Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh well

After writing that last post during which I pontificated on the evils of self-indulgence, I promptly proceeded to go shopping and then imbibed in one cocktail too many at a party. Christmas brings way too many challenges. I'll be my better self in January. Cheers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Real Price of Self-Indulgence

Even with current economic conditions, there are plenty of opportunities for self-indulgence. And, it sometimes seems the art of sacrifice has been lost.

But life is short. Why pass up something we can have and enjoy? Here’s what I’m discovering way too late in life - despite countless Real Simple articles and Oprah episodes. Austerity and sacrifice clear mental (and closet) space for us to see what we really deeply need. More is more in the minute, but it leaves us confused and empty over a lifetime.

Saying yes to the third (or fourth) cocktail, a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting, the 5oth fabulous lip gloss (I’m so guilty) or any selfish behavior may seem harmless enough. But it can become a habit instead of one-time deal. Over a lifetime, it adds up to illness, debt and unhealthy relationships.

Why do we sabotage ourselves? I think it has a lot to do with ego (our evil ids) and procrastination. It's a lot easier to deal with an immediate want than a long-term goal.

I know I need to pursue my dreams. Yet, I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time pursuing fleeting wants (the curse of online shopping) instead of writing. I have to change my ways.

By saying no, we begin to say yes – to ourselves.

(Important note: Daydreaming, bubble baths and reading are not self-indulgent – they are self-preservation.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Numbing Conference

I attended a dental conference with my husband over Thanksgiving weekend. Boy, did it make me thankful to be a writer. I didn't expect it to be a laugh riot, but it wasn't even a little fun. It was like having teeth pulled. (Sorry - I couldn't resist).

I've been to many writer's conferences and I've enjoyed them all. You might suggest that's because I'm a writer and that dental conventions are interesting for dentists. Not so much. It might be a change of pace from being stuck in some one's mouth, but they all looked pretty numb.

I met some really nice folks and I'm not criticizing their profession. God knows a finely crafted pun won't ease the pain of an abscess. We need dentists. It's just that their high suicide rate makes complete sense to me now. They perform miracles in a tiny space on people who would rather be anywhere else for increasingly less pay (thanks to greedy insurance companies). To add insult to injury, their conferences are boring. Hug your dentist today!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Turkey Day

My son was so excited to march with the Boy Scouts in the Ikea Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia. My husband didn't share in that excitement when he woke up at the crack of dawn to get him down there. But things started to look up for Daddy when he stumbled upon the Eagles Cheerleaders in a Dunkin Donuts. The girls were also going to the parade and wanted to pose with my son for a photo. My husband was more than happy to comply but my son passed on the offer. His camera shyness evaporated when he saw Ernie and the Count from Sesame Street. One day he may regret that choice, but for now he's still my little boy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing Soundtracks

I create itune play list soundtracks for all of my creative writing projects. In my critique groups, I’ve found that other writers do the very same thing. I guess it gets us in the mood – for writing, that is. Every fall, without fail, I return to classical music. This year I segued into my mellow mode with jazz and John Legend. But by November, I always end up back with my familiar Baroque favorites.

It started innocently enough with a little Bach in college. Then, Victoria’s Secret came out with a classy cassette (yes, I'm ancient) in the early 90s and I was addicted to the sexiness of the sound - lingerie for the ears. It took an honored spot on my rotation, which at the time also included Guns–n-Roses. Ever since, classical music has had a play list in my heart.

Maybe I enjoy classical music in the fall because it’s time-honored and traditional like the coming holidays. Who knows? Soon enough, though, I’ll be back to bellowing “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” (Badly, I might add.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bullseye

A deer crashed through a window at QVC and made it all the way down a long corridor to the studio entrance. They're looking for me. I’m a marked woman. Thank God I was off that day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Curse of the Dead Deer

Ever since the accident, I've been under the curse of the dead deer. It's some seriously bad mojo. First, I find out someone used my identity to open a cell phone account. It showed up on my credit report as a big negative. (Note to readers: check your credit often.) I filed a police report and have completed a small forest of paperwork.

Next, my hard drive dies. No worries, though. I back up twice a day, everyday. I check it and all my folders are there. There’s just one problem. My backup utility was corrupted from the get go and all those folders are empty. Everyday for years, I backed up a whole lot of nothing. It was then I realized I have no hard copies of my novel, scripts and all my other writing. I had just purged all the paper and intended on printing out copies of the latest versions. All the digital photos and music I’d never taken the time to copy to disc were lost.

I stood in the service area of Mac Outfitters three days in a row begging for heroic measures. My computer flat lined and they said there were no signs of life. After “there’s one last thing we can try,” Saint Andrew of Apple managed to salvage the bulk of my data. God bless him. I would have given him a kidney or my firstborn, but he settled for tears of gratitude and a small fee. (Note to self and readers: Back up seven ways to Sunday NOW. This blog will be here when you get back.) BTW, If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I lost your contact information. Please email!

So, it should be over, right? No, it’s a terrible trifecta! I wake up in the middle of the night to find that every stress-related illness I’ve ever endured has overtaken me. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the Hunchback of Notre Dame wouldn’t be seen with me right now.

According to the psychic, I should surround my car with white light to undo the bad "car"ma. How does one do that? Do I go to the Mall at night and park between two lampposts? Hmm.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Do I Offend?

I’m not into bumper stickers and other forms of vehicular conversation. I prefer to blog. Be that as it may, I was shocked at what my friend encountered when she tried to obtain a vanity plate. All she wanted was “S.V.G.” on her plate. The state of PA couldn't approve it on the grounds it might be offensive. Isn't that a violation of her right to free speech? She explained that it stood for “Secret Vette Girl.” Well, that sensitive matter has to go to a supervisor. There’s our taxpayer dollars at work.

