The Sentimental Crockpot

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This is my crockpot, circa 1998. Most of my kitchen is stocked with items from 1994, the year I got married. This one is from the year I got divorced. It’s not the most modern slow cooker, and fellow party-goers make jokes about it, despite the exceptionally tasty meatballs I’m usually toting in it. I could get a newer one that would probably work better and be less “retro-chic,” but this one has sentimental value. My dad gave it to me. He’s been gone eleven and a half years now, and few things call him to mind as quickly as this old-school crockpot.

My dad and I didn’t have the warmest relationship. He wanted four kids; I am Kid #5. I have no idea how old I was when my mom told me that, or why she told me, but my revisionist memory makes it seem as if I have always known this.

What I remember most about my dad was him watching TV by himself in the family room. Sometimes he’d shout clear from one end of the house to summon me from my room on the other end, only to ask me to change the channel. He could be gruff, even taciturn. But when he was in a good mood, he was hilarious, telling us funny stories, sometimes pranking us or our mom. He teased a lot, and you couldn’t tell when he was joking. I was the sensitive one who’d get hurt feelings and run crying from the room, which would piss him off. No wonder our relationship was a little strained.

Most of my childhood memories are hazy at best, and few of my dad remain at all. This one, circa 1977ish, sticks: I was sick in bed, in my yellow bedroom where the daisies from the wallpaper marched straight across the curtains. I don’t remember feeling sick, so there’s a high likelihood that I was faking it and my mom put me to bed to call my bluff, but I can’t be certain.

My dad came home and appeared in my doorway. “You’re sick?” he asked. I nodded. He vanished for a few minutes, then returned with a bowl of peanut M&Ms. From the doorway, he flung his hefty frame onto the bed next to me, causing me to bounce on the mattress and the M&Ms to jump from the bowl onto my pillow. “Would some M&Ms make you feel better?”

My dad loved me, and I knew that. But like many fathers of his day, my dad’s chief role in the family was provider. The nurturing, daily kid management, and responsibility for creating happy memories was my mom’s arena, so she got most of the credit and most of the affection.

Take Christmas morning, for example. In our family of six kids, Christmas morning involved a spectacular pile of wrapped gifts under the tree. We’d open our clothes, books, art sets, toys…each receiving a haul of gifts that my mom had shopped for, selected and wrapped. And we’d say, “Thanks, Mom!”

She’d correct us, of course. “Thanks Mom and DAD,” she’d insist. Year after year, she’d have to remind us that the gifts were from both parents. She did the shopping, but his paycheck funded the bounty.

Having lived most of my adult life as a single parent, I now recognize the financial feat required to raise six kids in Southern California.  I remember money being a touchy topic, and I know sometimes my mom had to work miracles with the budget, but we always had what we needed and then some. I think now of all the years my dad went to work each day and came home to a house full of kids who needed shoes, orthodontic treatments, football uniforms, piano lessons, and of course, mountains of groceries. I know he didn’t get to enjoy much of his paychecks. I know how that sacrifice feels, and I appreciate him now in a way that I couldn’t when I was a kid.

I know that sacrifice was an expression of love from a father that didn’t easily express love. The crockpot was another one.

My marriage was rocky from the start. We were twenty-one-year-olds with a one-year-old son, trying to do the right thing by getting married. That struggle is a different story, but suffice it to say that of our four-year marriage, we spent two years in marriage counseling until, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, I finally gave up.

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He gave me away when I got married. Fortunately, he also took me back when I got divorced.

The second-hardest part was telling my parents. Seems like all the bad news I ever delivered to my parents was sitting on that same brown sofa, my dad in his Dad Chair facing the TV. I was crying before I could get the words out. “I’m getting divorced,” I said. “He’s moving out next week.”

“Why isn’t he already out?” he barked. Then, with his usual sensitivity, “Why are you crying?”

I stayed for dinner. My mom served pepper steak. As I piled my plate with steak and peppers and potatoes and salad, I said, “I wish I had time to cook like this.”

“You just put it in the crockpot,” said my Dad, who seldom cooked at all.

“I don’t have a crockpot.” I replied.

The next time I went to my parents’ house was for my birthday dinner. My dad was unusually excited to give me my birthday present: this very crockpot.

My mom told me that it was his idea to buy it for me. Other than the gifts he gave her, and even those he often had help shopping for, this is the only gift I can ever recall that he thought of himself, shopped for himself, and wrapped by himself. And he did that for ME. Kid #5.

I knew he was worried about me, and what my life would be like as a single mom. I knew he was trying to make things easier for me with that thoughtful gift.

My dad softened up as he got older. He and my mom went through some rocky times themselves, and in the process of healing his own marriage, my dad seemed to crack open. He learned to say, “I love you” to us, though it would choke him up to speak the words. He spent less time isolated in front of the TV and became more engaged with friends, church, all of us and his grandkids. I know that my kids remember this happier version of my dad, and I’m so grateful for that.

When he was in his early sixties, a stroke took his balance. Later, a second stroke took his mind and mobility. Two years after that, in 2006, we said goodbye to him, all six of us with my mom together in his hospital room. That memory has not faded at all, but so many others are slipping away.

