Let love win and the rest will take care of itself

I was raised as a Catholic, but my religious beliefs have always been a little…squishy. A pastor at one of the non-Catholic churches I attended said technically, I was still a Catholic and a heretical one at that. He said it kindly and with humor, at least that’s how I remember it. These days, most would consider me to be an agnostic. I can’t put God in one tidy box. I prefer to call my particular brand of faith Episcobudditarianism.

My very Catholic mother rocked Christmas. We had two trees; the fancy tree, color-coordinated with our green and gold living room, and the kids tree, which had everything we could load on it. My siblings and I would sing along to classic Goodyear/Firestone holiday albums while we made ornaments for the Carols and Candles service using the eggs from L’eggs pantyhose (drilling the hole in those suckers was hard. They were also quite resistant to glue.)

Over the years, while I wandered through literal and spiritual homes, my Christmas spirit remained firmly in place. When the Dude was little, we used to cover the house with lights, inside and out. The more garish the better. My husband maintained some sense of reason, otherwise we would have had a blow up snow globe in the front yard that projected a Mannheim Steamroller laser show.

With the dude getting older, he’s not really interested in much beyond eating butter cookies, so it was up to me to bring on the Christmas. I was more than up to the task. And when my mother-in-law, in the grip of advanced Parkinson’s, began to fail, I promised my husband I would keep bringing the Christmas. I baked more, decorated more, sang “Sleigh Ride” until he begged me to stop.

Early in my marriage, my mother-in-law and I didn’t connect the way either of us wanted to. We both held on to our resentment and let it get in the way. As her memory faded in more recent years, our relationship shifted into something more loving and open. Her illness was awful, but it gave us a do-over. I wish we’d done it sooner. As she entered hospice care, I thought about my own parents, who I didn’t get to see this Thanksgiving due to the weather, and my siblings, with whom I share so many of those happy holiday memories, the ones I can still page through on demand, and wanted to have them all with me–even my brother who always woke us all up at the crack of dawn.

The hospice nurse said my mother-in-law could hear everything around her, so I played the Pandora holiday channel on my IPhone while I sat with her. A week before Christmas, she passed away.

On Christmas Eve, my husband, my father-in-law, the Dude, and I, went to service at the National Cathedral. Since one has to buy a ticket, it’s the only place I don’t feel like we’re taking someone else’s pew.  It’s an impressive space, built for contemplation and anonymity. So there I was, in the nation’s church on one of the most important days in Christian faith, and I’d been “bringing it on” by playing with cookie dough and glitter. I needed to do something to honor the woman who raised my wonderful husband since it took us far longer than it should have to reach a level of mutual respect and affection.

I looked at the cross and wondered what the heck I actually believed in. I wasn’t looking for a religious awakening, just something absolute that wasn’t bound into any one -ism. They gave us all candles to hold as we sang Silent Night. I lit my taper from my father-in-law’s candle and thought. “Let love win, and the rest will take care of itself.”

I may never be able to categorize my religion, any more than I can describe my career plans or my actual hair color. I do, however, know what I believe in.  And there’s nothing wrong with a  little glitter and cookie dough, too. Just saying.

Happy New Years to you are yours.

Taylor Swift is my imaginary BFF

handsheartI just turned 50, at least that’s what my driver’s license says. I don’t feel particularly mature, and whatever wisdom grace bestows by virtue of age alone seems to have passed me by (I was probably playing Bejeweled at the time).  Denial, however, doesn’t appear to be a legitimate excuse for ignoring doctor’s orders, so I had a colonoscopy.

I won’t go into details, but the morning before my procedure, I had to find a way to occupy my time in five to seven minute snippets. This clearly is what BuzzFeed was invented for. That’s where I ran into Taylor Swift.

One would have to work hard to avoid Ms. Swift these days. I would guess that even survivalists hunkered in a bomb shelter in Nevada whistle “Shake it Off” while cataloging their supply of freeze-dried rations–and not in an ironic way. I had no idea, however, that in just one morning, she’d wormed her way into my psyche.

I arrived at the outpatient center and nurse walked me through what they’d do to me. The risks were minimal, she assured me, and my husband was there to take me home afterwards, since the anesthesia might make me a little woozy. That was her term for it. Woozy.

Apparently I talked under sedation, and it went something like this.

Nurse : You’re fine, but we want you to take it easy today.

Worried Me : But what about tonight?

Confused Husband : What about tonight?

“Do I have to remind you of everything” Me : We have plans, remember? We have that  party to go to–at Taylor Swift’s.

My husband lives in a cultural shoebox, and even he knows who Taylor Swift is. Ever hopeful, he attempted to reason with a woman under the influence of some pretty powerful drugs.

Rational Husband : Honey, you don’t know Taylor Swift.

