Sunday, December 26, 2010


Lately my son has been saying the most profound things to me. I want to write them down but he says them in the car or right before bed and I forget. About two weeks ago, I picked him up from jiu jitsu and he was explaining how he was wrestling with a girl named Gabby. She's 14 and she's the niece of the owner so clearly has a leg up. But she beat Will again tonight.

I asked Will what he thought about that.

And he said, "That's okay mom. I'm not some guy who thinks women can't do things. Women can do whatever they want."

Also this month my son decided he wanted to get back on the allowance thing. He kept saying I'll do whatever you want but make a list. And I kept saying you know the list. Make your bed. Put your dishes away. Blah, blah, blah ad nauseum.

I made a list. And he started doing the things on the list.

But, he doesn't necessarily do them first thing. Or the way I would. Or in the correct order according to my system. That's in my head. That must be correct. Because it's in my head that way.

So the other night I was clearing away dishes in his room. He said, "Mom, I'll do those things in my own time, if you let me."

And I thought, doesn't the meaning of allowance have something to do with allowing?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Feeling Very @TheBloggess

I really love @TheBloggess aka Jenny. She is funny all the time but some of her posts I love the mostest are recounting conversations she has with her husband Victor.

Last night my husband and I has this conversation that reminded me of her.

Me: Remember that time you said I was the last one? That you'd never marry again?

Roy (not his real name): No.

Me: Sure you do. Remember how I was feeling all superior until you went on to explain that you'd never marry again but you'd have sex again.

Roy: Oh yeah.

Me: So how long would you wait?

Roy: Huh?

Me: You know, until you had sex again?

Roy: I'd wait a year.

Me: A year until you had sex or a year until you started dating?

Roy: I'd wait a year to start dating and then in another six months, I'd have sex again.

Me: So a year and a half all told?

Roy: Yes.

Me: Liar.

Me (again): What if at the point when you decided to have sex again, you had a wooden leg?

Roy: They don't make them out of wood anymore.

Me: Well let's just say they did.

Roy: That's a ridiculous premise.

Me: Okay what if you had a prosthetic face? Or half a prosthetic face like the Phantom of the Opera.

Roy: I'd be incredible. Women would love me.

Me: Right. And then you could perform at the Winter Garden Theater for thirty-five years.

Roy: That was Cats.

Me: Oh

BTW the photo above is my husband if he were a character in the second longest running show on Broadway, Cats the Musical.

The first longest running show on Broadway? Phantom of the Opera.

I should've married Andrew Lloyd Webber.

About Andrew Lloyd Webber from his official website:
He was knighted in 1992 and created an honorary life peer in 1997.

Honorary life peer?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's A Process

You hear this phrase all the time in Ethiopia. "It's a process." In English. Just like that.

Someone will be speaking Amharic, a local dialect, and then say in English, "It's a process."

It's a very popular phrase in say customs or immigrations as you might imagine. But it's something that pervades or permeates the Ethiopian culture.

It's a giving in to or relinquishing of power to the idea that forces are in play beyond our control. It's something that in a developing country is ever present. It's something ever present in a developed country too. The difference lies in our perception.

In Ethiopia, water and power are commodities that can come and go. In the US, transportation is a given, but we are unable to control say the number of accidents on I-95 or a downed train on Metro-North. We think we can. But we can't.

In Ethiopia, the thinking is this too shall pass.

Here in Connecticut the thinking is I can drive illegally on the shoulder or honk loudly enough to change my outcome. The truth is we are the victims of time. Time is killing us. Literally.

"It's a process." It's said with resignation. It's not that people in Ethiopia are giving up. It's that they have enough experience with delays in customs or downed Internet or traffic accidents to know that they may very well end up spending hours in a day not doing anything productive.

For an American, this would be painful. This would require Tums or Prevacid. Americans can't wait.

One lesson I am beginning to learn as I get older, is to look at the continuum. Things take time, even though time is what we lack.

Really we have the time, if we think of life as a process. We don't have forever. But we have years. Years to change our health. Years to work on our marriage. Years to become whatever we dream.

It's a process. Maybe the most valuable lesson I've learned lately.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Goodbye to the Fighting Finn

ARLINGTON, TX - Inez Risher, a long-time Arlington resident and business owner, died Monday, September 13, 2010. She was 95.

Mrs. Risher was a force to be reckoned with and her legacy lives on with the family members she leaves behind. She and her husband of 62 years, Jim Risher owned Risher's Furniture at 108 N. Collins Street. For nearly 50 years, she sold furniture to generations of loyal customers who often came by just to chat.

Although many people would consider it unusual for a woman to start a business in the 1950's, Mrs. Risher never gave it a second thought. She worked seven days a week, wheeling and dealing, from behind her rickety desk that sat on an unforgiving concrete floor. She did her hair, got dressed up and wore pretty, not sensible shoes. And she always drove a Cadillac.

Mrs. Risher was born to Lempe and Arthur Lindquist on October 9, 1914, in Monessen, Pennsylvania. Her parents were both from Finland and Mrs. Risher only spoke Finnish until she began attending school. Later in life, she still used Finnish phrases particularly when trying to discipline her unruly grandchildren. She met and married her husband Jim while living in Canton, Ohio.

The couple moved to Texas from Ohio when their young son and only child developed asthma. The plan was to continue on to California but they made a pit stop in Arlington and never left. Her son, Jimmy as she called him, grew out of his asthma and went on to become a star athlete at Arlington High School.

Unwilling to bend to tradition, Mrs. Risher was at her core a businesswoman. She kept a tidy house, she made a mean pigs in the blanket but her stove was broken for the last 20 years of her life. In a 2001 interview, she said, "I like to work, and I'm very happy that I can work. I guess I've never had a job that I actually disliked." She did love to garden and maintained a beautiful home on nearby Meadow Oaks. She had many beloved pets that she spoiled to distraction.

