complex, detailed, and planned.  In this one snapshot of a snowy day, she knows the day, the time of year, why the kids are outside, why the people aren’t working, and why the lady on the street walks through the snow despite the cold.

All of us have a story we need to tell in some way. Natalie’s suggestions are big and small: Tell your story of sex, disappointment, grief, getting in trouble, coffee. So many possibilities, but the one I want to tell is about dessert.

My story of dessert starts with weekly allowance and $5 bills placed in the birthday cards of youth. We were not a house of desserts. If you were hungry between meals, you would be told to “go eat an apple.” Sometimes we would go to Thrifty’s on a Friday night and buy a quart of ice cream for the family: double chocolate malted crunch specifically. My dessert game is so elevated that five people sharing a gallon of ice cream seems very sad. But we were kids, we had to go with it. We got our little share of the gallon and I used to lick the bowl like a dog before putting it in the sink, wishing my share was more.

Now and then my mom would give us a dollar and aI mission: go to the Bay Liquor and buy four candy bars. Abazzabba for her, and whatever my brothers and I wanted. This is kind of a geezer story because a dollar would buy four candy bars. I had a two-block walk to decide if I wanted a Whatchamacallit, Snickers, Twix, or possibly a Reggie Bar (had I known the fate of the Reggie I would have chosen it more often). My mom had a love of Pepperidge Farm cookies, but she hid them in her bedroom, away from our kid fingers. Now and then she would share with me, as long as I didn’t tell my brothers. So desserts became a secret, a shameful thing you hid in drawers and hoarded like a drug. Like my mom, I was addicted to the sugar drug. Much of my allowance was spent at the Bay Liquor on Wacky Wafers, Red Vines, Bottlecaps, Nerds, Tart n- Tiny’s, Red Hots and Lemonheads, with nobody over my shoulder telling me “Don’t eat that or you’ll get fat.”  Dessert, in my youth, was rebellion and freedom with a side order of guilt.

When I was 22 and out on my own in a new city, I got a job in a bakery/café. My sweet tooth was in heaven. Dessert here was business, and you needed to be able to describe the pastries, cakes and pies to customers, so eating dessert was part of your job. Upsell it, explain it in terms of melt in your mouth decadence and its proximity to heaven and even death. I took espresso brownies and lime tarts home from work and ate them for breakfast, and on my dinner break I hate pecan chocolate tart slices like pizza. The faster you could shove food in your face the sooner you could get back to work. We washed it all down with espresso a la mode and kept going. Get the line down, keep the customers happy. Double Rainbow Café, now the Flyng Star Café, is where I learned to love black and white cookies, napoleons, chocolate dipped-biscotti, blackberry almond tarts, tiramisu, raspberry blackout cakes and key lime pie. In my 20s, dessert was food, fuel, and of course, my main source of money.

After moving to Reno and leaving the bakery behind, I wanted to teach my son how to bake all of the nostalgic, sugary foods that made people happy. We would make chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes and decorated sugar cookies together. He was two-years old when he started baking, and he is now an accomplished baker. We began hosting a cookie-baking party, and my friends have told me that they don’t begin to get into the Christmas spirit until they attend the annual Cookie Baking Sunday in December. These desserts are nostalgia: pizzelles like the ones my brothers and I made when we were kids, the cranberry pistachio biscotti I’ve made every year since 2001, the sugar cookies that we all frost around the table, while talking and laughing together. So much of our cooking together is baking desserts. Tommy has even made his own cookbook, in preparation for being out on his own. Recipes include Mom’s Biscotti, the pie dough we use every year after trips to Apple Hill, pizza dough that has made hundreds of calzones over the years, and his grandma’s carrot cake, among others. The secret to the carrot cake is crushed pineapple, and Tommy doubles the cinnamon. In my 30’s and beyond, dessert has become community, family, and memories.

I have used dessert as a money-maker. When I was teaching, there was no money for my Cooking to Learn curriculum, so I started a Friday coffee cart. Thursday nights became baking nights. Teachers at my school bought punch cards and received coffee (strong, I mean, let’s not fuck around) and two-dollar desserts: magic cookie bars, churro Chex mix, shortbread caramel brownies, break-your-resolution cookies, mini pineapple upside down cakes, and, of course, biscotti. Tommy was my biggest baker helper, and the kids at school got to run a mini business. Desserts supported my classroom financially, but were also a way to create community for my students, who visited classrooms pulling the coffee wagon and practiced math and social skills with teachers. When I left that school, the coffee cart carried on, which made me happy.

Let’s not forget tea. My best friend introduced me to tea 30 years ago: not the kind where you put a teabag in a coffee cup and pour hot water over it, but the formal tea. The one that features hot tea in a ceramic pot, with glass cups, sugar bowls, cookies, biscotti and tea cake. This tea goes on for hours, somebody “plays mother,” and the tea must be reheated and the desserts consumed in excess. The conversation flows, there is laugher and there will be tears. This dessert is love.