Undeterred Me : That doesn’t matter. Taylor Swift is friends with everyone. Haven’t you seen that thing she does with her hands?

I put my hands together in the shape of a heart.

Wondering if this is normal Husband : No, I can’t say that I have.

Not to trusted with a credit card Me : I have to wear something purple. I don’t own anything purple. After we leave, take me to the mall, okay?

He took me home. I slept for four hours.

I had no recollection of this conversation, yet when my husband told me about it, I felt a sense of loss. Somewhere in the universe, Taylor Swift was having a party, baking cookies with Lorde and Lena Dunham, and I wasn’t invited. In the days that followed, Taylor stalked me, staring back from the cover of Time Magazine, dancing through a Long Island mansion in an interactive video/ad for American Express, and in countless HuffPo videos of children singing in the backseat of the minivan.

My 50 year old reality was still very real. My son got his first college acceptance, then his second, and his third, and I realized that he truly was leaving the nest in the fall. I was rejected for yet another job. My gray roots were showing, and I pulled my hamstring tripping over my son’s size 12 sneakers. I could make a heart with my fingers all I wanted, but was still 50.

While putting the laundry in the closet, however, I realized that I owned not one, but two purple garments. So I invited my friends over for lunch. We didn’t bake cookies, but I told them about my post-op ramblings, and they reminded me that I’ve said much more ridiculous things without any sedation required. They also reminded me how lucky I am to have my very real friends, and if this is 50, 50 rocks.

Except in six months I have to have another colonoscopy. This time I’m going to tape my mouth shut, just in case. Mark the date Taylor, I’ll  be waiting for that invitation.

Photograph : Hands, Heart by mafleen © 2013 Creative Commons/Flickr

Speaking of relationships…

megaphone (2)I’ve tuned my strings and rosined my bow, which should mean it’s time to practice. I know however, that it is time for the Dude to pose some deep existential question we must discuss right now. I barely make it through the first scale when I hear him clawing up the stairs on his elbows. When he’s finished, he collapses in the hallway outside my practice room door.

What will it be tonight, I wonder? The abandonment of scientific evidence by mainstream media outlets? Perhaps the feasibility of isolationism in a global economy? Or the perennial favorite, why do ESPN commentators rank Peyton Manning above Tom Brady?

None of the above.

“How do I talk to women?”

“Your lungs create air pressure which causes the vocal chords to vibrate, and then…” He gives me his best “Why do I ask you anything” eye roll. I’m still holding the violin, although I know it’s a lost cause. I don’t mind. I’m aware the sand is running out on my chick-in-the-nest hourglass.

“I mean beyond, hi, how are you, great party.” He gives a manly sigh. “Guys are easy to talk to. I make a sarcastic remark about Nick, Nick comes back with an even more sarcastic remark about me. Then I make another sarcastic remark, and…”

I stop him before this becomes the conversation that gets on everybody’s nerves, namely mine. “Ask questions.” I used to do this for a living. It’s amazing what people will spill when they believe you’re hanging on their every word. “Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. Ask about her hobbies, her favorite classes, and her family. Ask follow up questions to get more detail. If she’s an equestrian, ask about her horse. If she plays an instrument, ask about composers.”

“But what if I’m not all that interested in her answer?”

“Do you think I’m all that interested in the history of debt?” My husband reads a lot of non-fiction. For the record, the history of debt is actually kind of interesting,  Maybe not four days worth of interesting, but interesting. “If you’re truly interested in her, you’re interested in what she has to say.”

He’s not convinced.

“Trust me. A–I’m a woman. B–I’ve had enough successful relationships that I’ve had sex.”

“With Dad.” Like that disqualifies him somehow. I’m glad my husband isn’t in the house.

“Still, I’m a woman, and you talk to me all of the time.” Usually when I’m writing, practicing, or about to go to sleep, not that I’m being picky.

“It’s different. You’re like a guy. You can even talk about Tom Brady.”

“I’m like a human being.” I get all woman-power on his ass. We’ve had many discussions lately about feminism vs. humanism, Gamergate, and why I go batshit when someone says they don’t like feminists because they’re “shrill.”

“Women are people. We have thoughts and ideas to share. We don’t just talk about shoes and our emotions. Women care about politics, and current events, and yeah, even sports. We’re just like men, except with boobs.”

He cringes. “You had me until the men with boobs thing.”

“And it wouldn’t hurt to share your emotions from time to time.”

“I don’t have emotions.”

“If you didn’t have emotions, you wouldn’t have crawled up the stairs and flopped the doorway of my practice room to ask me this question. Look Dude, these things aren’t automatic. They take effort.”

Effort. It’s such a nasty word.

“I’ve always heard that relationships should be easy, that if they require a huge effort, something is fundamentally wrong.”

