Tuesday, November 22, 2011


From my married girlfriends, I gather that everyone pretty much goes through the same thing once they’ve gotten engaged. The woman is excited and ready to march on into the lovely future she’s envisioned for herself and her fiancé, but her fiancé can’t stop looking over his shoulder longingly at his single buddies and tugging at the proverbial leash. The woman begins to plan and nest and settle into the idea of moving forward to the next chapter. The man starts staying out a little later than he should, attaches himself to the lowest common denominator in his group of friends and occasionally gets embarrassingly drunk in front of the wrong group of people. Like many of us do at times in relationships, I foolishly thought B and I would be different.

You see, we both afford each other a great deal of freedom – he does his thing with his friends when he wants to and I do mine.  He still goes to ballgames and drinks beers and spends Sundays watching football and screaming at the screen with a buddy or two. He does steak nights with the guys whenever he likes and goes to concerts 15 times a year. We travel quite a bit and have wonderful adventures – together and apart. He still camps and skis and hikes and explores. We enjoy good food and great music and amazing friends on our free time. We both do well at our jobs so he’s free from the burden of supporting another person. On top of all that, I cook for him, wash his clothes, plan our vacations, sew his buttons, sweep his floors. “What man with that kind of life would feel trapped?” I thought.

Well between turning 40 and our engagement, he was feeling something. He didn’t exactly go nuts, but for about 2 months he pushed our well defined boundaries just a little bit once or twice a week. He’d come in a little later than usual from a baseball game, come home a little rosy-cheeked and blood-shot from a round of golf. There were days when he wasn’t his usual attentive, patient self and a few hangovers that got in the way of our usual farmer’s market Saturday mornings. To him, he was just spreading his wings a little before he gets them clipped. To me, he was breaking “our” rules more often than I had the desire to write-off and his wing-spreading was affecting our routine.  I decided there was no rational need or justification for him to “act out” and so I had no patience for it. After a few strikes, I even told him I was going to have a t-shirt made for all the pissed off fiancées out there. “On the front it will say ‘this is NOT what I signed up for’ and on the back, ‘asshole’.”

I was so busy blowing his harmless transgressions out of proportion that that I didn’t realize I was playing as big a part as he was in rocking the engagement boat. I didn’t want him to behave like “any other man” but I pushed him in that direction by failing to recognize that what was in front of him was overwhelming, and his behavior was normal. I single-handedly turned what could have been a few minor disagreements into a two month long self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s funny how that happens sometimes; but any stubborn woman will tell you that once you’ve decided something to be true and your emotions get the best of you, it’s a slippery slippery slope. He should have had a t-shirt made for me that said “crazy” on the front and “bitch fiancée” on the back.

With my “I’m right and you’re an asshole” blinders fastened on tight, I didn’t take much time to consider his side of the story. He is about to sign up for 50 years with an ever-evolving species that changes the game every time he learns the rules. He is marrying a woman that is too hard on herself, and often too hard on the people in her life.  He’s facing a lifetime of being held accountable for his actions by someone that isn’t as forgiving as she should be. His “freedom” is on someone else’s terms now. “Go out with your friends whenever you like, but don’t drink too much! And be home at a reasonable hour or sleep on the couch!”

His unbridled adventures have evolved into camping with an air mattress and Whole Foods provisions. Double black diamonds are traded for green runs and tangled skis; hikes are riddled with petty “you don’t want to wait for me? I’ll make you think I fell into a ditch” games.  He is always being nudged into making healthier choices with food, exercise, stress by someone that has high expectations of self-control and discipline.  On top of all that, he is expected to take care of anything to do with the car and  ½ the grocery shopping and chores around the house. This is where I should probably also admit that he even shines my work shoes for me too.

Bottom line? B is an amazing partner and a good man. He’s warm, loving, loyal and entirely non-judgmental.  He’s silent through my hormonally charged moods, patient when I’m tired and cranky. He doesn’t question or comment on the fact that I am not the same woman he met 6 years ago; in fact he rode on the roller coaster of my 20’s right next to me and held my hand through all the ups and downs. He was patient while I worked through major life changes and I couldn’t be patient with him acting out of character for 2 months. He deserved the benefit of the doubt when he needed a little time to adjust to being 40 and engaged.  After all, he accepts who I am and what I do and pays no mind to anything else as long as I love him.  He takes the bad with the good and accepts all of it with that big bright smile on his face. Looks like I could stand to learn from him even when he is being a typical man.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

You Want Me to Sleep Where? Part 2

We pulled our gear and personal items out of the dry packs and tore open the trash bags inside, praying the river water hadn’t penetrated any of the packs. Once we all discovered we were in good shape, each couple began to spread their things out in a corner of the site. B chose a lovely spot under a tree and rolled his sleeping bag out onto the ground. Sadly enough, that’s when it actually hit me. Much too long after “too late”. I looked at his sleeping bag and then up to the tree branches that tickled his crouching shoulders and then down to the sleeping bag again. I swallowed and thought, “Sh*t. I’m sleeping on the ground tonight.”

One of the other girls saw the look on my face as the reality of our sleeping arrangements sank in and she asked if everything was ok. My eyes darted from B’s sleeping bag to a dusty snake (or mouse?) hole and back up to her smiling face. As I cheerily assured her everything was great, my eyes widened at the sight of iridescent strands of spider webs drooping like garlands in the tree branches behind her head. I looked down at the ground knowing I could no longer hide the fear and anxiety in my eyes and pretended to organize my things.