It’s good to have so many siblings, because they keep different memories. Soon we’ll be old folks who tell the same stories over and over to help us remember. This crockpot story will be one of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

On Writing, Gardening, and the Death of a Grasshopper

Q.  How many posts will I write about getting my groove back before said groove returns?

A.  Every post I write will always be about getting my groove back.

The last several years have been a constant struggle to find my old creative energy.  Much like starting a new diet every Monday, only to find myself face-down in a pizza by Friday, I have made many declarations of, “This is it! I’m going to live like a writer now! I’m going to write every day and post regularly and work on my book and paint paintings and generally be glorious!” –only to find another six months has passed between blog posts. The paints dry up in their tubes. And the book remains in snippets and half-developed scenes in my head.

I sit down at my keyboard, again, to draft another post, again, and write about not writing. Again. My brain skips from angle to angle. I force myself to stay in the moment. Follow one singular line of thought. Start with the basics. Ask one question and answer it.

What gets in the way of working on creative projects? What interferes with the discipline of creativity? Answer it, Meg: what keeps you from posting to this blog?

I am not too busy.

I am distracted. I’m frustrated.

I’m afraid.

I am afraid that there is nothing worthwhile in me to share anymore. I’m afraid that it’s all canned and reheated. I’m afraid that there’s nothing novel or interesting about my life.

I’m living in such a way that nothing is novel or interesting.

I’m wasting my life.

There it is. That’s what’s in the way. I’m afraid that I’m wasting my life. I sit down to write and try to think of something interesting to say, and nothing comes up, so I am forced to consider that terrifying possibility. The title of this blog rubs it in: The Midlife Adventures of Meg. I’m halfway through my years on this earth, and no adventures are happening. Not even small ones.

Surely, I can find some small ones.

#             #             #

A few days ago, I was watering my plants. My daughter and I got a raised planter bed, and we are attempting to grow vegetables. I’ve carved a bed out of one corner of my yard and filled it with California native plants. And all along my fence I have pots: succulents, flowers, and a collection of culinary herbs.  Gardening is meditative, rewarding, and endlessly interesting to me. But if you look at my garden closely, you’ll see the leaves are riddled with holes.

Holey basilIt seems that no matter what I try to grow, grasshoppers come and eat holes in all of it. Grasshoppers are my nemeses.

So I was watering my holey plants, and when I got to the herbs, I spotted a small, green insect on the basil. It was narrow and oblong, with long antennae and arched legs. GRASSHOPPER! Caught in the act! I was filled with righteous anger as I adjusted my hose nozzle to JET and blasted it off its dinner.

Then something snagged in my mind and I looked more carefully at it, wiped out on the fence behind the herbs. It wasn’t a grasshopper. It was a praying mantis. A tiny, baby, praying mantis about as long as my pinky nail.

A month or so ago, I bought praying mantis egg sacs, specifically to combat the grasshoppers. Praying mantises eat all kinds of bugs. The store clerk told me that I wouldn’t see them hatch, but the egg sacs would produce hundreds of praying mantises. I didn’t really want hundreds of them, I told him. I’m not sure I could handle that.

Mantis eggs

“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “They’re very territorial, so they actually eat each other until there are just one or two left.”

Apparently, I’d wound up with at least one of these charming, helpful cannibals, and I’d just blasted it with my garden hose.

I could see the poor thing, about a half inch long, and obviously not a grasshopper. I could see its tiny, sideways head and its signature, articulating forearms.

“I am so sorry,” I whispered, and I meant it. I crouched down in front of the wood fence where it lay, swamped, its antennae twitching slowly. “I totally thought you were a grasshopper. Clearly you are not. Any idiot could see that. I’m very sorry. Please be okay. Please stay here. There is so much for you to eat. I promise I will be more careful.”

As I finished watering, I cursed my knee-jerk reactions. So stupid. Serves me right if I have grasshoppers. I wound the hose and stopped to check on the mantis before returning inside.

Gone. Damnit.

I poured myself a glass of wine and sat on the patio to mourn.  I texted my daughter and told her I’d killed our one surviving praying mantis. She sent a sad face emoji.

Then I went back to the herb planter to try to find him one more time. And there he was, standing on a sage leaf three times his size, walking around on perfectly functional legs.

Mantis“Hello!” I said, no doubt scaring the bejeebers out of him. “I’m so glad you’re okay! I’m so glad you’re back! Please stay! Eat everything you can!”

I cannot overstate how happy I was to see that bug. If my neighbor overheard me talking to it, he probably thought I got a new puppy.  I took pictures of it and posted it on Facebook.

I texted my daughter to tell her that the mantis was still alive. “I was thinking of naming him Walter,” I told her. “But then I remembered that he probably ate all his siblings and decided he needs something a little more badass than that.”

“Skullcrusher?” she suggested. “Doombringer?”

We are currently trying to decide between Doombringer or Vladimir the Bloodthirsty.