“I’ve always heard one shouldn’t quote relationship advice until they’ve actually been in a relationship, which, by the way, I have.”

“With DAD.”

I know that this particular conversation has reached diminishing marginal returns, and I have a gig the next day I need to prepare for, so I pull out the best conversation killer I know.

“There are a few things I could tell you about your Dad, Dude. Like this one time…”

He plugs his ears and runs down the stairs. “Lalalala. I can’t hear you!”

“…he read this amazing book on the history of debt.”

Photograph : Suessian Megaphone, by Michael © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

Need a job done well? Hire a Mom to do it.

wordleRemember that old yarn–a woman over 40 is more likely to get killed by a terrorist than remarry? Try being a 50 year-old mother returning to the workforce after a ten year hiatus.

I’m thinking of going back to work, so I did some research. There’s this thing called Google. Who’s antiquated and behind the times? Not me. I have mad skillz.

Articles describing the post-motherhood job market all indicate that having voluntarily left my seat at the table, I’m not welcome to come back. Employers, however, are advised to bend themselves into a pretzel to hire Millennials, who, according to these same articles come to the meal with the eating habits of a toddler. No onions, mushrooms, or green things. The food must not touch. The crusts of the PB&J must be cut off and only cut diagonally.

In the interest of balanced press, here are a few reasons employers should consider hiring a Mom returning to the workforce.

1) We are the market. Studies show women control 80-85% of all consumer purchase decisions. The millennial market is estimated at $200 billion. The Mom market? $2.4 trillion. No one understands the mind of a mom better than another mom. These are my peeps, yo.

2) We are the embodiment of can-do. A mom will never say “that’s not in the job description.” Sometimes you just have to get shit done. The job might be messy, demoralizing, or just plain disgusting, but in my house, the cat vomit is invisible to everyone but me.

3) We are used to working without appreciation, validation, or any form of recognition for working above and beyond the call of duty. One glitter and macaroni covered card a year and I’m good to go. The cats don’t even do that much, and I still feed them.

4) We have long attention spans and a high tolerance for pain. Ever hear a 5 year-old give a synopsis of the Spongebob Movie? It’s longer than The Odyssey and has no periods. A monthly forecast meeting is a cakewalk in comparison. As for my pain tolerance, walking on coals is for wussies. Try walking on Legos. I dare you.

5) I bake cookies. A cheap ploy, yes, but we’re talking cookies, people.

6) We are fast learners, and even faster re-learners. I get it. I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been away from high school even longer and managed to relearn logarithms well enough to tutor the child. I suspect he’ll need them just as much in his life as I have in mine. As for social media, even my son’s friends find my feed amusing from time to time. I also have more followers than they do.

7) We can manage complex assignments. Assembling Cybertron Primus requires PhD level skills and the patience of Job. So do most PTO assignments. Triage isn’t just another skill for mothers, it’s a way of life, and we’re used to putting other people before ourselves. As for complaining, we only do it behind your back.

8) We invented multitasking. Don’t even try going there. I have a can of multi-purpose whup-ass in my purse and I know how to use it.

9) It’s one less person on Social Security. I’m trying to be part of the solution, but I need someone to hire me first.

10) Finally, and most importantly, if you want to test my managerial skills, meet my son. He’s the best, most amazing thing I can ever take credit for, and like most things in life, we made the rules up as we went along, because that’s how life, and business, rolls.

I did what was right for me, and my family, and I have no regrets. Not once, however, did I stop being a badass. I did not put my brain in a lock box or my ambitions on the shelf. I did what every good manager does. I trained my son to do the job without my help, so now I’m free to do the same for someone else.

So next time you see my resume cross your desk, take a chance and call me. I’m worth the risk. There might even be cookies in it for you.

Our tour at Come-here-U

squirrelWelcome future Hedgehogs! My name is Ryan and I’m your tour guide for today. I’m a senior studying Medieval Organizational Strategy, with a minor in walking backwards while dressed like an academic Best Buy salesperson. I congratulate you on your wise choice in considering this wonderful university. After all, we’re the first land-grant medium-large institution in cities beginning with the letter T!

I’ll be showing you the highlights of our beautiful campus. Feel free to ask me any questions along the way. Chatting up the tour guide probably won’t help you get you the fat envelope, but it doesn’t hurt. Some of us have student loans, wink, wink.

Where are you all from? Come on people, this isn’t an AP exam. Wherever you’re from, you’re not alone. We have students from every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii. Our representative from Montana graduates in June, however, so if you’re from Big Sky Country, our admissions office has an extra-large swag basket with your name on it.

Our tour begins here on the Academic oval, or as we call it, “The Beach.” Hel-lo Ladies. How are you doin? I love the smell of Hawaiian Tropic in the morning. Whoa! Watch out for the ongoing hacky sack tourney! One hundred thirty-two days and counting.

