Friday, December 30, 2011

Standing Accused

Have you ever been accused of something? Or blamed for something you weren't responsible for?

It sucks.

It is worse when you cannot defend yourself, either for lack of evidence or because the accuser is not concerned with facts, or with making sense. I'm not talking about extreme situations where the wrongfully accused is sitting on death row waiting for a shred of DNA evidence to clear their name - because clearly that is an even bigger issue than someone just saying you did something you didn't. That's someone saying you did something you didn't and then trying to get you killed for it. I think we can all agree that is some Fucked Up Shit. I'm not talking about that. I am talking about the small, day to day dramas that can come up amongst family and friends, and how to rise above them, move past them, and leave them behind.

In this week between Christmas and New Years, I am remembering a particularly unpleasant situation that developed over the course of a week or two during this time of year - not life or death, but it sure did feel like my world was turned upside down. It was probably 15 years ago, and I still shudder when I think of it. I was working at a flagship store for a retail chain that shall remain unnamed but that rhymes with "snap". And sometime during that holiday season, someone in that store started stealing. At first, it was a series of coincidences, that mushroomed into money going missing from people's cash registers. I began to suspect that there was a problem when my wedding ring vanished. I had stuck my ring on a friend/co-worker's finger while I applied some hand lotion - because winter in New England + copious amounts of hand sanitizer = some gnarly dry skin - and then I got called away and one thing led to another and then everyone took lunch breaks and by the time I finally went back to retrieve my ring from her hand, it was the end of the day. And the ring was gone.

"Where's my ring?" I asked.
"I gave it back to you." she said.

I looked at her, perplexed. If she had given it back to me, it would be on my finger. I wouldn't have put it down on the counter of a busy store, or in my pocket, or anywhere but ON MY FINGER, which, conveniently, is always there, attached to my hand. And I told her that.
She was not pleased by my logic. I was even less pleased.

And that is when the small things started to add up - and the disappearances began to multiply. Specifically, cash disappearing out of my register. Until the ring vanished, I would never have given a second thought to leaving my purse unlocked in the staff room, or letting someone else use my cash drawer while I was on break. Trusting? Yes. Naive? Maybe. But I am not stupid. I figured out right quick that we had a problem, and insisted that my drawer be locked up whenever I took a break. I stopped bringing a purse to work altogether. If I had any other jewelry, I damn sure wasn't going to be letting people wear it while I moisturized. But that didn't make the problem go away.

In short order, I was called into a meeting with the loss prevention officer and asked about the missing money. I was livid. I knew that my ring had not been lost or misplaced, and I knew too, that the person who had been involved with my ring's disappearance was among the people using my register when money had gone missing. But I did not have any proof. It was my drawer that was short.

I broke down and cried. I explained about my missing ring. They looked at me in silence as I wept. They suggested that I had taken the money because I needed it. That they could understand how easy it would be to take the money, and how it would seem like it wasn't hurting anyone. I sat, clutching a tissue, mopping at my face. I was mortified. I had never stolen money - or anything else, for that matter. How was I going to prove I hadn't stolen the money? I would have gladly agreed to being strip searched if it had cleared my name, and suggested as much, to the embarrassment of the tiny store manager (for indeed, that is all I can remember of him - he was small boned and delicate, with an over-sized attitude and love of retail merchandising). He seemed so sure of my criminal activity that I began to suspect that they were not even considering that someone else could have been responsible. I was the easy, obvious choice.

I was the fall guy.

The thing about being blamed for something is that usually, you don't realize you are the scapegoat until it has already happened. You are caught completely unaware, and forced to play catch-up - if you are even given the opportunity to clear your name. And frequently, the charge is so outlandish, so out-of-character, so clearly wrong, that for a time you think to yourself "Surely everyone can see this is crazy."

And while that may be so, it doesn't mean anyone is going to come to your defense. People are all too eager to let someone else take the blame. They don't want the white-hot spotlight pointed at them. They keep their heads down and avoid eye contact and hope this whole thing will just blow over.

But for the person targeted, it doesn't blow over - it just blows.

Since this happened, I have taken pains in my life to protect myself from accusations like this. Everything is documented, noted, discussed, and copied. And even then - even with noteworthy effort to protect myself - things can go awry. A few months ago, just after my surgery, I was involved in a terribly stressful incident that led to some serious repurcussions, both post-surgically and emotionally. When the dust cleared somehow I was the bad guy. While I had been off dealing with the consequences as they affected me personally, the responsibility for the entire sordid affair was placed squarely on my shoulders, despite the fact that I didn't have a thing to do with what happened other than having it transpire in my living room. I was angry, and disgusted. I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had nothing to do with any of this nonsense, but rather than speak up, I decided to just put the burden down and walk away. I didn't want to make a fuss, I didn't want to spend the time and energy clearing up the confusion, defending myself from a charge that seemed so glaringly unjust.

