Archives for posts with tag: humor

(Word count: 100)

For sale: BlyssOut titanium-plated professional flat iron, slightly used. Paid $139 at high-end beauty store with odd make-believe salon in rear. Purchased for Navy Gala. Left to heat while in shower. Lost water pressure mid-shampoo, half rinsed and naked dealt with smoke alarm and burned Spaghettios…usual Mom Night Out bullshit. Rushed, threw damp hair into flat iron. Instant burning hair/plastic/scorched sugar smell. Strawberry Shortcake doll beat me to the iron, melted red hair fused to mine. Scissors and screaming. Lots of screaming. Removed all bits of Shortcake from blade, good as new. Only $80.

ISO: Used wine refrigerator, hat collection

GFPancake

I’m not a chef. Sure, I’m a decent cook, but baking something in a water bath is beyond how much focus I have and frankly, I don’t care that much. I’m the sort of cook that likes to throw a bunch of shit in a pot and is lucky enough to know what tastes good together. When it comes to baking, unlike my sister who seems to think stale cereal is a catch-all substitute ingredient, I’m capable enough to make a delicious tasting cake, even if I can’t get the bloody thing out of the pan.

So when I figured out that I needed to remove wheat from my diet (because let’s be honest, no one is crying over the loss of barley or rye), I knew it was time to put on my big girl apron. For some, that means establishing residency in the cookbook section at Barnes and Noble or watching hours of waif-like kitchen sprites grind garbanzo beans and milk almonds on YouTube. For me, stepping up my game meant shopping for gluten-free mixes. Hey, America solved the nation’s baking dilemma with delicious Bisquick, so why couldn’t it do the same with those gluten-free mixes?

Let me save you the endless hours walking the baking aisles of your grocery store. Those mixes are crap. Now, I haven’t tried ALL of them, but the ones that make it seem like sumptuous buttermilk biscuits can be yours again, beware. I have attempted cookies, muffins and biscuits with these “bake alls” and unless you like the taste of sorrow in every bite, don’t even bother.

GFflour

Among the many things I’ve been missing, pancakes is oddly at the top of the list. Trolling the internet, I found a recipe on Food.com that had many of the old familiar ingredients (baking soda, eggs) but some of those odd ones that made it seem like I was in chem lab as opposed to cooking breakfast. After sorting through ingredient substitutions and breaking a few laws of nutrition, I came up with this recipe that ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE A GODDAMNED PANCAKE. These totally gluten-free AF pancakes are spongy and light, rather nutty in flavor (although I’m sure if I used fresher flour as opposed to the leftovers found in the back of a cupboard that taste would change) and chew like a pancake and not like a drink coaster. You get all of the ingredients in your local grocery store or Trader Joe’s. Makes enough for a family of four (1 gfaf, 3 not so much).

GLUTEN FREE AF PANCAKES
DRY:
1/4 c. Coconut flour
1 1/2c. Brown rice flour
1 tsp. ground chia seeds (buy regular seeds and grind them in your coffee grinder. Hey, it’s breakfast, so coffee tasting pancakes are a bonus!)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. sugar

WET:
1 1/3 c. milk of some form (cow, goat, almond, rice, coconut)
4 eggs
4 tblsp. oil (veg, coconut… whatever)
splash of vanilla

EXTRA MIX INS:
toasted coconut
gf chocolate chips
peanut butter/sunflower seed butter/almond butter…but not cookie butter, because that is not gluten-free 😦
bananas
strawberries
blueberries

Directions:
In a bowl, mix dry ingredients. In another bowl, stir together wet ingredients. Combine wet with dry, stir out the lumps. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Heat pan/griddle with butter or coconut oil (I’ve found coconut oil smokes more but heats more evenly) and cook.

(*’AF’ stands for ‘as f*$#’ because when you have to give up one of life’s basic joys you should declare it single every time.)

1

img_2162

Delaney stopped picking at the skin on her pimply nose to give me the stink eye in the passenger visor mirror. She’s Mom’s accomplice, but after their fight this morning, who knows.

“Lily Bear,” Mom said. “I can’t believe you’re nine years old today. Has your mustache started to come in yet?”

“Funny Mom. No one gets a mustache when they turn nine years old. Especially girls.”

Mom looked at me in the rearview mirror like I’d told her I had a cough or a splinter. “I can’t believe Delaney didn’t tell you. Ask her. Girl mustaches are silvery whiskers, sort of like a cat, you can sense danger with them. She made us shave hers off.”

“Really Delaney?” I said. She threw Mom a glare, then stuck her tongue out at me, which either meant Mom lied again or Delaney didn’t want to tell me the truth. I hated Mom’s lies. She added in enough truth, so I never knew what to believe. Like the time she told me my blue birthmark was a permanent ink stamp from when I arrived as a baby on a cargo ship from Madagascar. I’d never met anyone with a blue birthmark, not one with squiggle lines in the shape of a ‘3’ and a ‘W’. Maybe I wasn’t born in Connecticut, but on a mysterious island with friendly lemurs and those giant trees that look like carrots growing upside down. Sometimes I wished her stories were true.