“F8ck. Sh*t. B8lls. S(ck.F*ck.” I thought as I neatly folded a t-shirt and set it in my pack for the morning. “I have to find a way to keep the spiders from getting into all my stuff.” I looked around, surveying options for sleeping and storing my personal belongings. I’ve never found spider in my underwear, and I didn’t want to start then.

I called B over and asked him to move our sleeping bags out from under the tree and into the middle of the campsite. “Why honey?” he asked. “This looks like a perfectly good spot, the ground is level and the tree is like a little tent!”

I shook my head at him. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I leaned in and whispered, “Look closer. Look into the branches.”

He glanced up for a moment, barely gave the situation any consideration and chuckled while walking away. “Bee, its fine. We’re fine. It’s just a few spiders.”

I wanted to hit him. Hard. Instead I took the ends of our sleeping bags and dragged them into the center of the site, out from under the tree of horror. The ground was miserably lumpy and slanted and B shouted from afar, “You’ll need to level that out, honey. It will be awfully uncomfortable to sleep at a slant like that.”

“Helpful, B, thank you. However, I believe having a million spiders and a million spider babies and a million of their spider baby friends crawling all over you and inside your sleeping bag and up your nose and down your shirt and in your ears will be far more uncomfortable than a mild slant,” I said to myself. I refused to verbalize my discomfort, or inner panic, for that matter.  Mimicking the other campers, I grabbed a flip flop and used it to level the ground out enough that B wouldn’t push sleeping in his original spot. If I was going to go “woman vs. wild” on this camping experience, I needed him right next to me for moral support.

Our camping buddies brought us on one last adventure for the day, and when we returned to the site tired, hungry and wet. We warmed our foil-wrapped camper’s fare on the rocks surrounding the small fire while the evening oranges folded into the nighttime blues. LED headlamps replaced sunlight and the technology revealed a different version of the campsite we had left behind. With the shadow-casting glow of the small fire, we had just enough light to see the massive crawfish (“are those lobsters?!”) emerging from the mud in the blackening river about 10 feet away. There was also just enough light to see the tail of a field mouse taunting us from about 5 feet away. And of course, there was jussst enough light to see the daddy-long-legs drawn to the fire like moths to a flame.

First it was one daddy-long-leg whose legs were so long they could have wrapped around a baseball. He pranced around the fire, disappearing into the crevices between rocks and reappearing again on the other side of the fire. Then there were two, and three, then four and five. My eyes widened every time I spotted a new one. I cringed every time I remembered I had to sleep with them. I must have looked like I was giving birth.

While everyone else played cards by the fire, I got up and once again pretended to adjust my things, prepare for the morning, ready my bed. When I came back to the fire to check on the progress of the game, one of those f-ers ran over my flip-flop wearing feet and I screamed a little scream inside. I tried to count the spiders to see if I was imagining that they were ambushing us. I wasn’t imagining it.

In a desperate attempt to let exhaustion take over my mind, I suggested crawling into our sleeping bags for a little star-gazing. The boys, loving their “whiskey and cards by the fire time” declined, but the painfully sober girls obliged. The three of us lined up in our sleeping bags, feet to the river, back to the gorge wall, faces to the sky. While there had been enough light to capture the dancing silhouettes of a million torturous creatures, there wasn’t nearly enough light to wash out the waking stars.

After a moment of stargazing, I turned on my headlamp and looked at my girlfriend. “This isn’t so bad down here after all, is it?!” We smiled at each other for a moment in the dark, our headlamps blinding each other. I switched mine off and went to lie back down while a little squeal rumbled in her tummy and came up her throat and her torso shot up off her sleeping bag. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Her face was calm, her eyes only mildly unsettled. “Spider on my forehead. Crawled right over my headlamp,” she said with barely a little excitement in her voice.

I immediately shouted over to the fire “Please? B? BBBBBEEE! Can you PLEASE come to bed now?” As if that was going to help.

The guys weren’t all that compelled to call it a night after we shared our first spider-on-the-face experience with them in anxious voices. (Well, mine was anxious anyway.) After a little while of resting on elbows, the girls slumped down into their sleeping bags and succumbed to the effects of the day’s exertion. I shifted around from sitting to leaning to crouching to sitting again as quietly as possible until B worked his way over to the sleeping bags. I looked at him in horror and proclaimed (if you can proclaim anything in a whisper) ”I am NOT ever sleeping outside of a tent again.”

Patient as always, he looked at me and said, “Here baby, come on,” as he coaxed my upper body down to the ground with a hug. “We’ll move our sleeping bags real close and I’ll wait for you to fall asleep before I do.”

3 minutes later, sleeping bag zipped wide open, covered only loosely by a baggy pair of boxers, B joined the ridiculously loud snorer to my left in song “Hhhhhhhhhugggggghh gug gug. Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaawgk, gug gug.” He was sound asleep. Damn wilderness man.

I needed a plan. I had to put my head down again because I had to try to sleep. I was so tired. I decided to say my prayers, count shooting stars, make my “thankful list,” while lying prone with my sleeping bag drawn up to my chin and my sheep hat on. I was essentially sealed in a Ziploc bag with 2-inch thick fleece on my head as added protection. The only thing exposed was about an inch of my forehead, my nose and a little bit of my mouth. I began to sweat immediately, but boy did I feel more relaxed. Every time I felt a tickle on my forehead I’d shoot up and shake my face while remaining sealed inside my protective barrier. Excellent ab workout. Not very calming, however.