And that is where it has remained, throughout this holiday season. While I would like to say that it doesn't bother me, it does. While I know that my conscience is clear, I am bothered that people who do not know me well might believe a twisted version of events, and either hold me accountable, or just accept the story as truth and, unaffected or disinterested, move on, carrying that impression of me with them. Neither of those options are palatable, but neither is the idea of trying to make sense of something that just makes no sense at all.

In the end, the most important thing I have learned from all of this - from, despite my best efforts, finding myself once again taking the blame - is that I need to treasure my friendships, and my friends, and my family. When things are all wrong, they have the ability to make everything all right.

Hold your loved ones close this season. Hold your head high. And hold the line. Everything is going to be all right.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oh, give me a home where the publishers roam.......

Writing workshop day 3 was a spirited discussion of memory - how to write a memoir without necessarily having documented quotes and  photographic evidence.

It was all very interesting. Memory is fluid. Memory is subjective. And we each have our own truths. So writing a memoir that is true to us, may not ring true to others. It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma, people. And One of the major sticking points in my writing was being very concerned about the reliability of my memory, which is admittedly fuzzy. I don't want to mis-speak, and I also don't want my content to hurt or offend anyone. It goes without saying that I don't want to find myself "Frey-ed" - accused of writing fiction and labeling it as memoir. So, how to approach the truth when separated by time and distance and a mind that has self-preservation at the forefront of every decision, as human minds generally do?

It's funny, while I understood each of the reading assignments, and their relevance to writing a memoir, the writing PROMPTS didn't really seem connected. Until I was told to describe my book as a house. What kind of house was it? Where was it? Tall ceilings? Big windows? City? Country?

So I sat down to describe my memoir as a house, and of course the houses that came to mind were houses from my childhood. Specifically, my paternal grandparents' houses. A 15 minute reflection on the house that describes my life's story:

There are two lives, in this story. Therefore, there must be two houses. They are both my grandparents'. Rather than reinvent the wheel, it is simpler just to say that. And I believe that once I have described them to you you will understand why, rather than creating a fantasy in my mind, I will describe a true Camelot of sorts.

The first is the "before". Before is in the same tiny village I grew up in, filled with two story capes in a classical New England style, with wide plank siding and 9 over 6 windows and fireplaces to stave off the winter's chill blowing in off of Long Island Sound. Before was old trees and tall hedges, a cul de sac behind the house filled with cars, a barn beyond that had been parceled out, sold off and renovated. And on the other side of a fence, the village playground.

We always entered from the back, the door opening into a sunny kitchen with a breakfast nook and wide counters, a huge stove against the side wall in almost constant use. There was a pantry and a maid's room - which was now a mud room, filled with boots, clinging pieces of hay and grass, the slight smell of manure from the horses.

There was a narrow stairway leading up to the second floor, and a swinging door with a window in it leading out towards the living rooms.

If you had been a guest arriving for the first time, you would have entered by the front door - if only to have the opportunity to make a grand entrance for once in your life. From the street, there was a wide path leading up to the broad stairs. Massive white pillars held up the two story rounded awning. Stained glass surrounded the heavy wooden doors. You would enter and find yourselves in a huge hall, the ceilings soaring far above you, suspending an enormous chandelier, gracious seating scattered thoughtfully around and gorgeous oriental carpets underfoot, with rich jewel tones of rubies and sapphires. The stairs arched upward in a truly grand staircase, leading to an open sitting area, and the bedrooms.

In time, the house was sold and a new one was purchased.  And my memory of childhood is devided into the "Before" of the house in the village, and the "After" of this new property. The new home was a low slung behemoth, a 200 year-old shingled cape with an enormous addition added on and shingled in the same weathered natural wood, as though 200 years ago they were building enormous asymmetrical modern homes with indoor swimming pools. The original house was low-ceilinged, the entire second floor tucked under the eaves. The only nod to the modern was the enormous commercial range in the kitchen. The family continued to expand as children gave birth to children. Holidays were impossible to manage.

The addition was modern incarnate: all cathedral ceilings and wood floors and lit glass shelves and gently sloping hallways lined with portraits, each lit individually for proper appreciation.

There was a grand piano for the grandchildren to play for the entertainment of the adults.

In the basement was the pool table, and the wine cellar - a necessary addition due to the vineyard extending for acres behind the property. There was potential back there, my grandfather would say. Room to roam, spread your wings, disappear for hours. And so I did. I would ride the horses through the fallen leaves, down the aisles of the vineyard, past the barn. This barn was not sold off - it was dismantled, piece by piece, and trucked away by an uncle who decided to rebuild it in Virginia. Peg by peg the barn came down, each piece numbered and noted, and secured in a truck. There was a future, somewhere else. Still familiar. Still tied forever to the family home - but now built on a solid foundation far from the madness. Which is how I came to be in Hawaii, I suppose.

Friday, December 23, 2011

If you want to write the book, you have to survive the feedback

Day two of the memoir writers conference was off to a late start due to Dude's one week checkup at the community clinic. You will hear all about THAT later, because whew....... blog material.

But after the visit, I headed off to workshop with Dude. He slept while I wrote, and ate while we talked, and hung out not-so-quietly while my submission was critiqued.