I was able to track my little friend for several days in a row. I may have spotted one additional mantis on the poppies, maybe a shade greener than Vlad and a bit smaller. Or it may have been the same mantis in a different light. Either way, I did not spray him with the hose.

I also spotted one small grasshopper. I watched him for a few seconds to be sure he was a grasshopper. Then I killed him.

#             #             #

Would this be a proper Midlife Meg post if I didn’t circle back and clearly explain the analogy for you with a tidy little lesson?

Seriously, this is when my inner critic starts to slap me around.  Here you go with the tidy little lessons again, Meg. So canned. So convenient.

Real life doesn’t come in tidy lessons. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Must an experience mean something to be important? Can’t it just be an experience? What kind of a writer are you, Meg?

And yet, this post wrote itself.  Unbeknownst to my waking consciousness, my brain made a connection for me and served me the praying mantis story as I free-wrote, searching for blog-worthy adventures in my small, simple life.

So here you go, O Ye Who Search for Deeper Meaning. A metaphor explained. Let the garden be the creative landscape of my mind. Let the grasshoppers be that self-loathing that creeps in and eats holes in everything. Let the mantises be the hundreds of ideas born there: tiny, fascinating creatures both helpful and powerful, if only I recognize them and let them live.

Mantis 2

Yes, We Do Have Fall in Southern California

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

People say we don’t have seasons in Southern California. After nearly forty years in Orange County, I disagree.  Sure, if you’re waiting for flaming maple trees and frosty mornings, I suppose you might be disappointed. But I can testify that we do indeed have a fall season, distinct and beautiful in its subtlety.

It was 97 degrees here today, and it still feels like fall to me. You just have to know what to look for.

Fall is in the slant of the light this time of year, the way the sunshine is particularly golden and the shadows particularly long. Fall is the shortening days and the rush to squeeze a walk into the last of the daylight savings twilight.  Fall is thirty-degree temperature swings that bring cool evening breezes and damp, dewy mornings when you can’t decide whether to run the heat or the air during your commute. Fall is the Santa Ana winds threatening in thick, dry breezes that crackle with electricity, then gusting into chaos and returning the smell of wildfires on amber afternoons.

Fall is school kids lingering at bus stops and traffic doubling as colleges return for the semester. Fall is the smell of hot, dry grass, taking me back to my brother’s football practice, triggering a double-edged nostalgia for junior high, with all its painful insecurity and hopeful possibility.

Fall is resisting the rush to sweaters and boots and embracing those last hot days in your sandals, though you’re longing for the temperature to drop, knowing that in a few months you’ll miss these sun-drenched days.

Fall is gambling on whether the last heat wave has come and gone, risking that your pumpkins will rot and your mums will wither if you put them on your porch too soon. And then, when you can’t take it anymore, fall is scattering bright autumn leaves that you bought at the craft store, lighting your apple spice candles, hauling out your Halloween trappings, stubbornly cooking chili and baking cookies with the air conditioning on, and making your own cozy season—regardless of the weather.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

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Loneliness & Solitude

You know what’s terrible when you’re lonely? Facebook. It’s like watching a parade through the three-inch window of your prison cell.

I used to be great at being alone. I was proud of my independence, my lack of neediness.

Something shifted, though. For whatever reason, I’ve been struggling with loneliness in a way that I never have before. This is a brutal sort of loneliness that ambushes me at all hours. It’s accompanied by a vicious cataloging of all my flaws, all of the “reasons” why I’m alone. And it’s bleak, casting long shadows over my future, a doomsday prophet telling me to get used to it; this is how it will always be.

I’ve done my best to fight it. I packed my schedule with activity. I made to-do lists and set goals and started projects and joined groups. I drank too much. And the internet dates…ugh, the internet dates.

I’ve heard many times that if you want to get over something, you have to first let yourself really feel it. I thought maybe I would try that. Lean into the loneliness. Own it. Thoroughly experience it so that I could then let it go.

I don’t recommend it, leaning into loneliness. If you go looking for evidence that you are alone, you will find it, and it will hurt.

I decided that if I was going to be alone, I would be alone. I stopped trying to convince people to spend time with me. I stopped reaching out, and I stopped expecting them to reach out to me. I stopped scheduling every minute. And, probably most helpful, I turned off social media. I forced myself to stop the endless casting about on Facebook and Twitter for I don’t know what…Company? Attention? Distraction?

Once I did that, the clamoring inside me subsided a bit. I was left with something quieter and more peaceful: solitude.

Solitude is the graceful cousin of loneliness.

Loneliness stems from comparison and envy. I see a happy couple and immediately compare my state with theirs: loneliness. I see friends checking in on Facebook and feel another stabbing comparison: they are out having fun together and I am here, alone. Loneliness is a lack, a feeling of less-than, a focus on what you’re missing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is just the state of being alone. It’s being present with yourself, only yourself. Solitude focuses on what is, not what is lacking.

In solitude, there’s freedom. Do what you like. Listen to what you like. Sleep if you’re sleepy; eat if you’re hungry.

I spent a gorgeous weekend in solitude, puttering in the garage like I used to, in those days when I was great at being alone. I left my phone in the bedroom and forgot about it. I finished a painting. I worked in the yard. When the daylight faded, I curled up with a glass of wine and a book. These are things I love. Solitude gives me time to do them.