“That’s your idea of a birthday gift, Mom? Dragging her around Ventura for the hundredth time on your made up history tour and freaking her out about facial hair?” Delaney said. I closed my eyes, waited for mom to comment. I heard Delaney whisper, “Fail”. The car moved faster.

I ducked my head behind the front seat, pretended to pick something up off of the floor, touched my fingers to my top lip. Smooth like velvet. No prickly hairs. Liar.

“Get ready,” Mom said, raised herself up in her seat. “We’re coming up on the first stop of our Magical Ventura Tour.” The groaning sound from the steering wheel made me think maybe the car didn’t want to be on the tour either.

“Mom, can’t we do something else for once?” Delaney said. “We know all of your ridiculous stories already. I bet Lily doesn’t even want to be here and it’s her birthday.”

“Lily Bear, is this true?” We sat curbside in front of City Hall, the engine coughed like a bear with a cold. Mom rammed the shifter into park, peeked around the front headrest at me. I turned to the window. The weird smiling marble faces carved all along the front of city hall laughed down at me. I hate birthdays. I wished Dad were with us.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “Tell the story, Mom. Reminds me of when we moved here.”

“Well, few people know this but Ventura City Hall was built on top of an ancient Chumash burial site.”

“Not true,” Delaney said. “I asked my social studies teacher, he’s from here. He said ‘no’.”

My stomach hurt. I thought about my cake in the fridge with my name written in blue cream cheese frosting. Dad and I both loved carrot cake.

“Mr. Carver?” Mom said, brushed Delaney’s bangs out of her eyes.

“Yeah.”

“Honey, Mr. Carver drinks. He can’t be trusted. Grab yourself some Midol from my purse. You’ll feel better.”

Mom turned back around to wink at me. Delaney sighed like a movie star, crumpled into a sulking pile.

“Anyway, Lily Bear, the city planners built city hall on an ancient Chumash burial ground, then carved the faces of the Franciscan friars who founded the mission on the outside of the building. They did this to honor the men who wanted to civilize the native Chumash right out of their own culture.”

“What’s wrong with civilizing someone?” I said. Two girls in my class, Annabel and Janie, were in cotillion. When I asked, they told me they went to dances to learn how to be civilized. I tried to imagine the Chumash natives ballroom dancing together in grass skirts and white gloves.

“Depends on your definition of civilization. But the Chumash people got revenge. Know what they did?”

I did know, but I wanted her to tell me like she did every birthday. Mom started the Ventura “Her-story Tour” the first year we moved here, on my fifth birthday. In first grade, I had to write a special report after I told the class pirates put up Serra Cross, not missionaries. Mom made me a cross birthday cake that year, with vending machine toys baked inside.

“Nope,” I said.

“They cursed the land. When the rare blue moon rises in the sky, those friar’s faces come to life and tell all the secrets kept within the walls of City Hall!”

“When’s the blue moon? Has anyone ever seen them come alive?”

I felt the familiar thrill rise up inside. My mother’s magic held me.

“I have a question since you know about all things secret and mystical.” Delaney’s voice jabbed at our mother. My palms started to sweat. Unlike her usual pouty, dramatic self, a new Delaney voice came out.

“Where’s our father?”

Dammit Delaney. It’s my birthday! You need to do this now? Awesome.

“Excuse me?” Mom said, her voice like a policeman instead of a tour guide. She turned, faced Delaney head on.

“Our father. The one who used to live with us but one day never came home again. Where is he? And no more made up stories. How about some truth this time? Where’s our father?”

I stopped taking full breaths, picked at the scab on my elbow. The sun poked out above the trees. I felt the beams burn on my shoulder, but unsticking my bare legs from the car seat meant ripping at my sunburn from yesterday, so I stayed still. I made a birthday wish my window wasn’t stuck closed. We never talked about Dad, just like we never talked about earthquakes, the great white sharks spotted around the river mouth or the drought.

“Your father is out to sea.”

The car rolled away from the curb.

“For three years? How does someone go out to sea for three years?”

I can remember a lot from when I was six. I remember one time Delaney sat on top of me after I had eaten a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, tickled me until I laughed so hard I puked all over her legs. I remember Tommy Leone from down the street threw my green Matchbox car into the sewer drain. And I remember when I won my goldfish Percy at the school carnival, even though he only lasted a couple of days. But as hard as I try, I don’t remember what Daddy’s voice sounded like.