We have over 500 clubs here on campus , so there are plenty of diversions from actually studying. We even have a squirrel watching club, Quidditch team, and the autumnal leaf rakers. There’s plenty of grass to go around! The legal kind, of course.

For our more musical students, we have 67 a capella groups. They battle outside of the Union every afternoon.  My personal favorite is the Thelonius Monks—they use cue cards. That way they’re always in tune. Come on you stragglers, get those feet moving!

Our campus covers over 5000 acres. We have a transit system that can take you anywhere you want to go. Just show your student I.D. It’s all free!

Gather round, peeps. This is a statue of our first dean, Millard J. Phillpot. It’s a hedgehog tradition to goose his booty after you’ve graduated. No one leaves campus without a squeeze and a selfie. Don’t try it until you have that sheepskin—legend has it that if you jump the gun, Millard’s ghost will make sure you end up living in your parent’s basement until you’re thirty. Just ask my brother. Let’s roll!

This is the undergraduate library. There are books around here somewhere. At least that’s what I’ve been told. There is, however, a Starbucks and a Chipotle on every floor. Just swipe your student I.D. It’s all free! Guy’s gotta fuel up, know what I mean? But not today, we’re just passing through.

While we walk to McCready Hall, I’ll tell you about our study abroad program. There’s nothing like spending a semester in a foreign land. I myself spent a term in Belize, and my roommate studied French in St. Martin. Welcome to our university, now get out! Just kidding! I know you’re thinking, “what kind of Medieval Organization Strategy did they deploy in Central America?” All kinds! Who knew? Just pack your sunscreen.

Here, let me hold the door. Come on through. This is McCready Hall, home of our humanities department. You can tell by all of the marble busts of writer dudes. The main auditorium holds 600, but don’t worry—our average class size is 15. You’ll only have a large lecture hall for classes that end in a 0 or 1. And sometimes a 2. Or if it’s required for your major.

I hope our dean of admissions told you that we’re a premier research institution. Starting from freshman year our students have the opportunity to work for work for free for someone they aren’t related to. One of my buds got lost on the way to class and ended up on an archeological dig. He sends his laundry home on a weekly basis. The University has a shipping office in every dorm. Just swipe your student I.D. It’s all free!

Speaking of dorms, that’s our next stop!

We offer several housing options. Freshmen are typically placed on South Campus, which we affectionately refer to as Troll Village or The Sauna. The rooms are coed by floor, theoretically, with a communal bathroom. If the showers are full and you’re pressed for time, just flush a toilet. In universal student language, that means “sober up and get out.”

All dorms have wireless access to satisfy even your most avid Call of Duty operative, and we allow any appliance smaller than a convection oven. You can also rent a fridge so you have someplace to store your…mineral water. The building isn’t air conditioned, but every room is equipped with at least one functioning window.

After freshman year, we offer suite-style housing where two units share one bathroom. Each unit houses four students and includes a kitchenette and common area. It’s just like living at home—only Mom doesn’t nag you about the dirty dishes in the sink or the state of your bathroom. Over the summer, the university brings in a hazmat team to ready the rooms for another year of academic exploration.

This is a typical University Dining Hall. As you can see, they offer absolutely anything you can think of. We have a kosher section, vegan section, and the lacto/gluten/peanut-free section. And over there is the Nostalgia section, which serves hot chili fritos and hash seven days a week, and our ever-popular grill, The Freshman Fifteen.

During exams, the snack bar stays open all night for our hardworking students with a hearty supply of Red Bull and Pixie Sticks. Say it with me. Just swipe your student I.D. Yup, you got it. Free!

This is the study lounge. Don’t you love the leather sofas and the stone fireplace? It’s just like Hogwarts without the students. Imagine your son or daughter cozying up with a book around a roaring fire. Go ahead. Imagine it. Denial is healthy.

Each campus has its own recreational facility complete with basketball courts, an inside running track, a climbing wall, unisex hot tub, and 24/7 personal trainers. Just swipe your I.D. That’s right. Free!

Greek life is another option for post-freshman housing. I’m a member of Alpha Got Good Gamma, dedicated to good works, scholarly pursuits and rocking the weekend. We also have a number of students that rent apartments off-campus. Most apartments are furnished. Just sign a lease and move in. Don’t look under the cushions.

This brings us to our final stop—the Placement office. Because that’s what we’re all looking for, am I right? Rest assured, our placement rate is well over 90%, not including those students going on to graduate school.

What’s that? My major again? Medieval Organizational Strategy. Of course I have a job.  In the admissions office.

Thanks again for visiting us, and make sure to fill out the evaluation form in the back of your welcome packet. Good luck with your senior year, and I look forward to reading all of your applications! Go Hedgehogs.

Photograph : Squirrel on Campus by Corey Seeman © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

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