After hours of sit-ups and counting and praying and thanking God for my blessings, (“I really am lucky!”) I started to feel nauseous. My first thought was the water. “Had we not filtered it well enough? Did I swallow some while swimming?” I tried to talk myself out of it, but my insides were decidedly unsettled. I brought my legs up inside the sleeping bag and tried to put pressure on my tummy. No luck, still nauseous. When it wouldn’t subside, I questioned the food. “Was our dinner not cooked well enough?” I finally stopped searching for a reason when I could feel my face turning pale and cold. I sat up and thought, “Sh*t, I’m going to throw up.”

I released the clenched fist underneath my chin enough to unzip just to where I could reach an arm out to wake B. “Beeeeeee,” I whispered. “Beeeee. I think I’m going to be sick. Oh god, I’m going to be sick.”

He shot up and said, “Honey? Honey what’s wrong?” while instinctively shoving water in my direction. He laid a hand on my sleeping bag covered back and said, “Jesus. You’re a million degrees and you’re sleeping bag is damp! What are you doing?”

“What do you mean what am I doing? I think I might throw up from the water!”

“No way. I pumped the sh*t out of that water and we drank mostly what we carried in in our camel backs anyway. That was Brita, honey. You can’t be sick from the water.” After a moment of rubbing my down padded back he asked, “How long have you been sealed inside there like that?”

“A few hours, I suppose,” I sheepishly replied.

He shook his head and forced water on me while unzipping my safety net. I clung to it a little but stopped resisting once I got a taste of the cool night air. “You’re dehydrated. You’ve been sweating in there for hours in 80 degree heat after essentially working out all day long and not drinking enough water. You dehydrated yourself.”

I drank some water and a little embarrassed, zipped my sleeping bag back up to my waste while B went to get more water. I left my hat on the ground, (“But what about spiders in my hair?!”), and removed my sweatshirt (“My arms will be exposed!”). I zipped the bag up a little more and pulled the build in hood around my ears. B put another bottle of water next to me and tilted his head as if to chastise me for doing so. I put my hand up and stopped him in his tracks. “Look, no hat or sweatshirt and I drank all that water. Compromise honey, compromise.”

He kissed me on my puffy head and sat down next to me. We watched the stars together for a while in silence, holding hands, arms exposed. It was a triumphant moment for me.

The sky that night was so perfectly clear, the view so unencumbered, you could see all the stars quivering in the blue velvet blanket of the night sky for hours and hours. I know, because I was staring up, eyes wide open, until the nighttime blues folded into the morning yellows. I saw six shooting stars and not one millimeter of the inside of my eyelids for the rest of the night. I will never know if I really did see that many shooting stars or if I was hallucinating due to self-inflicted dehydration, but I’ll hold on to those little pieces of heaven that dotted my open-air camping purgatory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Want Me to Sleep Where?

I didn’t grow up camping. I didn’t spend fabled evenings falling asleep under stars, unless those glow in the dark ones you put on your ceiling when you’re a bored 13 year old count. Other than wheezing my chubby buns around a track in gym class, I wasn’t much of an outdoorsman. I did lay down in my fair share of leaf piles, but my love-affair with the crisp golden leaves of the New England fall ended abruptly when a neighbor boy pointed out that countless spiders and creepy crawlers were sharing my bed.  

I’ve come around quite a bit – I managed to become tightly wound enough by the age of 23 that fresh air, peace and quiet and even leaf piles took on a whole new appeal. Simple things like dirt and water and sand and sky provide welcomed counterbalance to my dense schedule.  And of course living in California makes loving the outdoors effortless; everywhere you turn there is an unforgettable experience to be had on a sun-drenched snow-capped mountain or in an empty meadow hundreds of feet above the breaking waves.

I came over to the dark side upon my first camping trip with B. He showed me that you could get comfortably rustic and get lots of exercise and fresh air while having the kind of fun that clears your mind surreptitiously.  There’s nothing better than returning from a weekend of camping and realizing you haven’t thought about work or worried about family or counted the urgent items on your to-do list. For someone who used to frequently have “relax with a book” on her calendar, I quickly recognized that decompressing without even having to try is invaluable. Trust me; I was shocked at how quickly I warmed up to camping. Shocked.  Even sitting here, outdoor personal hygiene, the absence of a dust buster, portable food and potable water and a sleeping bag on the ground sound terrible, but you put it all together and somehow the challenging logistics melt into the background.  If you give Momma Nature a chance, she has the funny way of making everything messed up and negative fall away, and your left with what’s simply right and good in this world.  I came away from that first camping trip short a few bags of marshmallows, but I felt so calm and happy that I knew the body odor and crippling fear of animal attack while peeing in the middle of the night were well worth it.

Since then, we’ve done some great camping trips and plenty of hiking. I wouldn’t go so far as to call me truly “outdoorsy,” but I would certainly say I’m pretty comfortable with “outdoorsy” activities. B is a real outdoorsman; he has the entire Coleman catalogue in a storage space somewhere. My lack of hardcore experience has inspired him to plan and execute what he now refers to as “luxury camping” trips. (If there is a toilet or shower within miles, he considers that luxury.) By his design, our camping trips have existed in a safe zone, a happy medium between extreme and what I can handle. I didn’t even realize we were doing the whole happy medium thing because for the past few years I’ve been too busy being proud of how “outdoorsy” I’ve become.  And then we went camping with a truly “outdoorsy” couple.

