Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Vines in My Mind - My Struggle With Postpartum OCD

So many people have emailed me and sent me messages encouraging me to please write about my Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that I've decided to share my experience. I don't know what I can say, and I've mulled it over a lot trying to come up with an angle or a thesis on the topic and I've decided to just write and let the words come in hopes that something I say can help someone who is going through the same thing or someone whose loved one is suffering from it. At least maybe I can help someone out there feel like they're not alone.

OCD isn't something new for me. I've had it since I was a little girl, only I had no idea that's what it was. Bad habits. She just has bad habits, everyone would say. First I found that I could make a sort of snuffing noise in the back of my nose and that if I did it over and over, the action satisfied something in me. It was like scratching an itch, but not a physical itch. It was more of an unsettled feeling I'd get and if I snuffed my nose that unsettled feeling would go away for a little while. It never stayed gone for long though, and I'd have to snuff and snuff, which drove everyone around me crazy.

My parents and grandparents went to great lengths to get me to stop snuffing. My grandmother took me to an ear nose and throat specialist thinking there was something physical causing me to do it. There was talk of getting my tonsils and adenoids taken out as if that might stop the snuffing. I was tested for allergies but no one ever found anything wrong. Finally, the doctors said I had a bad habit. That was enough to get me punished. They grounded me for snuffing, took away privileges and things I liked, even threatened to spank me and finally, although I was wracked with anxiety by this point, I stopped snuffing and the only reason I did was because I found that I could twitch my nose to relieve the unsettled feeling.

I became a rabbit. Twitch, twitch, twitch. My teachers complained about my constant nose twitching and pretty soon my family noticed that this was my latest bad habit and the punishments started again and again I replaced the nose twitching with a new habit until my childhood became a sequence of habits, replacing one for the next as each one was discovered.

And then it got worse.

When I was ten I became seized by the terrifying thought that I was going to choke to death. The thought began from something I saw on TV and then one morning at breakfast I choked on a gnarl of chewy bacon and had to reach down my throat to pull it out. After that, I became obsessed with the fear of choking. I could think of little else. I began to dread mealtimes. I would chew and chew my food but no matter how much I chewed, it wasn't good enough. It felt like my teeth weren't working. They weren't chewing good enough and I was going to choke to death, so I'd end up holding the food in my mouth and trying to spit it into a napkin when no one was looking. Of course, my family caught on pretty quickly. I was living with my strict father and stepmother at the time and visiting my mother every other weekend.  My father tried punishing me and my mother, on her weekends, tried to cajole me and convince me to please just eat and swallow my food. Every meal, no matter which parent I was with, became a struggle of threats or begging, but I held out in spite of some very harsh punishments (physical beatings every night from my father and stepmother) because my fear of choking was so great that I would rather be hit than face what I believed was certain death.

Interestingly, this fear faded gradually and I began to eat again once I went to live with my mother the following year, but by then I had wasted away so much that she had to feed me vanilla milkshakes with heavy cream every day to get some weight back on me.

I didn't fear choking anymore. Instead, it became dissecting animals in Life Science class, changing in gym class and a whole array of other phobias which grew with such intensity in my pre-teen mind that I could think of nothing else besides whichever fear happened to be eating away at me at the time. I was so petrified of having my period that I believe I actually willed it not to come until I was nearly fourteen and then that began a new round of severe anxieties all based on bleeding or of people finding out that I had my period. I didn't even tell my mother I had gotten it.

I won't list each and every fear and bad habit because the succession is long and tiring, but there was a clear pattern of my having some awful fear stuck in my head, then the fear taking over and causing me such great anxiety that I had to find some kind of "habit" to calm me down when I had the fear, even though the habits didn't always work.

I'm what people call high strung. I'm wound tight. You'll notice me fidgeting almost immediately upon meeting me. My mannerisms might remind you of a squirrel in your yard, jerking nervously, looking around, constantly aware of its surroundings and assessing each and every situation for potential danger. I see myself that way, like a small animal and in my mind there is always a cat about to strike, only the way I experience it, there is not the possibility of the cat. There is no maybe the cat's not out today, or maybe the cat isn't interested in killing and eating me this afternoon. No. The cat is always there and it will always pounce, so I must always protect myself. I am ever vigilant.

This is a hard way to live.

In 1999 I went to a therapist who referred me to a psychiatrist and together they diagnosed me with OCD. By that point, living in Atlanta in a deteriorating and abusive relationship, I had begun checking things. My fear of food poisoning and stomach viruses had become debilitating. I was wasting large amounts of money throwing out food that was perfectly good because I was afraid it might be spoiled and I had begun to clean and wash my hands in order to kill viruses and bacteria that I believed were going to make me sick. My fear was so great that I arranged my life around it. There were only certain places I would go or eat and I would panic about having to eat food at other people's houses because you just don't know about how long other people keep food and you can't be sure about their sanitation.

I had no idea this was OCD and was shocked by my diagnosis.

I had seen OCD on TV and those people were crazy. They had elaborate rituals that seemed more arbitrary than the little things I did. I wasn't counting ceiling tiles, lining up my belongings or refusing to step on sidewalk cracks on alternating weekdays. Media portrayals of OCD are always the most dramatic and severe cases, usually the quirkiest too because that makes for the most sordid viewing, but OCD has many other manifestations. It's different for every person who has it.

Some people tend to be heavier on the O - the obsession, which is the terrifying thoughts and in others, the compulsions are more obvious. Those are the cases you see where people check their door locks or devise elaborate rituals that can often seem comic in their absurdity. I don't do things like that so much. Instead, I get more caught up in the obsession part of OCD, though I am not wholly immune to compulsion either. My thoughts are often crippling when I'm in the throes of the disorder, which in me, can wax and wane situationally. Obsessive thought paralyzes me. You'd call me a worry wort, say I was neurotic and ask me why I was so anxious. Stop worrying all the time, you'd probably tell me, meaning well of course. Often I can play it down on the outside so that to outsiders I just look a little uneasy, while inside my mind is an F5 tornado of fear and panic about whatever idea has taken hold. Other times I can't control it, as much as I try and the thoughts become too great for me to contain and I have an all out meltdown, panic attack. These incidents make the people around me mad because to them it looks like I am freaking out over nothing and causing a scene for no reason.

Maybe the reality is that there is no reason. Usually whatever I am fearing doesn't ever happen, but my mind can't perceive an obsessive thought as an unlikely possibility. My brain isn't satisfied with "might not" and instead it just hears "will happen" and "is happening." Probability and statistics are wasted on me. If I hear that there is a 95% chance that I won't get attacked by a shark if I go into the ocean, all I can think about is the 5% chance that I will, except the more I think about it, the more I leave out the word chance and I forget that 5% until I quickly convince myself that I am absolutely going to get attacked by a shark if I go in the ocean and it becomes so real to me that I see nothing but sharp, bloody teeth and the sea red with me as if it has already happened.

I'll also think in chains of binding "what ifs." I'm almost proud of my ability to take any situation, no matter how innocuous, and through a series of what ifs, drag it out to its inevitable conclusion, which is always me dead and alone somewhere. Let me show you an example. Here's a simple one. What if I decided to go to Jamaica on vacation? Well the plane will probably crash. What if the plane doesn't crash? What if when I get there I get malaria or a parasite? What if someone plants drugs on me and what if I get arrested and thrown in a Jamaican prison? What if I don't get medical treatment for the malaria or parasite in the Jamaican prison? What if I die in a Jamaican prison? Oh my God, I am dead in a Jamaican prison for something I didn't do. Screw that dream vacation in paradise. I'm staying here where it's safe.  Go ahead. You have my permission to laugh. I know it sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous.

I had it fairly controlled for a long time. I was aware and understood finally that I had OCD. For a couple years I took medication, which worked beautifully because on the meds, I just kind of forgot to obsess and since I wasn't wigging myself out obsessing over imagined fears and possible disasters, I didn't need any weird habits to calm me down.

I went off the Zoloft and some of the anxiety returned, but I knew what it was. I admit that I may have been a little rigid and ordered about the way I did things, but I was trying to stay in control in order to avoid situations that would flare my terror. I knew when I was being a little compulsive and I knew when I was getting scared and most of the time I could talk myself down from the proverbial ledge. I think I was managing my OCD quite well. Sometimes I didn't even show symptoms for so long I forgot I had it.