SVG. Hmm. Come on everyone. Join in. Come up with offensive matter that fits the acronym. It’s not that easy. I came up with one. Share amongst yourselves. This is fun.

Anyway, how about those flapping balls (testicles) that truck drivers hang off the back of their rigs? That’s what I call offensive. "Mommy, why does that truck have boy parts?" Maybe my friend should add big rubber boobies to her grill or a vagina muffler? Let’s have motorists remove sex parts before we start worrying about the now maligned letters S, V and G. Somebody quick alert Sesame Street. The alphabet better start flying under the radar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Powell's Endorsement

I’m thrilled Colin Powell articulated so specifically what I think about the upcoming election and candidates. I’ve been arguing the same points, but felt as if I was missing something. I sometimes feel like I’m at the kids’ table when it comes to politics. Not so surprising given my family (Uncle Chris is host of MSNBC's Hardball and Uncle Jim is our county commish). The only thing I was missing was confidence in my beliefs.

I’m not a political junkie like my best friend. She’s a die-hard Democrat addicted to MSNBC. She’ll tell you what she thinks loud and clear. Our differences go back to college. While she was reading the latest edition of Mother Jones, I was rallying with the young Republicans at Temple University. There were about five of us. It was a liberal school to say the least. I ran for student council on a ticket that included an African American male and a homosexual white male. You’d think we would have had it wrapped up on diversity alone – a regular rainbow coalition. We lost because we were young Republicans. Even the Democratic white supremacist students got more votes. So, even when it was super unpopular, I was a proud Republican.

But this administration’s execution of the Republican ideology has fallen woefully short and has been reshaped into something unrecognizable. McCain is guilty by more than just association. So, I’ll be a Republican voting for a Democrat.

God, I miss Ronald Reagan.

Door-to-Door No More

Unless you’re a cute little kid selling something tasty or a politician, don’t knock on my door. Ever. It’s an invasion of privacy and annoying. How come we can put our phone numbers on do not call lists but any old psycho can come to our home and knock on the door?

Years ago I would share polite discourse with Jehovah Witnesses on the merits of Evangelization. But after several magazine sales pitches from prison release workers, I’m done with the niceties. I miss my German shepherd.

Do you know any landscape companies that specialize in moats and drawbridges?

Oh, Deer

On my way into a 3 a.m. show at QVC, I hit a deer on the highway. It was horrifying. I thought for sure I had swerved into the path of a tractor-trailer. The poor deer didn't fair so well. Let's just say Bambi is out there looking for his mama.

Black with fur trim looks very chic, but not when it’s your car. Five panels of my car were destroyed and I couldn’t open my door. The amount of damage was amazing. I managed to do my airing and sell demilune cabinets. The show must go on. Dedication or dementia?

A psychic told me it was karma - or would that be carma? I feel like all the good will I built up with animals from being a vegetarian has been erased. Since the accident I've had to avoid several more deer. Are they after me? It’s pretty darn dangerous out there.

Last year in Pennsylvania, there were 2,487 deer-related auto accidents (eight were fatal for humans). I was lucky and the thousands of dollars in repairs will be covered by my insurance.

Here are five tips AAA Mid-Atlantic offered in the fall issue of Philadelphia Power Drive.
1- Observe deer crossing signs. Decrease speed and drive defensively in areas with high deer population.
2- Be alert. Honk your horn to scare deer away from roadsides.
3- Never swerve (like me). Slow down and brake instead.
4- If a collision with a deer is unavoidable, slow down and release your foot from the brake before impact. This raises the front end of the car during the crash and increases the likelihood the deer will go under the car instead of through the windshield.
5- Wear your seatbelt.

White Wedding

My brother’s wedding was a blast. The reception was one of the best I’ve ever attended. The only thing more beautiful than the weather was the bride.

A lot of money is spent on weddings, but you can’t buy good vibes. They had those in abundance. The evening ended (all too soon) with a rousing rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home” to honor Jessica’s home state and family. Everyone circled around the couple and belted out “West Virginia, mountain momma….”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blessings, Monkey Business and Brooms

My baby brother is getting married this Friday. I say “baby” because there is a 15-year age difference between the two of us.

I’ll never forget when my mother told my brother Chris, who was 11, and me that she was expecting. He burst into tears and I burst into laughter. I suppose the little prince was saddened he would no longer reign as youngest. My response was, “And you were worried about me?” I had just gotten “the talk.” I followed it up with, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” Fortunately, my mother’s hormones weren’t raging that day and I didn’t get the smack I deserved.

At that time, being pregnant at 39 was considered very high risk. But the surprise, or “blessing,” turned out well. I can’t imagine our family without David. He added fun to the mix. This was before ADHD was the diagnosis du jour, so he was simply described as high energy. He climbed everything and anything. My parents had to install bars on his bedroom window. Once, my friends and I even handcuffed him to a chair to keep him still for a few minutes.

Besides being a monkey, he was a matchmaker. At age five, he helped set me up with my husband – our family dentist. During an appointment, with teddy bear in hand, David informed Damian that I was bringing my boyfriend to his Chuck E Cheese’s birthday party, but that next year he was expected to be there. He proceeded to firm up plans for us to meet out one night.

While we were engaged, David referred to my husband as “my sister’s new daddy” and the “broom.” He told everyone he was going to be the “ring bear” and wondered where he was going to get his costume.