“He got on the wrong ship,” Mom said. “He was supposed to be going out for an overnight fishing trip to Santa Rosa, but instead he got on a ghost pirate ship. This ghost ship was disguised to look like all the other fishing boats. Not his fault. Now he’s sailing around the world.”

We sat dangling at the stop sign on the top of California Street, below the sea stretched out like a silver blanket in front of us. Floating in the mist like scoops of whipped cream, were the Channel Islands. How fast would we have to go to fly out over the pier and the sea, to get to those islands?

“They say sometimes the ghost ships return to their original port, but I don’t know if that’s true. Your father always wanted to see the world. I guess this was a wish come true.”

We moved down California Street, headed for the beach.

Aside from wishing the car window open, I had also birthday wished for a new bike, a puppy and for Daddy to come home. I asked God to cancel the earlier three and put all my wish juice towards Daddy.

“No Mom.” Delaney’s voice sounded stretched like a balloon filled with water. “The truth this time. We don’t want any more stories. Please.”

Mom yanked the car over to the side of the road, we skidded a bit when the tires hit the sand. Thrown into park the car jerked forward.

“What exactly do you want me to tell you, Delaney? What do you want the truth to be? Does it feel better to know City Hall is built on nothing more than dirt? The truth is cold and boring and doesn’t ever go away. I don’t know where your father is. He told me he was going fishing, a man who never owned a fishing pole mind you, decided to go on a fishing trip with a suitcase in his hand. Then I never saw him again. There. Does that feel better or any more real than he’s on a disappearing ghost ship?”

Delaney burst out of the car, ran toward the massive sand dune in front of the water. Mom said the ‘f’ word, kicked her door open and marched across the sand toward Delaney.

When I caught up to them at the bottom of the dune, both of them sat in the sand. A scrunched up Delaney sobbed in Mom’s arms, Mom whispered into her ear, stroked her hair, rocked her back and forth. I wanted to pop the heavy empty bubble inside of me, so I squished myself in between them both.

We came up for air, a wet, snotty, sniffling mess and I birthday wished a box of Kleenex for us all.

“Come on,” Mom said. “The sea wants to give a girl a birthday kiss.”

 

 

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

trainingcruise

Let’s get one thing clear about me training for a triathlon: you are witnessing a cosmic anomaly. Think of the Northern Lights or Hale Bop…you aren’t going to see this every day. I have run in exactly two 5k’s in my life and one of those was because I was just trying to keep my marathon-running boyfriend from breaking up with me. Aside from that, the grandest bit of public competition I have ever participated in was the Filene’s Basement Bridal Sale… and even that was 15 years ago.

Let’s also clear up another misconstrued notion: this is not a real triathlon. This is what the athletes call a “super sprint”: 500 yard swim, 6 mile bike ride, 2 mile run. I’m guessing the ‘sprint’ in the title is because there will be people going all out to finish this as fast as possible. Those people. The reason I was able to sign up for this without doing a shot of tequila first was because there is actually a parent child category, and I figured that if I was unable to get myself through the water, I could always use a passing child as flotation device.

Training Day 23: 

Waking up at 7am on a Saturday wasn’t that difficult, it was getting out of the bed that was sucking the happy out of my soul. Visions of me getting passed by 7 and 8 year olds as I puffed and wheezed my way through the running portion of the triathlon pushed me out of bed and got me dressed. I was going to kick some elementary school ass if it was the last thing that I did.

When I opened the garage door, I growled. My bike was in the shop after spokes began to spontaneously burst off of the rim. (I’d like to say it was because of the comet like speed that I had been generating, but upon my first “long” ride, I nailed a curb and possibly a parked car… I was too busy licking the ground to pay attention.) The bike that I was riding in the tri was a 24 speed hybrid, not the optimal bike for that type of race, but since this is only a 6 mile ride (and possibly one with a child tagging along) I felt that it would be fine. However, now with it in the shop, and time marching ever closer to race day, I had to take my beach cruiser.

If you do not live near the sea, as was once my case, then you might not be familiar with the common mode of transportation known as “the beach cruiser”. Beach cruisers come with names like ‘Low Rider’ and ‘Lil’ Betty’, wide handle bars and cup holders made out of coconut shells. Mine came from a school auction that we accidentally won after too many Moscow mules. There were no flame jobs, but a sassy bell and banana seat. And now here I was, trying to crank out a speedy six only to jump off and then run two miles… the “brick workout”. I wished that I had one of those cyclist outfits on to make this expedition truly complete.