"Crit" was something I was dreading, but was exactly why I was at workshop. Writing a very honest memoir means talking about some aspects of myself and some choices I have made that I am not wholly comfortable with. Ao reveal those details - and then sit there and let it get picked apart - didn't sound like much fun. But it was necessary if I was going to write and publish a book. Best to get used to the idea now, before my mother gets her hands on a copy. After lunch, I settled into my chair and steeled myself for the feedback. I had no idea what to expect. My biggest concern about writing a memoir is that I wanted it to be interesting and different - and I was worried that my life did not have enough that was interesting or entertaining to fill a book. Memoir is narcissism at it's most narcissistic, assuming that others care enough to pay for your story, and then spend their time reading it is awkward.

The feedback was positive, mostly focused on the fact that I only had 12 pages and I needed a lot more. We talked about choosing the story I wanted to tell, and how to illustrate that story with events from my life. How to talk about things that happened without "outing" others. Whether people mentioned in the book should be allowed to approve the stories involving them. We talked about the outline of the book, the parts of the story that would be most compelling to others, things I didn't mention in the book but which came out during our discussion by way of explanation. Every so often I would be explaining something and someone would shout "YES! THAT! Put THAT in there....that's GREAT!"

So if I finish this book and you hate it, or you think I got it wrong, or you wish I had left you out of it entirely.....well. You are going to have to take it up with my fellow workshoppers.

They think you are wrong, and that you can suck it.

And then we had a writing prompt. Write for 15 minutes about your favorite fruit.
I sat back in my chair, and man.....I was pissed off. Fruit? Are you fucking kidding me?
Whatever. Fruit. Go. (I think my enthusiasm really comes through here......)

I hate cutting these damn pineapple wedges. The entire bar is drowning in juice, it burns under my fingernails, and I wish I could scratch my nose where it is itching. If I do, the juice will run straight down my arm and wind up in my armpit. And then I'll have to go in the bathroom and DEAL WITH IT - and really, who has the time. I keep to the task at hand. Cutting up this damn pineapple. My god, it feels like I am cutting off more than I will be able to use in the drinks. It's wasteful - or decadent, I guess, depending on your point of view, and your budget. The worst part of it all? I can't have a bite. The customers are watching, it's probably a health code violation or something. I drop a few wedges in a plastic cup to sneak out on my smoke break later. Pineapple is my favorite - I love the crunchy/soft texture. the sweet and sour, the coat of armor you have to wrestle through with a butcher knife to free the juicy fruit hidden inside.

I live surrounded by pineapple fields - I had no idea what pineapple fields looked like until I moved here. The fields covered with spiny shrubs, the pineapples nestled down between the spiky leaves like well-guarded treasure. I had never eaten fresh pineapple - it was always canned. I learned as an adult that there was a good reason for that. Buying them in the store is a chore - they make holes in grocery bags, and crush the more delicate produce, and every so often they have a stowaway beetle or spider that alights on my kitchen counter much to the entertainment of my children, who scatter with delighted shrieks.

My childhood summers were filled with big cans of pineapple juice and the much smaller cans of coco lopez. My father wasn't much of a rum drinker - he was a vodka man - but my mother loved her pina coladas. So they would make a huge batch - without alcohol - pour some into cups for the kids, load it with another scoop of ice and a few slugs of rum, and make the adult beverage my mother believed was synonymous with hot summer evenings on the deck watching the sailboats sail past Castle Hill on their return to the harbor. When we were invited to picnics or barbecues,, my mother would bring ambrosia salad, loaded with chunks of pineapple and coconut, and mini marshmallows, the other ingredients almost an afterthought.

We never made a ham with rings of pineapple - and we never ate pineapple in the water months. Every so often someone would arrive with a shivering green jello mold for Thanksgiving dinner and my mother would discreetly shake her head and move it to a discreet corner of the buffet.

Now that I live here, and it seems as though pineapple grows everywhere I look, we eat it year round. But each time someone hands me a pineapple to cut up I always have the same thought. "Ugh. This is going to be such a pain in the ass."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I don't want 15 minutes of fame. I just want 15 minutes.

This week I am participating in a writer's workshop. I have never attended one before and this is all new to me. I didn't know what to expect, and I am going to share the experience here both to provide a record for myself and perhaps to encourage others to consider taking their writing to a workshop as well. I don't know if this would fall under professional development or not - but I am enjoying the process thusfar.

In the workshop, we have reading assignments, selections from published works in addition to reading pages submitted by our fellow attendees. We will be providing feedback within specific parameters (3 things you like three things you think should be developed further) and also following writing prompts to help us explore the creative process.

The first assignment was: write for 15 minutes about where your writing comes from.

This is what I came up with.

Where Does Your Writing Come From? A fifteen minute writing exercise.

We had a foster baby placed with us yesterday. These things happen very unexpectedly, and you can almost count on a foster placement sticking a rod in the spokes of your carefully balanced life cycle.

A 2 day old infant in the throes of withdrawal adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole scenario.