We had such a busy summer that by August I was on auto-pilot. I didn’t even notice when the emails failed to list “tent” on the “to bring” lists. I even read some comments about sleeping under the stars and thought, oh, how fun!” Clearly didn’t put two and two together and process that sleeping under the stars meant sleeping completely exposed. I must have overlooked the absence of any sheltering apparatus when B was packing the car, likely because I was busy picking out the right socks. When I was asking if B remembered biodegradable toilet paper, the water filter, our dinner, I didn’t think to ask if he remembered a tent. I was too distracted with cleaning the house for our return. When we met up with our fellow campers and shared hopes for a breeze across our faces as we slept in the warm night air, I was probably considering whether or not I had enough SPF on. I didn’t realize I should have said, “Screw the breeze. How are going to keep the spiders off our faces?”

The trip started with a hike/walk along a fire road in the blazing sun, an enticing river snaking through a gorge beneath us. After an hour or so we dropped into the gorge and with all personal belongings secured in wet packs and trash bags, down into the river. We swam with our packs bobbing in the water next to us, the walls of the gorge narrowing and receding at our sides. We crab-walked across slippery rocks and popped up into the brush on narrow dirt paths and came back out into the sun to plunge into the river again. The afternoon sun filled the wider parts of the gorge with unfettered rays and invaded the narrower parts in angled shards of light that fought through gnarled trees. By the time we arrived at our site, the day was softening into evening. Invigorated but tired, we were beginning to soften into it ourselves.

To Be Continued....Have to help B make dinner!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Poem

At the dimly lit desk paying bills, making plans, he waited.
Tucked in that nook with distractions, a million things to be done, he waited.
Open heart between shoulders buckled under the weight of her chaos, he waited.
Vivid and blinding, the light after her dark, she returned to him.

Before school in the silence or after in noise, they wondered.
Floor riddled with pots, air thick with stale rage, they wondered.
In their rooms or on stairs, still too small to reach the rail, they wondered.
Warm smiles followed weeping behind doors gone cold, she embraced them.

Footprints dotted the globe, feverish pursuit, baby girls, she loved him.
With curled hair and red lipstick and long drawn out gazes, she loved him.
Dancing in the kitchen, hovering over food-colored snow, she loved him.
The house has gone quiet, save for her truths, she turned away from him.

With strokes on stretched canvas that bled through to the floor, she left them.
A victim too tied to her struggle, consumed by her cause, she left them.
For freedom, for righteousness, one last indignant stand, she left them.
Blinded in battle, deaf to their voices, she's gone from them.

Hope between shoulders now buckled with sadness, he'll wait for her.
They’ll marry, have babies, wishing she’d call, they'll need her.
Never learning their lessons, they'll wish for white flags, and they'll cry for her.
If ever there at all, gone is she now, she’s walked away from them. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I can’t take naps during the day anymore, even when I’m exhausted. B and I don’t have kids, animals or a big house to care for, but somehow there are always chores to be done, to-do lists to tend to, projects to work on. I catch up on phone calls, schedule meetings or send emails while I walk. I read on the bus and pray in the shower. I don’t have a stressful life, I just tend to shy away from idle time. It’s been that way for years, ever since I learned that as long as I kept moving, it wouldn’t come back as often. I’m 29 and I’m consistently happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. The other day, however, uncomfortable with being forced to sit idle in a superfluously long meeting, I realized that as far as I’ve come I’m still afraid it will come back if I hold still for too long.

I used to get pretty bad bouts of depression, especially in high school and college. There were days, sometimes even weeks when I had little desire to put effort into dressing myself, going anywhere, doing anything at all. I’ve emerged from the major hormonal hurricanes of my teens, evolved as a person, and I’m fortunate enough not to have to contend with the kind of depression I battled when I was younger. That’s not to say that depression is entirely a thing of the past for me. There are still days once in a while when it threatens to alter my perspective, change my experience. But I’ve worked very hard to learn how to keep it at bay and stay in a good place. It’s been a long and bumpy road towards balance and overall happiness, but well-being is like anything else worth having- you have to work to get it and fight to keep it.

I always wanted to be happy but for a long time I didn’t quite know how to be happy. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a little bit of sadness settled in the pit of my stomach, an element of dread I never really could put my finger on. I did well to bury it with a million friends and faces and material things and parties and books and music and constant movement and stimulation. But every few months, there would be a few days or a week when I got tired of piling one thing on top of another on top of the sadness and I’d collapse. I’d stay home from school or skip class, say I was sick and sleep for longer than I now consider humanly possible. I would call out of work and eat and sleep all day, close the curtains and watch shameful amounts of Lifetime or E! I didn’t ever ball my eyes out or freak out or have meltdowns in a corner somewhere. It was never that dramatic. Certainly nothing worthy of Lifetime or E!. I was just there, taking up space. Void of the energy to think or move or live. Void of any desire to be myself. God it was bad. I’ve forgotten how bad it was.

I realize now, as I write this, that the anticipation of one of these bouts of depression was almost worse than the “shut down” itself. It often came with little warning; as I got older I could feel it sneaking up behind me but I still couldn’t figure out how to stop it from swallowing me up for a few days. I stood atop One Market Plaza once and watched the fog roll in through the Golden Gate. I had never seen it like that before – with the advantage of an unobstructed panoramic perspective. It sidles in one finger at a time, painfully slow to a focused eye. As soon as you turn around for a moment though, the whole city is cloaked in damp, dank, grey.