I began to recognize both loneliness and solitude as spirals. Solitude gives. Loneliness takes.

When you’re drowning in loneliness, you’re not just reaching for people; you’re clutching. You feel it. They feel it. You approach relationships—both existing and potential relationships—from a place of scarcity. When you show up with that sort of neediness, it’s a negative experience for you and for those with whom you interact, which may cause them (or you) to withdraw. Negativity and withdrawal reinforce your loneliness.

On the other hand, solitude allows you to fill up, recharge, and come to your relationships open-handed. You come from a place of abundance. You’re in a position to give, which feels good to you and to others, making you more likely to seek their company and them more likely to seek yours.

After a little healthy solitude, I can show up and be gracious again. I can feel happy for the happy couples instead of resentful and jealous. I can relax and joke with my friends. They laugh; I hear that they enjoy me, which makes me feel valued—an upward spiral.

I wish I could say that the loneliness is gone, but it isn’t. It’s right there, like a bruise that hurts if I touch it. The sensible thing, then, is to stop touching it.

No more leaning into loneliness. If you’re lonely, lean into solitude.

If you're struggling with loneliness, lean into solitude.

Thoughts on The Whole30

I have this friend who’s been on the gluten-free bandwagon for a long time, and here’s what I’ve always told her: if you take away beer, pizza and cookies, I don’t have much left to live for.

Okay sure, there’s the kids, but whatever. All I’m saying is that giving up wheat is really not consistent with my world view.

But then the Universe would not shut up about The Whole30, and all the wonderful things that would happen if I gave up wheat, AND all the other grains, and sugar and alcohol and dairy and even legumes, for chrissakes. (Everyone knows that black beans are healthy, right?)

Shut up, Universe. There’s no way I’d ever do something THAT crazy.

Still, there were an awful lot of people making an awful lot of claims about The Whole30 that really appealed to me: clearer skin. Better sleep. Reduced joint pain. And of course, weight loss. These are things I want badly, and have wanted badly for a long time. Badly enough to give up all those foods? Even drinking?

Finally, after a high school reunion weekend that involved way too much alcohol, I felt fat and lousy. I decided it was time to try something drastic. And there was that damn Whole30, coming at me from blogs and social media and bookstores…

At the same time, I started working with a life coach. I heard myself telling her all the reasons I couldn’t possibly do The Whole30, and I sounded like a big loser.

So I decided I better do it.

And I did. Perfectly. The whole damn thing—no cheating. I don’t have a great track record of sticking with diets, and I’ve never tried anything this strict. However, I think that’s exactly why I was able to do The Whole30: because you can’t half-ass it. You follow the rules, or you start over. Simple as that. No negotiating in your head, no hemming and hawing; this is all-or-nothing.

Honestly, it wasn’t difficult to give up those foods. After the first couple days, I genuinely didn’t miss anything except wine, which I’ll discuss later. The most difficult aspect for me was the lack of convenience. Because you are using no processed foods, you can’t just hit a drive-through on your way to work because you overslept. You can’t pick up a pizza on the way home if you don’t feel like cooking. You must plan ahead and prepare most of your food from scratch. Cooking everything from scratch is time-consuming. The change to my lifestyle was much tougher than the change to my diet.

The Whole30 promises to change the way you look at food, and I can attest to that. Here are some ways it did that:

  • Once you stop eating junk, you stop craving it. So instead of choosing food based on cravings, I was free to choose food that I knew would make me feel good and keep me full. That really happened; I just didn’t want junk food.
  • I knew there was a lot of sugar in processed food, but I didn’t realize it is EVERYWHERE. Did you know rotisserie chicken has sugar in it? Once you start reading labels, you really get suspicious of food manufacturers. I would walk in to a 7-11 (for Perrier! My new love!) and I would get angry at the rows upon rows of brightly-packaged JUNK. I’d think, “Here is a whole room of things people eat, none of which are food.” It wasn’t a holier-than-thou feeling. It was frustration. Where is the actual food?
  • I realized that most of the reasons I eat certain things were not because of hunger, or even moods—just triggers. I want popcorn because I’m watching a movie. I want wine because it’s Friday. I want diet Coke because I always have one while I’m out running errands.

Once I got my groove on with the cooking and food prep, I really enjoyed my Whole30. I tried new foods (rutabaga, anyone?) and new cooking techniques. I even had a dinner party with all-compliant foods. It was like a fun experiment.

The Results

Sugar cravings: you already heard about the cravings being gone. My Whole30 ended over a week ago and I still haven’t had any sweets. I really don’t want them. On the other hand, fruit tastes delicious! So sweet! Beer and wine taste sweeter to me, too. My palate is has definitely adjusted to appreciate the natural sweetness in food.

Sleep: I slept like a baby on The Whole30–deep, wonderful sleep. I habitually woke up before my alarm, and towards the end of the month, I even stopped hitting the snooze button. I did have some wacky food dreams, but I hear that’s typical of detoxing.