I have been awake for 36 hours, trying to prepare for, feed, and support this very small person, who has begun life in such an inauspicious manner, taken from his mother and his narcotic in one fell swoop as he was. Yesterday was spent lying on the sofa in sweatpants trying to get a handle on the situation. Today I had to get some shit done. Simple as that. Baby or no, it is the first day of the kids' winter vacation, the day before a writers conference, and 6 days before Christmas.

I spent this morning rushing around buying last minute gifts, getting them in the mail, driving 30 minutes to the bank to make a deposit - and back home again. Feeding the kids, changing diapers, convincing the baby to eat, fielding texts and phone calls, cleaning the house, wrapping more gifts, writing work emails, printing out phone lists, making phonecalls, setting up childcare and drivers and doctors appointments for the week, changing more diapers, and then, FINALLY, at 4:30, I sat down to spend 15 minutes answering this question before the workshop. The kids were watching a movie. The baby was asleep. The husband would be home in an hour. I could do this.

As soon as I opened a blank document the kids walked in this room, sat down next to me, and began a raucous game of Uno.

Considering that I cannot so much as turn on the dryer without getting complaints about the noise and the disturbance said noise is causing to their delicate senses, the fact that they came in and sat down right next to me and dialed the volume up to a 12 led to some strongly worded suggestions that they relocate.

After two peanut butter and jellies and 15 minutes - MY FIFTEEN MINUTES - they decamped to another room, and I settled down to write. And then the phone rang And then the baby cried. And now my husband will be home in fifteen minutes. This is all I've got.

Fifteen minutes.

My writing comes from a desperate attempt to claim my fifteen minutes.

MY fifteen minutes. Mine. Not yours.

my FIFTEEN minutes. I think I deserve fifteen of them to myself.

my fifteen MINUTES. Jesus H. Christ, we're talking minutes here - not hours. Is that so much to ask?

I didn't go to college. No money - I was on my own. No time - I was trying to hustle for the money. No support - have I mentioned I was on my own?

Now I am decidedly not on my own. In fact, the very last person I have time to worry about is myself. Mostly, I like it that way. It keeps me from remembering that in the pursuit of a life worth living, I have given up a lot of myself. No degree, no career, no long-term plan other than paying off the mortgage before I die.

In my attempts to write so much as a resume, I am stymied. My experiences make for excellent stories, but not much in the way of professional development. And so I write. I write about the life I live. The life I aspire to. The life I didn't get to experience. The life I experienced and then put away because - at the time - it was better to do so. And the life that I am too busy to appreciate in the moment.

I am claiming my fifteen minutes. Make your own fucking sandwich.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In the pursuit of awesome, the road can get bumpy

12 days until awesome.

I have given myself until the end of this year to indulge in my fantasy of being a writer.

After that, the real world with it's real bills and real deadlines is going to kick in, and I am going to have a massive reality check.

But of course, the real world doesn't operate on my timeline. Fate doesn't adhere to a calendar year.

Which is why my two weeks were cut short so abruptly by the arrival of the Dude.

This is how my life has unfolded, and how it continues to unfold. I can't believe it happened again, now, at this moment. Fate literally reached out and said "Are you high? You must be high. You must have lost your Ever Loving Mind to think that this...... that all of this was going to just happen without my say so."

"I'll always have Camp Mighty" I consoled myself. "I snuck that one in there. This whole year has been amazing. I have traveled and spread my wings and spent time as I saw fit. I quit the awful job, and I spent the summer in my childhood home, and I traveled with the team, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. It was a good run."

It was. It was a good run.

But now I am at the end of the line. I have a 3 day old baby staying with me indefinitely. I have two kids in private school and I have run up quite a tab this year, trying to experience some of the things I was sorry I missed when I was younger. I may not have been allowed to experience dating Eddie Vedder, and Sam refuses to live in Manhattan so I guess that'll never happen - but I crossed some stuff off that list I had in my head of "shit I happily sacrificed to have a family, but kind of wish I could try anyway."

And the last thing on the list - attending a real writer's workshop, and having my writing critiqued and maybe even getting some writing together that I could send to a publisher - was supposed to happen this week.

The workshop starts tomorrow.
Dude arrived yesterday.
The kids are on Christmas break.
And I can't justify spending money on a writing workshop - it is ludicrous.

I have to stop now. I have to stop, and accept the wonderful things that I have been given, that I have experienced, that I continue to enjoy. My friends, my family, my Dude.

I sat down last night and held the baby and realized that. That it was a sign. That I was getting greedy. That I had been given enough - more than most. That I didn't need a book deal or a fancy job or an apartment in the city. That I was not brave enough or strong enough or good enough for that. I was a mom, and a wife, and a friend, and a sister and a daughter.

It was enough.
It is enough.

And then I got this text from Sarah:
"If you need baby help so that you can go to your conference, I'm off Tuesday and Wednesday. It's important that you go if possible."

It was a glimmer. It was a brass ring.
And I grabbed it.