At a certain point I got sick of waiting for the depression to come, I got sick of fighting it off with constant movement and hyper -vigilance, I got sick of feeling it. I knew I needed a little help finding my way, but after countless brief bouts of therapy with detached therapists, I didn’t want to lie on a couch and talk about why I hated my body or where my fears came from anymore. I wanted to talk about how to change. I stuck with therapy and bounced around until I found someone that I knew could give me the tools to fight depression and break out of the cycle of torturing my body. That doctor told me that peace and happiness were inside me, always had been and always will be, and that I just needed to learn to stop piling so much sh*t over it. I liked that idea. It gave me hope.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about which habits, indulgences and behaviors help my overall well-being and which ones inhibit it. I’ve changed my diet; I’ve identified forms of exercise that help keep me in a positive state of mind. I try to get enough sleep and take care of myself inside and out. I remind myself every day that I deserve to be happy and that I get to choose how my life plays out. But I’m still learning to enjoy and appreciate quiet, still moments. Yoga has helped tremendously with that, as has mindful awareness and meditation. Those are things I laughed at when first suggested. They seemed impossibly simple remedies for my overly complicated mind. But now I know that they are invaluable stepping stones on my road to enjoying a well-deserved afternoon nap or a perfectly trashy Lifetime movie in the daylight– without feeling like I’m opening the door for depression and inviting it in.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The past few months have been a whirlwind of wonderful family trips, adventures with friends, major milestones and small triumphs. This is the first chance I’ve had in months to sit in my favorite writing spot; the room empty, quiet, clean; my mind relaxed enough to enjoy the sun streaming through the Camilla bushes and ferns outside our windows; no laundry pile full of chlorine soaked swimsuits or campfire-scented muddied pants; nothing to pack for, prepare for or anxiously anticipate within the next 7 days.

Friends old and new, weddings, romance and familial bonds have brought us to Austin, TX; the Mayan Riviera; Hilton Head, SC; Flathead Lake, MT; Farmington, CT; Yosemite National Park; Laguna Beach, CA. We’ll see Cape Cod, MA; Wichita, KS; Scottsdale, AZ before September is through. We have a hard time saying no to each other. We have an even harder time saying no to the family and friends we hold so dear to our hearts. Being able to say “yes, we’ll come” is perhaps the greatest, most treasured luxury we have in our life as a couple.

It’s all been so wonderful, but so fast. Sometimes you have to write things down for them to feel real.

I went to Yosemite National Park and climbed the Mist Trail for the 3rd time with B. It’s a difficult hike, a 3 hour StairMaster up the side of two waterfalls on slippery rocks, but it’s rewarding and breathtaking every step of the way. I know now that the first time I did it, I was still a girl. I felt out of my element, embarrassed by how I faced the challenge in front of the man I loved, scared and shaking and fearing the way down every step of the way up. The second time I did it I managed to bring my eyes up from my toes on the rocks long enough to appreciate what I was doing, where I was, who I was with. I was still hesitant at moments, but not a fearful young girl anymore. The third time I did the hike, I felt strong and happy and peaceful as I went up the sides of those waterfalls. Feeling that way in that place made me realize how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown up, how much B and I have grown together. He proposed at the top of the second waterfall with one of our most cherished places in the world at our feet. The third time I hiked the Mist Trail, I came down engaged to the man that has helped me find that strength and happiness and peace in my heart.

My best friend in the entire world, the one I moved to San Francisco with, moved home to Boston. We’ve lived either down the hall, in the same room or a few bus stops away since we were 18. Her kind heart and complete lack of judgment may never be matched in another female friend. She’s gone for good and I’m staying forever and I barely got to give her a proper goodbye.

B turned 40 just a few weeks ago. His youthful enthusiasm and passion for adventure, music, food and everything good in life make him ageless. He wants to be happy and he wants everyone around him to be happy. In the time that I’ve known him, he has learned how to make those things happen, even as the people and world around him change rapidly. He has untied his own hands and that makes him a wise old man ;)

By the end of July, two of my dearest childhood friends will have married within 6 weeks of each other. A third has moved to Australia to be with her Prince Charming. Coming together again over the past few months at a bachelorette and wedding we laughed like we we’re 15 again. We felt as close as we did, perhaps closer, than when we were 15 and together every day. But we’re women now and we’re all starting our own lives in different places around the world.

My dearest friend in San Francisco, a woman with whom I have a very special friendship, left 3 weeks ago for a trip around the world for a year. I am so happy for her, but I miss her. She has inspired me to be tougher. She challenges me to open my mind and think of why I should do things rather than why I shouldn’t.

I’ve been with my team at work for over 5 ½ years now. I worked my ass off from day one. I swallowed my pride for the first two years. I longed for respect and recognition for the next two. I didn’t really understand how to get it until the beginning of the 5th year. I was recently promoted to Vice President and I might wallpaper my bathroom with my new business cards.

It’s all been so wonderful, but so fast. Sometimes you have to write things down for them to feel real.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Throwing Books

Being with B has been a romantic journey, an adventure and a catalyst for personal growth. I look back over our five years together and my heart warms as I think of all the times we've giggled in bed, danced together in the dining room before dinner and walked the hills of San Francisco holding hands. But in between a million wonderful moments, there were ones when I wished I could tear my heart out because it hurt so much. There were nights when a giggle felt a million miles away - and he felt even further. I once threw a book across that same dining room we dance in before dinner. I had never felt that kind of uncontainable anger before. After five years, we've both evolved into people we're more proud to be because of each other - but we've certainly done things we're ashamed of along the way too. I only wish someone told me how normal that was.