But then I had a baby.

Babies change everything. Having a baby is one of the most stressful life events that there is, especially for a woman who must bear both the physical strains of pregnancy, childbirth and often nursing, as well as the psychological pressure associated with caring for an infant. It's really, really hard. Women who have never once showed signs of OCD can suddenly find themselves overwhelmed with the disorder after having a baby.

Our society puts so much pressure on mothers and for new mothers the stress of this pressure is often unbearable. Everywhere you look there's some new study about something that's going to harm your baby. There are recalls, you hear horrific tales of accidents unavoided on the news. Family members and even total strangers weigh in with their advice on how you should be raising and caring for your child. Someone always seems to know someone to whom something dreadful happened and if only they'd known x, then y would never have happened and all would be well. Mothers with OCD can't tune out these messages very well.

Mothers have an instinct to protect their babies, but in mothers with OCD it's like the natural need to nurture and keep safe blows up like an H bomb. The need is all consuming. There is nothing else except keeping that baby safe.

This is what happened to me and this is what Postpartum OCD is like. At first I thought I was just being a good mother or really, trying very very hard to be a good mother or at least to figure out what the hell a good mother even is so I could aspire to be one.

I became obsessed with SIDS. I added obsessions about toxins, pesticides, bacterial infections, pertussis, influenza and piled on fears of other people dropping the baby, head injuries, shaken baby syndrome. I felt sick when other people held her because I wasn't in control and they might not know how to hold her and she could hit her head on something, or fall. What if they had a virus? What if they didn't realize and played too rough with her and she got brain injuries? Why are the neighbor's spraying their yard for bugs? What if that causes her to be autistic? What if she chokes? What if the formula is contaminated? What if the crib collapses?

Look, I could go on and on about my specific fears, but they all came down to one core belief - the world is dangerous and everything is going to kill my baby and it will be all my fault unless I act immediately to protect her and I will protect her at any expense even if that expense is my own health.

It is so frightening when you're tangled up in it. Often the littlest thing I read or hear about can plant a seed in my brain and the seed with germinate and the thought will take off like kudzu, constricting around me, tying me down in its knotty vines until I can't move and pretty soon the thoughts overtake me until I don't feel like I even exist anymore. Maybe you've seen the way kudzu can swallow a car or a building. The obsessive thoughts, the images of my sweet baby's head smashed on a tile floor, they swallow me the same way.

I hate the way my brain torments me. It feels like I have two minds - the one torturing and the one tortured. I can see where it might even feel as if you're being haunted by an entity outside of yourself because when these horrible images and thoughts pop into your head, it can feel like they aren't coming from you and you wonder then, where are they coming from? Why won't they go away? Why can't I put my baby down for a nap without seeing her blue and suffocated and feeling like I need to start planning her funeral? Why can't I just make it stop?

That's where the guilt comes in. Why can't I make it stop? Am I weak? Have I gone crazy? And worse yet, worst of all, how is this affecting my baby. What a tragic irony. You fear harm coming to your baby and somehow your fear of harm becomes the very thing that might be the most harmful to her. Surely she must feel your tension and then, is she just as scared as you are?

That's what everyone will tell you when you have Postpartum OCD. You had better cut it out or you'll make your baby crazy. The baby feels everything you feel, they say. She'll pick up on your fear. You don't want to make your baby scared, do you? 

These are hard words to hear when an illness you can't control is clawing at your psyche. You may think you're only trying to get someone to see logic and begin to behave rationally, but telling a woman with any postpartum disturbance (depression, anxiety, OCD etc.) that she is going to hurt her baby if she doesn't stop acting this way isn't helpful. It's harmful because it piles up even more anxiety, shame and guilt. In my case the guilt is the worst, but having someone tell me I should just stop behaving the way I am also makes me mad. Adding anger to an already frothing stew of anxiety and guilt will only make the pot boil over.

I guess what people don't understand about my OCD is that I already see the logic that it seems I don't. I already know I'm being absurd. There's this strange detachment that comes along with it for me. I can see myself getting more and more out of control. I can tell myself it's just the disorder. I know I have it, yet sometimes I am powerless to stop it. Someone'll want to hold the baby. I'll start seeing images of the baby gasping in the ICU with pertussis. I'll try to talk myself out of it. It's ok. The baby's going to be fine. But the images won't go away, or I'll be bombarded with more and more images of the baby coming to harm and these are detailed images worse than anything you've seen in a horror movie. I'll know it's just the OCD and then I'll start to heap guilt on myself. Stop feeling this way. You're being crazy. You're a mess. It doesn't always work and then I'll have a panic attack.

No one wants to be this way. I don't choose it. I don't get pleasure from worrying and being afraid. Don't you think if I could stop that I would? I don't get anything out of being this way except pain and psychological imprisonment.

When the baby was born my OCD grew intolerable. It was as though I put on a pair of glasses. Imagine that those glasses were the wrong prescription. In fact, they were the glasses of someone who is practically blind, so the lenses are thick as bottle bottoms. When I look through them the world I see is distorted, ugly, scary, confusing. I can't make sense of what I see with these glasses stuck on my head and I can't get them off, so I'm only viewing the world through a messed up lens and staggering around, knowing I'm wearing the wrong glasses, but desperately trying to walk upright, to function normally and to find my way around in spite of them. 

I can't see clearly yet. I wish I were writing this having healed, but I'm not. I want to heal and I'm working on it. I sought help and getting better isn't easy. It's hard when other people don't understand and when they can't feel how you feel or see things the way you do. It's especially hard to ignore the criticism and judgment from people who think they're only trying to help you.

What I hope for myself is that soon I can pull the glasses off and play outside with my beautiful baby and see a world that welcomes both of us. A world of peace and calm, where the vines will flower and everything feels safe again. 

If you are struggling with any Postpartum condition or have a loved on who is, I find this site, Postpartum Progress ,very helpful. It has lists of resources where you can get help and every day there are articles and stories by women who have gone through similar experiences.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Don't Need a Miracle

This is another installment of my Lenten series where I reflect on religion.

I woke up thinking about this in the middle of the night.

I can't take the Bible literally and a lot of the problem I have with religion is fundamentalism - an unyielding devotion to a literal, word for word interpretation of the Bible (or any work as the Tea Partiers are now doing it with the US Constitution). Having studied language, I realized that words can never capture the full truth of anything. There will always be something missing, or not said exactly right, or something ambiguous and asking for interpretation and of course everyone interprets through their own experiences, so there can never be unanimous agreement on what something means. It's just not possible. Plus, the meanings of words change constantly and don't even get me started on translation after translation over thousands of years.

When you view the Bible so closemindedly you really limit your ability to know God. Thinking about it even deeper, I realized that fundamentalists, in their unrelenting need to hold on to every word, lack faith. 

Let's take Creationists. Ridiculous. I remember watching that episode of the Duggars where they go to the Creationist Museum in Kentucky and look at dioramas of people playing on dinosaurs. These people will twist and contort facts and just plain make stuff up to make it fit their world view because the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth. They reject hard and true scientific evidence and refuse to send their kids to school because they might learn about Evolution and for what? It doesn't matter. I have never understood why Creationism and Evolution had to be mutually exclusive beliefs and they don't unless you are a person of little faith. The Bible says God created the Earth and the seas and the skies, plants, fish and animals and people. Ok, but it doesn't say HOW. It just says that He did and that's enough for me. I don't need it all to have taken place in the span of seven days as we now know seven days. Who cares? Why couldn't God have created things through Evolution? There is no conflict here at all. God made it all and the Universe is so complicated that we will probably never know exactly how it all was done or how it all works. Our minds can't even comprehend the magnitude and majesty of it all and just because there were dinosaurs and the earth is billions of years old and people came from monkeys doesn't mean that there is no God or that the Bible has to be null and void. Who are we to say that God had to do things in a way we could understand?

Same goes for life on other planets. Why couldn't God have made some other planets too? Again, no conflict.

The Bible is filled with fantastic stories of miracles. Angels appear, bushes burn, snakes talk and pillars of salt. The Red Sea parts, water to wine and suddenly there's enough fish and bread to feed a multitude. Stars lead the way to virgin births, heavenly hosts rejoice, lepers heal and finally the dead are raised and ascend to Heaven in human bodies.

It's probably all a bunch of nonsense. It's fairy tales. I'd be willing to bet that none of it happened, or if it did, it wasn't quite as we've been told.