In this season of giving that I hate so very much, I have been given something I can't really explain to you, but that has restored my faith. Restored a part of me that has been elusive. The part of me that believes that it is okay to reach for things that seem completely out of the question without looking foolish. It is okay to dream big. Even when you are a middle-aged stay-at-home mom who lives in the middle of nowhere.

I don't think this writing conference is going to be my big break. I've been writing for years, and god knows no one from the publishing world has been in touch. This workshop could just be another thing I use to distract myself from my actual life of running a household - which is decidedly unglamorous and not particularly fulfilling for me intellectually. This workshop is like getting on a merry go round and picking the horse of your dreams and pretending you are galloping through the countryside with Mary Poppins, the wind in your hair. Buy the ticket, take the ride. So why do I bother? Have I forgotten that merry go rounds make me nauseous?

I bother because if you don't keep reaching for the brass ring, what's the point? If you give up, you'll never know how far a little faith can take you.

So for all of you people out there who don't have a job, or hate your job, or feel trapped or left behind, or who are afraid to reach for something that seems unattainable, who believe that it is too late, or too crazy.......close your eyes and reach out your hand. I am right here. And I am cheering you on.

Let's do this.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How to prepare to bring home a newborn baby with 12 hours notice

A few weeks ago I said to Sam "I want another one."

He said "No. Absolutely not."

I said "What if someone just calls up out of the blue and offers me a baby again?"

He said "That isn't going to happen."

"But what if it DID?" I persisted.

He sighed and shook his head sympathetically at his poor, delusional wife. "Sure, honey. If someone calls and offers you a baby, you can have another one."

At 7pm last night, we got a call.

"Hey there." our social worker said. "Want a baby?"

"&%$#" Sam said. "How did you DO that?"

We have been licensed foster parents for the state for eight years. In that time we have taken in several infants, so this phone call didn't faze me in the slightest. But we haven't had a placement in a while, and Sam was caught off-guard. I give him credit: he climbed right into the attic, and started pulling out garbage bags and storage boxes labeled "BABY". We washed, and laundered, and folded, and assembled.

 By 7am, aside from a few mysteriously AWOL items, I was totally ready.
Meet Dude. He's staying with us for a little while. Scrumptious.

Please consider becoming a foster parent. I can assure you, it is the most amazing gift you could give - or receive. Especially one week before Christmas.
And for all of you women out there with baby registries, this is for you:

Don't buy into the hype. The reason second and third and all subsequent children don't get a bunch of new stuff is because all of that stuff that you think you need ends up being totally unnecessary. I have taken care of COUNTLESS newborns, and I can promise that you need very little.


I know this, because I bought it. All of it. Some of it I bought twice. And I regretted it even more the second time. Newborn babies need the very basic necessities. They do not need the very latest gadgets.

You need one carseat (car owners: with two bases if possible. You can leave one base permanently installed in your car, and have the other for other people's cars, travel, etc.)
You need a stroller frame (one with a cupholder and a place for your phone and keys is great) to hold that carseat.
You need a carrier - I recommend the Ergo which is heaven on my back - get a newborn insert. (The Baby Bjorn really hurt my neck.)
You need a place for the baby to sleep. Babies can sleep anywhere, including mangers and laundry baskets.
You need burp cloths. We use cotton diapers.
You need diapers. Whatever your pleasure - cloth or disposable, organic or not.
You need wipes and/or washcloths for bath and cleanup.
You need some clothes and some blankets.
And we have a vibrating seat that is great for when I am in the bathroom, doing laundry, cleaning, or trying to type/eat/drink hot beverages. You don't need it, but some sort of seat or swing is nice to have from time to time.

You do not need to buy it all brand new. Except the carseat - you shoudn't buy a used carseat for safety reasons. If a carseat has been in an accident, it's frame may be weakened. Best to buy new, just to be safe.

Stay out of Babies R Us, you will want one of everything. We asked friends, bought off craigslist, watched for sales, and now have everything we need stored in a corner of the attic. About $350 for the whole shebang.
$50 wheeled bassinet for sleeping (optional!)
$20 vibrating chair
$125 stroller/carseat
$100 ergo
$55 clothes, blankets. diapers, bottles

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as Lucy likes to say.
Don't go crazy. Just go.
(Mmmm babies. Yummy.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is (really) it. This weekend is your last chance.

Ten days til Christmas. Well, nine.
I really need to get on that.

I am not done. Not even remotely done. I am not ready. Not even close to ready.

And I am panicking.

I am cutting it too close. Again.

It's a delicate balance, the timing of gift delivery. I avoid sending the boxes too early, because inevitably I find a few more things tucked away in my closet, and have to send a second box. And I hate trying to hide packages that arrive in November - where the hell am I supposed to put them? I wouldn't do that to someone I care about. I think having presents arrive just in the nick of time is considerate. Minimizes clutter.

You're welcome.

But if - in an effort to be considerate - I send the packages out too late, then they arrive on the 27th. So the recipients don't get their presents in time for Christmas, and think I didn't care enough to send them anything. And I got stuck paying for the express postage for no good reason. That just sucks for everyone.