I've found that one of the most difficult parts of becoming a well-adjusted grown woman is learning to independently identify what "normal" is. Relationships are the trickiest realm in which to do this because our emotions often get the best of us and when we're deep in love we're cloaked in a fog of blissful ignorance that may or may not break up over time. Our judgment is impaired, we feel utterly vulnerable, and yet we're supposed to decide if it’s ok that he drinks wine every night, doesn't want children or is emotionally retarded. Obviously there are issues such as physical/mental/substance abuse and cheating that are as black and white as can be. The older I get though, the more I realize that relationships exist and thrive in the ever-confusing grey area.

My father is a wonderful man- a kind, honest, hard-working patriarch. My mother is a force of a woman - as loving and accepting as a mother might be. Together, they danced in the kitchen as he hummed songs over her shoulder and sometimes she looked up at him like he was her savior. He painted big red hearts in the snow one year on Valentine's Day. There were also times when my mother cried in her room for hours and we didn’t know what happened or how they repaired the rift afterwards. There were periods when my father was quiet and tight-lipped for days on end, the vein in his forehead dangerously close to the surface. He never yelled or shared his feelings though and he certainly never spoke ill of my mother - so we never knew what went wrong or how they fixed it.

They loved each other then - you could feel it in the house - and the love their three daughters and did a good job raising each of us. But my parents' generation was the first to see the American family reconstructed as something more progressive and their parents dealt with a whole different post-war "return to tradition" ballgame. It's understandable then that no one ever sat them down and no one ever sat us down and told us what was par for the course, what wasn't and how to handle all the grey area in between. The dynamics of relationships and the challenges we face in them have been changing so much over the past century, I suppose a recipe for success and "what to do when he..." chat would have been futile anyway.

So where did all this leave me? Like most girls in their early 20's, I was naive, ignorant and stubborn. I had little other than 90210 and Sex and the City; observations of my parents and my friends' parents; my own awkward heart-breaking experiences; trashy magazines and classic novels to work with. All the romantic notions and confusing anecdotes amounted to little understanding of the way two people can come together and build a beautiful, happy, healthy relationship. On one hand I had unrealistic expectations of what an honorable respectful man should be like, (my father set the bar almost too high,) and on the other hand I had useless bits of advice about sex, romance and romantic sex. (I didn't get the memo explaining that Glamour magazine's monthly "how to please your man" columns didn't feature the most complete, practical advice until it was too late.)

For the first few years of my relationship with b, I kept looking around waiting for someone to tell me what I was supposed to do next. I called my sisters and sometimes even my father to ask them how I should label certain differences or react to disagreements. Outside of the obvious, I honestly didn't know what was supposed to be a "deal breaker." I sensed my clarity was compromised by how much I loved him right away and that scared the hell out of me. When I'd ask my mom or girlfriends for advice, they kept saying "trust your gut," which was utterly useless to a former fat kid whose gut got her nowhere but to the corner store for ice cream or candy in highly emotional situations.

When B and I first met and I walked into his messy apartment, dishes piled high I asked myself, “serial killer or normal single guy?” When I noticed he liked a glass of wine with most dinners and a cocktail after a hard day I wondered, “red flag or just a glass of red wine?” (My parents didn’t drink at all, so I had no idea what “normal consumption meant.) When B yelled at drivers who cut him off or threw his hands up in frustration at a Prius driving 45 miles per hour on the freeway I thought, “anger management candidate or minor loss of composure?” (My father never yelled or cursed. He got quiet.) When we moved in together and we had little arguments over how to cut and onion or where to hang our coats, I questioned if it was the beginning of the end. IO had no idea all couples go through power struggles and a serious adjustment period when they first cohabitate. When he did something he knew would upset me a few times over I would think, “he either has no respect for me or he doesn’t love me the way he did in the beginning.” Little did I know that the reasoning behind men’s behavior is seldom so dramatic.

It took me about two years, maybe more, to stop asking people what was normal and what wasn’t. I realized after a lot of wasted breath that I didn’t know the answers to a lot of relationship questions because I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did. And when I finally figured out a little bit more about who I am, I had the pleasure of realizing many of the answers were in the way he puts his hand on my face when he thinks I’m sleeping or cooks me dinner when he knows I’m tired. Life has a funny way of working itself out like that. When you’re with the right person, you’ll eventually find what you’re looking for together. We all have hills and mountains and road blocks in our relationships and the differences that put them there are more “normal” than a relationship itself can ever be. No one is perfect. No relationship is perfect or perfectly normal. Nothing would be very fun or interesting that way anyway.

Friday, March 11, 2011


They say that bad things always happen in 3’s. But what do you do if they happen in 5’s or 7’s?

I’ve gone through a few periods in my life where it seems like someone is firing off a round of bullets, well maybe more like water balloons, one after the other and I don’t get a chance to recover, readjust or poise and protect for the next hit. Never anything truly major or debilitating, but it’s the frequency that gets you, not necessarily the impact of each individual hit.

So I was recently crying to Kevin saying, “I just need a break - just a few months or maybe a year where nothing major goes wrong with my body, my family or at my job.” And almost as soon as I said it out loud, I realized how absurd it sounded.