And you know what? I don't need any of it to have happened in order to believe, to worship and to love.

Back in the day when the Bible was being written, the Jews were up against some stiff competition from all the surrounding pagan religions. First the Egyptians, then the Romans and there were many other little cults and sects in between. The pagan religions were more interesting and more fun. They had better stories to draw people in and they were more entertaining and possibly even scarier and we know nothing motivates people to believe something better than fear. Because the Jews and next the early Christians needed to preserve their religion and keep followers, it's reasonable to think that they had to match the competition a little with their own fantastical stories, otherwise the primitive thinking people of the time would migrate towards more magical religions. I mean think about it - you've got the Egyptians with their elaborate tales of the afterlife and mighty Gods and Goddesses with the heads of animals. The jews, well, they couldn't eat pork and shellfish. Who wouldn't want a golden cow? Then you've got the Romans with multiple deities with intricate and highly entertaining mythologies. What did the early Christians have? A scrappy rogue Rabbi. But how cool would it be if the scrappy rogue Rabbi was the product of a virgin birth and healed people and brought old men back from the dead. What if, what if...he walked on water? That might give him some more clout. Hey Romans, you've got your Neptune and Jupiter? Well, our dude can turn water into wine. Take that gladiators.

And poor Mary - doomed to be a virgin her whole life and a married virgin no less. Poor Joseph, right? Well guess what? I don't need Mary to have stayed a virgin forever and I don't even need her to have been a virgin when she got pregnant. I still have the same reverence and respect for her. If she were just a poor teenager who got pregnant with Jesus before she was married I have no problem with that whatsoever and perhaps if we could let go of the myths and tales of magic then we would be able to show a greater compassion to people in her situation now.

The fairy tale aspect of religion does nothing but hold us back in our spiritual development. Thousands of years ago, when human beings were trapped in darkness and ignorance they needed magical tales in order to believe in something greater and to give them hope and reassurance, but times have changed people. Our knowledge has advanced and so should our faith.

If Moses or Jesus never once performed a miracle would that negate their teachings? Aren't their teachings about how to love and how to live and treat one another far more important than plagues or resurrections? Would the Ten Commandments be any less wise without the parting of the Red Sea or the Beatitudes less stirring or lesser truths if Jesus didn't do the whole loaves and fishes routine? Of course not, and can't you see the obvious metaphor in that story anyway?

Could you not believe without these so called miracles? We don't need myths. We don't need to reject science or grasp at ancient words to gather faith. We don't need fantastic signs to believe. It's all right here in front of us. God is everywhere. Everything is a miracle - sea turtles laying eggs by moonlight, the making of babies, plumeria, papaya, ring tailed leaping lemurs, your grandmother, the subway, a fire, pickles and grilled cheese sandwiches, hula dancers, books and words, Christmas, Hindu temples and even the asphalt on the roads. Everything. Look around you and celebrate.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

And One More Book...

Press Pause MomentsI thought about this and I decided that I really wanted to share with you a book that I am in! Were it not for this blog and for you readers, I wouldn't have written this story and it wouldn't be published in this wonderful anthology, so I thank you. You don't even know how much I thank you.

I am so proud to have been included in Press Pause Moments. Anne Witkavitch edited an interesting and diverse group of essays by women about making changes in their lives and I enjoyed reading the other stories in the collection. I think you will too. 

Here's the product description from Amazon, which I think describes it better than I can (my story is the one about getting a degree!!):
"Life is about change... As human beings we're always changing, growing, transforming and transitioning our lives...but whether it is our circumstances that lead us to take a new path or a desire to pursue a goal or dream, as women we learn that we have the power to choose who we want to be, what we want to do, and what kind of life we want to lead. These words introduce Press Pause Moments: Essays about Life Transitions by Women Writers, a collection of beautifully crafted tales by 36 women writers reflecting upon change, adversity and celebration. The essays covering a diverse range of topics such as marriage, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, infertility, sexuality, surviving abuse, facing a medical crisis, moving a home, changing careers, and obtaining a degree are written by women who have celebrated, mourned, taken control and transformed through the transitions of their lives. As women we look at life transitions in many ways, sometimes one layered upon the other. However, when we press pause, as will happen when reading these stories, inner voices become quiet long enough to pay attention to what is going on within us and around us. We learn that true press pause moments are those points in time when we fully realize the need to make change happen, and become greater than our existing selves."

Book Bender!

I'm so happy I've been able to get back into reading, you don't even know. Thank God for the Kindle because it allows me to buy books without having to leave the house and the instant gratification is perfect for an impatient person like me. It's like I can finish a book and in five minutes start another one.

The last time I asked for recommendations someone told me about Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and I can not thank this person enough. This book was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it and also I love Mennonites. There are lots of Mennonites in Millpond. I used to admire their little mesh caps and wish I could have one. A Mennonite family lived across the street from us and I used to play with their daughter although she was no fun at all because she was a goody goody and I much preferred the white trash girl who lived across the street because she would make the Barbies have sex. But this book was perfect. I liked the tone and I honestly haven't laughed so much at a book since I first found David Sedaris. I think I mentioned that before. Anyway, it's the true story of a woman who was raised Mennonite, chose a worldly life and married a mentally ill man who left her for another man right when she was enduring some pretty serious health problems. In order to heal her body and spirit, she goes back home and makes peace with herself and her upbringing and it's freaking hilarious. I love Janzen's descriptions of Mennonite life and she writes with such a lighthearted matter-of-factness about the most painful parts of her life. I also loved her approach to writing about spirituality with comedy and sincerity. It was just beautiful. I haven't loved a book so much in a long time.

I was so sad when I finished that I instantly needed something else just like it. I decided to go with the Kindle's recommendations for me. It has this "If you liked x, then you'll like y" feature. I thought I'd take its word for it and see. The Kindle told me I'd love a book with a most unwieldy title - The New York Regional Mormon Single's Halloween Dance by Elna Baker. Oh my God people. Loved it. The Kindle knows me. Elna Baker is a Mormon in her 20s, but the craziest thing is that she's hip and cool, like someone I know I'd immediately want to be best friends with. Reading this book, I felt like I knew her and she was so damned funny! Imagine that, a funny Mormon! And she's not just funny, she's endearing, reasonable, tolerant, sweet and so absolutely likable. Baker's memoir follows her as she leaves her large, traditional Mormon family and moves to New York City for college. There she is tempted and tried. She gets a job, she loses a huge amount of weight and for the first time in her life becomes pretty and seeks the attention of men. Baker tries to date, learns to kiss and falls in love with an atheist and all of it is so delightful to read. You just root for her the whole time. I also liked that Baker doesn't apologize for her religious beliefs, which she sticks to (she's a virgin!) and she explains her convictions so eloquently that a religion that had once seemed so ridiculous to me, kind of started to sound a little more sensible, though I still wonder why no one ever called Joseph Smith out on losing the golden plates, but whatever. I can't tell you how much I loved this adorably quirky book. You must read it. You really must. She even travels, visiting Cyprus and Africa. Here's Baker's web site and blog. I wish she blogged more often because I can't get enough of her writing. I was pleasantly surprised to see she got her start on The Moth, which is one of my favorite radio shows/ podcasts. I have a big dream to tell one of my stories on The Moth one day.

The next book I read is Jessie Scholl's memoir of hoarding, Dirty Secret. I want to devote a whole post to this one because it was fascinating and really made me think about my own life and habits a lot. The book is sad and hard at times, but I was riveted and I definitely recommend it. I'll write about it in more depth soon.

Right now I'm reading a very disturbing memoir called Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso. It's about a victim of child sexual abuse and I may not continue with it because it's too graphic and emotionally hard for me to read. I don't know. We'll see and I'll write about it further when I think about it some more.

What are you reading this week?
Monday, March 28, 2011

Lucky #3

Yesterday in my updates I forgot to mention #16. Yes, my parents have hired their sixteenth housekeeper/cleaning lady/ nanny person after Kimmy, who was #15, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. 

#16 is working out quite nicely so far. She's much older than Kimmy, which is good, because I think some of Kimmy's nonsense can be attributed to the follies of her youth. #16 is Hungarian and only speaks a little English. She's organized and responsible and works hard, but then again they all seem that way for the first few weeks. My mom likes this one a lot though, so let's hope she works out well because the last thing my mother needs is more stress and aggravation, what with having her identity stolen and all that.