Periods: OMG. I can’t believe how much better my PMS symptoms were. I typically have two brutally emotional days just before my period—weepiness, horrible thoughts—I’m a wreck. I started the Whole30 four days before my period and finished it two days before the next one. I had NO weepy days. Also, I typically take Advil to manage cramps for at least three days of my period. Both periods required Advil on the first day only. I can’t even remember the last time I had it that easy.

Mood: I’m a moody girl, very prone to depression. I noticed that my general outlook was markedly better during The Whole30. Fewer bad days and better good days. Some days I felt so happy, it was kind of ridiculous. The world may not be ready for Super Perky Meg.

Diet Coke: I kicked a lifetime diet Coke habit. Seriously, I was like a crack whore for diet Coke. I drank it first thing in the morning and often exceeded 64 ounces a day. I know that’s gross and dangerous, and I was actually pretty ashamed of that habit. Now, I don’t want diet Coke at all. I drink iced tea for caffeine in the morning (I don’t like coffee) and I drink sparkling water (unsweetened) when I want something fizzy. Diet Coke actually tastes gross to me now. I have absolute confidence that I am done with diet Coke.

And finally, weight loss: I lost 10 pounds. That’s pretty good for me. Usually, two pounds per week is the best I can expect. I wish I had taken before and after pictures, or measurements, because I’m pretty sure my gut shrank, and my face seems thinner.

The Less-Than-Stellar Bits

My skin didn’t clear up much. This was disappointing for me because so many people rave about what The Whole30 does for their skin. I understand that skin takes a long time to respond to changes—dermatologists have always told me it takes months to see the effects of medication on skin, and I’ve read the same about dietary changes, so I suspect it just didn’t have enough time.

I really missed alcohol. I didn’t struggle with cravings; I just missed it. It was hard to go to parties without drinking, and I abandoned all hope of internet dating without the help of wine– forget that. I realized how much the world revolves around alcohol. Giving it up wasn’t fun.

Many people experience significant reduction in joint pain on TheWhole30. My old lady hip felt a little improved, but not significantly. Again, I may not have given this enough time. Overall, my body felt much less stiff on the Whole30, but that one hip continued to hurt.

I completely bombed the re-entry. You’re supposed to re-introduce foods gradually, one group at a time, and note the effects they have on your squeaky-clean system. Because I didn’t plan well and I had social events immediately following my 30 days, I got sloppy and mixed up the groups. Also I drank too much. Not out of hand, just more than I should have introduced into my system. Sure enough, I felt lousy, but I can’t tell you which food-culprits are responsible.

Did it change my life?

Somebody asked me whether The Whole30 changed my life. I think it did, and after a week off the Whole30, I can tell you why. This week, I’ve been eating less carefully, but I’m really not enjoying it. I had pizza the other night—good pizza that I’ve always loved—and it was fine, but it wasn’t delicious. Certainly wasn’t worth feeling lousy for. And beer doesn’t seem so great anymore, either. I took one bite of a cupcake the other night and threw the rest away. Who am I?!?

After being off it for a week, I realize more and more how different I feel when I make poor food choices. My mood tanked. I’m sad because my sleep is no longer amazing and I feel like I screwed it up. All I want is to get back to Whole30 health as soon as I can, for as long as I can. I know what healthy feels like, and I want that feeling more than I want pizza, beer or cookies. That’s a pretty significant change.

Probably the biggest life-changer: I did something that I thought was really hard, something a lot of people can’t seem to finish. I felt very strong and in-control, which was a great feeling. It’s been a while since I felt this sense of accomplishment, and it makes me want to take on more goals. If I can finish The Whole30, what else can I do?

Keepin’ On: The Internet Dating Update

By popular request, I am writing an update about my dating foibles.

Okay, just one person requested it, but she’s very popular, so I think that counts.

It’s been a year since I wrote this post about not being ready to date. I stayed off the dating sites through the holidays, because starting something new at the holidays is so awkward. You’re not sure if your new beau is ready to join your wacky family for Thanksgiving, but it might be rude not to invite him. Then there’s that question of what to buy him for Christmas, trying to match the gift to whatever stage of the relationship you’re in. New guys at the holidays really are no fun at all. Unless you’re into cozy evenings by the fire, romantic walks through beautifully lit neighborhoods, planning holiday surprises, or having someone to kiss on New Year’s Eve.

But, you know…who really likes all that stuff anyway? Not me, obviously. I waited for January.

Turns out, everyone waits for January. The dating sites were hopping with activity so I had lots of opportunities to meet new people. And I did. I don’t even know how many. Here are the highlights, and I’m using that word very loosely.

I met a funny, sexy, articulate guy named Joe. (There are enough Joes in the world that I can just use his name, right?) Joe was extremely flakey. You know those people who make vague or tentative plans with you and either don’t follow through or wait til the very last minute to solidify? He was one of those. He always left me hanging. I don’t like that feeling, so I backed off and waited for him to call me. He didn’t like that much. “Why don’t you ever call me?” he asked. “Why do I always have to call you?” I said, “I don’t want to chase you. You seem like you’re always half-assing it. I don’t mind if we only see each other occasionally, but you’ve got to let me know what’s going on so I can plan.” And he said, “Why do all girls want to have this relationship talk so soon?”