Mrs. Risher followed local and national politics and was an outspoken Texas Democrat. Heaven forbid someone mention FOX News or the Republican party at the dinner table.

She had a tendency to give people too much credit, literally at her store, also in her life. Her husband played the heavy. At 6' 6" nobody dared mess with Grandpa Jim. Except his wife. He did whatever she asked, in part because he knew there was no sense arguing with her. And, because as time wore on, he seemed more in love with her every day.

Her wicked sense of humor and infectious laugh will be missed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Character Building

As if my tens of readers haven't had enough of baseball, Fall Ball officially began this week. My son Will doesn't typically play Fall Ball but this year is different. This year he was scouted. He's twelve by the way.

I won't go into the particulars mainly because I'm afraid they'll take it out on my son. He was scouted by a club team all summer for, I think, being a big hitter. Turns out his hitting is off right now, probably the result of taking time away from baseball to do things like swim and learn to surf. "Blasphemy." they said, in little league inner circles. You can't learn anything about baseball from swimming.

Well maybe that was the point.

They don't like that on this new team. Because why? Because when his hitting is off, he's of no use to this team. Because you can't make it to the Show if your hitting is off. Oh wait, there is no Show when you're twelve. I forgot.

And so did they.

His coaches that is. They forgot. Let me repeat that. There is no going to the Show when you're twelve. There's also no going to the Show when you're 40 and coaching twelve-year olds. There is however, an opportunity to encourage and teach a love of the game.

The August issue of Esquire featured a "What I've Learned" interview with Larry King. In that interview he said, "Hockey I can teach you in a day. Basketball is basically an understandable game. But it's impossible to teach baseball to an adult — too many nuances."

My son was defeated this weekend after striking out multiple times and then being benched for most of the next game. I made him go running with me, do laundry with me, make his bed and other chores that are inevitable as we get older. I told him, "If nothing else, baseball should be fun. Baseball is a game. Work is a chore."

When they start the game, they don’t yell, “Work ball.” They say, “Play ball.”

NB: Dear Coaches on Will's new team. Take a look at this photo. This is Will hitting yet another homer. I wouldn't count him out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Business Post-Katrina

I wrote this blog for client Bruise Relief and I liked it.

Saturday, August 29th marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With three named storms to date and Danny forming in the Atlantic, the threat of another hurricane is always on our minds.

Our own experience post-Katrina was like many others in New Orleans, from evacuation to our eventual return. In fact, Bruise Relief was still in development when the storm hit and we were delayed almost a year before getting back on track.

The delay, the storm and upheaval that followed, what that did to our community was devastating. And as a community we are still recovering. But we are recovering.

How we do business changed as a result of Katrina. Plans we’d made to outsource manufacturing and marketing to other parts of the country, we brought home to New Orleans. In fact, we believe our local partners are even more capable now than they were before the storm. Our manufacturer upgraded equipment. Our advertising firm was revitalized by employees who’d left and come back.

The business community here in New Orleans has been so supportive, urged on by local Bruise Relief fans that literally walked into retailers demanding the product. Imagine CVS and Walgreens calling us for more stock.

As we’ve branched out to other parts of the country, our Bruise Relief ambassadors are also getting a warm reception in Atlanta, Dallas, DC, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami. We know people love the product but we also believe they want to be a part of re-building this community.

We have all of you to thank for our success. Before Katrina, Bruise Relief was an idea. Now we’re a business with products in 7,000 stores nationwide including CVS and SuperValu stores as well as Walgreens regionally. We’re also online at, and others.

One of the characteristics of post-Katrina New Orleans is entrepreneurship and a willingness to help other entrepreneurs. This came from the Katrina experience and represents a willingness to be self-sufficient, a great desire to help others succeed and a lot of out-of-the-box thinking…

After all, it’s easy to think outside the box when the box is gone.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened

Here's what happened. I kid you not. I went to this Christmas / Hanukkah party in 2009 and almost everyone there was unemployed. Either they'd been laid off or as freelancers the work dried up overnight.

I was in pretty much the same boat. I had two small clients left but had drained much of my savings. Then I got a call. I was in the library and I got a call from my friend Marybeth who is my friend Lou Lou's sister.

I've known Marybeth since Lou Lou and I were in college together in New Orleans at Newcomb College of Tulane University. I stress the Newcomb part only because Tulane decided to close Newcomb post-Katrina. Now Newcomb is this pretend "Institute" but we all know what happened Scott Cowen, President of Tulane.

Okay I'm getting off track.

Marybeth called and said, "Hey would you be interested in going to Ethiopia?" I think at first she was just trying to convince me to write some copy for her website. Then she said it again, "Hey would you be interested in going to Ethiopia?" And so I did. And so I did.

When I got back from my trip to Kolfe Orphanage in Addis Ababa, I realized I needed to get back on the horse. The freelance horse. Cold calling. Working my contacts. Get some money rolling into my checking account. Then I got a call from my friend Steven Stark, host of said Christmas / Hanukkah party for the unemployed. He had a referral for me. Unlike almost everyone else in the United States, Steven had too much work.

For example, Steven had to write copy for a commercial involving Playboy bunnies and his client Macanudo cigars. Then Steven had to fly to LA to oversee the shoot with the Playboy bunnies. Poor Steven.

So there's Ethiopia and Playboy bunnies and work. Finally some work.

I started as a freelance copywriter on-site. I went to work everyday for an agency writing web copy for multiple sites. It was very strange. Having been a freelancer for about 15 years, the idea of going to an office everyday was strange. The water cooler conversations, rehashing episodes of Lost or whatever the cool show is now. The intrigue, the politics, the hard work. I was in over my head.

Then a funny thing happened. I got into a groove. I made some friends. We went to Subway together. Then they offered me a job.

Working for the man. The man who has insurance. The real kind. With a plastic card and shit. Never underestimate the power of the word insurance. Or IN-surance as they say in Texas where I'm from.