My love language is acts of service, and I will definitely feed your belly as one of the acts. My story of dessert is long, but it is how I take care of people, myself included. Whether it’s a baking party, or trying new recipes with Tommy, or creating community, dessert is love. I was raised to feel guilty about eating dessert, but I’m letting that go. I know I should back off a little, and sometimes I do. But then Tommy asks if we can go buy apples and make pies. I’ll never say no.

Reading: Okay, I got a bag of books at the library book sale yesterday. Too many to list here, but I decided to get out of my rut by rereading A Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. You guys know it? I’ve got pending holds: Bittersweet by Susan Cain and Finding Me by Viola Davis. So many possibilities here. It’s a good place to be.

Some Notes on Parenting a Teen

04/01/2022

First of all, it’s the coolest thing. So many people warn you about the teen years, but these years are when all of your parenting work pays off. They turn in to real people with intelligent opinions about politics and books, they require minimal supervision, and they become pretty low maintenance in general.  More importantly, they can cook dinner for you. My teen asks questions like, “Mom, can I make chocolate chip cookies?”  God yes. And he makes the best chocolate chip cookies. Winning.

I can’t believe it, but this kid is almost 17-years old. In our house we call parenting an almost adult the “I’ve done all I could!” phase. I am going to illustrate this phase with a story:

The kid is in Color guard, as many of you know. On the band app, I sign up to bring Cuties to the pre-show potluck, because these kids can’t just pack a lunch for the day, the food has to also be performance. At the grocery store, we are in the produce section and Shayne tells Tommy, “Go grab some Cuties for band.” Yay, check, we remembered our potluck commitment.

While unloading groceries, I say to Tommy, holding up the Cuties, “We need to remember to bring these tomorrow.” Subtext, don’t eat these. Food does disappear at amazing rates these days, so I have to say that. The next morning, while getting ready to bring Tommy to the performance, we tell him “Don’t forget to grab the cuties for the potluck.” He even says “Okay” and goes to the car, leaving the Cuties. We send him back in to get them. Our plan is to drop Tommy, go grocery shopping, and then come back to watch the show, because he has to show up hours early.

As we pull in to the school, he sees his people in their car (his people have their own cars now).  As he is getting out of our car, we say “Don’t forget the Cuties!”  He actually says, “What Cuties?” Parents of teens are nodding and possibly crying right now.

We watch him walk away, holding the fruit, and I tell Shayne, “Those Cuties are going to end up on the floor of that car, never to make it in to the potluck, aren’t they?” She just nods and says,” Yep.”  A different type of parent might text another reminder, or bring the Cuties in themselves, but at this point, we’ve done more than anyone can to support the kid and the food.

In that moment, I am reminded of the Ellen DeGeneres bit about holding elevator doors for people. I don’t know if you guys know it, but she is slightly ranting about people inside the elevator who don’t even try to hold the doors open for the person who is hustling toward the elevator cab. She says she will at least TRY to hold the doors for people by throwing her arm between the doors, until it becomes dangerous. Even then, she wants them to know she tried, so she yells, “I did all I could!!” at the closing door.

I tell Shayne that the doors feel like they are closing on this parenting thing. Tommy is on the other side, and we’ve given our best effort. Sometimes, when things aren’t going well on the parenting front, I close my hands slowly across my face, mimicking elevator doors, as if to say, “I’ve done all I could.” This is not to say it’s over, just that our level of control is waning. And that’s okay.

We are at the point where other people have a much stronger influence on him than we do. He is TIRED of listening to us. I mean, this kid has THREE moms. You think he’s heard enough? Yep.

We call this the “Javon says I should drink more water” phase of parenting. We have always told Tommy that juice and sodas should be consumed minimally. When he was in middle school, he started a kickboxing class, and his favorite instructor was Javon.  After a few classes with Javon, we took Tommy out to breakfast. This kid loves to order the fancy drinks. Shirley temples, blue raspberry coconut lemonades, virgin daiquiris:  if it comes in a pretty glass with a fabulous garnish, he wants it. On this day, Tommy ordered water.

We both looked at him like he might be sick, “Water? You can order whatever you want, Toms.” He said casually, “oh ya, Javon says I should drink more water.”  We looked at each other, bemused. Shayne said, “Oh I see, JAVON says you should drink more water.”  In our house now, “Javon says I should drink more water” is the phrase we use when someone tells the other person (usually the kid) something over and over, only to be ignored, and the more revered, cooler person comes in and says a thing once and it becomes gospel.  When you are parenting a teen, there will lots of Javons, but hey, the kid drinks water now so that’s good.

It was the story of Javon that inspired Shayne sign Tommy up for a driving school. We had been nagging him to get his permit for too long, and our plan of cutting him off from all rides didn’t seem to inspire him (I did give him rides home from band practice if it was dark outside, because hi, creepy clowns and stuff). So we signed him up to let a Javon-type person teach him how to drive. It’s turns out this Javon’s name is Rick.

So yes, the kid got his permit. Now he drives us places, which is a bit weird and requires a lot of patience. I think I might owe my friends who also have older teens an apology. They said things to me about how they are doing a lot driving with their kids, and I was not sympathetic enough. I did not listen. I did not ask if my friends were OKAY. Anyone driving with a permitted teen is probably not okay.