As I happily peddled along, I imagined myself in the triathlon, smiling and waving to the people walking with their morning coffee. Bling bling! I bet they’re all looking at me and thinking, “Wow, is she training for a triathlon?” I spy an older gentleman with a crooked baseball cap riding up ahead of me, a bag of McDonald’s breakfast in his basket, so I nominate him as my official pace setter. I roll up behind him and think about how ridiculous this entire endeavor is, how if I had to plan a triathlon, we’d all go for a lovely 500 yard swim/float, get out and shower, have a nice breakfast, then a quick 6 mile bike to a vineyard where there would be a wine tasting waiting for us. Finally we’d walk through a magical set of Italian gardens 2 miles long only to be greeted with a fantastic lunch. That’s a triathlon, right?

I found myself getting bored as I rode, so I made a game out of swerving to miss tiny dogs, but not the ones with sparkly collars. I thought about all of the people that were rooting me on; my friend in NY that despite not having run in a year, went out for a 3 mile jog with me and pasted an ironman number leftover from the previous weekend’s race to my shirt; my sister-in-law who would sit and listen intently to all that I had (or more accurately had not) done to train, with tips, clothing and bike at the ready to hand over to me; my sister who sent me a package containing an article about an ironman competition that I would not only never attempt, but secretly loathe as I was accidentally present to it on my 40th birthday and might have something to do with me forcing this upon myself now. And my husband, and my children, and more and more and more. I realized that I wasn’t the only one swimming/biking/running this race. Apparently trying to kill yourself also takes a village.

As I pulled back into the driveway, I leapt from my bike, trying to obtain the most accurate re-creation of the transition that happens in the race. Of course, my ear buds were stuck in my helmet, then I accidentally shut off my music, and my husband had locked the garage so I couldn’t put the bike away… and 10 minutes later I was off and running. Well, less like running and more like a zombie rising from the grave and trying to flee after their decayed feet have fallen off. Oh, I get it—brick workout. My mind immediately calls roll on every reason why this is a bad idea, and my anxieties are jumping up and down with their hands raised and shouting, “Present!” I slow down to a discernible crawl, but keep moving. I chastise myself for not being able to run. I realize I’m not very kind to myself, remember that I’m not sprinting I’m just finishing, and still keep going, and when I can, I run some more. I feel tired but stronger, sore but proud. Just get to the corner. Just make it through this song. Walk three steps, run four. And breathe… and breathe… and breathe. At least I’m moving forward.

In the weeks that followed my brick workout, I have increased my bike speed by 10 minutes, can run two miles non-stop, and can swim twice the distance required. I feel stronger physically, as well as mentally. I have learned that having to slow down to a float/coast/crawl just means experiencing the world on my terms. I have learned that coffee and wine are like drinking sand when it comes to hydration. I have learned that my mind is the Fox News of my physical capabilities, and I just have to change the channel to Discovery.  I have learned that all of those words of encouragement that I tell my daughters every day, phrases such as “believe in yourself” and “you are strong” and “you can do anything” aren’t just cookies that you hand out to satisfy a craving, they are the meat and potatoes of our soul, sustaining us, growing us, guiding us.

I know now that I can do this, and because of that, I can do anything.

photo

I had it all figured out. Add the fun into the training and she wouldn’t even know that we were working out. I could even incorporate the 7 year old and by the end of the run, we’d all be laughing, holding hands, eating ice cream and planning our outfits for our first Ironman.

I am a dumbass.

My first attempt to try to get us out training for the run part of the triathlon was disguised as a quick explore around the neighborhood. The littlest one took her scooter, and me and the 10 YO would just walk… maybe even do a little warm up jog. I figured we could try some chasing/racing games that would get us running but not Running… you know? The 10 YO was skeptical, as she usually is, but the 7 YO was totally on board. As we headed out, I even tried to inspire us with Pharrell William’s song “Happy”… but that was about the last time we heard the word that day.

Immediately, there was pouting, stomping and whining. The 7 YO, finally feeling faster, shot off like a rocket. I tried to increase our pace to keep up. The 10 YO decided to teach me a lesson, and also in a fit of pre-adolescent rebellion, ran off as fast as she could. “Great! I can use this!” I thought. Except she got about 3 car lengths before she stopped, defeated and even more angry. I tried to coach her into pacing herself, how to slow her breathing down, how to make her steps count… blah, blah, blah. “Why can’t I ride the scooter?” she whined. I was frustrated, tired of the whining, feeling like I was pushing a broken school bus with flat tires up a hill, and all of it vaguely familiar. “Fine!” I shouted and made the 7 YO hop off of the scooter and handed it over. We hadn’t gone one driveway length before the 7 YO, in a text book little sister move, sidled up  next to me and started to jog. And then I did the second most idiotic thing since signing us up for the triathlon. I fell, deep and instantaneously, into the trap that is my ego and crushed my daughter in the process.

So happy to finally have someone eager to participate and actually listening to me, I said these horrible words,

“Great job, Dew! Maybe you will want to do this triathlon instead.”