I realized though, that #16 is actually #17. When I did my grand count of housekeepers we'd had over my lifetime -  Jill, Susan, Tammy, Nadia, Vicki, Maxine, Catherine, Wanda, Nury, Aunt Kevin, Cecelia, Idalia, Soccorro, Miriam and Kimmy - that somehow I'd forgotten Ella, and Ella was one of my very favorites, fitting in between Susan and Tammy. Ella was #3.

I can't exactly define Ella as formal hired help. I don't know what she was - a babysitter, a companion for my mother, entertainment, cake baker and fun. She was a lot of things to us. She was also, I suspect, impossibly young, terribly uneducated, deeply impoverished and without a great deal of choices.

Ella was a six foot black girl from the public housing sector behind the street where my mother and grandfather lived in Dover, Delaware. I was in the fifth grade at the time and still lived with my father and stepmother in the old farmhouse out in the country. My mother and grandfather lived on a street in a rough part of town, my mother living in a row house on one side of the street and my grandfather inhabiting a duplex on the same street but on the opposite side and down a little ways.

My grandfather's young wife had just up and left him and he was stuck with a baby. My mother was desperately trying to get custody of me and start a cosmetics business, but found herself caring for my grandfather's toddler daughter because he had to work driving trucks and wasn't home all the time. It was a hard time in all of our lives and not a period we look back at with a lot of fondness. In fact, Ella is probably the one positive thing in our lives from that time.

Lord knows where my grandfather found Ella. She lived nearby, so he could very well have found her at the bus stop or walking down the street. Maybe he sold her produce. My grandfather was like that - always bringing people home, befriending everyone in the strangest of places. He hired Ella to babysit, though I doubt she was ever formally salaried. I don't know if anyone paid her and she obviously didn't care. Ella must not have had a family because she latched right on to ours and didn't leave for at least a year. Not that we cared because she was so good natured. Ella was one of those people who brings Christmas in the middle of the muddiest, grayest March day. She was like getting flowers when it wasn't even a special occasion.

We all liked Ella because she was always happy and I'm guessing she probably didn't have all that much reason to be by our standards. Not that she cared about standards. Ella just liked to dance. She loved "Roxanne Roxanne" and that song about playing basketball (remember that song?) but she'd dance to whatever we put on, even my grandfather's country. She didn't care.

Most people would have called Ella promiscuous or said she had a problem because her other favorite thing to do was have sex, which she talked about constantly. Supposedly she had a boyfriend but he was like her Stedman. She talked about him all the time, but no one ever saw him. She didn't act particularly committed to him either, because she liked to get out at nights and pick up some "strange" as she called it. I shouldn't remember this about her because I was only ten at the time, but I wasn't particularly sheltered I suppose. I don't remember being shocked by any of her raunchy stories either. I think I liked them.

Back then I visited my mother every other weekend, so I got to see Ella twice a month and each time I came, she'd make me a cake.

In some school program for low income teens in the projects, Ella had been taught the unusual trade of cake decorating. She said as soon as they put the pastry bag in her hand she knew she was born to make icing roses and that there was no other life for her. All she wanted to do was fill the world with swoops and stars, garlands and best wishes of rainbow butter-cream, and looking at her that would definitely be the last thing you'd think she was born to do. Ella had a real talent for cake decorating though and she loved making me elaborate cakes as much as I loved eating them.

What I most loved about Ella's cakes was that they didn't follow the rules. While they were decorated as pristinely as cakes in the bakery, they were wildly colored with whatever creative combination Ella thought might be cool. Fat neon shoelaces were in style at the time and I swear Ella got some of her cake color combos from the strings of breakdancing shoes. I have a picture somewhere (I have no idea or I would scan it for you) of a cake she made that was this hideous coral with big, bright purple roses all over it, and way too many roses to ever be tasteful. Ella understood that for children you just can't have too many roses on a cake. For that alone, she was amazing. Once I asked her if it was possible to make a cake with black icing. I wanted to know because I'd never seen such a thing and it was exotic and seemed somehow forbidden to me. They didn't sell black food coloring in the Acme store you know. I didn't know it existed. I had a similar fascination with the elusive grape Jell-o but that's another story. Do you know that Ella went to the cake decorating specialty shop, found some black food coloring paste and made me a black cake? Our tongues were dark as chow-chows after eating it. It looked like pens had exploded in our mouths and we probably had black poop all weekend, but dammit, we had a black cake. A black cake. And we ate it in the penthouse of a drug dealer in a high rise building in Ocean City, Maryland. The drug dealer was my mom's friend and he let us stay in his place the winter I was ten because he wasn't using it and my mom wanted to get away from the row houses for a while. Ella came with. That's where we met CJ the first lesbian I ever knew. She and Ella became good friends.

I just can't remember what happened. I don't know where Ella went. Like so many people who've passed through our lives, it's like one day she was gone. I wonder what happened to her. I wonder what she's doing right now. Does she have kids or grandkids? Is she working the bakery at the Superfresh at this moment, piping "Happy Birthday" on a white cake with just a couple pink roses daintily clustered in one corner?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Funniest Comment I Have Ever Received

I got this comment the other day and I had to share it because it is the funniest comment I've ever received, especially if you know me well. I'm not being sarcastic and the comment was actually really sweet and complimentary.

Lara said:

"my favorite posts are the ones about the crazy people you worked with and have encountered in the past. In my opinion, you're the best there is when it comes to documenting insanity. Your challenge now is to figure out how to come up with new material now that your life, and the people in it, are sane and normal."

God bless you Lara. I can only wish that the people in my life were sane and normal. Shoot, I wish I knew one person who was normal. Actually I do. My friend Emma is sane and normal. Everyone else is just as batshit as ever. I swear. Including me.

Just wait until next week when I out my friend who is going to be on a new reality show that premiers on April 7th.

Also, someone else commented that they miss my stories from my old work such as the story where the woman bleached her teeth so much that they were clear. That woman I just wrote about last year!! She's my parents' friend's girlfriend!!

So see, plenty of crazy to go around still. Don't worry. I should tell you guys about some of the characters in my new neighborhood soon. We have this one lady that everyone calls "The Stalker."

Now go see Lara and give her some love. She's got these amazing posts with no comments and that's just a travesty. I love her most recent one about her husband cooking. It's really inspiring, especially to me right now, and it's well written.

Now get out of here. Go! I have to make that lasagna and ice my coconut cake. I'll see you all tomorrow.

One of Those Random Update Posts

I realized it's been forever since I did one of those catching up posts to let you know what's going on in our lives, so I figured on a lazy Sunday morning, that would be a good way to start the day and end the weekend.

Here's where we all are:

Me - Someone commented the other day that my blog is whiny and a downer. Well, I don't know what to say. Maybe it is. Aren't most blogs that way? I admit. I haven't been very happy lately, so there. I'm not happy, but I'm working on being happy and my husband and I are "talking to someone" and I don't want to discuss that anymore. Maybe I'll be happier soon and my writing will be too. Otherwise I'm healthy and fine. I've just had a lot going on lately and most of it I haven't been able to write about publicly, so you'll just have to trust me that I've been going through some major stuff.

On the other hand, my life isn't that bad. I love my house and my new neighborhood. I take long walks with the baby every day and watch the sunsets over the water. It's not an unpleasant life and I am dealing with my issues, one of which is something icky called Postpartum OCD. Generally I'm reluctant to write about things like that, which is why I've never written in depth about my illness or what it was like to have radiation or anything like that. I don't want to be defined by that stuff and I don't particularly want to become the Internet poster child for Obsessive Compulsives or rare and annoying thyroid diseases. But you know, maybe I'll let you all in a little more and write about it. Maybe it would help. I don't know.

My Sister - She's doing great. I think she's a much better mother than I am. She seems to enjoy it more and be significantly less neurotic about baby related things than I am. Her baby girl is doing fine now after a rocky start in the NICU. Mommy and baby are healthy and thriving and I'm very jealous that little cousin has no problems consistently sleeping eleven hours in a row, whereas Baby Lawns can barely sleep two hours at a time and has never slept through the night.

In any case, my sister and her husband bought the house next door to mine and like all these old houses around here, it needed a lot of work to get it safe and habitable and up to code. She's in about the same situation I was last summer and she and her family have moved in with my parents until their house is ready in about a month or so.