It's been a big adjustment. The only way I can really explain it is to say it's like when I first got married. And I was all, "Whadd'ya mean I have to tell you where I'm going?" As jobs go, it's pretty cake. The people are nice. Like actually nice. Mostly we just work. Very few meetings about nothing. Most days I'm out of there by 5:30. And there's the insurance.

I'm reading this book by Laura Munson called A Story of Unlikely Happiness. So far, so good. I actually read the Modern Love column in The New York Times that launched her career. I could relate.

The thing is I don't know her story. I will by the end of this book. What I like already is that she is a writer. She wrote in obscurity for years - 14 books according to the one she finally published. That's me. Writing in obscurity. Down to about 1 blog per month now that I'm insured. Laura Munson reminded me to get off my ass and keep writing. In obscurity. Ad inifintum. Here I go.

N.B. I was talking to my friend Marc at work and I told him I used to work at The Washington Post. He said, "You worked at the Washington Post? Wow, how far you've fallen." And that's what I love about Marc.

Also I don't have to tell my husband where I'm going. He knows I'm going pee.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Man Needs a Maid

When I was a kid, my dad had tons of records. LPs they're called. Vinyl. You can only find them in vintage stores or garage sales these days. You can glimpse them in the John Cusack film High Fidelity.

One artist my dad loved is Neil Young. I was thinking about a song on Young's Harvest album entitled "A Man Needs a Maid." Young writes, "Just someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals and go away."

About six months ago, I started working full-time hours for a client. For the fifteen years prior, I have been steadily self-employed, running my own agency and then freelancing. When you work for yourself, you get used to calling the shots. You also get used to other fun stuff like being self-insured at $1,500 per month. Still there's something to be said for having the freedom to come and go, being able to run away to Ethiopia for example.

The adjustment to working full-time outside my home has been tough. In some ways, it's great. I know where I'm going everyday. I have my lunch buddies. In other ways, it feels very strange.

The biggest issue for me has been getting used to being away from home. We had to find after-school child care for our son. I can't throw a load of laundry in the dryer whenever I need to or wear crappy sweat pants all day because no one is going to see me anyway.

Mainly I've noticed how quickly my home fell into disrepair. I can feel the dust collecting on my bare feet. Clothes that need ironing are piling up in the basement. We eat out more often than in the past. Homework is a disaster. I can't make lunch everyday for my son.

These are the issues all working women face. I've always looked with envy at the other moms who are so organized. Even when I was at home, I wasn't organized. But my house was clean and the laundry was done and I cooked.

I was at a baseball game the other day - pretty much my entire social life at this point - and I was talking to other moms about what they have in their purse. I did have Advil that one of the dads needed. I have money, chapstick, a coin purse and a brush. But there are those mothers who have it all. Socket wrench? Check. Tourniquet? I can fashion one out of a handkerchief. Nail file, snack items, motor oil, cake knife, matches, corkscrew, flashlight, etc. All there and somehow neatly tucked away but at the ready for any occasion.

I can't even find my keys.

Now my house is in a permanent state of neglect. I'm not sure what the desired state would be, but I think ideally I would be able to find my keys. When you are the maid and the math tutor and the nanny, it's annoying. It's difficult and thankless. When you're a working mom, you really need a maid.

My husband and I were talking last night about work and stress and what we really want to do when we grow up. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said lately I've been obsessing about buying a truck. Not a new truck, but an old truck. A pick'em truck as my grandpa used to say. My husband said, "What are you going to do with a truck? Drive a bunch of baseballs around?"

"I'd head west," I said.

I was driving to work one morning and I heard the Avett Brothers covering a John Prine song called "Spanish Pipedream". I got the chills when I heard this refrain:

Blow up your TV. Throw away your paper.
Move to the country. Buy you a home.
Plant a little garden. Grow a lot of peaches.
Try and find Jesus, on your own.

NB I'm dedicating this blog to my friend Lisa C. who is one of those moms who does it all. I learned a very important lesson from her. Throw the dirty athletic cup into the wash with the rest of the baseball uniform. Now why didn't I think of that?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'll Never Be French

I'm reading a very funny book by Mark Greenside called
I'll Never Be French. I haven't finished it yet but the premise
is he follows a woman to France for the summer and ends up living in Brittany, at least part time.

Something like that happened to me although I haven't yet had the good fortune to make France my semi-permanent home. I did live in France as a student and fell in love with the country and the people. But the women were a mystery to me. I was a junior in college then and not really a woman myself. But I could tell these women, even the college students, weren't like the gals back home.

That's why I enjoyed the rare opportunity I had this year to live in close quarters with a French woman. I warned my friend Sylvie before we left for Ethiopia that I would be taking notes. And I did. So here's my homage to Sylvie and other French women who have become less mysterious to me but remain something to aspire to versus something I am.

Here's what I learned from living with a French woman.

French women invest in fashion

Maybe they learn it from their mothers or maybe it's part of the secret code, but French women understand that great fashion is timeless. They make investments in stylish, timeless pieces. A great trench coat, a classic handbag. When you amortize the cost over a lifetime of use, it actually makes more sense to spend big.

Of course this brings up another quality French women have.

Fait la regime

French women are very aware of and also take action to keep themselves in good shape. One thing I have to say is that while in France I did experience some of the most ridiculous workouts I've ever seen. In that regard, American women kick ass. I went swimming and there were couples making out at the edges of the pool. I went to aerobics and people were smoking outside of class. But, French women manage to stay pretty much the same size throughout their lifetimes, hence making investments in fashion, makes sense.

Fait la regime you'll hear all the time in France and it's basically a commitment to very quickly turning around any weight gain by dieting. There's no packing on 25 pounds and holy merde what happened? French women and men closely watch their waistlines and make quick adjustments where needed to slim down. So their size is their size, for a lifetime.

