The Ten Commandments for Using My Car

tencommandmentsI am the car owner, thy mother, and I have brought you out of my lady parts after eighteen hours and limited access to pain medication into the land of motor vehicles.

1. Thou shalt not drive when your judgment is  impaired in any way. At this rate, you might get to use the car when you’re thirty.

2. Thou shalt keep your hands on the wheel at all times. This includes texting, eating, and fondling your girlfriend or yourself. I know how well you multitask.

3. Your passengers shalt keep their hands off your wheel at all times (if you catch my drift). That only turns out well in the movies. In reality, say hello to the ditch. Not that I have personal experience with that.

4. You shalt not drink Caramel Frappuchinos in the vehicle.  Last week my steering wheel was stickier than a movie theater floor after The Spongebob Movie. This is especially true if you don’t have a Grande Skim Latte for your mother.

5. After picking up food at McDonald’s, thou shalt air out the car and spray with Febreeze (provided in trunk).  The same goes for dining at Chipotle, or after playing basketball in 90 degree heat. No, Axe does not take care of that.

6. Thou shalt not leave the radio turned up to 11 to scare the crap out your mother when she starts the car. If you do, when your friends come over, she will pipe NPR through the household audio system. Upon the second offense, she will rap Snoop Dogg. On the third, look out Beyonce–girl can dance. Or at least she will.

7. Thou shalt not leave discarded chewing gum in the cupholder. The same goes for straw wrappers, sunflower seed shells and used tissues. If you do, I shall instruct the cats to deposit their hairballs on your pillow.

8. Thou shalt not use my trunk as your laundry bin. If I find wet towels in my backseat, you will find your Dad’s dirty underwear in your beach bag.

9. Thou shalt not return the car on fumes. It’s only like leaving an empty Cheez-it box in the pantry, if running out of Cheez-its left you stranded on the shoulder of I-495. You have a gas card. Use it for something other than buying beef jerky from the convenience store.

10. The Golden Rule – Thou shalt treat the Prius as if it was your own, because someday, it may be. Because if this family gets a new car, it’s mine.

Just remember, if you want the keys to the kingdom, they’re in my pocket. My will be done.

Photograph – The Ten Commandments, by John Taylor © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

Learn to Love Cooking in 10 Easy Steps

wiskIs the daily grind of meal preparation getting you down?

Dinnertime used to make me want to impale myself with an instant-read thermometer. The heat. The mess. The complaints.
No more. I’ve changed my life, and so can you! Here are some handy tips to get you out of your doldrums and into the kitchen.

1) Drink.  Alcohol is a great stress reducer, and everything looks better after a glass of wine (not unlike dating). By the time the night is over,  you’ll be crowing “Bite this, Ina Garten.”

2) Make sure everyone else is drinking. Lowering one’s own expectations is only half the battle, unless you’re eating alone. This rule does not apply to children. That would be illegal. I looked it up.

3) Cook what you want to eat. You can’t please everyone, so please yourself. Develop a sense of Zen about hot sauce on delicately flavored entrees, selective ingredient-picking and sentences like “it’s not my favorite.” Practice saying “If you don’t like it, feel free to cook tomorrow.” Be prepared to follow through.

4) Just make the Mac and Cheese already. Not the Gruyere/Emmentaler version laced with truffle oil and lobster meant to “expand their palate”.  Kids don’t like anything that isn’t as orange as a stadium full of Dutch soccer fans. Accept this and you will know peace.

5) Get the right gear. Nothing says “I’m a real cook” more than having a potato ricer, a convection oven, and Dean and Deluca smoked sea salt in your kitchen. Even if you never use them.

6) Put on music. Cooking should be fun! It’s even more effective if you sing and dance along. Need an extra booster? Tell your teen son you’re going to “drop it like it’s hot,” or that the dinner recipe includes “Cup a Ace, Cup a Goose, Cup a Cris.” Snap a pic of his horrified face for future inspiration.

7) Get someone more competent to help you. Like playing tennis with an ace, working with a better cook raises one’s game. If you play your cards right, they’ll tell you to ditch the apron and let them take over because you’re totally useless.

8) Get someone less competent to help you. If something goes wrong in the kitchen, ask for help. Make sure to tell your dinner guests that “Bobby was SO helpful.” Put finger quotes around helpful. Non Est Mea Culpa.

9) Add butter. Because everything is better with butter. Cheese sauce, chocolate and sprinkles often work as well.

10) Tell your diners “It’s French.” Even if it’s chicken. Call it poulet. Quote Julia Child. If they look less than impressed, say things like “The French have such a refined palate,” and “Not everyone can appreciate true cuisine.” Poor creatures–fatally limited by their own lack of sophistication.

If the above ten steps don’t work, pull a Spinal Tap-worthy 11 and get take out. Better yet, do step one, then jump all the way to 11. Learn to Love Cooking in Two Easy Steps! As Martha Stewart says, “Now that’s a good thing.”