In preparation for being neighbors, we've decided to combine yards for the benefit of the girls when they get bigger. We had both yards leveled and we're going to start over with landscaping. We want to get one big fence, start a vegetable garden and plant several fruit trees to share. We think it's important for the kids to be able to take part in gardening and know where their veggies and fruit come from and we want them to have that connection to nature. Plus, it's just fun to be able to pick fruit out of your own yard. All kids should have that when possible. 

My Parents - Oh you know them. They're fine. My dad is off to Israel today to visit his little sister who had a baby just a week before Baby Lawns was born. Because of the birth of his two grandchildren he wasn't able to get over there to visit his relatives and see his new niece, so he's going now since they won't be coming here for Passover this year as they normally do.

The movie is in the final stages of editing. We saw a director's cut last week and it's really a sweet, funny movie. It's called "Should've Been Romeo" and I hope when it comes out you'll all go see it. I don't know if they have a distributor yet or when it will be released, but when I find out, I'll let you know.

My parents haven't been traveling on the RV as much because of the babies, so they haven't had as many exciting adventures as usual. They just love being grandparents and I've really enjoyed seeing them in that role. 

My mom had her identity stolen by someone in Texas and they really had a field day with her social security number, even going so far as to file tax returns in her name! It's a mess, but she doesn't seem too stressed out about it and she's getting it taken care of.

Baby Lawns - She's getting big and strong and she really has a distinctive personality now. She's extremely friendly and social - so active and lively. She's a rolling machine. She wants to propel herself around and being that she can't crawl yet, she rolls wherever she wants to go. She has two big teeth on the bottom and the top ones are coming in now too. I think this may be partly to blame for her sleeplessness, although to my utter joy and amazement she has been sleeping exceptionally well since Thursday night. Let's hope she keeps it up.

Bombaclaat - Alive.

Big Joe - He's just fine and hasn't stolen any other dog toys from the neighbor's yard lately.

Canela - Canela has been escaping. Every chance she gets she bolts out the door and doesn't stop running. On one of her AWOL escapades she picked up a load of fleas so now she's itching and biting and I have to give her a bath this weekend and put some Frontline on her, which is a hassle I didn't want to deal with. Like I don't have enough crap to do around here. I swear.

Bella - I'm a little upset that I haven't heard a word from my cousin in almost two months now. I can only take this to mean that she is all wrapped up in her boyfriend Cal and that he didn't ditch her for not symbolically reaching over and unlocking his already unlocked power locks. I hope Bella isn't mad at me. I really got the sense that she was upset about me having a baby and not being able to do the things we used to do anymore and that makes me very sad.

Fallon - This is the cousin I wrote about last Fall who was in the abusive relationship and dropped all contact with everyone on my side of the family. Unfortunately, even after I tried to reach out to her it's still the same radio silence on her end. I even tried to text and ask if it was something I did or if it was her fiance not liking my parents, sister and me and she just texted back and said "sorry I'm busy."  It's such a shame.

My Grandmothers - Oh you know them. They're both great actually. They hated their snowy winter and they both live for pictures of Baby Lawns and then they send her care packages. I call both of them weekly and they go on and on about their doctor appointments and a bunch of people in town who died that I don't know. Because they live in the same town and know the same people I have to hear the same conversation twice, but it's ok. 

I talked to Mommom Jewel the other day about Lent. She's a church lady, Mommom Jewel is. Methodist. I've mentioned before how she doesn't know how liberal her church actually is and she has no clue that her pastor is gay. I think it's hysterical. But anyway, we were talking about my going to the Catholic church by my house and my Lenten sacrifice and she said for years she tried to give stuff up for Lent and it never worked and she never felt any closer to God from doing it. This year at her church the wonderful gay pastor has been giving sermons about how people can sacrifice their time for others during Lent instead of giving up a material thing. The Methodist church is big on service to the community, which is one of the reasons I really support their beliefs. Mommom has been volunteering even more than usual and she made a commitment to cheer someone up and make someone laugh every single day. Isn't that sweet? I just love that idea. I think that's what I'll do next year. I feel like this year I already made my sacrifice and I don't want to go back on it and change my mind halfway through. I'm terrible at sticking with things and have zero discipline, so I really want to see it through the whole 40 days with no chocolate.

Speaking of which...I'm making a coconut cake for Sunday dinner today. I realized this week that the one thing I love just as much as chocolate is coconut. Of course I like coconut better with chocolate, but it's divine without it too. Have you tried Haagen Dasz pineapple coconut ice cream? Oh my God. You have to. Chocolate who?

And Last - As you know I am theologically promiscuous and like to incorporate ideas and customs from many different religions into our lives, both to honor my diverse patchwork quilt of a family and also because I enjoy it. We are going to have a Hebrew baby naming ceremony for Baby Lawns and we need to choose a Hebrew name for her. We are soliciting ideas from all over. I'm asking my Jewish grandparents, my aunt in Israel who just had her own baby girl and I'm going to ask you guys for ideas too and then maybe for fun we'll do another poll and pick Baby Lawns her special Jewish name. If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments section.

Books - I am on a total book bender now and it all started with a reader comment! I've read three incredible books in the past two weeks and I'm going to do another book post soon to tell you about them because I'm so excited to share. Get your ideas ready for me too.

Sunday dinner - It's my turn to do Sunday dinner today and I'm making Barefoot Contessa's turkey sausage lasagna. It's the best lasagna I've ever eaten and pretty easy to make. We're having it with salad, whole grain garlic toast and coconut cake. Feast Day!!

Have a good Sunday everyone! Hope you all are well.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help! My Blog is Ugly!

I started this blog in October of 2005 after reading a New York Times article about blogging and about super famous, book deal blogger Stephanie Klein. I didn't know a thing about computers, except how to type on them and look up stuff on the Internet. I didn't even consider myself a writer back then. I just knew that I had some funny stories. When I wrote about my old job my blog blew up overnight. I had crazy traffic. I had literary agents and TV executives interested. None of that worked out because I didn't have enough real writing experience. Then I got busted by a coworker, pretty much threatened with legal action and I used that as the catalyst to quit my job and go to grad school where I was offered a position as a graduate teaching assistant. I decided to try grad school and I loved it. Three years later I had an MFA in creative writing. I was a real teacher then.  I started seeing myself as a real writer and I grew so much creatively. The problem was that as I grew as a writer, my blog shrunk. My traffic now is a fraction of what it was and I get that. I still have plenty of followers and daily visitors, but my writing about my life doesn't have the same shock appeal (usually) as my old stuff. I like how I write now much better and I have plenty of material from the people I know and the things that I observe and remember.

I don't work anymore because I need to stay home to take care of Baby Lawns. Right now it wouldn't work for me to go back to teaching and I like being home with her while she's so little. I don't mind sacrificing a paycheck and all that comes with it for her, but now I find that during the day I have more free time to write. She's napping right now as a matter of fact. I miss all the writing I did in grad school and this blog provides me with the structure and feedback I need to keep writing now in my new life. It motivates me and it's fun. I like interacting with all of you.

I want my blog to grow though. I read some hugely popular blogs and I think all the time that my stories are just as good and just as entertaining, if not more so. I want to share my writing and my life with more people. It's not to make money and it's not because I'm an attention seeking fame whore. It's because I'm a writer and we writers want to be read. I want to interact with even more readers because that makes me write more and the more I write, the better I get at it and the happier I am. I'm miserable when I don't get to write. I'd write all day if I could.

I think a lot of the reason that my blog isn't all that popular is because it's ugly. Since October of 2005, I have never changed it and that's because I'm a Luddite and don't know how. I can barely post a picture without messing everything up. My blog is like the frumpy girl in Clueless who is secretly hot and super cool and just needs a makeover. It's like a house whose decor is stuck in the 70s with wood paneling and big floral wallpaper on the ceiling. It needs a designer to come in and revamp it.

I need help people of the Internet. My blog needs a serious makeover. I need the Stacey and Clinton of web design to intervene. It's time. I just don't know where to look and I can't afford most of the blog fancying up services I've found. I thought the best thing to do would be to ask you all for advice. Does anyone know where I could find someone to spice up my blog (who wouldn't charge a fortune) to make it pretty and hip and no longer frumpy so maybe it can finally take off its glasses and cardigan and slip on some leather pants, get a perm and dance with the hottest guy in school inside a fun house?