French women paint

After spending a day in an Ethiopian orphanage cleaning bathrooms and god only knows what, we came home to our spare little room and collapsed on our spare little twin beds. I don't remember what I did but it wasn't much. My friend Sylvie on the other hand took out a small sketchbook and watercolors and proceeded to capture a scene from the day's events in her book. And I remember thinking wow. First she had the thought or preparation to bring paints. Second, this was obviously something she did as a habit. Third, how cultured? Like a lost art, no pun intended.

French women have really nice underwear

You know when you get Victoria's Secret catalogs, or sadly no longer get them because you're not their demographic anymore, whatever, a-holes - but I digress. You know when you get those catalogs and you think, mmm that probably hurts. Or geez I really don't think my butt will look like that in those. Well French women are wearing that underwear. It's not so much even that it's tiny or lacy, it's just that it matches. I mean my underwear collection compared to Sylvie's is appalling. I should be appalled. What am I thinking? I'm dead? I'm wearing the underwear of the dead.

Come on American women. We need to step it up. Go see your local bra whisperer. Find a beige and a beige that match. Or isn't torn. Or isn't from 1984.

Come on.

French women moisturize

I never really thought about moisturizer until I hit 40 and now I think about it, but I'm not really committed to it. Eh whatever, right? Oh I forgot my sunblock in the car and it's like 200 yards from here so I'm not going back. My friend Sylvie always wears sunblock and always puts on moisturizer. And it shows.

French women don't take shit

This was interesting for me if not a bit uncomfortable but I really noticed this quality when I was travelling with a French woman. French women do not take shit. Whatever Protestant-based or Catholic, Quaker, Pilgrim-based guilt American women seem to carry around, French women do not abide. We were flying to Dubai and the guy in front of me basically reclined his seat into my lap during take-off, something that is technically illegal according to made-up airplane laws. Well Sylvie immediately pointed out his mistake explaining that my tray table was now positioned directly under my rib cage and he needed to remove it, all in a way that was charmante. He moved...and then I think he went to fetch us some free champagne from first-class.

Because while American women are intriguing, even beguiling, French women are extraordinary.

"One is not born a woman. One becomes one." Simone de Beauvoir

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Starfish Story

A funny thing happened over Easter weekend. First I did something my mother asked me to do - that is go to church. Second, I heard during the sermon the Starfish story that I'd heard a few weeks before in Ethiopia.

I sometimes think I have a bit of the shine, like Scatman in the Shining. It's just a touch. Sometimes I think things right before they happen. Sometimes I stop fighting and something really weird or coincidental happens.

Back to Easter. My mom sent me this email because we'd been through a rough patch. My son was bitten by a dog that animal control was then planning to put down and all was a big mess. Some other stuff too but I don't want to invade everyone's privacy. Just a weird rough patch.

So my mother sent me an email with subject line: a radical idea. She suggested we go to church on Palm Sunday. She said it seemed like things were so much easier for us when we lived in Raleigh, NC and that might have been the result of regularly attending church at The Good Shepherd on Hillsborough Street.

One thing I will say is that in many ways I am very proud to be a (lapsed) Episcopalian. Because for many of us that means an accepting, even liberal church. That's not always the case, witness the Anglican bishops who want to make homosexuality a crime. But my church in Raleigh and my church in Westport, Christ and Holy Trinity, these churches welcome everyone. Even me. Now that's saying something.

We did not attend Palm Sunday mass and in fact I was kind of steamed at my mom because the truth is I live by the golden rule, for the most part, even though I no longer regularly attend church. My brother often says surfing is his church. Fly fishing is his church. You don't need incense and putting on your best duds to be in church. That's what I believe too.

But, at the last minute, on a whim, we decided to attend church on Easter Sunday. Frankly, I think that's also bollocks just going to church on Easter and Christmas. But there I was racing around my room trying to remember what church clothes I had.

We decided to go early, get in and out. Episcopalians are famous for that. We're not a very touchy feely group. We do our Nicene Creed, our Communion then it's a quick coffee hour and we're off to play golf. But that's really the essence of what I love about my church. To me it's private. Not private like you don't show kindness or you hide it even. But it's a way of life you choose to live by and all the rest are trappings.

We made it to the 7:30 service. That's am people. It's usually what I call the old lady service - old prayer book, no music, no muss no fuss. But it was a bit more crowded it being Easter and all. A little music and a guest speaker, a bishop who gave the sermon that day.

Bishop Laura Ahrens I think her name is. She looked a little sunburned. Friendly. Kind of quirky even. The sermon she chose to give was the sermon about the Starfish Story. I don't know why but I've never heard the starfish story before. The first time I heard it was in Ethiopia in February.

We'd spent a day in Addis at the boys orphanage at Kolfe without accomplishing much of anything. We spent hours at the Addis Home Depot choosing paints only to find out our choices were white, orange or black. They had paint rollers, but they didn't have the roller handles. We'd carefully chosen cleaning supplies that would last the longest only to find out there was no water that day and therefore no way to dilute them.

No water day. That's what they told us. What does that mean? How can 135 boys have a "no water" day?

So I sat there glumly thinking what the hell am I doing here and my friend Eileen came up to say hi. I don't really have a poker face so I guess she picked up on my frustration. And she said to me, "Well you know the starfish story, right?"

"What," I asked.

"The starfish story. You know. A boy is standing on the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean before they get trapped on land. A man walks by and says why bother when there are so many and you can't save them all. It won't make a difference. And the boy says it makes a difference to that one. And to that one."

Eileen told me that story and my thinking began to change. The more obstacles we encountered the more I began to think maybe the most these kids can hope for is to spend some time with someone who cares.

And "no water" day will be just a fact of life.

I couldn't believe the bishop repeated the starfish story. I'd even worn a scarf I bought in Ethiopia for the first time that day. I must have the shine right? It's a sign that I need to stay focused on the important things in life. Like making sure my son is safe. Like not forgetting the boys at Kolfe. And not taking for granted the fact that making an effort, even if that effort ends in epic failure, matters.