Huh? Relationship? That’s not a relationship talk. That’s a scheduling talk. But Flakey Joe’s half-assed ways got annoying so I resumed my search.

I met a guy who spent 45 minutes of my time complaining to me about his ex-wife. He asked me how long I’d been divorced and I told him: 17 years. And he said, “Wow. That’s a really long time. What do you think the problem is?” Because there MUST be something wrong with me if I haven’t remarried by now. Duh.

I met one guy whom I actually dated for a couple months. He was not a very good kisser. Do you know how hard it is to get past that? But he was fun to be with, except when he was kissing me, so I decided to give it some time and see how it went. (See? I try. I don’t give up right away.) It didn’t go very well. Bad kissing leads to bad other things. And those other things were pretty bad. (It would be rude for me to get into details here. Buy me a couple drinks and I’ll give you specifics if you want them.) Anyway, I was gimping it along with Mr. Unsexy and then one day, at a hangover breakfast, while I was eating a reasonably healthy half-order of poached eggs and asparagus and he was eating a giant plate of steak and eggs with hash browns and a Bloody Mary the size of my head, he gently suggested that maybe “we” should try to lose some weight.

We. Did I mention that Unsexy was very skinny? And that I am not? Yeah. I decided to stop overlooking his gross lack of skills and get the heck out of there.

I spoke with another guy, a big shot I now refer to as The Onceler, who asked me what I was doing that evening. I said I had to work—I had to write some web content and load it into our company website. He said, “I have a Filipino virtual assistant who does that for pennies.” I think that may be the rudest thing someone has ever said to me that early in a conversation. Not to mention all the levels of wrongness inherent in that statement.

There was the red-headed mailman who spoke a total of 17 words during our whole date. And I had to ask him 17 questions to get those words out of him.

I went out with another guy whose lack of confidence made me cringe. At one point in the date, he got up to use the restroom and when he came back, he looked at me with surprise and said, “Oh, you’re still here!”

I met one guy who was really nice to talk to and very interesting, but he never put the moves on me. Still, it was fun at first. His Pinterest boards were almost identical to mine! He enjoyed looking at old houses, just like me, and shopping for home décor, just like me, and the more I got to know him, the more certain I became that he probably should be dating dudes (just like me). Raised in a strict, conservative, religious environment; adamantly and loudly homophobic; sews his own curtains…it was repression stew. And even if he wasn’t deeply closeted, I can’t date a homophobe.

Oh, that reminds me of the guy with the very soft, small hands and gentle, quiet voice who met me at a bar and then ordered white zinfandel. Everyone should drink what he or she likes best, and if you are happiest with a glass of pink wine in your ladyhand, who am I to judge? But I can’t date someone who seems more feminine than me. Don’t blame me; blame the patriarchy.

Most recently, I met a guy who told me, about a half hour into a coffee date, that I was his first attempt at dating since he got out of prison, and that he would be on federal parole for the next several years. So that was a real mood dampener. But I respected him for his honesty and for turning his life around. Then we started talking politics, and you know what this guy was? A Trump supporter! You can be a felon; I understand that sometimes we all make bad decisions. But if you think Donald Trump is a legitimate choice for president, there is something gravely wrong with you. I could not end that conversation fast enough.

I’m only telling you about the ones that I didn’t like. It goes the other way, too, of course. There was Hot Scott, who was brilliant and interesting—and hot, of course. He took me to a very nice dinner, so nice it almost made me uncomfortable. He told great stories and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. But he didn’t even walk me to my car (basic courtesy, right?) so I knew he wasn’t interested. Hard to fathom that someone wouldn’t be interested in ME, but hey, it happens. At least it was an entertaining date. There was also a guy from high school that I found on Tinder. We went out and he was delightful: charming and handsome and so fun to be around. Still is. We landed smack in the friend zone. That happens sometimes, too, and I’m okay with that.

So there you have it: a brief, sad summary of my dating life over the last year.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m too picky, or if I have unrealistic expectations. Am I like George Costanza, ruling out people for ridiculous reasons? Contrary to popular belief, being single for long periods of time does not make you inclined to settle. If anything, it makes you pickier. I’m old enough to know what I can and cannot live with. While I occasionally get tired of being alone (occasionally is another word I’m using loosely), I am pretty good at it. I know from experience that I’m happier on my own than I am when I’m with someone who isn’t a good fit.

We’re coming up on the holidays, so I’ll take another break pretty soon. My Match.com membership expires at the end of the month, and I’ll shut it down, delete my Tinder app, etc. I’ll have cozy nights by the fire with my dogs, who never tell me I need to lose weight. I’ll plan Christmas surprises for family and friends who aren’t flakey. And on New Years Eve, who knows? I could kiss anyone—anyone but a Trump supporter, that is. A girl must have her standards.