He did a great job on my wedding day. I can still remember his smile as he danced into the reception to “Meet the Flintstones.” David grew up to be a great kid and made up for those terrible toddler years. He became an Eagle Scout, graduated college and is gainfully employed. Today, one would never guess the lazy lug on the sofa was that hyperactive kid.

Now, it’s his turn to be the “broom” and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of his big day. I already love his fiancĂ©e Jessica like a sister. They complement each other in every way and they are off to a great start.

David, Chris and I have excellent role models in our happily married parents. They make it look easy. The problem is that it isn’t always easy. There are surprises - like David! I suspect he is a romantic like me and I want him to be prepared for the inevitable ups and downs.

The following is from Plato and I had it read at my wedding ceremony. When I’m disappointed by flaws in the "fairytale,” it reminds me that we’re not striving for perfection – just our own individual brand of love.

“Perfect love is a god, divine, everlasting, and as unattainable by human beings as the stars. In that form, love has existed in the universe since the beginning of time and will endure forever. On the other hand, there exists also the individual brand of love, which strikes us here on earth like a glint off the sun, making us suffer, pine, rejoice, and sometimes, marry. – Plato.

Congratulations David and Jessica!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ode on a Mac

“Truth is beauty. Beauty is truth.” – John Keats, Ode On a Grecian Urn. I wrote this in my journal when I was about 15. I didn’t get what it meant, but I knew it was important.

Keats was probably referring to universal truths achieved through artistic expression. Those moments of shared connection and clarity are absolutely beautiful.

Most of the time, finding truth while writing happens organically for me. It grows on its own – if I let it. Those four words are my challenge. “If I let it.” So much gets in the way - perception, distraction and ego.

In the search for truth, pathological lying or even white lies aren't the main issue. It's self-deception. There are tons of self-help books dedicated to living authentically. Getting to the beautiful truth, our own and that of others, can be awfully ugly. It's easier to detour into denial.

My subconscious seems to have a larger capacity than my front-load washer. Will all my truth bubble out one day? Will I come clean in a catastrophic manner? I can see my neighbors on the 11 o’clock news saying, “She seemed so nice. I didn't even know she had guns.” For right now, it just emerges in eye twitching, stomachaches, hives and migraines. I'd rather it come out in a novel.

Don't get me wrong. I’m a happy person. I’ve got a good life. The eternal optimist, I think everyone has the best intentions and everything will work out in the end. I rarely cry and it takes a tremendous amount to get me angry. I don’t think these traits are necessarily bad. It’s just that sometimes they get in the way of the truth. Some people are idiots with the worst intentions. It’s OK to cry when someone hurts you and sometimes anger is the right response.

Someone once told me I hide behind diplomacy and politeness. He said I avoid confrontation. I didn’t believe him. But I didn't want to argue - proved his point.

I had shared my thoughts at the loudest decibel as a teenager. But perhaps spending an inordinate amount of time grounded tamed my tongue. I’m not sure.

The problem with denial is that it can easily lead to those white lies and worse. My Aunt recently called lying a subservient act. By not telling the truth we are saying our feelings and thoughts don’t count as much as the person to whom we are lying, she explained.

That’s an interesting take. In sparing someone, we sacrifice ourselves. In deceiving, we receive an inauthentic life in return. It’s saying we don’t trust others to accept or love us as we really are. That's not so beautiful in life or writing. The best prose is raw and honest. If I want to be a good writer, it's time to allow the truth in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bring A Friend To Work Night

Late July - Scheduled to go on air at 8 p.m., Saturday, August 30.

Tuesday, August 26th - Told the 8 p.m. airing for Saturday, August 30th is canceled.

Wednesday, August 27 - Put on standby for 6 p.m., Saturday August 30th instead.

Saturday, August 30 - At 2 p.m. told I'm not needed. I make plans to have dinner with Angela.

5 p.m. As Angela pulls into my driveway, I receive a call saying I'm needed for the 8 p.m. show and I need to be in a cocktail dress. It will be a three-hour, live, on-air party. Can I be there in an hour to prep? They need bodies to fill the set, so we swing by Angela's house to pick up her party dress.

6:30ish We are in the QVC studio. No one knows what the deal is yet. They are still meeting. Hmm. Angela wonders how I can put up with not knowing if or when I'll need to work on a daily basis.

8 p.m. Angela and I are on the cocktail party set, complete with jazz band, ice sculpture, snacks and wine! Cameras role. We're live folks. We mix and mingle with other guests, hosts, visiting viewers and the models.

8:45 p.m. I attempt to sell my sheets even though I can't hear Lisa, the callers or myself over the band. They didn't have a clip for my battery pack and now it has slid out from the back of my bra. I arch my back and throw back my booty to prevent it from hitting the floor and shattering. Lisa must think I'm convulsing. Despite my issues, we sell out.

9:30 The cocktail party continues and I can drink. Now that we're at least one (600 thread count, Egyptian cotton) sheet to the wind, Angela thinks this is a great job.

11:30 Another hard day at the office comes to an end.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Give It a Twirl

People often choose unhappiness over uncertainty. I know too many people in jobs or relationships that drain them, yet they are afraid to make a change. We were much braver as kids.

In sixth grade, I wanted to be a baton twirler in the worst way. I practiced on the front lawn for days. Clunking myself in the head several times didn’t dent the dream. I had never tried out for anything before, but I was just as excited as I was nervous. As my mom dropped me off at try outs, she turned to me and solemnly said, “Don’t feel too bad if you don’t make it.” She clearly thought I didn't stand a chance. With motivational words like that, what kid wouldn’t want to take on the world? Where the heck was my "You can do it!?"