To keep things as simple as possible, I was going to buy a bunch of gifts on Amazon and have them wrapped and shipped directly. But seeing as how I am currently boycotting Amazon because they screwed up two orders in the last two weeks and they have hideous wrapping paper, I had to find a new approach to holiday gift giving for the overseas set. First rule of order: if I am going to pay for gift wrapping, that shit had better be festive. But it's more than convenience and customer service and pretty paper.

Amazon doesn't need my business, and small businesses do.

Luckily, there are a lot of small business owners out there who are very happy to help me get presents to my family members on time. The big box stores, catalogs and online retailers don't give a crap. Not really. And who wants to stand in line at the post office the week of Christmas, anyway? Not this girl.

Here are some businesses that were recommended to me by friends, famlies, and readers. Heavy on the etsy, because I LOVE THE ETSY. Consider this a grab bag - each link is a surprise! Please visit them. Call them. Email them. Buy from them. They will get your packages in the mail and where they need to go - they have unique gifts, and you are supporting small business. Yay.

Have one to add? Leave a comment, I'll happily add to this list :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just like a fairy tale. But with sex.

None of it went according to plan.

The plan was to get married and have a baby.

And then I got married. And then I couldn't have a baby. And then he didn't want me to have a baby. And then he didn't want to be married. And then it got ugly. And then he left me.

And I was 20 years old.

I tried to reboot. Fresh start, new town, new job, new friends.

I ended up moving back home and bartending.

I tried to escape. Ran away to a tropical island with a guy I had just met, leaving our cars in the driveway to be repossessed.

I ended up moving back home and working at the mall.

I tried to move to the big city. Got a fancy job with my fancy high school diploma, lived in a fancy apartment with a fancy guy who drove a fancy car. I thought that was the dream. But I hated the fancy job. And the fancy apartment. And I wasn't too fond of that fancy guy, either. I think the feeling was mutual. Mr Fancy-pants told me that he would never marry me, because I couldn't get pregnant. But I should live with him, and cook for him and clean and launder and shop for him. And sleep on the couch, or with him. Whatever. And he would just keep an eye out for someone more suitable to marry.

It didn't sound very fancy.

I was 22, and I was starting to think that maybe it was me. I was damaged goods. I was unlovable. And definitely unfit for marriage. And I needed to stop thinking about the fact that I couldn't get pregnant. I needed to make a different, better life for myself.
Because clearly, things were not going to go as planned.

And then I met this guy. He was not fancy. He was the Anti-Fancy. He was also extraordinarily kind. And sweet. And determined to date me. And unimpressed with the fancy guy and his fancy job. In fact, he told me (and anyone who would listen) that the fancy guy I was living with was an asshole.

I was shocked.

I was also relieved. So I packed up and moved out of the fancy building, and into an apartment on Dot Ave in Dorchester. And then a little while later, I moved in with Mr Anti-Fancy.

And then?

I got married.

And then?

I got pregnant. With a little help, and a lot of determination. (I told you he was determined.)

And eleven years ago, I had a baby. A Sagittarius, born in the year of the Dragon.
Pretty auspicious, considering that I couldn't get pregnant.

Hey, Mr Fancy-Pants, who's still single and miserable in a fancy apartment, alone?
Suck it.
My kid is eleven years old today, and cooler than you ever were. Thanks for not contaminating my gene pool.

And his little sister could kick your ass.

Happy birthday to my little dude. And thanks to Mr Anti-Fancy for being so gosh-darned determined to knock me up. You sure showed them.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In which I got dressed up for a fancy dinner at a posh resort and wound up in a shrub in the rain at 1am

With 3 weeks left until my self-designated deadline for awesome, the pressure is mounting. And when the pressure mounts I do a few things: I shop on Etsy, I watch Netflix, and I drink tequila. Which is what happened last night. Before I get into this, I am leaving a note here for myself:

Reminder - go find my missing shoe under the house.
More on that later.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Not really. I needed a little stress relief, and Sarah proposed dinner - she had a gift certificate that was about to expire. The only thing better than a nice dinner is a nice dinner that someone else is paying for, so I enthusiastically agreed to help use up that poor, almost expired gift certificate. We were headed to a resort near her house, which is a long way from my house, and I offered to pick her up on the way. Nice night, beautiful drive, I arrived to find her standing on her desk rummaging around on a bookcase. The gift certificate, it seems, was missing.

On to plan B - a sweet little BYOB place across the street from the ocean. Sarah dusted off a couple of bottles of red wine from her wine rack and stuffed them in her purse, and we headed over. There was a wait for a table so we went to the mexican place next door and sat down at the bar, the bottles of wine clunking together in her bag oh-so-discreeetly. And that is when things went south (of the border). "Our drink special tonight is a double house margarita for $4.50" the bartender cheerfully informed us.

"Well then I guess I'm having a double house margarita rocks, salt." Sarah replied without blinking.

I blinked.
"Uh, sure. Yeah. Okay." I smiled weakly at the bartender and she headed off to make our double margaritas.