Four More Weeks Left?

I have now gone two weeks without chocolate and it hasn't been pretty. Right now I'm writing about this because I'm having a craving for a fudge bar that is so strong that I may harm myself, so I figured perhaps writing would calm down my appetite for cocoa.

I've been playing with alternative desserts, but remember the whole point of this chocolate fast was because I don't really like many other non-chocolate desserts. I had a wholly unsatisfying few bites of vanilla ice cream last night. Last weekend while on vacation, I got a slice of key lime pie after dinner. The only thing I've had that really seemed to satiate my desire was carrot cake, which I thought I didn't like. Apparently in desperate times I will eat close to anything.

This past weekend kind of proves that. Saturday was the Jewish holiday of Purim and my Jewish grandmother made the traditional Purim cookie called Hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies, shortbreadish in nature, which are filled. They are very much like a jam thumbprint cookie except a different shape. Hamantaschen are kind of blehh, mainly because they don't traditionally involve chocolate. Authentic, old school Hamantaschen are filled with poppyseeds or prunes, two things which need to be banned from desserts forever as far as I'm concerned. Like fruitcake and black jellybeans, only old people like desserts with prunes and poppyseeds as the star ingredients. I was so desperate this weekend that I ate prune and poppyseed cookies although I don't even like them.

I tried to think of sweets from my childhood that I enjoyed and I remembered my Aunt Sheila used to make this cherry cobbler, crisp thing that I was crazy over. I thought I'd try to make it for Sunday dinner this week and see if it still tasted as good as I'd remembered. Well, no. I was in for Nasty-Assed Recipes Surprise Edition. The thing, which Aunt Sheila calls "Cherry Pineapple Delight" is known to the rest of the world as a dump cake and it's sickeningly sweet and generally disgusting. You dump a can of cherry pie filling and a can of crushed pineapple into a baking dish and cover it with a bag of dry yellow cake mix. Then you sprinkle pecans over that and drizzle a stick of melted butter on top of it. Throw the mess in the oven at 350 for a half an hour and that's it. Gross. Clearly my tastes have changed significantly since childhood because I hated it. I guess as a kid I just didn't know any better and sweets were so rare that I probably would have liked anything containing sugar.

I liked a lot of gross stuff as a kid - things I haven't taken a mouthful of since my age has been measured in double digits. I took a brief inventory of these things in my memory and realized that many of them didn't contain any chocolate, so then I thought maybe I should go back and try them all over again just for fun. Problem is, they are all processed garbage. Twinkies, hand pies, white iced honey buns, pecan twirls, snowballs. I don't think I could choke any of it down.

The other day I was in the grocery store and ice cream was on sale. You know, I couldn't find a flavor that I'd actually eat that didn't have chocolate. I think I have a problem.

I've got a month left. It's feeling like a sacrifice. Today I'm going to try to make an applesauce cake and see if that helps. It has cream cheese frosting. I thought I hated that too, but apparently without chocolate in my life, cream cheese seems slightly more appealing than it once did.

Any non-chocolate dessert ideas? If my cravings don't get better I'm going to have to start going to meetings. The Easter candy displays in the stores are not helping things either.
Sunday, March 20, 2011

I Met the Spring Break Scammer

The freak magnet's alive and well and still reeling them in. This time it looks like it caught a big one.

Spring Break is going full throttle down here. All week long the streets were jammed with rental cars put-putting down A1A. You can always tell the tourists because they go real slow down the beach as if they've never seen sand nor sea. You can see them trying to take pictures of the beach with their cell phones as they drive. For locals, it's absolutely maddening if you need to get somewhere because, you know, you actually live here and aren't on vacation and you have an appointment. Forget trying to get into your favorite restaurants this time of year. Out of towners create two hour plus waits, so we have to cook at home until Easter's over.

It's kind of a requirement for Florida residents to bitch about the tourists during season - as if you aren't a true Floridian if you don't at least huff and puff over the traffic or make disparaging remarks about how the Quebecois don't tip well (or at all as some servers say) and well, everyone has to make fun of the Germans on the beach in their Speedos and knee socks. Yes, at the same time. Truly though, I think we Floridians welcome our tourists. Deep down we know that one of the trade-offs for living in a hot tourist destination is that we have to share the place with vacationers and we do so with grace.

That's why we're particularly ashamed and angered when we hear about scammers taking advantage of our guests. Last week a story aired all over the local news about a guy who was posting ads on Craigs List listing condos and hotel rooms in South Beach for very low prices. It sounded too good to be true and of course it was because most of the addresses didn't even exist or they were for alleyways or run down abandoned buildings. Unsuspecting visitors actually signed contracts with this scumbag and sent him their payments via Western Union. Then when they arrived they realized they'd been duped and were stuck with no place to stay. I can't imagine how they must have felt.

The craziest part of this story is that the very same guy who was (allegedly pfft) perpetrating this scam showed up at my parents' house last May and tried to pull a scam on all of us. We were shocked when we saw him on the news and then at the same time, we pretty much weren't because of our own experiences with him.

I"m not going to use his name in this post because I don't want him googling himself and reading this, but I'll link to a news article and video at the end of the post so you can see him for yourself. For the purposes of the story, we'll call him RP.

Last May my parents held a big fundraiser at their house for the wounded troops at Walter Reid Hospital. My uncle runs a charity organization, which you've read about here before and he came down from Millpond and we had a big BBQ. Local politicians showed up, everything. It was a big deal and we raised a lot of money and had a great time.

Now at the same time, a real estate agent was showing the house across the street from my parents. You may remember several posts about that house too. It's an ornate mansion, built as a spec home, which has never been lived in and the builder has still never found a buyer despite open houses every weekend. I think it's been four years vacant now.

Drawn by the tractor beam of the freak magnet in my parents foyer, RP showed up to look at the house across the street just before the fundraiser was about to begin. He told the realtor that we was a doctor who ran a chain of weight loss surgery clinics owned by his wife's family. His wife, he said, was Colombian and had been Miss Colombia in the Miss Universe pageant a couple years back. This already raised the red flags because this guy was a pudgy, dorky Vietnamese guy who looked like the kid from "Up." There's no way any Sofia Vergara look-alike would be interested in him, doctor or not. He also told us he was definitely buying the house and was buying with cash. In addition, he told us he was investing a massive amount of money in a hedge fund that week and he bragged, at least forty times, that he had gone to Harvard medical school and that he had taught up at the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's a lot of accomplishments for someone who didn't look very old. I don't know how old he was, but he appeared to be about thirty give or take. To really drive it home he was wearing a tee shirt from Harvard medical school.

The realtor, thinking he had a high rolling, cash-buyer for the money pit, was totally smitten and brought RP over to meet the neighbors. RP ate up all the attention, promising a sizable donation to my uncle's charity. All the guy did was brag. He never shut up. The strange thing was that a friend of mine, a local prosecutor, actually recognized the guy from her college days in Gainesville! She said he had been a bartender at a popular hangout up there.

RP left and came back to the party later that night. He changed out of his Harvard tee shirt into a BMW shirt and I'm guessing that his fancy watch was a flea market special straight from China. All night long he schmoozed at the BBQ. He ate and drank and talked about his hot wife, mysteriously absent, his rich family, his in-law's rich family, his cars, his penthouse and of course how we went to Harvard. 

Here's the thing this fool didn't understand. We know lots of people who are rich and well educated. We have friends who are literal billionaires and I know lots of people who've gone to Ivy League schools. NONE OF THEM TALK ABOUT IT. That's the rule of the truly high class. They don't discuss their accomplishments or possessions. There's no reason to. So when some idiot comes spouting off all kinds of hyperbole about who he is, where he went and what he's got, it set off some alarms. In other words, we all knew he was bullshit. 

RP didn't do anything criminal to us that night. He was an actor playing a role. Though he was a bad actor and no one believed him, he still got to go to a party. He ate and drank for free and probably felt like he was a somebody, but that's not against the law. He didn't take anything from us except our time and we never heard from him again because he couldn't have kept up the game for very long. He wasn't buying the house, investing in a hedge fund or making a donation, but I'm sure saying those words - purchase, invest and donate, must have made him feel very powerful.

Down here you meet a lot of people who aren't who they say they are. This place seems to attract a lot of lost souls with identity crises or maybe the glitz and glam of South Florida causes this behavior. I wonder often what makes a person like RP do the things he does. Is he a sociopath? Is he evil? Is he mentally ill? What was his life like?