Shayne called our insurance company to put some triple layers of protection on the Jeep, the vehicle he gets to drive. They told her that he was already covered, because he is covered under us, and that is enough. Say what? Shayne said, “That’s great but are you sure? I mean, he’s DRIVING OUR STUFF.”

So far, the kid is a pretty calm driver. After driving to school with him for a week, I told him “Okay listen, let’s try something. I’m only going to talk if you are about to hit something.”  He smiled like I just said “Let’s go to Disneyland” and said, “Okay.” I guess he heard enough of me saying “okay now maintain your lane, you’re getting pretty close to the curb, okay you could go now, anytime, go, you gotta commit, now they are going because you didn’t go, okay you’re REALLY close to the sidewalk, okay it’s your turn okay, okay, Go Son Go!!”  I guess that’s what Rick is for. After completing driving school, Tommy was driving me to the store, and I asked him to get in the left lane.  He said “Rick says we can’t change lanes in the middle of the intersection.” It was then I knew we were gonna be okay. I mean, Javon said to drink more water three years ago and he is still following this advice, so I think this driving thing will work out.

Reading: House of Gucci and Taste by Stanley Tucci

Things to do in New York

03/29/2022
tags:
Get black and white cookies

Let’s Talk About Books (or at Least Make a List)

03/27/2022

I like to imagine if we really were on a side porch somewhere, it would be spring, we’d be sitting in Adirondack chairs, drinking iced green tea lemonade, and talking about books. So, with zero apologies or excuses, I’m posting my 2021 reading list and the notes I kept for myself. I only include completed books on the list. I have a journal that is dedicated to recording the books I have read. Nerdy? Yes. Awesome? I think also yes.

January

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti. A re-read for me. Reads like a classic adventure story.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule.  A little too long but very good. A story about how we can lie to ourselves very easily if we want to. She needed to write her book but why did she stay friends with TED BUNDY? Holy shit.

February

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: A quick read because the story flowed. Characters evolved. Love for your child can make you very strong. I pre-ordered this one, something I rarely do but glad I did.

Thrive by Ariana Huffington: The Third Metric: Well-being, wisdom, wonder, giving. Sleep! This book inspired me to meditate (update: I never did)

The Last Days of John Lennon by James Patterson.  Very interesting. I know so little about the Beatles. Such a sad book. John Lennon was amazing. I already want to reread it.

How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic by Bill Hayes. Great writing. The New York you don’t see as a tourist. Beautiful pictures in words and images of every day life and small kindnesses in NY.

March

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. So fun. But damn you better not be “fat” in the 1960s. These women and their “dolls,” what a hot mess.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin: I like the idea of treating yourself like a project. Why not?

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes:  A sweet love story, both to a city and a person.

April

Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis: This one felt so much more about relationships than chess. Even a Grandmaster needs people and needs to pay her dues.

American Predator by Maureen Callahan: Scariest true crime yet. How can someone be so sick? At least he’s dead? I might need to take a break from true crime.

May

Helter Skelter– Wow. A great book. Made me think of Grandma, LA in the 1970s, classic rock. Sad people. Books and music can definitely pair. My own family connection to this book is depressing and enlightening. Mom remembers being scared to go anywhere for fear they would be killed next.

Underground by Haruki Murakami: When people want to renounce society by killing it and the people in it. I read this one on a flight to Idaho Falls- probably not a reread but more by Murakami would be good.

June

Molokai by Alan Brennert: recommended by Tommy. This story was inspiring. It took me a long time to read this one though. So sad. People are awful to each other.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Gram: What we will do for money is so sad. Passing this one on to Tommy.  Looking forward to the movie.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro: This one was very inspiring, but just an okay ready. This though: “I can’t express how important it is to believe that taking one tiny- and possibly very uncomfortable- step at a time can ultimately add up to a great distance.” The best gift you can give anyone is a well-lived life of your own.

July

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad: This book was very inspiring. I would have liked more travel stories, and I thought Will got screwed. Passing it on to Tricia. I liked the three-trip idea: Every trip has three trips: The pre-trip, the actual trip, the memory of the trip. Be present in whatever trip you are in.

Daughter of Molokai by Alan Brennet: Sad but also a story of family sticking together, and again, how awful people are, especially if you are Not White. Assholes. I want to read Honolulu.

August

Season of the Witch by David Talbot: Amazing. Made me want to read more about Patti Hearst, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones. Interesting. This book has a playlist in the back. I feel seen.

September

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. So well done, relatable characters. This one took over my life.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty The Madeline character- how she refused to forgive. I mean, do you have to? No, I don’t think you do. I loved this one, would reread.

October

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: When one event happens, everyone feels guilty and responsible.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: What a cool idea, it was like time travel but not. But also, we do lose ourselves a bit with age, kids, dogs, mortgage, etc. The book asks what would your younger self of ten years ago think of the person you are today?