Photograph “The Instrument” by Sierra Blair © 2005 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

 

 

 

You can have what you choose

moutainpathIndra Nooyi caused quite the ruckus with her comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I was glad to hear her finally say the words out loud–You can’t have it all.

I joined the same consulting firm where Ms. Nooyi worked shortly after she left. I have to wonder if she heard the same mantra I did, over and over again–You can have it all, just not at the same time.

At the firm, once a woman ascended into the ranks of management, she was invited to a luncheon where the female partners discussed how they negotiated the demands of career and motherhood. It was meant to be helpful.

It was total bullshit. That was my reaction to it, anyway.

What I heard at the time was, you can have it all, but not at the same time, so give us what we want from you right now, and you can have what you want later, if there’s still time left over. What they were really saying, however, was if this is what you want, this is what is required to make it happen in a real world.

The woman shared what worked for them, what gave them the life they wanted, and if I wanted what they had, it came at a price. The firm would own my now if I wanted to achieve the an equivalent later.

What wasn’t made explicit was the larger question–Was this what I really wanted? My reaction to the presentation should have been a wake up call. The answer was no.

You can’t have it all. You can have what you choose. They’d each found ways to navigate the challenges while encountering the inevitable obstacles, but they couldn’t change reality.

Ms. Nooyi’s remarks have been characterized as negative and pessimistic. I think she’s a realist. When I tried to have it all, I constantly juggled elements of my life, responding to the demands of the universe.  It was tantamount to letting my circumstances make my choices for me. I chafed against my constraints until I decided couldn’t fight anymore.

I chose, knowing that by choosing one outcome, I had to forgo the other.

There is no one right way to live. You can scale a mountain a multitude of ways. Some are harder, some are easier. Some are more treacherous, some are torturous and some take forever. Each has their challenges and their rewards. In the end, however, they all lead to the same place.  The path between is everything.

Making my peace with leaving some paths unexplored is not always easy. I feel regret and envy. I second-guess my decisions, wonder about what might have been, or what I could have avoided. I worry how my path effected those who traveled with me. The best remedy for me is to fully appreciate the path that I’ve chosen in all it’s messy, chaotic beauty.

That is a choice as well, and it is enough.

Photograph : Mountain Path, by Jessie Owen © 2011 Creative Commons/Flickr

Throw out 50 Thoughts #25 – But I’m going to suck at this…

runnersacrificeMy seventh grade Biology teacher also happened to be the cross-country coach. One day in class, he suggested that I join the team. When he did, my classmates laughed. You see, I was the least likely person one would take for a runner. I was heavy. I wore glasses. I was non-athletic. After class, he urged me to ignore my classmates and try. “I saw your sprint times,” he said. “You’re fast. All you need is stamina.”

This is not one of those stories where the protagonist is the fastest kid in the class. I did not leave my detractors in the dust while the soundtrack swelled. I’m not even sure my teacher ever saw my sprint times, because being fast wasn’t the point. I knew exactly what would happen if I came to practice, and I think my teacher knew exactly what would happen, too.  I’d run, fall behind, puke my guts out, cry in the shower and listen to people snicker about how idiotic the idea was in the first place. And the next day, I’d show up at practice and do the same thing all over again.

I said no. I wish I hadn’t.

Let’s face it, we don’t all get our Susan Boyle moment where we make the Simon Cowells of the world eat crow. We will try, and nine times out of ten we will fall short of our desired goals. I won’t call it failure, because failure sounds so final. Failure is only the beginning.

While it might have been nice to have my movie moment, I would have learned so much more through reality. My classmates were right. I would have sucked at cross-country. The next day, however, I would have sucked a little less, and a little less the day after that. I may never have won a race, but it didn’t matter. My victory wouldn’t have been showing people that I could run like the wind, it would have been showing people that they could not define who I was and who I was not.

My son, like many teens, draws himself with thick lines. It’s a wish, I suppose, that if he stays within the boundaries, he’s safe from ridicule. I tell him to embrace suckitude. It’s inevitable, and I say it not as a cynic, but as an optimist, because the point is, SO FREAKING WHAT.

If I’d run cross country, with the expected outcome, who would I have hurt? My suckitude would have been mine and mine alone to do with as I pleased. I could have wrapped it around me like a straightjacket, or I could crumple it into a ball and toss it into the circular file. Kids laugh at others because they are afraid for themselves. Over time, they learn to avoid things they fear rather than staring fear down and telling it to shut the heck up.

My teenage self would be shocked to hear that I run every day, Yes, it’s good exercise, it’s free (except for the shoes and the blister tape and the friction reducing socks), and I get that nice endorphin high at the end. I run because I like knowing that  I can will myself to put one foot in front of the other, again and again, and watch the miles fall behind me.  I run, I fall, I get up. Evaluating my success is up to me. And that’s what I think my teacher was trying to accomplish.

So Mr. Shoemacher, better late than never. And thanks.