You know that moment, right after you’ve climbed the biggest hill on a roller coaster, just as you hit the peak and you’re done looking at how wonderful the scenery is, and my aren’t all those people so tiny down there, and you eventually realize how horrifying the drop is and that there is no other way down? That same moment when your stomach is clenching so hard because it knows it is about to end up in your shoes? Yup, that moment.

And… cue the 10 YO tears. Many, many tears. So many tears in fact that we had to sit down curbside because she could no longer see to scooter. She didn’t want to run, and she certainly didn’t want to do this triathlon, but most of all, she didn’t want to disappoint me. She was devastated that I would so easily toss her aside for her little sister. She was trying, but she just didn’t like this at all. How could I have said such a thing? And who was this evil little creature that would just throw her under the bus like that and push herself into my good graces?

I sat there feeling like Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Lando Calrissian and every horrible traitor in history. How could I have just committed the crime that I found most vile and had raged a war against FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE?!?  I wanted to crumble into ash and be blown away with the wind.

And then, the 7YO started to cry.

“Wait! Why are YOU crying?!?”

I just sat on the curb, a girl sobbing on each side, and took it all in. What happened? How did I get us all here? I knew that this was another one of those AFGO (another fucking growth opportunity) moments that The Universe loved to shove at me… and, admittedly, I actually ask for from time to time, in order to better myself and the world around me, but COME ON! Why can’t I just be handed with misplacing a winning lottery ticket? Why must I foul up so badly that I scar my children for life?

I took a deep breath and grounded myself. Again. I released a lot of energy that I had been holding onto around wanting this to work, my relationship to being fit, my needing a fit daughter, my issues with my own childhood… as much as I could figure out to release. Then I asked to release that which I wasn’t even consciously aware of, but was holding me back. I took a couple more breaths, then moved on.

“Alright, everyone up. If we’re all going to cry, we might as well walk while we do it.”

Together, we cried and walked. I apologized to both of them for trying to force my version of this experience on them, rather then let them participate. I apologized for making the 10 YO feel inadequate and less than her sister. I apologized to the 7 YO for putting her in that position. Both said that they accepted my apology, but were still shooting anger arrows at each other… which really were meant for me. I made them walk together to work it out, holding hands. They still had a lot of anger that they didn’t know how to get rid of, so they just kept fueling each other’s fire. I walked ahead telling them to work it out, not wanting to sit in their stew (because it hurt more knowing I caused it).

Listening to them still stabbing at each other with their words, I stopped, turned myself to face a field of flowers and closed my eyes. I breathed in deeply again, feeling sadness and helplessness. I could hear the girls watching me. I opened my eyes and started picking flowers.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m picking flowers.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

So we started off training for a triathlon, and ended up crying and picking flowers. They stopped hurting each other, and the tears stopped too, until the littlest one got bitten by ants…  but up until that point, it finally became a lovely, if not difficult, experience.

I know that I’m training. I just think that the triathlon is the least of my worries.

****POSTSCRIPT****

You might have noticed that this post initially started out “My first attempt…”. Yeah, you would have thought that I would have learned my lesson… but I didn’t. If incorporating games and a little sister with a scooter didn’t work SURELY adding in a public run with an outfit theme and cousins would certainly work this time! Rather than drag you through our pain let me sum up:

1. Outfits matter enough to get us into trouble, but not enough to get us out of it. The “fun run” invited everyone to wear neon. The 7 YO, so obsessed with matching, insisted on wearing a pair of neon running shoes that were a size too big. At the start of the race, she almost took a header and ended up crying and walking the entire run.

2. No matter how much “fun” they promise, no amount of music, balloons, costumes and kid’s snacks turn uninterested kids into running fanatics. The amount of whining increased (although it was slightly less pronounced since neither kid wanted anyone to notice them) and the amount of “I hate this” only diminished because they were busy shoveling tiny Cliff bars into their mouths.

3. Apparently it takes a public shaming event to get it through my thick skull that this isn’t happening. Both girls ended up crying and walking over the finish line. Ok, I get it, we’re done. A few days later, my sad and apprehensive 10 YO came to me and hesitantly told me that she didn’t want to do the triathlon. She confessed that she was scared to tell me because she didn’t want to let me down or have to do it alone. I promised her that I was ok with whatever she decided, and that she didn’t even have to decide now if she didn’t want to (she still had 3 weeks of Jr. Lifeguard training to endure and I was hoping (Really? Still?) that she would change her mind). She looked as if I had dug a mountain off of her back.

Perhaps now would be a good time to take a long look at why I REALLY want her to do this triathlon. You think?

SkycoasterThat is the crazy thing about letting go of the side of the pool. You become enamored by, even addicted to, the freedom. (Wow! Look at me! I can swim on my back! I can float while looking at the sky! I can somersault in the water! I can… cough, hack, choke… get water up my nose.) There is a feeling of empowerment that comes with an almost unrealistic edge of invincibility. Almost.