November

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick: Kind of a slog but interesting. Drawing lots to be killed or eaten. Damn. Crazy. There is no glamour in being a fisherman. Plus, leave the whales alone, geez. This one when to the neighborhood book box with a warning on the back because Wow.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty: So much drama. Well done and characters were deep. I love how people come together who normally wouldn’t, and then they learn from each other. Didn’t like the ending. Loaned to JT.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This one was interesting but too much drama. I found the people to be kind of boring after a while. Like poor you, you travel the world and do drugs, boo hoo.

December

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: Recommended by Tommy. Epic story of a family. So much heartache. And so much about avoiding shame. I will keep and reread this one forever.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown: Interesting: I like the reminder that behavior is always connected to emotions. I think that connects you to people, realizing the emotion behind the action.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Love it. Every Year.

Twenty-nine books. A lot of true crime with a palate cleanser of Liane Moriarty. Tommy and I shared a lot of books in 2021: Pachinko, Queen’s Gambit, Killers of the Flower Moon, the Molokai books. I struggled to finish books about people who seem to have no REAL problems. Lots of DNFs in 2021, a crazy year at home for us.

2022: my favorite book of 20022 has been Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Amazing. Helping, surviving, corruption, racism. Since Zeitoun I’ve been struggling to grab on to a new book, so I re-read Travels with Charley and The Help, both great books.  Tommy just handed me House of Gucci, and I feel settled and saved now, because he never fails with his recommendations.

Why is There a Mouse in My Coffee Cup?

03/23/2022

Last summer, we turned the reading nook of our 2-bedroom house into a bedroom for Shayne’s mom and grandma, who left Idaho to be closer to family. Mom brought her pet king snake, and I agreed to house the snake with the stipulation that he stayed in the tank.

The snake lived on the buffet table in the entry way, and I was reassured many times that he was a “nice snake.” I felt a little unsettled, walking past his snake house 20 times per day, but that glass seemed thick and the odds of him getting out and possibly lost in my house seemed slim.  Sometimes though, a person is just on the couch, reading, minding their business, when they feel strongly aware that they are being watched. The person turns their head slowly and there is the snake, up on his, uh, hind snake part, looking, watching, licking the glass with his prongy snake tongue.

This proximity to a snake kind of creeped out, but still, I wasn’t going to insist the snake couldn’t stay with us, and pretty soon the snake house was part of normal life. Even the dogs lost interest after a few cursory sniffs at the glass. I kind of did too, until the day I came into the kitchen to find a dead, frozen mouse floating in hot water in one of my favorite coffee cups, with Mom pushing it down with a spoon, like a teabag.

This is a thing you can’t unsee. I asked Mom, “uh, what is this?”

“Oh, the snake is hungry.”

“Okay, but do we have to defrost his dinner in the coffee cup?”

“Oh, the mouse is very clean. He is bred for this.”  You guys, I don’t know about this logic.

It was established that, whether or not the mouse was clean and bred-for-this, the glass mug with the Christmas trees on it would heretofore be the snake cup. I would never use that cup again. No amount of soap and hot water in the world, etc. etc. That cup is dead to me now.

We moved on, because five grown people in a 2-bedroom house is hard. I think a stronger person than I would have put more faith in the dishwasher, but I mean, that thing doesn’t perform well against a lot of regular household foodstuffs. Mice? Nope, I don’t think so.

Living with the Ol’ Ladies, as we have named them and their Netflix profile, taught me a thing or two. For one thing, they don’t really believe in throwing stuff away. One day I opened the dishwasher and found it full of clean Olive Garden take-out containers. I tried to be cool, like I was with the Stuart Little in the hot tub formerly known as my coffee cup incident.

I approached the ladies, holding the very clean, slightly melted, plastic. “Hey, so um, do we save these?” I was really saying, Hey house team, what kind of people are we now? Are we the use- take out-containers- as-our-new-dishware people, because I need to know how to act. The people in the living room were casual.

“Oh, we thought you might want those.” I emptied my dishwasher into the recycle bin.

I found half a banana on the counter, still in its peel but also hermetically sealed in plastic wrap. I held it up to Shayne and she shrugged, as if to say, not my circus, not my monkeys.

The tough part about parents and grandparents moving in with you is that you kind of aren’t sure who the ringleader of this circus is. I mean, normally that is mostly me. I am the person who rules the kitchen, the cooking, the bills and the laundry. Shayne gets floors, bathrooms and weird broken shit, and Tommy gets dogs. It’s a good division of labor really. But when the Ol’ Ladies moved in, they started cleaning everything. I did not argue or complain. When rugs started moving to other locations to serve other purposes, I didn’t care because the rugs were vacuumed. But I’ll tell you something old people like: garbage cans in the living room. This I can’t abide. It’s fine it there is a sick person in proximity, but once that person is healthy, the garbage can is out. I pulled rank and disappeared it. I also had to draw the line at other people folding the laundry. This is a complicated system that only I understand, and seriously, nobody on the house team (except Shayne) is touching my underwear.

When sweet little Ol’ ladies move in with you, they slowly wear you down. At first you are like, this is my house, I decide about carpets. But then you are at the sink, marveling at how clean it is, feeling a comfortable floor runner under your toes – the one that used to live in front of the dog door- thinking, I see your point, a rug here in the kitchen is nice.  