I was leafing through our handout for the service and in the back was this message from Donald Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury:

One of the most important errors about Christianity is that it is a recipe for being good, that its primary purpose it to tell people how to improve themselves as life goes on. That is a great fallacy. Christianity is essentially a story - a story of what God has done about our great enemies of sin and death."

I love a good story.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flesh and Blood

My own flesh and blood, son Will, was bitten this week by a dog. It's a pretty tragic situation BUT I am not going down that path in this here blog today. I promised my tens of readers that my next blog would be about saggy middle-aged skin or slagging on my husband. My husband has been kind of an ace lately so skin wins.

Just for a moment though I would like to say how much I love the word slag. If I were English, I would use the word slag all the time. I'd be all, "I'm totally slagging on you, Portia." Or, "Slag that, Hermione."Alas I am not English.

So here's what happened. We don't have any mirrors in our house. I don't know that it was intentional but it's the case nevertheless. Recently we installed a fairly large mirror in my son's bathroom. Thankfully it's a thin mirror not one of those fat mirrors they install in bathing suit changing rooms. I'm so accustomed to running around not knowing what I look like that I was caught off guard when I glanced my arm in the mirror. Thin mirror mind you.

"Oh my God!" I said to no one. I had that separation going on that grandmas have. I can see my arm bone / muscle and then there's this swinging flesh below it. Now listen, I've never been a girl with ripped arms. I got lucky with my legs. But arms, no. Constant battle. BUT my arms were as ONE. Now they are as TWO. Now one part goes one way and the other part goes the other way.

This can't be. I'm actually on the thin side right now having just come home from Ethiopia with a stomach bug. Sure I haven't been to the gym in 2 months but come on. COME ON!

I'm at a loss. I don't even know what to do for arms that are as TWO. There's no exercise for that. I need the bottom part of my arm surgically re-attached to the top part of my arm, like Steve Austin when he became the Six Million Dollar Man. There's no jazzercise class that's going to fix this problem.

I'm one of those people on The Biggest Loser, who lose weight but no matter what they do, parts of their body keep moving long after they stop walking.

The thing is, what snapped me out of it, was my son getting bitten by the dog--his flesh exposed in a big way. It's sort of weird to think of ourselves on a cellular level, on a tissue level. But that's the truth. We are cells and tissue and blood and other funky looking shit.

So on a positive note, because I am an organ donor, anything the doctors want to salvage can be more easily found because my mortal coil is shuffling off. Apparently starting now.

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause; there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
--Hamlet, William Shakespeare

NB I saw Jude Law in Hamlet and I don't care if he is 5'9" and has slept with everyone including his landscaping crew. He's hot. "Just slagging on you, Jude."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How to Say Goodbye to Benjamin

This is the one I can't get out of my head. This is the smile I can't forget. I know I've been a bit morose lately so I promise my next blog will be a hilarious take on my marriage or a foray into sagging middle-aged skin.

But this one I've been thinking about and had to write.

Benjamin is Beniyam Kefele. He is 14 years-old and in the 11th grade. His favorite subject is English and his best friend is Ephrem Kibru.

Benjamin is one of over 130 boys who live at Kolfe Orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He has a kind face. Little dimples appear when he smiles. He is thin like all the other boys but he is tall.

We played a game one day. The boys were sitting on the steps to the rec room and I suddenly realized one of them looks exactly like Tiger Woods. Then they all wanted to know who they looked like. Ephrem you look like Jimmy Stewart. Of course they're too young to know Jimmy Stewart. The older boy, he looks like Brad Pitt with his new goatee. Then they asked about Benjamin.

I was stumped. I said I had to think about it.

It occurred to me later that night that he looked like Usher. So I told him the next day.

"Oh yes. I like Usher," he said.

We'd greeted each other in the standard Ethiopian way. It's sort of how men greet each other in the US, by clasping hands, pulling each other close, and bumping chests. Only I kiss the boys on the cheek too. I don't think I'm supposed to do this but I do.

Benjamin greeted me and then we went to work again. The day before we'd bonded over paint. We were painting and we kept trying to clean up but we'd get our hands dirty again. It became a running joke.

More painting that day. New black latex paint that was very difficult to clean. He always smiles this boy even with black paint all over him.

When we finished painting we moved on to the next project, photographing the boys for the non-profit's website. He left briefly and returned with a huge American flag draped around his shoulders. More smiling. He loves this flag.

In a storage room we were photographing boys, one by one. The idea is to create a visual record of them, their ages and their "future jobs". Their dreams, their ticket out, what they want to be some day. Never mind that we learned later the Ethiopian government will choose what they study, if they are lucky enough to study. Today it was about their dream.

Later I was invited to see Benjamin's photo album. He showed me photos of the parents he remembered, dead now. Photos of him with his twin brother China. Photos of him with his brothers at the orphanage--photos carefully arranged in an album.

As I sat there, maybe 8 other boys sat with me on a tiny bunk bed mattress. When I first came to the orphanage, it made me uncomfortable how close they came to me. They wanted to see my iPhone or they wanted to read the bios I was writing about them. They would pin me in a corner.

If you know anything about Finnish people or Scottish people, my other clan, you know we're not a touchy feely lot. They would sit so close to me I felt their skin, their bones. I felt one of the boys flicking my hair behind me. Then Gitane, another boy, started twisting my hair like my son Will used to do when he was a baby.

This was a very special moment for me. First, I conquered my fear of being so close to them. Mainly I felt accepted and loved. Like one of them.

I did some interviews with the boys, compelled to pull back into observer mode. As I sat scross from them asking how the hell they ended up here, I knew I didn't or couldn't understand anything about what had happened. This isn't reality TV. They aren't screaming or yelling or throwing things. They sat there quietly describing waking up to a dead mother and a neighbor taking them to an orphanage.