Is it too hard for some very insecure and confused people to live in a place where most of the people you encounter are on vacation, having fun, going out on weeknights, staying late and napping on the beach, their biggest worry being sunburn? Even more difficult then, for people who feel like failures, to live so close, so very close to decadent fortune, passing each day the restaurants you can't afford, the opulent homes not built for you. You see the boats speeding down the canals with wakes like plumes and you aren't on them, cocktail cavalierly in hand and a bikini beauty smiling coyly at your side. Each day you drive by communities fortified by gates and guards and you know that those gates were designed to keep you out.

Maybe the frustration accumulates. There could be break-ups, lost jobs, missed opportunities, letters of acceptance wished for and never received to places like Harvard medical school. I wonder at what point in all that disappointment, does a man go from harmlessly playing a part and touring open houses he knows he'll never buy or trying on a new identity just to crash a party at a waterfront mansion, to becoming a felon and hurting innocent people for personal gain. How does that happen? What makes someone think that's ok, or if they know it's not ok, what makes them do it anyway?

RP is an idiot and a loser. He wasn't even good at being a criminal. When I saw him on the news, after my initial disgust I felt almost pity for him because I realized from the encounter we had that he was desperate and self-loathing, so pathetic. But I don't feel sorry liars and scammers. I pity the people he conned, whose money and trust he stole.

Read the article about RP here and make sure you watch the video where the news crews bust him, Chris Hansen Dateline style.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Remember back when I said that if I had a million dollars I'd be a snowbird and that I'd summer up North in Millpond? Well, I don't have a million dollars just yet and I can't afford my own summer home, but I'm getting my ultimate wish, which is to spend the summer in Millpond and be with my family up there! It's official. I'm summering up North! Baby Lawns and I will be staying with my grandmother and Baby Lawns' Christening is now set for June 26th, which is her eight month birthday and three days before my grandmother's 80th. We're even going to have a Christening party complete with fried chicken, Jell-O salads and pulled pork. I am thrilled. I am beyond thrilled. We are going to have so much fun and everyone can get to know Baby Lawns. I can hang out with my cousins and their kids and go to family functions all summer. Best of all, I can make my grandmother happy. Summer is hard for her because it's her wedding anniversary, my grandfather's birthday and the anniversary of his death and funeral. All of those days are extremely hard on her. She told me that when he died she had no reason to live anymore and that coming down and meeting Baby Lawns gave her her will back and made her want to be alive.

Knowing how badly I've wanted to spend summers away and hearing my grandmother say that, my husband knew we had to find a way to make my going up there work. He's going to be working in the New York and New Jersey offices of his company. It's about a 3 to 4 hour drive from Millpond, but it's not that bad. He'll work up there during the week and then come down to Millpond to be with us on the weekends.

I'm so excited!!! I can go to Rehoboth whenever I want! I can have Grotto Pizza and Thrashers fries! I can be with the people I love who won't be around much longer. Thank heavens.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wide Lawns Celebrity Blind Item

Last night I heard from a friend of mine who lives out west. She had a miscarriage several months ago and to help her grieving she decided to become a nanny and she works for a prestigious agency who has placed her as one of the nannies for a certain celebrity. She is one of the weekend nannies and gets paid almost a thousand dollars just to work Friday night through Sunday night. Can you imagine? I think the most I ever got for babysitting was ten dollars an hour.

My friend hasn't been on this assignment for very long, and although the money is great and although she could certainly sell this story to US Weekly for some seriously big cash, she is quitting and she gave me the story for free.

I won't tell you who the celebrity is or even if this person is a male or a female, but I will tell you that the children she nannies for are twin boys and are toddlers and that the situation is a terrible nightmare and that these children's lives have been full of drama and news crews since birth.  Their lives suck and as a result the kids are nightmares. Absolute terrors, she says.

The problem is that their parents don't care about them. Both mom and dad are totally absent and self absorbed and have no interest in parenting the two, lonely little boys. This isn't surprising or a new idea. Celebrities or rich people ignoring their kids. We probably expect that. Hell, it's the plot of Mary Poppins, but it's just so sad to hear it firsthand from someone you know and my friend unfortunately doesn't sail in on an umbrella and dance with chimney sweeps to save the day.

All day and all night the boys cry for their mother and often she's around, even in the house, but won't respond. When that doesn't work they cry for their father and who knows what he's getting into. Pretty soon they just give up and take their anger out on their nannies until they wear themselves out and give up in despair.

What a horrible life for children who my friend says have everything. They have mansions, toys beyond imagination and all their needs are met except the most basic - the love and affection of their screwed up parents.  It breaks my heart.

Give them about fifteen years and we'll be hearing about all the trouble these kids will be getting into. I guarantee with a beginning like this they'll outdo some of the other members of their notorious family.

Sad. I'm glad she's quitting.
Monday, March 14, 2011

This One's for Rich

I would never be a Muslim.

Or a Baptist, Calvinist, Chasidic Jew, Pentecostal, Amish (even for the outfits and buggies), Mormon, Hare Krishna or a Jehovah's Witness.

And for the love of God, I would never ever be a Scientologist.

I'm not picking on Catholics! Cheese and rice people, I just told you I go to Mass every morning for crying out loud and I'm observing Lent in the way that doesn't allow you to take Sundays off. Give me a break over here.

Why I Won't be Catholic - One Reason At Least

In the spirit of Lent, this Monday I'm going to continue on with some reflection on compassion, specifically towards gay people.

Generally, if I don't have anything new to say about a topic I refuse to write about it on here, but I need to write about homosexuality a little and I'm sure I won't say anything too new.

The other day when I talked about going to the Catholic church and how I was finding comfort in that, I worried that I was going to get some backlash because of the church's stance against homosexuality (among other things). I lost a follower, but who knows why that was and I was surprised I didn't get any angry emails. Still, I feel the need to clarify.

I disagree with the way most religions condemn homosexuality. All of my life I have been accepting and loving towards gay people and I have defended their rights. Recently though, I realized that I was using the wrong argument to defend them and without even meaning to, I was implying that homosexuality might still be wrong. I had a huge epiphany about this and my epiphany has helped me to become even more compassionate to gay people.

I grew up around gay people because my mother and aunt were friends with lots of gay men. Until I was eleven, I didn't realize that women could be gay too because I didn't know any lesbians. While we had some openly gay men in Millpond, we didn't seem to have any lesbians. I have no idea why that was. When I was eleven, my mom got a lesbian friend. Her name was CJ and she was a security guard and looked like a chunky teenage boy. When my mom explained to me that CJ was a lesbian and told me what that was it wasn't any big deal. I was just like, ok, well women can like women too just like men can like men. How about that. It just wasn't a major issue for me because I had always been around gay people and found them to be just like everyone else, though perhaps more fun. I attribute that to the fact that my mom and aunt were friends with very flamboyant gay men, who were indeed, far more fun than everyone else. My mother taught me that some people like people of the opposite sex and some people like people of the same sex and we didn't get any more into it than that because as I child I didn't care. I naturally accepted this fact and went and played with my heterosexual Barbies without pondering it any further.

As I got older I made my own gay friends and I felt badly when I saw them discriminated against. How stupid and horrible, I would think and I would argue with people who hated homosexuality. I don't really like the term homophobic, because I don't necessarily always equate fear and hate. Some people who hate gay people or deny their rights aren't scared of them.

When I tried to argue with anti-gay people, I often used the argument that being gay is not a choice and I don't think it is in almost every case. I say almost because I met a few women who told me that they did choose to be with other women because they had been raped or abused by men and were fearful of men. I still think their "choice" is up for debate, but I'm just telling you what they said. I believe some people are born gay. I don't think that being born gay is the equivalent of a birth defect or that if a child comes out gay that it means there was some accident in the womb or a gene mutation. It's like having brown eyes. Some people are born with them, some aren't. It's a different way of being like all the other different ways of being.

I meant well when I argued that homosexuality is not a choice. I based my argument on unspoken playground morals - you can't be mean to people for things they can't help. I didn't understand that there was a flaw in my logic or what I was accidentally implying, because the truth is, you shouldn't be mean to people for things they can help either. You just shouldn't be mean period.