I learned a few things too:

  • Never dump a cup of coffee. Ever. They will drink it eventually. When someone says “I can’t find my coffee,” you can say with all the confidence, “It’s in the microwave,” and you will be right.  
  • Never throw out leftover bananas. They are “still good.”
  • Ziploc bags are reusable. Wash, rinse, prop upside down, dry for 100 years on the counter, reuse.
  • Many things can be stored in jars on the counter. Coffee. Sugar. Marshmallows. Jordan almonds.
  • Don’t talk about any of your own ailments unless you are prepared to be offered a pill: prescriptive or OTC. They have all the meds. I am actually kind of confused by this because when they lived with us, most of their stuff was in storage, and I don’t remember them toting in the mobile pharmacy on my watch.

All things must end, and when the time came for Grandma and Mom to move into their new house, I ceremoniously handed Mom the mouse cup that I had been avoiding for months.

“What’s this for?” she asked.

“For you. It’s the mouse cup.”

“This isn’t the mouse cup.”  My heart.

I have to follow this to the end though. “Well, um, which cup is the mouse cup?” In my mind I add, you know, the one you’ve been defrosting mice in for the last five months?

She says, “I don’t know.” I have no words. Did I mention she has a brain tumor?  Shayne looks at her mom, and says, “Mom, you better just go.”

Luckily, they live right next door now. We even took slats out of the fence so the dogs can go back and forth. Both houses contain treats and beds. These dogs are living their best lives. Grandma and Mom come over for dinner, and when it’s time to leave, Grandma gets up and says her goodbyes. Then she looks at the dogs and says, “You guys wanna come over?” They always do. They follow her through the hole in the fence, tails wagging.  Sometimes, at bedtime, Shayne calls grandma and says, “We’re going to bed, can you send the dogs home?” It’s the most wholesome thing we’ve got going, sharing our lives with these ladies. I am happy to have my reading nook back, and the snake got rehomed. I do wonder how the new snake owners defrost their mice, and then I remember that I’m trying to forget about that.

Reading: I’m in a weird book place. My life is too stressful to follow complicated plots. I recently reread The Help, which is of course such a good book. I’m starting a reread of Jane Austin Book Club, and soon will start Free Food For Millionaires.

The Path? There is No Path

01/31/2022

As you may know, I quit my job last March to begin a new career. I have so much to say about that, and I think I will do a post about why I left teaching, but I want to tell you a story. When you are a new employee at Guild, you are asked to write an introductory bio that will be sent to the ENTIRE company. How many people is that? I don’t know, but it feels like a lot. I struggled to write my bio, because I just wanted to make people laugh and I’m not great at listing all my big wins. I kind of felt like, I already got the job so I don’t need to make it a resume. My bio read more like a dating profile with a tone of “Hey, be my work friend!”  

Some of the bios read more like a CV than friend request: “I teach CrossFit, I speak two languages, I was ranked # 2 in the world in college golf, I play two instruments, I’ll have my Master’s degree by the time I’m 25.” I’m old enough to think that’s cute. In other words, all my dreams have already been crushed and now I’m just trying to do the right thing and enjoy the happy moments.

By 22, I had already slipped off The Achievement Path. You know the path: Go to college, graduate by 22, get married, have kids by 25, get an amazing job, buy a house, keep the amazing job for 30 years, retire, travel, die. And also, be the best at everything!  Life has definitely not worked out that way for me.

I guess because I left The Path so early in life, and I am expert level at being older than 22, my work bio was more like, “I read too many books at once; I grew up in a beach town so I will probably call you “dude”; I love true crime, my dogs and my family; and I kind of think the royal flush is an urban legend but I keep trying.” I guess I can’t take anything too seriously.

What if this was my first job? My bio might read:

  • Good Gal award in high school (hi 1980s), which means I showed up to practice and didn’t complain and said “Yes Coach.” It was the Rudy award, the try award.
  • Graduated 35th in my class. Just kidding, I have no idea, but I graduated.
  • Campfire Girl for two years until I finally convinced my mom to let me quit because we never camped; we just sold nuts, fruit gems and mints and did some weird 70s shrunken apple crafts
  • Four years high school soccer, we lost all the games

In this life, I’m proud of things you can’t measure or blurb.  I’m proud of the millions of kindnesses I did as a teacher that nobody saw, evaluated, or even noticed. I’m proud of my son but I don’t credit myself for how cool he is. I’m a good friend, cook, wife, and dog mom. I do hard things: I take care of my mom even though we don’t like each other, she and I. I forgive people who treat me badly. I check in daily with my closest friend. I answer “What’s For Dinner?” with actual food most of the time. I love and take care of my people. I’m really just trying to live a simple, CrossFit-free life. With a little bit of writing, reading, and running mixed in.

The current event of our life is the boy has his learner’s permit. Today we did some neighborhood driving. Which reminds me, I need to call my insurance company and put on five extra layers of protection. I gotta double bag that policy, Teflon coat it, whatever it is they do at State Farm, because wow. Just wow. We are in for an adventure.