Instead of slinking back in the car to go home and avoid certain humiliation, I remember feeling sorry for my mom. I knew then I’d rather suck at baton twirling than be that pessimistic. I was already ahead of the game. And with that, I kicked baton butt.

During the Thanksgiving parade, I dropped my baton at the very top of the steepest street and had to chase it down through the band to the bottom. But instead of sitting at home, I had marched. It wasn't pretty, but I was a baton twirler.

As we get older, it seems harder to take risks. Now, I fear success just as much as failure. Success often entails more change than failing. I dislike change - even when it's good. Things will be different - unknown. But I'll be unhappy if I'm not successful. So will it be unhappiness or uncertainty?

The stakes are higher. There is less time on the clock. That's all the more reason to take a risk. Not initiating much needed change makes us passive aggressive martyrs. We blame our responsibilities and imagined constraints for not changing. But that’s crap.

My most important responsibility is my children. I want them to lead full and happy lives. "Show don’t tell" is an effective journalism rule that should be applied to parenting.

This is clearly a hurdle of the human condition. There is even a saying - "a bird in hand, is better than two in the bush." Maybe not - if your bird keeps crapping on you. Time for a new tweetie. Some situations are unhealthy. I say, choose uncertainty.

Take things for a twirl.

Disclaimer to avoid disownment: My mom has always been tremendously supportive and optimistic about my writing. She is just a risk-averse English teacher and was never a baton twirler.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

High Thread Count Sh#t

It took four years, but it was inevitable. I said shit instead of sheet tonight on QVC. Wouldn't you like a silky soft shit?

It really wasn't a Freudian slip. It was a very nice sheet set. Say "sheet set" four times fast. Not so easy is it?

It's a tough job folks. It's not all yummy cookies in the green room and hanging out with Joan Rivers. I have challenges.

On the upside, maybe I'll end up on You Tube or Talk Soup. Well, I've got to go get the marbles out of my mouth. I'm back on at 5 a.m.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Secret Vette Girl

One of my friends has done the classic mid-life crisis guy thing - bought a Corvette to drive just for fun. Just three problems. It's 10 years too early, she's not a guy and she's got a retirement fund to fill. But I get it. Sort of.

I'm not a car gal. I never noticed what a guy was driving back in my dating days. In fact, I was kind of leery of guys with really nice cars. I thought maybe they were trying to distract attention away from some sort of personal defect or they were spoiled rotten. Both are bad. I do remember when Roy - (my friend to this day, despite his defects) - pulled up to our high school in a DeLorean. I thought it was a little cool - the doors, anyway. But I would never have admitted it.

But I digress. Ever since high school, "Secret Vette Girl" has LOVED driving. So for her, this makes sense. I know she is a little concerned about her investment. My friend has never been very good at denying herself a want and sometimes this hasn't worked out well. However, this time I will steal a line from Oscar Wilde....

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

I don't think he was just referring to money. I think he also meant emotions, spirit and passion. We should consider living outside the preconceived notions of how we are "supposed to live." I hope she'll look at this expenditure as symbolic of a bigger investment in herself. Give more than you think you have - to yourself. It will always pay off. Live large, lady - but do it in every way. Pedal to the metal.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Impact Exercise

Inspired by the comments to my Iron People blog, I tried to begin my new exercise regime last night. I watched kickboxing on FIT TV while eating a Skinny Cow ice cream cone (after a beer).

I know I'm not off to a great start. Tonight the treadmill! I must learn discipline. It's sure to be an invaluable tool when applied to my writing. Wish me luck.

Just Flush

A good friend asked me to post a blog asking all of you, my faithful readers, what one should do when one’s life is in the toilet.

My advice is flush. Don’t let it stink up a good day. Her whole life isn’t in the toilet, just the things that weren’t working anyway. Let’s call it crap, or if you prefer, waste. It’s the stuff she doesn’t really need – relationships that didn’t have enough nutrients, things she couldn’t control and other negative toxins. Of course, when a bunch of things go wrong at once, it can seem rather messy and unpleasant. But oh the relief of fresh starts that comes soon after.

Now, that I’ve beaten her initial metaphor to death. Perhaps you have some more practical advice.

Just click on comments and share your insight.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Iron People

Why is everyone running? Suddenly, it seems as if all of my friends are hitting the road. It started with marathons and has progressed to triathlons and other forms of sadomasochism.

They’re diving into waters where dead bodies are routinely found by the Philadelphia police and getting lost in the back woods ala “Deliverance.”

Is it about running away – from bills, kids and other responsibilities? Or is it about running to something – unfulfilled dreams and the such? Is it a coincidence that we are all just turning 40?

My friend Meg says it’s about personal satisfaction. I feel personally satisfied after 20 minutes on the treadmill once or twice a week. I celebrate with wine and ice cream.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in fitness. I actually enjoy select portions of it. And I have to admit my friends are beginning to look like Mr. and Mrs. Buff Brick Shithouse. But is it sustainable? Is it worth the hours and the injuries?

What am I missing? Please tell me…

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dirty Jobs

You'd be amazed at how many people choose to go through the drive through naked. Would you like fries with that? My first job was at Burger King.

A job in the Pathology department of the local hospital was actually fun. Aside from handling vials of gross stuff, I filed extremely gruesome photos of dead folks. One guy buried an axe halfway in the ground and threw himself on it. Very dramatic. Mind you, I couldn't get into R-rated movies at the time. But this was somehow OK for me to see. Anyway, I'm one of the few folks who loves hospitals and dead folks (they have no issues - other than being dead). Too bad math and science weren't my forte.

Then, I moved into a South Street apartment I couldn't afford. I spent an ill-fated month working at Uno's Pizzaria. Aside from the fact that the chef did crack in the alley and unusual items ended up in the pizzas, I was a HORRIBLE waitress. I quit before they could fire me.