I may have said "sure", but inside my head was saying "ARE YOU INSANE?"

Fast forward thirty minutes, and I am completely wasted. Give me twenty minutes and one strong drink, and I am stumbling, knocking things over, dropping stuff on the ground wasted. I have no idea how I survived my twenties. I texted Sam "Already drunk sleeping at Sarahs Sorry." His response: "WHAT HAPPENED?" I looked at the clock. It was 8:14pm. I drank a glass of water and paid the tab. I needed to get some food quickly, or there was going to be trouble.

But of course, it was already too late.

Dinner was Sarah ordering, and me raising my fists in the air and hissing "YESSSSSSS" after each item. "I love that you are getting arm boners over chopped salad." she remarked as the waitress walked away. And then the cheese plate showed up. More celebratory arm boners ensued. "We are going to need the wine." Sarah informed me solemnly as she reached into her purse.

I didn't care about the wine - I was grinning like an idiot, trying to somehow get the goat cheese from plate to crostini without dropping it on the table. The cheese made it, and I spread it oh-so-carefully, before topping it with mango chutney - but then I ended up dropping the entire crostini in my lap. I also dropped my knife. And fork. I stayed away from the red wine because I was afraid of breaking the glass.

It was a short dinner, mainly because I was having trouble maintaining eye contact. Needless to say, I was not driving home. Or anywhere. I did manage to get in the car and be driven to Sarah's house, where I drank another glass of water, tried to have a conversation, and then passed out. I woke up at midnight, sober and horribly hungover.

"I think I have food poisoning." Sarah muttered from the other side of the bed.

I stood up to make sure I was really sober. Sadly, I was. Truly, miserably sober. And sick. The thing about being a lightweight with a crazy metabolism is that you get drunk fast, and you get hungover even faster. "I think it was the margarita." I said, wincing. "Or the goat cheese. Or the lamb. Or the red wine. I need to go home now, I don't feel well."

So I drove back up the mountain in silence because the radio was so loud and dumb and people were singing and talking and they just wouldn't stop. I spent the entire drive thinking about what a TOTAL MORON I must be to drink a double margarita on an empty stomach, and then fill my stomach with anything other than a taco. I got home by 1am, and it was windy and drizzling - the rain whipped my face as I climbed the stairs barefoot, carrying my shoes and purse in one hand, and clutching the handrail with the other. The dog greeted me with his usual unbridled enthusiasm, leaping in the air and twisting around in unthinkable ways, landing and running in circles before leaping up again. Ignoring him, I turned the door handle and leaned on the door with my shoulder to open it.

It didn't budge.

The deadbolt was locked.

I put my purse down and found my keys, and then turned back to the lock, trying to get the key to turn in the dark with the rain pelting my back. The key didn't fit in the lock. The key was for the doorknob, not the deadbolt. I was locked out. At 1am. In the rain.

I walked over to the sliding door.


The bathroom door.


The porch door.


The dog was beside himself. Was this a new game? Was I going to let him in the house? AND DID I HAVE ANY LEFTOVERS?

I turned and headed back out in the rain to check the front door.


I stood for a minute trying to clear my head. I called Sam's cellphone as I leaned my forehead on the cool glass of our living room window, and watched as his cellphone lit up on the kitchen counter. He was never going to hear that. Shit.

I knew what I had to do.

I walked down the stairs, across the yard, and over to the side of the house. Standing in front of our window is a large hibiscus shrub. And I was going to have to climb it. I stepped into the mud that surrounds the foundation during rainy season, and reached up for a branch to use for leverage. I climbed up. And up. And up. The entire bush bent dangerously. A shoe fell out of my hand, Why was I still carrying a shoe? My purse tipped and in an attempt to keep it from dumping all of it's contents out onto the ground, I grabbed for it and let go of the branch, falling/jumping out of the shrub and calling for Sam as I hit the ground. The window slid open.

"Let me in, I'm locked out."

I was forlorn. Pathetic. Standing in my front yard covered in mud, soaked from the rain, holding one shoe and clutching my purse to my chest with the dog going apeshit beside me.

To his credit, he let me in.

But I don't think I'm going to be going out to dinner with the girls again anytime soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Half melted chocolate covered with white stuff is better than NO CHOCOLATE AT ALL

I am declaring a small victory over the 2011 holiday season, people.

- I got that damn tree up before December 1st, complete with lights that don't make me want to gauge my eyeballs out.
- I read all of my favorite holiday stories, and watched Elf twice this weekend.
- I have a new bottle of rum, and some Coconut Nog - because Egg Nog and I have a difference of opinion about digestion without a gallbladder.
- And I finally used the last of the Thanksgiving turkeys to make epic turkey soup.

I am even contemplating taking a photo this week for our "Thank God THAT'S over" post-apocalypticholiday card to send out in January. Complete with matching outfits and the dog wearing antlers.

But the final touch, the one piece of evidence that says I made the 2011 holiday season my bitch, is that I remembered the Advent calendars hidden in the attic - before Christmas, mind you - FOR THE WIN.