Currently reading:

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (very inspiring so far)

Summer Island by Kristin Hannah (this one is just a fun, easy read)

Bring Your Whole Self to Work: How Vulnerability Unlocks Creativity, Connection, and Performance by Mike Robbins (do all the self-help people have the same last name?)

Side note, it is Sunday night and instead of finishing IEPs and lessons, I am writing, so that is work perk for sure.

A Tale of Two Predators

10/08/2020

I like reading books about people who challenge nature and themselves. Books like Into the Wild (and many other books by Jon Krakauer), Paths of Glory (Jeffrey Archer), The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah), A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson), Wild (Cheryl Strayed), Left for Dead (Beck Weathers), Dark Summit (Nick Heil), The Stranger in the Woods (Michael Finkel), Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Aron Ralston), Going to Extremes (Joe McGinnis), Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck)…all make me feel like I’m on an adventure rather than sitting in my reading nook.

Recently I reread A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Both books are inspiring, but the tone of each is very different. I think most people know the stories, but I’ll briefly summarize.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, and enlists his friend Stephen Katz to hike with him, so as to have someone to shove towards the mouths of attacking bears if the opportunity presents. Okay, not really, but Bryson does include a lot of descriptions of bear attacks, his biggest fear about hiking the trail.  Interspersed with hiking details are descriptions of the history of the AT, including random stories of murder. The people who were killed at the hands of other people were all women killed by men. Interesting.  

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed tells her story of walking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone. Strayed gives plenty of descriptions of hiking with a heavy pack, her gear and all of the people she meets on the trail. Interspersed with the account of her hike are memories of her mother, who died of cancer, and the repercussions of this traumatic life event.

Strayed hikes alone, Bryson hikes with Katz. The tone of Bryson’s book is self-deprecating humor and adventure; the tone of Strayed’s book is a more serious: she has an introspective physical and mental journey. The predators Bryson and Katz worry about are actual predatory animals: bears, mountain lions, poisonous spiders, and even disease-ridden rats. For Strayed, the predators are similar to those of Bryson and Katz, but add to that her biggest threat along the trail: men.

At one point in A Walk in the Woods, Bryson stays in a hotel room that has no locking door. He shrugs his shoulders, assures himself no one will want to STEAL HIS PACK, and falls into worry-free slumber. A woman traveling alone would NEVER do this. She would ask for a different room, or drag every piece of furniture in front of the door and then spend a nightmare-riddled night worrying about rape, torture and murder. I could blame my thinking on my recent obsession with true crime podcasts (Murderinos, ya!), but I have been trained to watch out for creepy men since I was a little kid.

These are the things I was taught by my parents, brothers, popular culture, and random old dudes offering unsolicited advice:

Related to driving: interlace your keys between your fingers when you are walking alone to your car, don’t walk alone to your car; check the back seat before you get in; don’t stand too close to the car in case someone is lying underneath trying to grab your ankles; if there is a flyer on the windshield of your car don’t grab it, it’s a trick; if you get pulled over by a cop make sure it’s really a cop; lock your doors after you get in.. BE CAREFUL

Related to running: Don’t use headphones, don’t run the same route every time, don’t run at the same time of day, don’t wear tight, provocative clothes, carry mace, put ID on your shoe so your body can be identified when you get killed (hi, what if they steal my shoes)… BE CAREFUL

Related to living on your own: You are going to move to another state by yourself? That’s crazy. Don’t talk to people, don’t move to a crappy part of town, down give your phone number to people, make sure you aren’t being followed while you are driving home, carry mace, maybe get a gun actually don’t get a gun because they will probably wrestle it out of your weak girly hands and use it to kill you after they rape you… BE CAREFUL

Related to dating/going out: Never leave your drink alone, tell people where you are going and with whom and when you will be back, don’t drink too much, don’t leave the bar with someone… BE CAREFUL *this one is a little short because hi, lesbians don’t have these crazy dating problems. The worst thing we’ve got is people trying to get us to move in on Date #2

Related to crime: Don’t let yourself be taken to a second location, kick out the taillight and wave your hand through the hole so drivers will see you and call the cops, fight back, play dead, scratch and scream, don’t fight back or they will kill you, leave your DNA on the attacker so they will later go to prison, stay alert so you can identify him later…SURVIVE

The lessons of true crime are: don’t go running, don’t live alone, don’t use parking garages, don’t go camping, don’t do anything alone, if someone throws you in water, take off all your clothes so you don’t drown, don’t be a woman.

Here’s an interesting fact about Bryson and Strayed’s hiking stories: while Bryson doesn’t encounter any of his predators on the trail, Strayed does encounter a few of hers. Two fisherman come upon Strayed’s campsite, and she realizes they have been watching her pitch her tent and change her shirt. One nice guy, one not nice guy.  They talk to her briefly and then leave. Of course the not-nice, rapey guy peels away from his normal friend and approaches Strayed again, insinuating that she is in danger: “You out here all alone?”, “You have just the type of body I like.” He might as well have been a damn grizzly bear, licking his teeth and moving in for the kill. Luckily, the normal guy shows up, asks his friend what the fuck he is doing, and takes the guy away.