I put toilet paper and cat food on my credit card until I went on to check i.d.'s at a night club in Society Hill. The bouncers were all Temple U. football players who should have been resting up for the big game. They almost always lost, but they were winners at the door as they pocketed underage entry fees. I also worked as a shooter girl which involved wearing a black bodysuit and a holster of shot glasses, a gin bottle and, if memory serves, 7 Up. I would bang the concoction on the back of an inebriated patron until it fizzed and down their hatch it went. I felt like a vampire going to bed at 5 every morning and the homeless man who slept in my foyer didn't approve of my hours.

Finally, the best pre-career job ever...I scheduled appointments at a swanky beauty salon, where I received free services. My hair and nails never looked so good. The angels had smiled upon me. Good pay and even better stories. One involves the F.B.I. and another a patron's bondage festish. I'll tell you about both over a fizzy 7 Up and gin.

Somehow, I managed to fit 20 credits a semester into two days. I actually enjoyed classes and would love to be a professor when I have gray hair and wisdom. I love those elbow patches on tweed jackets. Cerebral is sexy.

While studying Radio-Television-Film at Temple University, my 35mm camera became an appendage. After graduating I took a freelance gig photographing an engagement party for a family who I'm fairly certain inspired the Sopranos. With that short-lived career behind me, I was introduced to a newspaper editor who was looking for a sections editor. I showed him my Temple News clippings and the next thing I knew, I was a journalist. I had been writing my whole life, but it had never occured to me that it could be a job. Do what you bleed!

Another defining moment happened when I left the newspaper biz to freelance. A large pharmaceutical company offered me a fabulous communications position with equally fabulous pay and the opportunity to travel frequently to London. It was tempting. But, it wasn’t me. I have no regrets. A trip to London would be nice, though.

Good luck to all you graduates looking for jobs. Hope your perks are better than nude drive-thru.

What was your first job? If you've just graduated, tell me about your search.

Where Do the Months Go?

I've become a vegetarian. Read "Skinny Bitch" and you'll understand. It has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with factory farming and toxins. It's been a few months and I don't miss much - maybe just tacos. Morningside's veggie burgers make up for it.

In an unrelated matter, working on a new non-fiction, I'll keep you posted...

Saturday, May 31, 2008

How to Save a Life

I watched my husband save a life last week. A good friend’s mom collapsed on the 18th hole of the golf course. We were at an adjacent pool with the kids. I didn’t know what was happening, but I called 911. When I got to my friend she was sure her mother had died. She wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. Damian was leaning over her and administering CPR.

A nurse jumped in to help give the compressions and he continued mouth to mouth. Someone brought out an automated external defibrillator. Damian used it as if it was something he did every day.

After what seemed like an eternity, he got a pulse back and the ambulance arrived soon after. She was medivaced to HUP and treated for cardiac issues. Alive and on her way to wellness, she is thrilled that she got to "kiss" Damian.

Not only did he have the skill to save a life, he didn’t wait to see if someone else would do it. To top it off, he treated our son's own dental emergency later that same evening.

He’s a good guy to have around in a crisis. I’ll never give him a hard time about missing dinner because of annual CPR re-certifications again. In fact, I’ll be joining him.

I’m proud of him, to say the least. I just hope he can save the rest of his own life - figuratively speaking. Declining insurance reimbursements and a demanding and often thankless job has had him down. I hope this situation breathes new life into his sense of purpose.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The No Slumber Party

It was my daughter’s golden birthday this past weekend. The term was new to me, but apparently a few people were in the know. It’s when your age is the same as the date. It was her 11th birthday on April 11th and she was born at 11 p.m. So, of course, she just had to invite 11 girls to sleep over our house to celebrate.

I could have said no, but I remember how much fun I had going to slumber parties at her age. The girls were sweet and polite and there was no kitty-cat fighting. The clicks and gossip are coming, though. I heard hints of it in conversation.

My son showed off his drumming skills. He glowed in the praise of my daughter’s friends as he played along to their favorite songs. Very slick. I thought for sure they’d kick him out, but I had to lure him upstairs with a game of cards.

Now that she’s a pre-teen, I didn’t have to plan a theme or craft projects. No more fairylands, Winnie the Pooh or tea parties. They didn’t really require me at all.

Until they got hurt. The minute my husband pulled out of the driveway to get the pizza, mayhem broke loose. One fell down the steps with a soda. Then another promptly twisted her knee dancing. While I was tending to those two, my daughter hobbled down the steps leaving a trail of blood. She had dropped a glass and stepped on a shard.

By the time my husband got back, it was all cleaned up and everyone received the appropriate nursing care. He then fell soundly asleep, despite the noise that lasted until 4 a.m. How do men always escape the more harrowing aspects of parenting?

Next time, I’ll skip the balloons and buy bubble wrap.

First Communion Porno

We got together with the Matthews clan for a First Communion this past weekend. It was the big day for my cousin Jimmy's daughter. She looked angelic in her little white dress. He and his wife held the reception in a large room at a sport’s bar. Not too many spaces hold us all.

Not to mention the Masters could be watched from about six large TV’s. This is a not-to-be-missed sporting event in our family. An avid golfer, my late Grandfather attended the event the last several years of his life. As a bonus, my daughter, his first great grandchild, was born during the 1997 Masters. Yep, it was on in the delivery room. Sadly, she doesn’t like to golf - yet.

But my second-grade son does. He also loves poker and taught all the little ones on a video game at the sports bar during the party. After he left them to go play pool (I know I should be very worried), there was much giggling from the eight and under crowd at the video machine.