Best mother ever award goes RIGHT HERE thankyouVERYmuchindeed.

Because usually, you see, I discover the calendars on Christmas Eve when I am frantically trying to get the wrapping done. They are inevitably wrapped in a grocery bag, stuck inside a box of gifts I have hidden in a corner of the attic to keep them safe from prying hands. (I don't care about prying eyes - it's the hands that do all the damage.)


Sadly, the reason it didn't go down like that is because I have no presents hidden in the attic for Christmas.
I am little bewildered - because I usually have this all taken care of by now, so that I can sit at home and absorb Nog in peace. Not this year. I honestly have no clue what I am giving the kids this year. No. Clue. Which means I have to leave the house and go shopping, I guess.....

BUT STAY FOCUSED ON THE POSITIVE which is that this year, my kids got their advent calendars on time. Okay, almost on time. They should have gotten them on time, because Auntie Sassin the step-monster reminded me to give them out when she came over on December 1st, and I still forgot. And then I remembered, and forgot, and remembered, and forgot, and then tonight I REMEMBERED AND I DIDN'T FORGET and when I came out of the bedroom after dinner clutching those cardboard boxes filled with cheap candy behind numbered flaps it felt like the angels were singing and I was bathed in a heavenly glow because I was ROCKING THIS PARENTING THING. The kids eyes grew wide and they couldn't believe their good fortune and then they tore off the wrappers and opened the doors marked "1" and the chcoclate was nice and chocolately brown and not all misshapen and hard and covered with white powder from melting and solidfying repeatedly. ANOTHER MIRACLE. (I can't really say whether every Advent calendar that makes it to Hawaii from the mainland has melted and re-solidified chocolate hidden inside. But every Advent calendar my children have ever received certainly has.)


All is right with the world. Please pass the rum. I'll take my prize in a lump sum, thanks. Small bills if you got 'em.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I Love: Children's Holiday Books

It's December First.

This means I have 25 days until I can shove the christmas tree back in the attic, and approximately 33 days until the eggnog starts going bad. I am going to need more rum.

While I have serious issues with the holiday itself, however - and with the associated consumerism - I have a wholehearted love of the drunken debauchery of a good office party, and a warm fuzzy feeling about my favorite children's holiday books. I truly look forward to dragging down the box every year on Thanksgiving, and reading these stories to my children. This is my top five list - and all of these books have one thing in common: if there was any way that I could possibly live inside one of these books, I would. It is escapism at it's best. (I am providing links, they take you to Amazon does not have anything to do with me writing this post or linking to them - I was just trying to keep it easy.)

The first book I reach for on Thanksgiving night - the one I can't wait to read, the one I sneak into the attic and look at in August when I am feeling blue, my very very favorite one of all - is A Beacon Hill Christmasby Barbara Westman. Published in 1976, it is a rolicking tale set in Boston, of the bon vivant Maud, her "special friend" Arthur (who is either the guy she's sleeping with, or her gay friend who accompanies her to events - I just can't be sure) and the days leading up to Christmas. She cooks, she parties, she ice skates, and she makes lists.
I love Maud. I want to be Maud. If you can get your hands on this book, DO IT. It's out of print. You should ask Santa for a copy.

The Sweet Smell of Christmasis next on the list. This is a Scratch and Sniff book - I buy a new one every couple of years so that the sniff stays fresh. (But let's be honest - they really haven't found a way to keep scratch and sniff books sniffing good for more than a few months. Phooey. Scientists: get on this, would you?) This is a tale of a family of bears (vey sweet, non-threatening bears) getting ready for Christmas at their little home in the woods. I could spend hours sniffing the drawing of hot cocoa, but I guess I have some other stuff I could do. This book is my version of sniffing glue during the holiday season.

Next up is The Polar ExpressWhen they made the book into a movie I was furious. How dare they? The book is PERFECT. But damned if they didn't get the movie just right. So we watch the movie after we read the book. Over and over again. I love Chris Van Allsburg's writing style and glorious illustrations - so soothng and peaceful even when something crazy is happening. The movie is more of the same for me.

Then we page through Christmas in New Yorkwhich is a pop-up book that takes pop-up to a whole new level. Incredible. And it makes me happy to look at illustrations of all of the beauty of new York City during the holidays. A few years ago I took the kids to NYC for the week after Thankgiving - it was amazing. We skated at Rockefeller Center, looked at all the shop windows, went to FAO Schwartz AND the Times Square Toys R Us, and made snow angels in Central Park after I carefully explained to them the perils of yellow snow. (Kids from Hawaii don't have a clue about yellow snow, it turns out.)

And then, it's Eloise at ChristmastimeOh, Eloise. I love you and Skipperdee and Weenie and Nanny. I want to live at the Plaza. Everything about you makes me grin like an idiot. Let's be friends.

There are tons more, of course - I am always on the hunt for a new classic - but these are my top five favorite holiday books of all time, and they are pretty unshakeable. However, suggestions welcome, please add your favorites to the list!