Let’s still teach our daughters to be careful, but I hope we are also teaching or sons not to be rapey. Can we hold men accountable rather than blaming women? Even in Wild, when the creepy fisherman starts circling, Strayed asks herself, Why did I come out here by myself?  I bet that guy wasn’t asking himself, Why did I just scare the shit out of that chick by violating her space and making unwelcome comments about her body when there was fear all over her face?  The times I’ve gotten myself in some weird situations, I’ve had the same thoughts as Strayed: Why did I let that guy in the house? Why did I say yes to this date? Why didn’t I ask someone to walk me to my car? Why did I go swimming at this hotel pool without bringing my brother along? Why do I work nights? I guess that’s the thing we women need to unlearn, the self blame.

Currently reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer and A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio.  I might reread Heaven by V.C. Andrews, to see if it’s as much fun as I thought it was when I was 13-years old.

If you haven’t read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, I recommend it. Great writing, very interesting, makes you jumpy.

I Am This Town and This Town is Me

09/08/2020

Like many people who were quarantined, we organized our house a bit and made a pretty large donate pile. I heard that the Goodwill would only take two bags at a time, and we had two boxes and five bags. The less neurotic people in the house (translation, everyone but me and the Border collie) said we could wait until Goodwill closed and do a stealth drop. You guys, I did not feel good about this. Shayne says, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  One should not ask this question of a catastrophic thinker. Among the possibilities in my mind, one of the worst things that could happen, aside from getting arrested, is a stranger might yell at us. I hate conflict, especially with strangers, and I think it’s in part because I was raised in a town where any adult could and would reprimand you in whatever way they saw fit at any time. This made me realize that, despite the fact that I left many years ago, my town has stayed with me. And it also made me wimp out on the Goodwill drop and make the brave people do it without me.

I could tell you the Wikipedia version of my town (Los Osos, California) but that’s not the part of this place that lives in me. Nobody but a few can really understand where I grew up, when I grew up. My brothers and my small town friends of the 70s and 80s know what it is to ride bikes to view a sunset off the bay any day of the week. We remember going to the Bay Liquor to blow our allowances on Wacky Wafers, Tart n Tinys, Bottle Caps, Lemonheads and Jawbusters, Fun Dip, Dinosaur Eggs, and 25-cent candy bars (“wow Mom, you really ARE old.”).  If you found a dime in the lint trap of the dryer or underneath the couch cushions, you could buy 5 semi-stale Red Vines from the wax covered box. The licorice was probably touched by a hundred hands, but nobody cared.

In our town, if you were broke and lived near 2nd street by the Bay, you could go to Steve’s Bromeliads and offer to sweep the sidewalk or water the plants for a dime. Steve, a bit of hippie, would eat his peppered avocado with a spoon and tell you the evils of sugar and nuclear power before handing over your ten cents. The opportunity to earn a little change was very welcome, despite the lecture, because in my house snacks were not really a thing. If you said you were hungry you were told to eat an apple or drink a glass of water, which is totally illogical but whatever.

We Los Osos natives knew we had the best pizza in the world in Clemenza’s and Nardonne’s, and Don Eduardo’s was the best Mexican food anywhere, because it was the only place in town, and some of us never left the town, so what did we know?  If you could get a ride from someone or you had a bike that would make it across town you could go to DJs Burger Freeze, borrow the trays to ride town the sand dunes, then return the trays and order the best chocolate chip shake you ever had. If you really had some money beyond dimes from the couch, you could blow it on video games at the Space Age Video Arcade.

Twice a year you could attend a Fest, which happened to be two blocks from my house. I could beg money to enter the 4-mile run, and score a T-shirt that made me kind of cool at school. We had Junefest and Octoberfest, with craft booths, delicious food, and live music. My childhood was marked by so much boredom, so this was a big deal. This was a thing people from OTHER CITIES came to see: cities like Morro Bay, Cayucos, and San Luis Obispo. Suddenly my town was cool and popular.

I do feel like kids today don’t really experience as much boredom as we did back then. Of course, we had cable when it became available, but at first HBO was kind of like early Netflix. Remember when Netflix first came out and it only showed movies you’d never heard of? HBO had movies you’d heard of, but just ten of them running on a constant loop. Here are the movies I remember seeing over and over on HBO: Airplane, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Gloria, 10, Arthur, 9 to 5, and some confusing movie called How to Beat the High Cost of Living.

But yes, so much boredom. We didn’t have channels dedicated to kid shows, and our kid movies played on TV once per year. We did have a movie theater in the next town, and if we were lucky, and could catch a ride, the Bay Theater was our jam.  If we could get dropped off at the Jug Liquor down the street, we could first load up on snacks before walking up Morro Bay Blvd to the theater.  Single screen, 99 cents, two show times, 7:00 or 9:00. The 9:00 crowd queued up on the sidewalk, hoping no 7:00 show people would tell them the ending as they walked past the line.