The problem in defending homosexuality by saying that it isn't a choice is that it implies that if it were a choice, then it would be ok to discriminate and denigrate the people who made that choice. It implies that if homosexuality were a choice (which I still believe it isn't) then it would be a very bad choice. It wouldn't.

It doesn't matter why people are gay. Who cares? Choice, genetics, hormones, nature, nurture, whatever. It's wonderful to be gay no matter the reason. In fact, we should probably not even try to look for a reason because looking for a reason again implies that it's like a disease and we need to find the cause so we can fix it. The cause doesn't matter. It's not a problem. Nothing needs to be fixed except the mindsets and broken belief systems that say homosexuality is evil.

Of course gay people should be able to get married. Of course they should adopt children.

Again, I used to use flawed logic in defending gay adoption. One of my arguments was that you can't make children gay. What would it matter if you could? I don't think you can, but hypothetically, what if you could? Why would this be a problem? You could argue that then the child would be subjected to harassment and prejudice. The solution to that isn't changing the gay child or trying to prevent the child from being gay. The solution is fixing the bullies, not the victim.

I also argue that gay people can make better parents than straight people because gay people can't take reproduction for granted the way heterosexuals can. Gay couples or individuals can never have a child by accident, therefore every gay person who has a child wants and plans for the child, which is an ideal situation. Often they go to great lengths to get their children, so it's obvious that these children are greatly loved, valued and appreciated. I'd much rather children be raised in stable, loving gay homes than by uneducated, impoverished teenagers.

But back to the church. I won't become a member of any religion that condemns gay people, which means that I won't become Catholic (there are many other Catholic ideologies I disagree with besides this one). I am using the location and ritual of the church as a place for me to contemplate and pray. I am embracing the values that speak to me and rejecting the ones that don't. This one, I reject.
Friday, March 11, 2011

The Bus is Leaving!

We're going away for the weekend for a family trip on the RV, which is as close to camping as we will ever get. This afternoon we'll be crossing the state headed for Florida's west coast where we'll site see in Naples, maybe do a little shopping, definitely do some good eating and take in a Spring Training game. My husband has a cousin who is visiting Ft. Myers right now and we're excited for Baby Lawns to meet her and her husband. Should be a really fun, much needed weekend away and I'm really looking forward to it, although I'm a little nervous having never traveled with the baby before. I'm sure she'll love it. Baby Lawns is a total people person.

Old people especially. I can't figure this out but whenever an old person talks to Baby Lawns she goes crazy laughing. She doesn't so much do that with younger folk, though she smiles at everyone including animals, and I can't figure out what she thinks is so hilarious about seniors. Is it the grey hair or what? Silly child. Thank God I got a baby with a big sense of humor.

I'm feeling like a new person this week. Baby has been sleeping at night for the first time in a long time. She unexpectedly popped out two teeth two weeks ago and I'm thinking maybe that was what was causing her sleeplessness. I didn't think she'd grow teeth so young (4 months) so I wasn't attributing her fussiness to teething and I was confused about what was upsetting her. I should have known because I had teeth at 2 1/2 months, which is like some kind of record.

I also got my hair cut and colored and I got a new purse. My family staged a purse intervention with me. My old purse was pretty ragged, as was my ten year old wallet. I could have been on Hoarders: Purse Edition. That damned thing was like a trashcan with straps. I'm so neat and organized usually, but for some reason my OCD doesn't extend to handbags and I'm a purse slob. I admit it. I carry around so many old receipts, tissues, candies, used up gift cards, purells and all amounts of debris that my purse looks like the shopping cart of a crazy person. But no more. I'm going to try to change my purse hoarding ways and start fresh.

A few years ago my cousin got me the most beautiful lavender, suede wallet from Ann Taylor and I never used it. I don't know why. I guess I thought my old, faded torn wallet was fine. Same with my purse. I bought it three years ago at Marshalls and used it pretty much every day. It was light colored so it got grey on the bottom, scuffed all over and the threads unraveled so there were strings hanging off it like cobwebs. I mean, it cost all of $12.99, so we're not talking about a well made piece of merchandise that's expected to last several years. It was time to go. My parents brought me back a beautiful, pale olive, real leather purse from their last trip. It's totally glamorous this new purse, but did I use it? Nope. I kept it next to the front door so I could look at it and kept using Stringy, as I've been calling old Marshall's purse.

Once I had to do a writing exercise where you listed the items in a fictional character's purse in order to describe this person through her belongings. It occurred to me that if someone were to list my belongings in an attempt to garner an impression of me, that the impression of me would be that I am a nut job. It was time to get rid of both Stringy and my old wallet. I thought the weekend trip might be a good time to bust out the new purse and new wallet and clear the clutter I've been unnecessarily lugging around with me, because I just swore that I was going to need that three year old Andes mint that came with the check at the Olive Garden four trips to Millpond ago. I made a rule that I could only bring what was absolutely necessary and no other junk was coming along and in all, I realized I really didn't need very much stuff. License, credit cards, chapstick, phone, insurance card, cash, Kleenex, bandaids, gum, pony tail holder, Swiss Army knife and sunglasses. Nothing else.

Anyway, let's see how I do. Hopefully I can resist collecting a bunch of crap while I'm out of town. I have to finish packing and wow, babies need a lot of gear to go somewhere overnight. It's a bit overwhelming. I keep feeling like I'm forgetting something important and it's making me a little panicky. Wish me luck with that.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It Was Good

Nostalgia is like a dormant virus in my body. Every so often, as with cold sores, I tend to have outbreaks of it and I'm in the middle of one now. For the past couple weeks I've been reminiscing about the 90s, unable to believe that I graduated high school twenty years ago. I lived the majority of that decade in Atlanta and I consider those years some of the best of my life, so much so that I fear I may never get over leaving that city and my life there. It's been eleven years since I moved to Florida and each year I keep thinking that this has to be the year I finally stop missing it, but it hasn't happened yet. I loved the 90s and I miss a lot of things from that era.

Things I Miss About the 90s

Being in my early 20s, President Clinton, girls with pixie cuts, Conan O'Brian's first show, The Rachel, Northern Exposure, Mazzy Star, Vamp, see-through black sleeves, clunky mary janes, deep blackberry lipstick, Forrest Gump, Minnie Driver, jeans with a high enough rise that they didn't show your butt crack, a world without thong underwear, my life before cell phones took over, Friends with the monkey, that Better Than Ezra song, the novelty of coffee houses, long skirts with boots, living in an Olympic city, Seinfeld, Beavis and Butthead, having two grandfathers alive, the Wonderbra, the Midtown Music Festival, Bridget Jones' Diary, Digable Planets, velvet dresses, swing dancing, Beanie Babies, Hole's "Violet", The English Patient, Gwyneth Paltrow in movies with an English accent, Good Will Hunting, John Travolta's comeback, the Lilith Fair, In Bloom, paint your own pottery, Slowdive, AOL, the Waif look, Kate Spade little black bags, Tortillas guacamole (Atlantans understand), Angelina when she was goth, Doc Martens, Thai food, fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar seeming very new and exciting to eat, my ex before he went nuts and got another girl pregnant, Trip Hop, the first Scream movie, The Fugees, Sling Blade and french fried potaters, mentos, 99x, celestial motif, Art Nouveau, Klimt prints, cobalt blue and dandelion yellow together, landlines, gas for 85 cents a gallon (seriously), thrift store shopping and vintage jewelry, Ray of Light, matte red lips with black liquid liner, a sense that my whole life was before me and that I could do anything.

Things I Don't Miss

Sally Jessy Raphael (and how EVERYONE had a talk show), grunge fashion, overalls, OJ Simpson, biker shorts, my insecurity, my ex after he went nuts, rayon skirts, Melrose Place, Jerry Springer, sponge painting, Zima, bandleader jackets, Billy Bob and Angelina, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, JonBenet, Geraldo, life before DVR, Newt Gingrich, the first Gulf War, The Crow, Rabin's assassination, Oklahoma City, TWA 800, JFK Junior's death, Princess Diana's death, Buddy Lists, being called a Gen Xer, Buddy Holly glasses, Baywatch, fades and surfer cuts, Spice World, the Macarena, the last few seasons of Roseanne, Right Said Fred, living on ramen noodles, not appreciating my youthful figure, Dances With Wolves and pretty much all Kevin Costner films, bowling shirts, worrying constantly about romantic relationships. 

Did I forget anything?

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