When my now ten year old was seven, we took her to a Six Flags amusement park. Tall for her age, she was able to ride all of the adult rides, but I never thought that she actually would. To be honest, I never even gave it much thought since I was terrified (and could still be classified as ‘deeply concerned’) when it came to anything higher or faster than a tea cup. So when she decided that she needed to ride The Skycoaster, I wasn’t too happy about it.

The Skycoaster is a new and interesting way to test your ability to not wet your pants in public. Up to three people are strapped together into a harness and hooked to extreme bungee cords, then they are slowly pulleyed to the top of a 175 foot steel arch (15 stories into the air). Once at the top, they dangle precariously until given the go ahead via bullhorn, at which time one of the individuals releases the securing line and the three bodies, like eggs knocked off of the refrigerator shelf, drop straight downward at 60 mph until the line catches, somewhere around 150 feet, and the remaining guide lines swing the cascading bodies (possibly in cardiac arrest at this point) up between the arches into the sky. Free falling. And flying. At a seasonal amusement park. With my seven year old baby. And we pay extra.

My daughter was instantly hooked the moment she saw people whizzing above our heads. “Come on!” my husband pleaded. “You go with her and your brother because you’re all about the same size! It was fun! She’ll love it!” I had never suspected that my husband had taken out an insurance policy on me, but now…

As my brother, myself and my daughter were slowly being pulled to the top of the arch, I could taste the nacho and snow cone flavored panic rising up into my throat. What if she loses her mind? What if we need to stop and get down? What if I throw up on those heads in the bumper cars? What if this all goes very, very wrong?

“I realize I only have a broken truck and a dog, but I don’t have all of my affairs in order,” my brother whispered, not really joking. My daughter looked up at me with question in her eyes. In that moment I realized, we were the adults. It was our reaction that would set the precedent as to whether this was going to be a thrilling adventure, or an event that would cost my daughter years in adult therapy.

“Fairies,” I blurted out, as we climbed high enough that the peaks of Vermont looked like hilltops we could run down not far in the distance. “We could turn into fairies. I bet, if we think hard enough, wish for it with all our might, once that cable lets go, we can really fly. Come on, say it with me, ‘Fly. Fly. Fly’.”

Our arms linked together, for the last remaining feet of climb, the three of us — me, my brave seven year old daughter and my terrified 34 year old brother chanted, “Fly. Fly. Fly,” as we were pulled to the top of the world. We were given the signal, my brother pulled the pin, and we dropped, head first, towards the ground. As the cables caught us and we swung past the arches, I was still chanting in my head as we let go of each other, spread our arms and flew.

This week, I have let go of the side of the pool again. I realize now that leaving my life in NY and moving to California was a huge step, but still the first of many others. In August, I will compete in my first triathlon — a mini — and I will have the bravest person in my life, my daughter, by my side. Together we will conquer our hatred of running, overcome our fear of ocean swimming and learn what it is to be a team. And in October, I am leaving my brave girl and our family to take a spiritual trek into the Himalayas, an incredible experience that will change me and return me to those that I love who have also changed in my absence. Like falling out of the sky, I know that I lead the way in terms of expectations and reactions, so I take these new adventures not only as challenges that will elevate me as a person, but also as a mother, my highest honor. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and blessed.

Time to start swimming.

rockclimbing

Do you remember a time in your life when fear just never entered into the picture? The summer I turned five years old, we visited a friend’s pond; a murky hole in the ground that was teeming with soupy rich greenness. Being upstate NY in July, it was beastly hot and humid, so submersing in more moisture was surely the best answer for finding relief. We were told that the only way we could enter the water was on a float, because it was home to several snapping turtles. (Yeah, looking back upon that concept really colors my childhood in a whole new questionable hue.) Not really understanding what a snapping turtle was, or how that possibly could be a bad thing, I eagerly accepted a ride sitting upon my teenage friend’s back, on the float. (I’m not talking the sturdy water crafts of today that are tied off to docks and boats across upstate NY. This was 1977. Half deflated and covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon emblems, this raft was less floatation device and more flagship for a drunkard’s folly.)

We paddled out towards the middle, leaving behind the oppressive climate of the shore, and the casual concern of our parents.

About 10 feet offshore, the raft tipped over. Looking back upon it now, I’m not sure what is more surprising, the fact that no one anticipated this or that I was in the middle of a snapping turtle infested swamp, practicing Cirque du Soleil-like feats and did not know how to swim.

(Seriously, I need to take a minute here. This is the first real good think I’ve donated towards this memory. Where in the Hell were my parents? I know it is the 70’s and all, and surely I don’t expect a helmet or safety harness, but my God!  Would it have killed them to strap one of those inadequate styrofoam eggs to my back at least?)