When we got older, if we had money (can you tell I never had money?), we could take the bus to San Luis Obispo, and walk around downtown, feeling like big shits in a big town. My friend Susie and I perused the albums and tapes at Boo Boo Records, and usually found something cheap enough to buy at Leon’s Used Bookstore.  For lunch, we would eat a slice at either Woodstock’s Pizza or a burger at Rhinos before getting an ice cream cone in the Network, making sure to save enough money for the bus ride home. If it was too hot to walk around downtown, a dollar could get you into Cuesta Pool for a few hours, and 50 cents could get you there.  Sometimes we would look for friends who might be able to give us rides home, so we could spend return bus fare on snacks. Guys, I was always on a quest for snacks.

As a kid who was a bit under parented (we were extreme free range), I found so much solace in going to other people’s houses. My friend Cindy had a little brother, and their house seemed so normal, the adults so capable. When I went over to spend the night HER DAD cooked dinner.  This was unbelievable to me. I had never seen my dad cook anything, except maybe heating up a can of chili and making coffee.  Cindy’s refrigerator contained Capri Suns, and their cupboard contained Handisnacks and lunch sized bags of chips, which blew my mind.  Food purchased just for kids was a crazy concept. At my house, a special Friday night treat was a half gallon of Thrifty’s Chocolate Malted Crunch or Heavenly Hash ice cream, divided among five people.

So many times, adults gave me advice, as if they were my parents. In a way, it felt like they were. In Los Osos, a shout of “Hey, knock that shit off right now!” from a random stranger was normal, and we would immediately scatter like cockroaches when the light comes on. Back then, it was fine and expected to yell at other people’s children. Once, I kicked a coke bottle along the road until it hit a rock and broke. I was prepared to step over it and pretend it never happened, when a guy walked out of his garage, yelled at me for being a bottle kicking idiot (“What did you THINK would happen?!”), brought a broom, dustpan, and garbage can, and demanded I clean up every last piece. I did it because I knew that guy probably knew my parents somehow. If I complained to my parents about it, they’d probably ask for the guy’s address so they could send him a thank you card, and then ground me for a week. Once, my softball coach threw a ball directly at me on purpose, beaning me in the ankle, for not listening to him. When I showed my mom the huge bruise she said, “Well, you should have been listening.” Discussion over.

My point is, adults were scary. Anyone at any time could make your life hell, so we all avoided confrontation whenever possible. So I’m not saying I’m scared of the guy at the Goodwill drop off, I’m just saying I’d rather not deal with it.

I still go visit my town, but it’s not the same. There is a Starbucks there now, and I do love to sit and watch the town live its life without me. Some of the old businesses are still there after all these years (thank you Sylvester’s Burgers and Carlock’s), but really, it’s been so long since I’ve lived there I feel like I can’t claim it anymore. It will always be a part of me, but we broke up so long ago. I’m a stranger in familiar land, and even though not much has changed, I am not the same person.

I do sometimes wonder what it would feel like, had I never moved away . One of my favorite books is a lesser known sci-fi called Replay by Ken Grimwood. In it, the main character has a heart attack and wakes up as his college-aged self. Knowing everything that led him to the reality of his life, he is given the chance to replay things, over and over and over again. The book makes me wonder what I would change about my past, given the chance. Changing the past makes you lose the present, that is basic time- travel math, but I still wonder, what if I had stayed? If I had never left, I would have never experienced the strangely retro hippie culture of New Mexico in the 90s: the coffee shop life of Double Rainbow Café, camping in the Jemez Mountains, eating green chile EVERYTHING. I never would have moved to Reno, wouldn’t have this house, this perfect family. But I’d be right there, by the most beautiful beaches, salt water and fog, reading the plaques on piers, running on the beach, and going to best Farmer’s Market in the country every Thursday night.

This year I missed visiting the coast, due to Covid and fires. The Truckee river is giving me my cold water fix, but I replenish my soul by walking the beach in Cayucos while eating Brown Butter Cookies, drinking coffee and eating Eggs Benedict at The Coffee Pot in Morro Bay, sitting quietly in Spooner’s Cove in Los Osos watching the easy waves roll in, having afternoon tea with my best friend in Atascadero, eating a double scoop of Chocolate Malted Krunch at the Rite Aid, and buying new hoodies and stickers from Wavelengths Surf Shop.

  The only solution is figuring how to time travel like in Replay, but without the heart attack. This time, if an adult yells at me, I’ll… well, I’ll probably do what they say, but then I’ll go get some 70’s candy and a delicious slice of pizza. Oh man, I’d buy a case of Dinosaur Eggs! And Reggie Bars! And, I guess, I better plan on bringing some money, since the pockets of my corduroy OP short will be EMPTY, we know this.

Current reads: I finally finished A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which was a reread for me. This book is just fun. It’s a very different book than Wild though. I may need to compare the two in an essay. Men hiking fear different things than women hiking. Namely, women fear men. The men fear bears and snakes. Interesting. As far as my next read, I’m kind of at a loss now. I might try Station Eleven, but I’m also tempted by rereads. I think it’s because school is a bit stressful so rereads offer familiarity. I’m considering rereading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon OR Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles. I did receive my awaited-for book of essays called Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby, which I think will be fun.