Photograph : Marathon Sacrifice by David © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

The exponential complexity of teenage dating

puzzleboxWatching the Dude negotiate his teen years, I’m reminded of some fundamental truths of  high school life.

1) You are not as dorky as you think you are. It all balances out over time.

2) Similarly, you are not as awesome as you think you are. It all balances out over time.

3) There is some subject you hate because you think it’s confusing and useless, and you’ll end up needing it some day. For me, it was logarithmic functions. I was fifteen years into my research career, and I was like, really? Now? This is why I became a writer.

4) Combination locks were invented by a sadist. So were logarithmic functions.

5) Dating sucks. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend is very nice. The road to there, however, is convoluted, confusing and no matter what you do, it’s the wrong thing. Sort of like logarithmic functions.

Social life at my son’s high school works like a puzzle box. He must move the pieces in precise order and placement for the top to open, and just when he thinks he’s got it right, someone adds another layer of complexity. You can only use one hand. Touch the wrong piece and and the box resets. The box holds another puzzle box.

I remember the teen caste system as pretty unforgiving. The Dude is in a good place. He has nice friends and seems to move across social strata without much trouble, yet like many teens still feels on the outside looking in a lot of the time. Come to think of it, many adults feel that way too.

He’s counting on college to be different. After all, he’ll have no parental supervision. I reminded him that we sent him to a four week Spanish language program over the summer where it appeared he had very little supervision, and by the looks of the Facebook pictures from the week, plenty of girls to pick from. In fact, given the No English policy, if he’d dated a girl from the French camp, he wouldn’t even have had to talk to her.

“Mom, no one hooks up at camp.”

Generations of band camp attendees beg to differ.

I told him that it gets better. After all, his father and I found each other at a big group event where the Venn diagram of our social circles had an intersection of one person. That’s all it takes. I look for hope and understanding in his face and all I see is you had choices and ended up with each other? I’m not sure if I should be offended or not.

It could also be worse. Malia Obama went to her first prom. Her secret service agents wore ties that matched her dress. Dating is hard enough without having to introduce a young man to your father, the Commander-in-Chief. Your parents are only Prius-driving dorks that use the term “Venn diagram” in regular conversation.

The thing about a puzzle box, is that you just have to try until you find the combination that works. It will open in its own time, when you least expect. It only feels like it goes on and on without end. Sort of like a logarithmic functions. On second thought, maybe you ought to talk to your father.

Photograph : “A Mystery Box” by RBerteig © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

Throw Out 50 Thoughts #24 – That was a waste of time

hourglassTime is a gift. Time is fleeting. That’s a half hour of my life I won’t get back. The tape loop cycles in my head.

Tape loop, will you please, please, shut the hell up?

When I was a management consultant, I kept track of my time in 15 minute increments. Time without a code was overhead, and overhead brought on the managerial grouchy-face, so was best avoided.  I never really lost the mindset. The habit of packing time like Tetris blocks is reinforced by our outcome-oriented society, and face it, a to-do list with lots of to-done items is satisfying.

I’m neck-deep in editing a novel in hopes of finding an agent. It’s painstaking, exhausting work. I want to finish, not just because it’s a painful process, but because it represents a milestone in my journey as a writer. Last weekend my husband was out of town. My son was supposed to be out for the evening. I was going to edit like no one has ever edited before.

It didn’t go well. I’d spent the better part of the day buried in words, and I was mentally exhausted. I was writing stuff just to write stuff.

My son came home early. Way early. And then he didn’t go back out. He camped on the sofa and watched the ballgame. I wandered out for some soda water, and never came back. I sat down next to the Dude, got a beer and popped some corn. After the game was over we watched a couple of hours of Modern Family. Like Law and Order, Modern Family is always on, all one has to do is find the right station. Soon it will have it’s own variants, Modern Family – the Minivan Chronicles, Modern Family – Live Poetry Readers.

The next day I was kicking myself. I was behind. Did I not care about my book?  I was a sloth, and a slacker, and way too old to be a Gen Xer (Most Gen Xers are way too old to be GenXers these days). I would never finish. Never.

I’ll admit. I don’t always align my choices with my values. But am I really honest with myself about what I value?

I treasured every moment of my evening with the Dude. I was happy, and before long, he’ll be in college and I won’t have the opportunity at all. Is there more virtue in sitting brain-dead in front of my computer, convincing myself that I’m actually getting something done when I’m not?

The time is only wasted if I’m not embracing what I’m doing, and the only person who can assess the value of my activity is me. If I spend an evening playing 2048, that’s okay, as long as I’m present and happy playing 2048, and my score is higher than everyone else in my family. I totally rule at 2048.

So, I can stop with the self-directed managerial grouchy face. I can’t see it anyway, and it gives me wrinkles. I will save it for the Dude, who should be studying, but is throwing a tennis ball against the wall outside my office. What a waste of time.

Photograph - “Time” by Alexander Boden © 2007 Creative Commons/Flick