Why I Really Don’t Care About Your Grammar

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Every once in a while, a friend will express concern that I’m judging their grammar.*
I’m not. Yes, it is my job to communicate in writing and yes, I notice misspellings and most mechanical errors. I can’t help it. But much of the time, I don’t care about your grammar. I only care about mine. So I would appreciate it if everyone would just relax.

Three main reasons I’m not uptight about grammar:

1.  In casual usage, formal grammar can actually be distracting.
*Did you notice the subject/pronoun disagreement in that first sentence? Yeah, that bothered me. It bothered me because it was my error and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t know better. But that particular error never bothers me when someone else makes it, because that’s how most people speak. And sometimes, using the plural pronoun is less distracting than using the singular pronoun and having to choose a gender. (As in, “A friend will express concern that I’m judging her grammar,” which would imply that the friend was a girl, and might have you wondering if I meant you or your sister.)

You may also notice that I don’t give a rat’s patootie about starting a sentence with a conjunction, though that is technically incorrect, too. I’ve already done it at least four times in this post, because I’m a rebel like that. Which brings me to point #2.

2.  Sometimes rule-breaking works better.
In a blog post, I will write run-on sentences when I’m trying to convey breathless excitement. I will write fragments for emphasis. Occasionally, I will incorrectly structure a series, because I prefer the rhythm with a whole bunch of conjunctions instead of commas. I break rules to establish tone or to create an effect. I try not to habitually break rules, because that can become a distraction of its own. But in my own writing, I use the rules to my advantage and disregard them when it suits me. It’s a choice I make, and other people can have that choice, too.

 3.  Lots of smart people suck at spelling and grammar.
I learned this early in life. Some of my super-smart friends were terrible spellers. Spelling and grammar come naturally to me. You know what doesn’t? Math. So if you don’t mock my inability to do quick math, I will not raise an eyebrow if you occasionally misspell things.

Language is just a tool for communication. Communication is sending and receiving messages, right?

If I’m sending a message, I want my grammar to support that message and not distract from it. So I follow rules to the extent that it helps my audience receive the message. Sometimes that means following formal rules; sometimes it doesn’t. I guarantee you, when I’m commenting on Facebook, the only reason I care about my grammar is because some smartass will point out my errors, especially if they think I’m a Grammar Nazi. Which I’m not. (Fragment for emphasis, see?) When I’m texting with friends, I don’t even think about mechanics.

If I’m receiving a message from you, and you are a friend of mine who’s attempting to communicate with me, whether that be on Facebook, via text, or in conversation over dinner, the only reason I’m going to be concerned about your grammar is if it garbles the message you’re sending so badly that I can’t receive it. Usually, that’s not the case; I can figure out what you mean.

Bottom line: I care about your message much more than your mechanics.

Proper grammar has its place, but the burden for proper grammar is on the one who sends the message. My job as a listener is to receive your message and seek to understand it, not find fault in its delivery.

Someone once told me, “Over-attention to other people’s grammar is the mark of a small mind.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. The truth is, I don’t quite like the way he structured that sentence. My brain struggles with the awkward subject clause. But I am not small-minded, so I didn’t pay attention to his sentence structure. Instead, I received his message. And I have never forgotten it.

Throwback Thursday: A Classic Comeback to an Age-Old Question

If you have a teenage daughter, you know that there is no better source of cold, hard truth—especially about your appearance and fashion sense.

I rely heavily on my 19-year-old daughter for honest answers to critical questions like, “Hey, is it okay to wear socks with these?” I text pictures to her while shopping so she can assist with wardrobe choices. She screens my outfits before I leave for dates.

This may be her most significant contribution to our household—she keeps me from looking like a dork, or at least from looking like an old dork.

I became aware of Maddy’s gift for hard-hitting fashion feedback when she was very young. Consider this magnificent exchange from when she was just four years old.

I had just bought a new outfit, and it was a bit of a style departure for me. Fifteen years ago, I was every bit as bottom-heavy as I am now. Big butts weren’t as acceptable then as they are now. (They ARE acceptable now. I believe in my heart that they are.) So, I tended to hide my “curvy” lower half under big, tunic-style tops.

This time however, in a moment of body-bravado, I’d purchased a fitted black sweater and a printed wrap-around skirt. It was a long, narrow skirt with a tribal pattern on it. Between the fitted sweater and narrow skirt, my shape wasn’t hidden at all.

“Wanna see my new outfit?” I asked four-year-old Maddy, and she, already clothing-conscious and opinionated, gamely agreed.

I put on the outfit and stood in front of the mirror, where I could see her little face looking at me from behind.

Head tilted, she considered my ensemble with a definite frown. It was so clear that she didn’t approve, I just had to do it: I had to ask that age-old question. And she gave the best answer that I’ve ever heard.

“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked. “Do you think this skirt makes my butt look big?”

“No,” she said seriously, my joke lost on her. “I think your butt makes that skirt look big.”

Maddy age four 3

Birthday Thoughts: 43 and Rollin’ With It

I’m turning 43 today. I don’t really care so much about that, but my birthday might be making me a little more introspective than usual. (That’s saying something. Somebody here might be a narcissist. If you have a personal blog, there’s a pretty high chance of narcissism. Just sayin’. But it’s okay to be a narcissist on your birthday, right?)