Life is full of bad days; physical, emotional and mental hurdles; illness and death; divorces and break-ups; disappointment and hurt. You can’t go through life waiting for it to get easier, waiting for a break because you’ll be waiting an awful long time. But life doesn’t have to be about the things that almost break you. It can be about the things that keep you together, the lovers and friends and laughter and music in your life. It can be about the moments of pure unabashed love you share with your better half, laughing until your stomach hurts, the places you travel and people you meet, the lessons that teach you to love yourself, your life.

Life is hard; shitty things happen - regardless of your good intentions, benevolent actions or positive attitude. You simply can’t expect effortless smooth sailing in any stage of your life. After childhood, your chances at that kind of life are shot. You have no choice but to accept that it’s not supposed to be easy; you have no choice but to love it for the rays of sunshine you catch when you’re sitting on the grass in the outfield, in between swinging at curve balls. The sooner you do that, the better things get.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Poppa Sent Me Down to New Orleans

I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t music in the little red house we lived in through our early years in America. My father was born with a voice that silences a room on his first note, and in memory it seems as if he sang or played the tin whistle every single day when we were very small. I realize now that his beautiful, thickly accented voice, tin whistle and bodhran (Irish drum,) were perhaps the strongest ties to Ireland for all of us, or at least the ones we loved most. As time went on, the sounds of music we heard in our little red house and the white one that came after were less often his singing and playing, and more often the radio or a cassette tape or CD – likely the result of an overworked, exhausted father finding any way to pass on his love for music to his daughters. He exposed me to every genre of music that I hold dear to my heart today, perhaps because I hold my relationship with him so dear to my heart. Every time I hear live music and watch musicians sieve themselves through guitar strings and violin bows, I think of my dear old dad.

If I remember correctly, he introduced me to jazz in the living room of that little red house with a little Louis Armstrong on a CD player the size of a microwave oven. (This was back when cell phones came in carrying cases the size of Smart cars.) I loved the sound immediately, I’m sure partly because I felt closer to my dad that way, but I think I connected with jazz because as I waded through my adolescent, teen and early adult years, it always sounded like Louis understood a lot more about life than I did. (It still feels that way.)

As I discovered different kinds of jazz and loved almost all of the sub-genres, I developed more and more of a desire to visit New Orleans. When I heard Billie Holiday I dreamt of smoky night clubs where raspy-voiced women with flowers in their hair sang to listless patrons with plantation fans slowly rotating above. I pictured handsome young men in fedoras singing Rat Pack tunes in tuxedos, their smiling faces all twisted up in southern charm and temptation. I imagined brass band music floating over dancers pausing for a little relief from the heat, high-ball glasses dripping with condensation lifted to their wrists.

After Katrina, I wondered if a visit would be worth while. I was convinced that if New Orleans had ever even somewhat resembled my daydreams, it would no longer do so. But a business trip brought B and I to the city and I quickly realized that what makes New Orleans New Orleans is something entirely indestructible, and altogether unexpected.

I knew my New Orleans experience would be different than anticipated shortly after we arrived, when we went to hear the Rebirth Brass Band at a popular place called the Howlin’ Wolf. I showed up expecting women with flowers in their hair, tuxedos and charming smiles and walked into an old warehouse where the floor was sticky with booze and covered with dancing feet. Smoke drifted up to the rafters, free of old plantation fans, adorned instead with power cords jury-rigged to all sides and laced with old worn Mardi Gras beads. Black draping hid where they kept supplies; I could have sworn the bathrooms were a trailer with one wall ripped out hitched up to the side of the building. I surprised myself by being completely inspired instead of turned off. I looked around and thought “They’ll find a way to make music everywhere, anywhere with anything.” Music is who they are. It is their lifeblood. They don’t need sexy clubs and sirens with flowers in their hair (although you can find that there too,) they just need a warehouse, some extension cords and an audience. In our time there, we noticed quickly that the most beautiful sounds often poured out of the most unsightly places in the city. And that juxtaposition, I learned, is very New Orleans.

Although parts of the Big Easy certainly looked tired and a bit battered, I came and went unsure if that appearance was a result of natural disaster or a way of life. Bourbon Street’s assaulting red and neon lights can only be rivaled by the blood shot eyes of those that walk the streets into the morning hours. At first glance, it is a hedonistic culture that collectively feeds their demons 6 days a week and repents on Sundays. But if you’re in the city long enough to see one of the church parades, you come to understand it’s the tourists that wander around at 10:00 am with yard glasses and the natives aren’t spending Sunday apologizing for anything. Instead, they dance down streets under trees dripping with Spanish moss, straight pass dumpsters overflowing with the debris of homes now just undergoing post flood repairs. Young boys and old men, teenage girls and grandmothers all march together in their Sunday best to sing praise, give thanks and above all to celebrate their lives and their city, regardless of the hand it’s dealt them over the years.

Most visitors go to New Orleans looking for charm in the French provincial colors and black wrought iron balconies of the French quarter. You read the guide books, hear a few stories and naturally gravitate towards that part of the city upon arrival. And it is wonderful, especially at night when melodies and the sweet smell of beignets pull you down gas-lamp-lit allies and horse’s hooves beat down on the cobblestone just a little bit louder than stiletto heels. But when you venture away from that area, that’s when New Orleans really comes alive. The fractured sidewalks in the Garden District are poetic - relentless roots of 150 year old oaks press through tattered bricks – something wild refusing to be contained by convention. The roots are obviously not unlike the people of New Orleans, who seem to laugh at the suggestion that remaining in a city that lies 7 feet under sea level in some areas is utterly ridiculous. To us, it makes little sense to settle back into lying in wait of another disaster. To the people of New Orleans, leaving is the only thing that makes little sense.