When I had to go, Benjamin walked me to the car. He started to cry but he was crying in that sad way big boys do because they can't cry out loud anymore.

I waved goodbye and held it together until we left. Then I started crying thinking about Benjamin and the others. How can I say goodbye to him, to all of them?

I don't know.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Disappointments Large and Small

This morning I had an email from Beniyam one of my sons back in Ethiopia. I'd asked about everyone on campus including their pet dogs. The puppy, Jerry, died. He doesn't know why. Some kind of disease he thinks.

One thing I've learned traveling outside the US, is that in a place as poor as Ethiopia, animals are often neglected. Pets are a luxury that most cannot afford. The boys at Kolfe orphanage had three dogs. Now only the two older dogs remain - Jumbo and Bob.

For the boys at Kolfe Orphanage, losing a pet is a disappointment, but it's one of so many that I doubt they will give it much thought. After interviewing dozens of boys who don't know their birthdays and can't remember what their mom looked like, the puppy's death is just another twist in the road.

Before going to Ethiopia, a volunteer collected hearing aids to donate to some of the children who are losing their hearing. We had to choose two boys and two girls for testing and hopefully fitting with a hearing aid. Thankfully we didn't have to make that decision -- the orphanage directors made it for us.

We took two boys from Kolfe Orphanage, Dejene and Ephrem, and two girls from nearby Kechene Orphanage. We never even asked the girls their names. They were young, maybe 6 years-old. Both were signing, not speaking. Even I was thinking this doesn't look like a problem that can be solved with a hearing aid. After driving for an hour, waiting for an hour and then being tested, the doctor explained the girls could not be helped at all. Even in the US, surgery would only marginally impact what they could hear.

The two boys were in better shape. They could still hear. So the doctor asked a volunteer to bring them both back again the next day. For whatever reason, no one thought to show the hearing aids we had to the doctor during the first visit. More hours of driving and more hours of waiting and the doctor again could not help them because the hearing aids were made for adults and wouldn't fit in the boys ears.

The kids had to pose for a picture for a donor back in the States who wanted to see how her donations were being put to good use. Standing in front of a chart of the ear canal, the kids looked out with serious faces. Why should they smile? After hours of time spent with strangers they were no better off than they were before we arrived. Only we had given them hope when there was no hope.

The girls both seemed very uncomfortable. One of the girls had an expression I've only seen on much older people. Her friend would sometimes smile. They both looked like they'd seen more than any kid should. I did get them to smile once by showing them how to make a video on my iPhone. They videotaped me and played it back. For an American kid, I think it would be the equivalent of Criss Angel making himself disappear. Magic.

Moussa-Ali lives at Kolfe Orphanage. Moussa is about 8, one of the youngest kids living there. One evening, Moussa cut his ankle pretty badly. I just happened to bring band-aids and Neosporin with me that day. Just like my son, Moussa didn't want me to touch it. He didn't want me to hurt him. I was trying to tell him I wouldn't hurt him but he didn't trust me. Why should he?

The next day we came back and Moussa's ankle had the purple betadine (I guess) on his ankle but it looked like it was swelling and that the band-aids were dirty. I offered to give him new ones but he declined. Then he changed his mind. After making a big deal of it, I realized I didn't have any big strips left. Only the small ones. I put Neosporin on the cut and then reapplied the dirty old band-aids. I'm sure it hurt and his ankle looked like it was getting infected, but Moussa just sat there quietly. What else could he do?

As an American, it's hard to imagine what life is like for these orphaned kids. Sometimes they have water and sometimes they don't. They have food but no protein and no fruits. A pencil is a valuable commodity. There are artists without paints. Athletes without shoes. Injured kids who can't even get a clean bandage. At night, they are alone on campus. The adults are gone and the kids are by themselves. I asked one of them what would happen if a boy got sick during the night. "Wait until the next day," he said.

Almost uniformly the boys told me they liked campus life. They are happy at the orphanage. I found this hard to believe, but the more we traveled around Addis, the more I could see they were grateful for a bed and food, even if they don't like the food.

Getamelkam is a 16 year-old boy who is only in the ninth grade. His name means God is Good in Amharic. He said, "I don't like this campus. This campus is useless. I love the mother and father I lost." He's lived in orphanages for 10 years after both his parents died when he was 6.

In this bit of film, you can see the two girls we took to have their hearing tested. Note the expression of the girl on the left. I remember this word from German class in 6th grade. Weltschmerz. World weariness or sadness for the world. That's the expression on this girl's face.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Am God

"Am God," he said. "Am God."

"Sorry I didn't catch that."

"Am God."

"You're name is God," I asked?

"He's not God," said Yoftahe. "He's Gat."

Yoftahe is our driver here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His English is impeccable. He went to boarding school and college in the US. His boarding school was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That was some cruel joke his parents played on him sending an Ethiopian boy to Amish country.

Am God is Gat, an extremely intelligent Ethiopian boy living in horrible conditions. As my fellow bandmate on this magical mystery tour put it, Gat is very refined. He also speaks English very well, like Joftahe.

Gat asked my religion. "I am an Episcopalian," I said. Then Gat launched into a brief overview of the Anglican Church.

Gat is lucky. He's one of the lucky ones at Kolfe Orphanage, home to 132 boys aged 8 to adult. Gat is lucky because Gat is smart. Gat can make it out of here. He can scale the walls surrounding this orphanage and make it on the outside.

"Am God," he said.
NB Gat is on the right in this photo. He's wearing a shirt that says "Do It for Johnny".

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bull Riding is Easier than Parenting

Yesterday was frantic. Late for school. Forgot to pack my son's lunch. Racing, racing. When I get rushed I can't think. It's funny because in an emergency, I can think. I remain calm. One time my son started choking on a piece of food in an airport. He was really little but we'd taken the CPR course and I remembered the finger swipe. Just like that, swipe, he was okay again.