A large hunk of male anatomy appearing on the screen caught my eye. Apparently the video machine offered a diverse array of entertainment options aside from poker. Dear Lord! Then full frontal female nudity flashed up. Faster and faster, lurid images popped up. Little eyes were wide. Holy Moly. My husband dove for the cord. Ahh. Just another blessed event.

Dog Sledding - Mush!

I recently returned from dog sledding. Those who know me were perplexed. It doesn’t seem to fit me the way say sunbathing in Bermuda might. But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. When we were young, my little brother Chris and I would tie our Siberian Husky Mishka to our sled for crazy rides. That’s when it used to snow in Philadelphia.

I managed to tie the trip in with research for my novel “Trying On Gigi Brigidi.” There was still plenty of snow falling in Jackson Hole, Wyoming the first week of April. It’s been a record year.

My citified protagonist gets relocated there by chapter five and I needed to get a handle on the changes that have occurred since my last trip there in the early 90s. That was a for four-day snow mobile safari through Yellowstone for a travel article. It will probably rank among the top three trips of my lifetime. I’m still waiting to take the other two – Italy and an African Safari.

Anyway, dog sledding was an absolute blast. Our trainer Dana was laid back and makes a mean cup of hot chocolate. The Alaskan Huskies are a mutt mix bred for specific racing characteristics by individual mushers. I had 11 on my team, lead by Zeus, a crazed and enthusiastic pup who has run the Iditarod twice.

We took off through the Teton National Forest, which gifts gorgeous views of the Grand Teton Mountain range and large unscathed swathes of forest. I got be a musher and manned the helm of the sled all by myself. And I live to tell…Actually, it was a peaceful and beautiful experience. I could have done it for days. My husband was quite pleased the overnight yurt was snowed in, though.

There was only one downside – make that backside. The excited doggies poo quite a bit while running. Aside from the rather graphic view, there is no windshield. Since this wasn’t a race, no one minded making puppy pit stops.

I also visited the National Elk Refuge for both a horse-drawn sleigh ride and a private drive. Besides thousands of elk, we spotted big horn sheep, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles and bison.

During a wildlife excursion, we got to see the elusive alpha of the Teton wolf pack. I was amazed at how huge they are – 160 pounds. He was spooky with black fur and piercing eyes. We also saw several moose, rare birds, coyotes eating an Elk carcass and an owl – not to mention surreal landscapes.

On a more civilized note, we stayed at the Rusty Parrot in Jackson. The room came with champagne, roses, chocolate truffles, a teddy bear, fresh apples and a wood-burning fireplace stoked every night. The comfy robes and slippers were ours to keep. It was probably the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. My low ick factor is borderline obsessive compulsive. I don’t go anywhere without my silk sleeping bag, shower flip-flops and Clorox Wipes. None were needed. I give the Rusty Parrot my highest rating. That would have been enough, but they threw in a chef prepared breakfast every morning. Those meals will have me on a treadmill for the next month. Dinner was delicious as well and incredibly intimate with only about six tables. The service was top-notch.

My favorite room in this Ralph Lauren-esque hotel is the library. Fresh cookies, a fire and great books. Ahhhh. Amazingly, I did get all my research done. A lovely real estate agent gave me insight while unknowingly convincing me that I could never live far from a major city, even though Jackson Hole may be the most beautiful place on Earth.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tick Tock

Angela’s 40th birthday bash was this past weekend. What a blast and what a reminder of how fast time passes. We’ve been best friends since 6th grade and graduated from the same high school and college. Those years seemed to last forever. But somehow the 20s flew by and our 30s were a wink. Needless to say, neither of us wants to waste a second of our 40s - although I’ve got a few more months. I will keep rubbing that in. When she turned 16 and was able to drive first, I sure as heck heard it!

We spent the afternoon “getting ready” together just like we did before school dances and, in later years, nightclubs. But instead of being filled with self-doubt about how we looked or worrying about the guy du jour, we were in the moment. We enjoyed the insanely expensive magnum of Champagne, gourmet cheese and relished how far she’s come and the exciting places she is headed. If that’s being 40 – bring it on.

Ironically, I just came across a list I made during my mid-20s titled “50 Things to Do Before I Die.” It was surprising to see my goals are pretty much the same today and thrilling that I could check off a few.

- write for a major magazine and major newspaper
- stay at the Plaza in a room overlooking Central Park
- learn Yoga
- organize a charitable event
- take painting lesson
s

There were quite a few items I’m currently pursuing.

- write for TV
- go back to Jackson Hole (I’m dog sledding there in April)
- write and publish a book

And, more to accomplish…

- castle tour of Europe
- write a screenplay
- learn meditation
- own exotic animals


I have more to do than I’ve done. But now I can enjoy them with my husband and children. The pressure is on. But it’s a grateful, anticipation filled pressure.

Friday, February 22, 2008

MIA

I’ve been missing in action and hitting the pages. Yes those empty pages of my novel that had been patiently waiting since last spring. I understand why writers write every day. One skipped day becomes two, then three, then months. Next thing you know, you’re not a novel writer anymore.

My Christmas gift to myself was to buy a ticket back on the wagon. I joined a novel writing group through Writer’s Digest and 10,000 words are due every three weeks. I needed the self-imposed deadline. Also, we are required to critique each other’s work. The quality and diversity of the other work is humbling and inspiring. It’s just what I needed. I’m enjoying myself more than I have in a long, long time.

Why do writers sometimes avoid what we love to do? Is it fear or laziness? I’m not sure. It’s hard work but nothing, other than parenting, is more rewarding to me. Actually, it’s like parenting - the pregnancy and giving birth bit. I’ll let you know when the novel is born.