Every 5 feet in the Frenchman District features a different sound: a seasoned jazz trio playing sleepily, an energetic quartet begging the crowd to dance, a legend playing the piano just inside a grimy window thick with stories, a group of twenty-something vagabonds on a street corner making the most fantastic sounds of all. In one club you’ll find an ageless crooner unable to stand or sit in his chair without the help of his younger accompaniment – he’s old and tired and broken but he’s unable to let go of performing. In the next club you’ll find a young trumpet player with impossibly round inflated cheeks – the skin on his face taught, pulled back to reveal eyes full of anticipation. He’s leading a brass band of 7 other surprisingly young men and its evident they’re clinging equally as tight to their love of performing, and for wonderfully different reasons.

Everything mesmerizing about “the Big Easy” is born of paradox and impossibility. The city should not be standing, many of the buildings should not be in tact, and the people should not still be there. But after Katrina, and after all the natural disasters and conflict that came before, New Orleans is singing and dancing in the streets, their churches, their homes. The endless revelry and indulgent mentality doesn’t seem sustainable, yet they are woven into the neighborhoods, culture, and everyday life so deeply that it is hard to imagine New Orleans without either. Everything wonderful lies in places you would never think to look – places that are testaments to this untamed place being more beautiful for its wear, being perfect in its raw and wild imperfection. The traditions are in the crevices, the soul down the uprooted brick alleyways, the heart in the competing sounds of horns and stand-up basses and pianos and oboes. And the harmony is in all the incongruities and everything that we outsiders cannot understand.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year, Clean Slate

Historically associated with a spare tire and a bad case of the post-holiday blues, January has never been my favorite month. During the holidays, I replace balancing work, social, health, travel, fitness, and family commitments with balancing a warm mug of hot chocolate and sugar cookies in front of old fashioned Christmas movies with B. I give myself a hall-pass from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve every year and allow myself a modified fitness schedule, ease up on the organizing, planning, cooking and cleaning, and just try to enjoy celebrating life. I “let go” for a few weeks and indulge, indulge, indulge. And then January comes. All the trimmings are boxed up, I feel squishy and lazy, and the pressure to return to my usual routines looms in the air.

Last year before Christmas even rolled around, I decided I was sick and tired of experiencing that impending January doom. Who wants to be cranky and depressed starting out a new year? I realized I needed to re frame the way I looked at January – I needed to find something positive about it and hold on to that, instead of holding on to a hangover from a holiday come and gone. So I made a promise to myself that I would try my damndest each year to see January as the month we’re all given a gift: a clean slate.

Obviously everything is much easier said than done. I still cry when I leave my niece and nephew; I still miss my sisters for at least a few days after returning to San Francisco; I even get a little choked up when we take all the ornaments off the tree . But from the time the wheels touch down at SFO, thinking about that clean slate has become January’s saving grace.

We opted to come home to San Francisco between Christmas and New Years Eve this year, so I had some very rare down time to consider what I would do with my clean slate; to think back over 2010 and how I’d like to build upon it. Naturally, I made a list. And it keeps growing...

  1. Have that “Christmas state of mind” at least 1 day each month all year long.
  2. Be more present on a daily basis. Experience the smells, sights, sounds and people around me rather than too often getting caught in my “in my own head.”
  3. Stop grabbing the fat on my tummy in the morning. Or any time of day for that matter.
  4. Stop being such an old lady about adapting new technology. Skype more with friends and family.
  5. Embrace the concept of “for better, for worse.” Learn to handle challenges in my relationship more gracefully and calmly. In other words, less like nut bag.
  6. No burping, farting, or “discreet” nose picking in front of Bee, or anyone else for that matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s an occasional slip-up, a rare miscalculation, or a champagne-induced moment of weakness. One mishap is enough to gross someone out, turn someone off, or make someone think of me as a teenage hot mess rather than a 28 year old woman.
  7. Reframe career goals: stop focusing on the risk involved in asking for more respect, recognition and control over my work load and projects. Just do it.
  8. Be more compassionate; when I can’t find compassion in my heart for someone, at least remember that I have no right to judge. Anyone.
  9. Remember that B is not perfect and it is unfair to expect him to be.
  10. Speak up when the guys at work act like d-bags, invade my personal space, stare at my legs or boobs, or attempt to minimize my contribution due to their own insecurity.
  11. Be as patient with B as he is with me.
  12. Be more accepting of those who think and behave differently - especially my dear Mother.
  13. Refrain from considering the reasons I can’t or shouldn’t do something, instead consider the reasons I should.
  14. Stop trying to fit so much into every day; and allow myself more sleep and downtime.
  15. Be more forgiving.
  16. Take the blinders off during the work week and learn to find joy in, and have fun, every day. Monday – Friday don’t have to be so structured and focused.
  17. Turn off the TV (sports) once a week and play backgammon, Wii, Connect Four, Monopoly, etc with B.
  18. Reset my fitness expectations to eradicate “workout guilt.” Instead of requiring a bare minimum of 4 (bar method or yoga) classes each week, require only 3 classes and walk or do other fun activities when I can in between.
  19. Remember I can be defined by how I handle and overcome a struggle, not by the struggle itself. (Thanks A.)
  20. Be kind to myself. Be kind to others.
  21. Don’t get caught up in inconsequential details or unnecessary negativity.
  22. Drink more wine.