There is a very positive development on the horizon for me, and I can’t talk about it because it’s not official yet. But the possibility—the likelihood, even– is so exciting, it’s spilling over into the rest of my life and suddenly everything seems all rosy and full of possibility. I feel happy and beautiful and abundant. I’m actually walking around smiling, buzzing. It’s pretty wonderful.

And, at 43, I finally recognize this for what it is. Basically, this is a mood swing. Nothing in my life is any different than usual. More money may be coming into it, and that’s fantastic and it will feel great. A younger me would be thinking, man, if this happens, everything will be perfect. I will have arrived.

But I’ve learned that that’s not the case, regardless of what new development occurs. Doesn’t matter if I meet a wonderful guy or get a great job or reach my goal weight or whatever. (I have a little shame that these issues are still the yardsticks, but they are. I can’t deny it.) I can be broke no matter how much money I make. I can feel lonely no matter who I’m with. I can feel fat no matter what I weigh, and I can feel sad even when I’m aware of how good I have it. The reverse is also true: I can feel rich when I have nothing. I can feel sexy on my frumpiest of days. I can feel perfectly content and loved when I’m alone.

The absolute crux of my whole existence seems to be mood–not my reality but how I relate to my reality. And when you’re me, with my moods, the one constant is flux. My mood will go up and it will go down. Two days per month it will go waaaaay down. And when stuff goes right, like right now, it will go way up.

Obviously, volumes have been written about this. Not sure what I, small-time blogger, can say that all the greats haven’t already covered. But just like I’m enjoying my UP mood right now, I’m enjoying my grown-up lady perspective that says, “Just roll with it. Don’t grab at it. Just enjoy it while it lasts and see it for what it is.”

This quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh is lingering with me lately, though the context is slightly off from my own. She’s talking about the ebb and flow of love within the context of a relationship, but I receive it in the context of ebb and flow between me and the Universe, or me and my reality—however you care to phrase it—this is true in the broader perspective, and it helps me to think like this.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

Note that she’s not saying there’s no pleasure in owning or expecting or hoping. There’s comfort in continuity; there’s fun in nostalgia. But in the end, there’s no security in it. You can’t bank on it. You are the bank. I am the bank. Kookookachoo.

Speaking of nostalgia, this quote brings back memories of trying to bodysurf as a kid. I grew up in Orange County and have many memories of charging fearlessly into the surf, deep enough so that the swell would lift me off my feet. If you stood in the right place at the right time, the right wave would deliver you smoothly back to the beach. If you timed it poorly, the wave would knock you under and tumble you around until you weren’t sure which way was up, and you’d wind up sputtering and gasping in the sand. I wasn’t great at this, so I did more than my share of tumbling and sputtering. But either way, I’d catch my breath and run right back into the water, over and over again. I’d spend hours in the water, then go home sunburned and exhausted, salty hair plastered to my head and sand stuck in my ears, nose and all the other nooks and crannies of my person. My favorite part was laying in my bed at night, still feeling the ebb and flow of the sea. I could close my eyes and be right back in it, and feel the solidity of my own form against the push and pull of the waves, feel the swell of the water against my legs and the rush of the sand from under my feet.

So at 43, I’ve learned that being a grown-up is about leaning into that ebb and flow. It’s not even knowing which way to lean, or avoiding the tumble and sputter. It’s knowing that there will be smooth rides; there will even be glorious, amazing, can’t-believe-I-caught-that-wave rides. And there will be also times when you hit bottom so hard, you’re still finding sand in your crack a week later.

Whatever happens, good or bad, more waves are coming.

Meg Birthday 43

Head For the Hills

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I haven’t written a poem in at least 25 years. But, because it’s National Poetry Month, and because the world seems to be falling apart and writing a normal post seems preposterous anyway–what the heck. Here’s a poem.

A Sunday night crisis after a beery afternoon
soaking up sunshine and friendship
dipping my toes in drunken escapism
then fading back down the jagged path toward home,
that giant pit of need.
The impendence of Monday
slams up in my throat
with the dreadful certainty of morning sickness:
Oh God, not again.
And then a revolt—no really, not again
commandeers me back to my car.
Auto-pilot through miles of tears and stoplights and strip malls
Until concrete gives way at last to earth,
to gentle, grassy slopes,
the calming rhythm of winding roads
and cool, deep canyons where the sunset darts in and out of view.

In the gravel lot of a roadside café I stop to breathe and recognize
and breathe again.

A sleek crow hop-hobbles towards me through the half-light,
waits, watches, cocks his head sympathetically,
but I know better.
You don’t fool me, Crow.
I would give all the shiny things I own
to trade places with you:
my hands for your wings.
And your greedy corvid heart would take the deal, wouldn’t it?
What treasure you could amass with these strong hands,
these opposable thumbs–
Bigger and better. More and more and more.
You’d gloat on your stockpile
til the day you realized
that for a lifetime of grabbing,
of hoarding sparkly trinkets,
you bartered away your birthright:
Flight.

 crow