As I sank to the bottom, I remember feeling only one thing. The sounds around me went silent and as I looked up towards the green dappled surface, and felt the sweet coolness of the water around me, I felt completely at peace. I wanted to stay there below the surface, bubbled in this womb of nature, but before I knew what was happening, I was being yanked to the surface where heat, blindingly bright light, and shrieks of terror reclaimed me.

As children, our innocence prevents us from being swallowed by our fears. Often times we aren’t afraid because we don’t know any better. Then as we walk through the world, we encounter obstacles that tend to come with the stories, anxieties and failures of others, which then become fears of our own. If only we can remain in that innocence, and simply view each experience, each obstacle, as new and separate from every other moment, fear wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday, I brought the nine year old and the six year old to an indoor rock climbing gym for the first time. Imagine a warehouse sized space with multiple two and a half story high walls built out in various gravity taunting formations, dotted with a series of shaped holds that appear to be made from Play Doh. In the middle of the gym was a structure meant to resemble a boulder, standing 15 feet tall.

As we entered the space, the palms of my hands instantaneously began to perspire. Despite having spent time in the quarries of Massachusetts and the rock formations of New Hampshire climbing in my youth, I could feel my pulse quicken and my breathing shorten.

My daughters, who had never seen such a spectacle, were mesmerized. To them, I couldn’t sign the documents declaring them able to throw themselves to the wolves of gravity fast enough.

Within minutes of donning the equipment, the nine year old had bouldered her way (read: climbing guide rope free and thereby giving her mother another reason to drink on a Thursday afternoon) to the top of the 15 foot structure. The six year old was complaining that she wanted to remove her safety guide line (the belay) because the tension of the automated rope was competing with her tiny sparrow-like frame, and preventing her from being able to get close to the wall.

For them, there was no hesitation, only excitement. For me, there was a litany of emergency room menu items scrolling through my head. I tried my best to keep my anxieties to myself, and gently guide as opposed to aggressively scream. I did see my six year old pause once, as I reminded her when she had bouldered her way three feet above my head, that there was no guide rope and I couldn’t come get her down. She retreated down the wall, only to chalk up her hands, immediately remount and make her way the full five feet above my head so that she could loudly declare me wrong from her perch.

Recently, The Universe was kind enough to call me out on my nightly prayer of wanting to be shown my path. Apparently there is this notion that I should be writing a book. To further back up this cosmic plan, a famous and well documented journalist has been placed in my circle, near enough for me to reach out to, ask for assistance, and firmly solidify this next evolution of Mikko Cook.

My palms are sweating, my pulse is racing and I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

Thanks to the lesson of living in oblivion from my children and my own youth, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ when I see The Universe pop up on my caller id, I’m going to set aside all of my ‘what ifs’ and my ‘remember THATs’ and take the call. I’m going to take this new experience for what it is… new and to be experienced. Sure there is so much that can go horribly wrong (don’t think I haven’t been calculating it all out since I took that initial call), but now what if I pretend that I don’t know otherwise, that humiliation and rejection are like snapping turtles to a 5 year old… something that exists, nothing more.

Guess it is time to dig out my chalk bag and begin my ascent.

daviddheart

Dear David,

It has been a while since you’ve heard from me. Perhaps you don’t recall my initial communication, or maybe it is tucked away in your underwear drawer, so that Téa might not find it. Either way, I wanted to follow up my initial romantic musings since I find that who I was in my 30’s has changed somewhat and there are a few additional insights that I’d like to share.

First, I forgive you for not dumping Téa and sweeping me off of my wedding altar, as previously suggested in my first letter, a mere 11 years ago. After Bree Sharp’s infantile song, “David Duchovny, Why Don’t You Love Me”, I can understand how my very real admission of love can seem like yet another pandering attempt at sex with a celebrity. While I don’t dismiss my own pandering attempt, mine was much more earnest as well as grammatically correct, and therefore prose to be taken a bit more seriously.

Second, if you are indeed still considering my offer to come carry me away to a life of witty repartee and hot alien role play, let me point out that I did marry that man that you left me with on the altar, and we did pop out a couple of kids. So, don’t be surprised if a toothy little six year old, probably with chocolate smeared on her lips, gives you the stink eye when she answers the door. Lately she has taken to supreme disappointment when I arrive to pick her up for anything, so she’ll have no issue with my departure.

I should inform you that I am no longer the be-damned-for-consequences person I once was. While I used to live on a diet of chili cheese dogs and Fresca, I’m now more of a hearty vegetarian stew with quinoa kind of a girl. My drink is no longer several gin martinis with blue cheese stuffed olives (I’ve discovered I’m lactose intolerant – something that can only help us both), but a simple glass of French wine or a fair trade coffee. While I still love good sci-fi, I prefer one that doesn’t involve naked women being ravaged by monsters of any sort. I like a healthy female lead with a head that remains on her shoulders. Somewhere along the way, extreme choices in food, drink and entertainment felt great in the moment, but the aftermath of ugly that stuck with me became too high a price to pay.