Poetry

When I came home last night, I found a little red leather book with gold embossing on my kitchen counter. Feelings I had associated with it years ago hit me before I could remember what it contained. It was one of my childhood favorites - “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. My mom had sent it home with my daughter, who is studying poetry in school now.

My daughter was struggling with her poetry homework the other night. She had a serious case of writer’s block. It’s tough to pull out words and string them together in meaningful patterns on demand. After her initial brainstorming, she was stuck. I told her to go do something else and it would eventually come to her (hopefully before the project was due). And sure enough it did — beautifully. The look of amazement on her face as inspiration struck was priceless. It’s a magical feeling of connection.

I haven’t written much poetry since high school and I won’t torture anyone with samples of my teen angst now. Back then, I said they were song lyrics. I had to maintain my cool girl rep. But that’s when I first felt the power of communicating through writing. I had written a very personal poem that I was sure no one else could understand. A classmate read it over my shoulder. She started to cry and asked if she could have a copy. It touched her on some level and I was honored.

Of course that poem was horrible and we were moody, overly emotional things. But when other classmates began asking to read my stuff, I was not only flattered but a writer was born. I also learned something valuable. One should write for themselves and about their own truths. We are all connected on some universal plain and others will relate to the honesty. If you try to write what you think others want to read, it will likely fall flat.

So smash your soul out on a page and wait for divine inspiration. Something incredible can take shape. If that’s not in your bag of tricks, then try to read other’s poetry or even the lyrics to your favorite song. I keep a journal by my bed that is filled with my favorites. When I’m feeling isolated or lost, I turn a few pages and quickly find that someone else had the same questions, if not the answers.

My favorites now are Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Dream Within Dream” and anything by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson. Yep, a dark romantic.

“There is a pain - so utter - it swallows substance up then covers the abyss with trance - So memory can step around - across - upon it - as one within a swoon - goes safely - where an open eye - would drop Him Bone by Bone.” - Emily Dickinson

Thanksgiving in NYC

New York City never disappoints me. Through Uncle Chris and NBC, we scored amazing front row grandstand seats for the parade. It was a mob scene along the parade route (no cabs could get through). My kids got an express tour of Central Park as we took a short cut. A special thanks to all the NYPD (a shout out to Officer Castro) who helped us get through barricades. The crowd was in a great mood and included Joey Fatone of the Backstreet Boys. I recognized him in time to say hello. As for the parade, my daughter got to see her beloved Jonas Brothers up close and my husband cheered for Bob from Sesame Street, who seemed thrilled to steal some attention from Elmo. He’s been on that show for over 35 years! Seeing all the floats and the bands in person was incredible.

Then it was back to the Le Parker Meridian for some swimming in the enclosed penthouse pool. I actually got to read the entire New York Times while the kids played. Bliss. The open air roof offered a spectacular vista view of Central Park’s changing leaves. It was a warm 70-something so my daughter was able to join me in her bathing suit! Not your normal New York November.

Dinner at Becco (owned by Lydia of “Cooking with Lydia” fame on PBS) was a scrumptious Italian-American feast. Pumpkin ravioli sprinkled with cocoa for the pasta course, roasted brussel sprouts as a side and the apple-pecan pie were my favorites. Yum.

Then a nice guy offered to take our family photo with Times Square as our back drop. And he didn’t run off with the camera!

The next day my son’s pick was up first - the mythical creatures exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was crowded but he loved it. He didn’t need to read the placards. He could tell you all you ever needed to know and more about Medusa or a Norwhale. I hope there is a career in that.

Afterward, we took in FAO Schwarz. Amazingly, my kids were not overly impressed. My husband and I sure as hell were. But then again, we were no where near as spoiled as our kids. Note to self: Work on their gratitude and sense of what other’s don’t have.

We window shopped past Tiffany and Co. on our way to lunch at the Rock Center Cafe. Our table overlooked the ice skaters outside and they offered the critical combination of chicken fingers for the kids and beer for mom and dad! Then it was orchestra seats for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Love those Rockettes. Declan fell asleep halfway through and Kylie was calm. We finally wore them both out.

Sounds like a pretty wonderful trip right. Well….

My goal was two-fold — family bonding time and to have my husband cross off a “one of the things to do before I die.” His death is not imminent. Although, at several points during the trip he threatened to have a stroke. Traveling with children is challenging and that’s the understatement of the year.

Granted it’s easier now that we aren’t lugging portable cribs and hauling baby supplies like pack mules. But each age presents it’s own set of problems. My pre-teen daughter seems to have a uncontrollable urge to talk back. So our three-day Thanksgiving getaway to New York was peppered with sarcasm and complaints. There isn’t enough wine to drown out the whine. Or maybe I wasn’t willing to endure the next day’s tirades with a hangover.

I was the same little pain in the ass with my parents. It’s a rite of passage. I know when she looks back on this trip, she’ll remember all the highlights and not that I didn’t let her wear jeans to Thanksgiving dinner or that we weren’t spending the day with her grandparents and extended family. An occasional break (for me “occasional” means for the first time ever) from holiday tradition is healthy and makes it that much more meaningful when they roll around again.

Family bonding just can’t be planned though. It just happens in the day to day. So grab those moments when you can. Crossing things off your “to do before I die” list absolutely has to be arranged. This holiday season, gift one of those things to yourself. Life is short. Despite really loooong days with kids.