But something about being frazzled while say driving to school really throws me for a loop. My son was talking and talking. So I turned off the radio thinking that would help. More talking. Reading street signs. "Enterprise Rent-a-Car," he said. "We'll pick you up." Apparently he's memorized their slogan or working on a new campaign.

Then he said, "Mom, do you know Enterprise Rent-a-Car is a bull riding sponsor?"


"You don't even care, do you?"


"Well they are."

"Could you please stop talking Will? You talk all the time and I can't think."

Then he gave me that look. That look that says, "That's really wasn't called for."

I run into Dunkin' Donuts to get a small light and sweet and 3 munchkins (for him) that Will insisted he needed. Again, even though we were late.

I got back in the car and apologized. "I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings." Really a chicken shit way out because of course I hurt his feelings.

"That's okay," he said. "I know I talk a lot."

"Why do you talk so much? Are you trying to give people information?"

"Yeah I guess so."

When we got to school I went in with him to deposit a check in his lunch account that was sitting at a zero balance. I said goodbye. Usually he gives me a kiss but we were inside the building now with witnesses so he started to walk away. Then he turned around to give me a kiss, I think because the coast was clear.

On the way out of school, I ran into his guidance counselor. We nodded hello and then she turned and called my name.

"Will's here today, right? I mean he's in school today?"

"Yes I was just dropping something off for him. He's here."

"Okay because he's won this big award. They're giving it to him today."

"What award? Does he know anything about this? He didn't say anything."

"No. It's a surprise. Only one boy and one girl in each grade gets it for being a good citizen. His teachers are so proud of how hard he's working and how much progress he's made."

His guidance counselor starts tearing up and then I start tearing up, standing there in front of school.

As if she hadn't noticed, I said, "I'm sorry I'm tearing up."

"Me too. It's a really big deal."

I drove away feeling like crap that on the day my son was being honored as a model student, I was giving him a hard time. You parents know what I mean. It's those times when you punish a child, only to find out they were making something for you when they made that mess.

The floor is covered in macaroni bits and paper but they hand you a little necklace just for you.

NB: Bull riding is my son's latest. He wants to know where we can find a bull riding school. Anyone?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do I Dare?

In late 2009 I started helping out a Long Island charity run by Mary, the sister of my college roommate. Helping might be too strong a word but I did a bit here and a bit there. The organization is called Operation Hearts and Home and they provide aid to orphaned children in various parts of the world.

Right now their focus is on Ethiopia and trying to help three orphanages that are housing older children who are unlikely to be adopted. Instead, they want to prepare them to become independent adults by providing an education and materials needed to get that education like financial aid, school supplies, and shoes, because you can't go to school without shoes.

Last Thanksgiving, Mary called to say a volunteer going on a trip with her to Ethiopia had dropped out for medical reasons. She wanted to know if I could go in her place. I jumped at the chance but we couldn't make it happen. The other volunteer's ticket was non-transferrable (of course) and I didn't have the $2,000 it was now going to cost to go at the last minute.

The Thanksgiving trip was designed to make preparations for a second trip Mary was planning for this February when she would be bringing a group of volunteers with her. She wanted to make sure their housing and transportation were organized. Also she was trying to get materials together to do various improvement projects for the orphanages.

All along Mary has been sending me updates about the February trip. She organized a group airfare that was about $1000 cheaper. She sent lists of what the kids needed and asked me to forward to my network. Then she called me yesterday and left a long message about some options to help me pay for the still very expensive trip. I could find a rich corporate sponsor who needed a tax write-off. (I'm not sure there are any rich corporate sponsors left.) I could pay for part of the ticket and she would try to help me find the rest. She would pay me to write during the trip, as there would also be a photographer in the group.

There a million reasons why I shouldn't go to Ethiopia in February. It's next month for one thing. It doesn't make much sense financially for me. The trip is over my son's February break and Valentine's day. I'll be leaving my family for ten days. Yada yada yada.

On the other hand, there was a time when I would've said screw it, I'm going. My mom and I used to travel together when I was in college and when I got out. She'd say, "Hey want to go to Egypt then we could meet some of my friends in India?" I'd say "Sure! Just tell me when."

We had big adventures. In Egypt we took a tour with a crazy group of Americans, Brits, a New Zealander and a rather dour Canadian who took an immediate dislike to me because I didn't know where Banff was. I probably couldn't have pointed out Toronto or Vancouver either but I can now.

Egypt was so fun but everyone got sick. Everyone. I think it was the boat trip down the Nile. One morning I saw one of the crew dipping the tea kettle in the Nile. I was a kid. I didn't really put two and two together. The New Zealander was so ill he fainted on the toilet and smashed his nose on the sink. My mom and I repeatedly had to go outside potty, not number 1. I lost 15 pounds in a week and a half. But I saw the Pyramids. I saw the Nile and Karnak and Cairo. Incredible things.

India was another matter. We were meeting a friend of my mother's who had a daughter studying there. The friend is Jonathan Demme's mother-in-law coincidentally. We actually recovered physically in India although at that point I was pretty much on a strict diet of dal--smushed up lentils. India was out of this world. So beautiful and colorful but so poor. Where Egypt, at that point, welcomed Americans and our music, culture, movies. In India multiple people asked to take a picture of me. I was an alien to them.

We spent too much time in Srinagar on a houseboat on Dal Lake. It was freezing. We burned our books to stoke the fire. My mother tried to teach me how to play bridge. Famed LA divorce attorney Melvin Belli stayed on the same boat. In their guestbook he wrote, "Quoth the raven, Nevermore." The houseboat owner, Mohammed, didn't get it, but we sure did.

The thing is, I did it. We did it. We didn't stop to think about the dangers or lack of medical facilities or any of that. We just went.