I love children now, which is a bonus since I have a couple, as do you. They don’t terrify the crap out of me anymore, and I find myself able to understand them better than the adults around me. I used to find their constant questions and curiosity annoying. I can’t help but wonder if that is because uncertainty in any form can be my own kryptonite. Now I see the constant questioning perspective of children as a different way to see the world and an opportunity to remember who I am when I don’t know all of the answers either.

And, about that man that I did end up marrying … I made a good choice. All of my secret fears of totally committing myself to someone only to have them emotionally crack me open like a coconut, drain out all of my marrow and leave me dehydrated and disintegrating, never materialized. I didn’t need you to save me from myself and my pending marriage. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was that you never showed up.

Please David, don’t be upset. It’s not you, it’s me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I am different, and not in any of the ways that I would have wished for 11 years ago, I love my life now. I reached out to you to save me from a life that I imagined with fear, and asked you to replace it with an idealized version born from stories created by others.  Instead I should have realized that imagining my life with hope, born from my own romantic dreams, was a much more realistic and very possible outcome.

Let’s just be friends. Why don’t you stop over? We can have a lovely glass of wine, heck bring Téa and the girls! We’ll sit around and wax philosophically about life, government conspiracies and the role of women in sci-fi programming. I’ll bake us a batch of gluten-free pumpkin muffins and we’ll laugh over our French presses. I’d love to get to know you as a friend, a father and a real human being. My days of celebrity love obsessions and make believe realities are over. I’m interested in what makes real people fall in love, chase their dreams and cry out loud.

If you’re interested, give me a shout back. But don’t wait too long. I’m guessing I’ll hear back from Jon Stewart any day now.

typingmonk

Recently I was rejected by an online journal after I had submitted a piece for consideration. After much whining and foot stomping (on my part), I passed it along to a few friends for critique and then sat down with my own scalpel. Seems that the journal in question wasn’t all that insane and the piece did indeed need a little more meat on the bones. I scraped around inside my soul and came up with more batter, perhaps even some tasty morsels that should have made the first batch. I submitted and then waited… and waited… and waited.

I never heard from them again.

Here is a little advice to all of the editors out there who sit behind an inbox filled with the hopes and dreams of us typing monkeys, trying our damnedest to recreate our version of Shakespeare’s plays.

1. Please do us monkeys the favor of being consistent and clear about what your submission guidelines are. We are monkeys and we get easily confused. A simple email address, format for the submission, any requirements for attachments and a deadline is all we really need. If you would like to include your standard stylebook, that would be greatly appreciated, and would most likely make your life easier. What makes us bang our heads on the keyboard and fling feces at each other is when you have three different website links going to three different sets of instructions as to how to submit to your publication.

2. We appreciate you. We realize you probably have to slog through a football field of donkey crap each day just to emerge with a golden nugget, hoping it isn’t just a polished turd. We get it. We understand that as a writer, rejection is a part of our life now and without rejection we’ll only ever create polished turds. So go ahead, reject away! However I would ask that you do the favor of at least reading a good portion of the piece before rejecting so that the standard response sent out actually applies. If I’m writing a piece on footballs, please don’t tell me that you can’t possibly use one more article on palm trees.

3. Be honest. Isn’t that what editing is all about? Don’t tell us that you’d love to take another look if you really wouldn’t. We are all adults (well, according to our birth certificates anyway), and need to handle straightforward rejection without taking it personally. If you tell me that you’d be happy to look over the rewrite, then I don’t hear from you ever again, this really isn’t any different than that crappy guy I dated in college that promised to call me after he returned from spring break and never did. I’m left bitter and you look like a liar. Come on, we’re both better than that.

4. We realize that there are a lot of us monkeys out here, and we are producing a lot of polished poo, so if you’d like to give us helpful tips for revision, be sure to clearly state that these are great general tips and try not to infer that these were meant specifically for our submission. Again, we know that you’d like to let us down gently, but we’re monkeys and we need to be hit over the head. Don’t send me revision tips if you don’t really want my style of crap.

5. Finally, just be kind and courteous. I know we’re monkeys. I know we eat with our hands and have bad hygiene. But we are have feelings and thumbs and aren’t that different from you. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’ and the consideration of a response (even a standardized short but final one) would go a long way towards developing our relationship as future editor and writer, and more importantly is some of the best marketing for your publication.

Thank you for the job that you do. Without editors our literary world would be a steaming cesspool of blather. You stand at the edges with your industrial sized strainer, sifting to find the gems of our madness. We love you and appreciate you. We just want to remind you that once upon a time, on the evolutionary scale, you were a monkey once too.