Civic Doody

Yesterday was Election Day. To drive home the importance of voting, I take my children with me to the polls. As I was checking in, I explained to Kylie and Declan that I was performing a civic duty. Well my son thought that was just hilarious. “Civic Doody! You’re going into that booth to do Doody!” Ahh yes, second grade humor. Everyone was very amused as he loudly explained the joke in detail to my literal daughter who didn’t get the double meaning.

Declan isn’t far off from most people’s thoughts on voting. Many think it’s a bunch of crap. They believe politicians serve only their own egos and agendas. In many cases, I absolutely agree. But there are a few gems to be sieved out and that’s what voting allows us to do. Choose the lesser of the evils if you must, but make a choice. Or someone else will do it for you.

There was only 30% turnout yesterday. Smaller numbers are expected during local elections, but it still surprises me. The decisions made by these politicians have a direct impact on the communities in which we live. For me, that includes great schools, lower taxes and county preserved open space near my home. So, heck yeah, I’m going to vote.

You can’t assume your neighbors’ votes are going to take care of things. Did you catch the uber talented Sabrina Bryan’s sad exit from Dancing with Stars? The judges theorize her fans thought everyone else was voting for her, so they didn’t have to cast their own vote.

My Uncle Jim (Matthews), was running for Montgomery County Commissioner. Although the incumbent, he anticipated a rough race. Republicans have run the county since the Civil War. However, disapproval of Bush and growing democratic numbers threatened the hold. He was right to worry. The margins were slim. This highlights the importance of each person’s vote.

My daughter saw all the negative TV ads slamming her great Uncle Jim, so she had her fifth grade class pray for him. Who am I to say it didn’t help? What I do know is that when my polling place closed, he was in the lead by one vote. I’d like to think it was mine!

It was a long evening at GOP headquarters while we waited for word. I met so many people who take their commitment beyond voting - they are the party’s volunteers. They get none of the glory but they do get the deep satisfaction of being part of a process that makes the United States the greatest country – down to every county.

There is a happy ending, too.

Congratulations to Jim Matthews, Montgomery County Commissioner!

Pedophile Priests

The following blog was adapted from an essay I wrote called “My Lost Saints.” It won an award in the inspirational writing category from the Writer’s Digest 2007 annual competition. There were 19,000 entries.

About a year ago, my then six-year-old son told me how much he enjoyed Mass. I knew my little guy liked dinosaurs, Power Rangers and loud music, but Mass? I was proud and sad all at once. It was then, I realized how much I’d lost in the wake of the Catholic Church pedophile scandals. I had, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, “lost my saints.”

When I was his age, the Catholic saints were my action heroes. Their brave lives and gory deaths fascinated and inspired me. They stood up for their beliefs against all odds. I’d played Mass, too. Lining up all my stuffed animals next to my little brother, I’d read from the Old and New Testaments. Then, I’d deliver one hell of a homily. I didn’t understand that women couldn’t be priests. I’d come to that realization during my years as a parochial school student and many much more surprising facts later as an editor for an Archdiocesan newspaper.

After having been taught through 12th grade that Noah had an ark, my boss, a priest with his doctorate in theology from the Vatican, laughed and told me the stories in the Old Testament were metaphorical. They were teaching tools to help us understand complexities of our faith. I guess I’d always suspected that, but what about those who took the lessons literally and didn’t go on to pursue a degree in theology. When would they get the straight up truth? More illuminating chats involved the distinction between doctrine and tradition. Tradition with a capital T, he said. Also, celibacy for archdiocesan priests was a promise rather than a vow.

Over the years, I wondered about confession, birth control, the role of women in the Church and the indictment of gays. But who was I to question? My rude spiritual awakening continued. So much of our religion had nothing to do with actual doctrine. Throughout history evil, greed, sexism and bigotry shaped much of what now constitutes Catholic “T”radition. And if I doubted history, then I had my days at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as proof.

My favorite childhood parish priest ran off with the third grade teacher. The priest who renewed my parents’ wedding vows has since married a former nun. They are now both Lutheran ministers. Then came the sickening discovery that a priest, who had taken my husband, his brothers and other boys on childhood camping trips, had been a pedophile, known as such to the archdiocesan administration for decades. While my husband and his brothers were unharmed, others were not so lucky. I’m infuriated with the hierarchy who condoned a legacy of depression, suicide and depravity. I find them to be as evil, if not more so, than the priest pedophiles. To add insult to injury, the absurd apologies that accompanied recent settlements enrage me.

I now realize it is my God-given right and responsibility to question. As in politics, if I’m to complain then must I participate? But this isn’t about government. This is my soul. With whom do I register my complaint? What do I do here and now if I want to actively take part in my religion?

I send my children to parochial school and will send them through Catholic education until they reach college. Catholics do an incredible amount of good. I have no doubt God is present in what Catholic Charities and Catholic schools accomplish. There are dedicated priests tainted by the scandal of others. There are faithful followers trying to live good lives. I do separate my faith from my religion, as my mother suggests. My father would argue that Catholicism has endured centuries just fine. Who am I to argue the finer points?

But I find that lack of spiritual evolution sad. I’m by no means suggesting that other religions have it over Catholics. Having written for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Living Religion section, I covered many faiths. Some people believe that any organized religion is going to lead to corruption. Where does that leave society? There’s a desperate need for faith and organized religion. Yet, church pews are emptier and fewer people are entering religious orders. Apathy, rather than reform, has taken hold. So much competes for our attention and, yes, sometimes we are lazy. But instead of walking away from organized religion, we need to fix it. It’s not the sins of the past and present Church that concern me — it’s the Church of the future, or the lack there of.

I want my children to experience the peace that comes with belief. I don’t want to rob them of their faith. The Church may do that soon enough.

My son deserves more. He deserves his saints — the ones I’ve lost.