I'm not like that anymore. Or I haven't been. I'm always talking myself out of even little adventures like going to hear a lecture in the City.

At Tulane, I had a professor who taught Yeats and other poets. Mainly Irish poets and writers. He was Professor Finneran after all. By the way Professor Finneran, nobody wears a blazer with elbow patches in New Orleans. Anyway we dissected T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Even then as young as I was, this poem frightened me. I could feel the life draining out of this man as he grew old. I could see how much routine and the pressures of society can turn you into a coward. I particularly loved this stanza:
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces
that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Do I dare? Do I dare? That's the question right? Can I pick up and go to Ethiopia in three weeks? Should I?

Totally along the lines of Eliot and equally profound, one of my favorite movies as a teenager was The Breakfast Club by the great John Hughes who died unexpectedly last year. Ally Sheedy's character says at one point, "When you grow up, your heart dies." Told you it was profound.
Here's to hoping my heart won't die and maybe I'll find my mojo in Ethiopia.

And on a lighter note, another fave John Hughes film was Sixteen Candles. Click to see the memorable "No more yanky my wanky" scene.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nudie Pictures

This weekend I was thinking about my friend Peggy and this little girl she used to babysit when we were in high school in the 06880. The girl's name was Shannon but we called her Shamu (not a whale reference, just a nickname). She was adorable. Her tongue stuck out just a little. I don't remember why.

One day we took Shamu to Compo Beach. At the end of the day we brought her into the changing room to get cleaned up. Even with two of us watching one small child, Shamu managed to get away. She made it out of the changing rooms and started running down the beach. I actually heard someone yell, "Naked running baby. Naked running baby." Sorry Shamu's mother if you ever find this post.

We caught up with her before she made it to Norwalk and brought Shannon home safely later that day.

I was thinking about how cute a naked baby is and how comfortable pretty much all kids are with nudity while they're still young. My son was literally a nudist until a few years ago. Suddenly. I have to close my eyes, turn my head, close the door. I understand. He's growing up and he certainly doesn't want his mother to see his prized possession.

My husband wants a nude photo of me. This is pretty much the most terrifying request my husband has ever made. I'm pretty sure I was a nudie just like my son, but now I don't even own a full-length mirror. I think my body is holding its own but things are rearranging themselves without my permission.

On Saturday morning I was getting dressed and my husband snuck up behind me with his tricky iPhone camera / spy gear. I managed to grab a pair of jeans to hide behind but he took a photo just the same. I threatened to mess with his stuff if he didn't delete the photo but he wasn't having it. He didn't even fall for it hours later when I asked if I could borrow his phone.

Later he showed me the photo and the thing is, I was sort of shocked that I looked pretty good. Granted the parts I managed to cover up would've been the worst of it.

I was wondering how we go from gleefully running naked toward a crowd of beachgoers to my cowering in the corner of the bedroom shielding myself with a pair of jeans. "Naked running baby. Naked running baby."

NB My husband and I exchanged the following messages as he was riding the train into the City:

I'm looking at your nudie pic . . .
Don't show anyone!
Too late, my 2 seat mates love your hair! JK! LOL!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oy is it 2010 Already?

I've been lamenting my never-changing blog. That same old one staring me in the face day after day. Not writing has given me the opportunity to discover some other great blogs out there in the blog-o-world. Some of my new finds are:

All very different. All terrific. So many others out there too. Pauline who writes about Pirates. You might think, hey pirates...doesn't seem like there'd be enough material what with pirates being pretty rare and all, except those guys off the coast of Somalia. But she's doing it, and it's a pleasure to read. Some of them crack me up, like the Bloggess' rants about her husband who must have the patience of Job. Some of them are heartbreaking like Sweet and Salty dealing with the death of her son.

What's amazing to me is how much we're all pouring out onto the page. And how sort of calming that is to me. I'm not alone because I know The Lady of the House is feeling just as crazed as I am after a day stuck at home with the kids. I loved Suzanne's most recent Blogworthy? Noepe's always posting interesting links. And though I know we pulled different levers on voting day, I have to say he consistently uncovers articles that make me think about the status quo. Hard to be Both she's an old friend and a writer, writer. She's been so encouraging.

Too many good writers. I think that's the trouble. I started to get intimidated. I was reading The Bloggess' comments and the comment writers are funnier than me. What to do with all these writers and why should I even bother? I don't even have a focus. I'm just throwing shit out there to see what sticks.

Growing up my mom was a writer, still is. She was just voted--you guessed it--a top blogger in Savannah. My brother is a writer. I'm surrounded. And they were both writer, writers. Published journalists with a byline getting paid to write.

So for a long time I ran from writing. I wrote in secret in journals. I wrote stories that I never shared. I just found a bunch of stories I wrote when I was living in DC working at The Washington Post, not as a writer, as a researcher. I wrote quite a bit then now that I look back on it. Particularly in light of the fact that I was sharing a one bedroom apartment with a Miss Shaughnessy and a Miss Mulderrig, one of whom worked at the Dubliner, my home away from home. Also the Tune Inn. Spent a great deal of time at the Tune Inn.

The reason I started blogging in the first place was to find a way to express myself, my crazy thoughts, my uncertainty. Is this all there is? That's how I started this decade. I was thinking, "Is this all there is?" I don't know. The older I get, the more I feel time flies. On the other hand, the older I get, the more I understand the continuum. When I turned 40 I promised myself I would focus on writing. A few years later, I decided I'd better be more specific. So I'm righting the ship, it's just going to take awhile.

My blog is where I go to write about what I want. To say whatever I want. It doesn't begin with the words, "For Immediate Release". It's just me, my kid stories, making fun of my husband, writing about whatever strikes my fancy. So screw it. I'm back. I'm writing. I get very nice comments from people who read my blog, thank you very much. But I needed to remember what is important and that is blogging makes ME feel better.

My Old Blog is here in case you didn't know.