Posted by: bullyforme | May 7, 2013

Hanrahan!

My mother and I love going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park.  Because neither of us are rich, we usually end up with tickets for either standing room or the bleachers.  No complaints here, there isn’t an inch of Fenway Park I’d rather not be at than anywhere else.  However, due to the cheaper seating and other factors, we do usually get to experience a more…”earthy” crowd than in other spots.  There are occasionally families and whatnot but the majority of the fans in the standing section and bleacher seats are groups of young people, Southie rowdies, and beer drinkers.  It can get rather lively to say the least.

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The bleacher seats.  Not too bad, actually.

Last night we were in the bleachers.  Surrounding us were a large group of high school seniors and a smaller pack of happy, chatty, nerdy guys about whom my mother whispered, giggling into my ear, “those guys remind me of the Big Bang Theory.”  (They definitely did).  The smell of beer was in the air and little empty nip bottles littered the ground but even so, it was a mellow crowd, for the bleacher seats.  It was Monday night and the game had been fairly uneventful. 

It was the top of the 9th and the Sox were leading 5-4 as the heavy metal theme song of our “closer,” Hanrahan, filled the air.  My mother and I looked at each other with dread as the pitcher trotted out to take the mound.  “Oh, no!  Not this guy!”  Hanrahan is a new addition for the Sox and his record, though still in its infancy, speaks for itself—0-2.  No saves. 

Within a pitch or two, a Minnesota Twin sent one sailing over the Monster, tying the game.  Choruses of groans and booing erupted from the dwindling crowd.  Many people had left in the 8th inning, which wasn’t surprising and usually happens on a weeknight.  After this, even more fans got up and began filing for the exits. 

Being in the bleachers, we heard our share of rude noises and expletives regarding Hanrahan’s latest faux pas.  One particularly broad-chested fellow in the seats over my left shoulder stood up, leaned out over his safety rail, and cupped his hands to his mouth to create an organic megaphone.  “HANRAHAN, YER FUCKIN’ SHIT!  YOU SUCK!”  Then again, “FUCK YOU, HANRAHAN!”  He bellowed in a deep Southie baritone.   I couldn’t help but laugh.   Man, I love the bleachers!

So, the tenth inning rolled around because of course the Sox couldn’t score in the bottom of the 9th.  It was getting very late.  I had promised my son a red Ellsbury t-shirt only available at the Yawkey Way store, which was located far from both our bleacher seats and our parking spot.  Dreading a sleep deprived day at work, I suggested to my mother that we start moving toward it, and we could watch on screens and poke our heads in as we passed different sections.  No longer a slave to the workforce herself, she fussed at me (dare I say “glared”) but agreed.  As we walked down the outer halls of Fenway we heard some cheering and ran over to peek in at a section between home and first bases. 

It was loge seating.  Empty loge seating.  Loge seating is located directly behind and beside the Red Sox dugout, and it was gloriously unattended by the usual red-jacketed babysitters who shoo away any potential squatters.  People pay good money – BIG money – for these seats and the caliber of fans who sit here do not tolerate imposters well.  However at this time, the park was more than half-emptied of impatient, unfaithful fans, or those who had to catch the last train, or those whose babysitters had biology tests at Fenway High the next morning.  The “richies” who remained in their expensive loge seating were ignoring anyone looking to score a cushioned, generously sized, gloriously located red loge seat 50 feet away from the first base coach and 20 feet away from the dugout.

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Same game, new view.  Much better, actually.

We settled in with unsuppressed glee and I took in the sight around us.  “Check out the difference in the crowd here,” I said.  “It’s so funny, you can tell just by the way they sit, let alone their clothes!”

In the bleachers or standing room, you’ll likely see the “ridiculously painted fan guy,” the “shirtless guy,” girls in baby-doll Red Sox T’s, four-inch bangle earrings and glitter ball caps, the plain janes (such as I) in jeans and crocs, and the middle class family-of-fours with their happy, cotton-candy-faced kids grasping foam fingers.  You’ll hear curses and shouts, loud laughter and bawdy accents. 

This group was decidedly different.  They wore jeans but also suits.  I saw classy Donna Karan earrings and plain, clean baseball caps covering perfect, shiny ponytails, starter jackets, leather loafers and Michael Kors bags.  Polite clapping and subtle shouts of “Yes!” took the place of pumping fists and “OOOHRAH” bellowing.   Empty cups were nestled in the seats’ attached cupholders, in contrast to the bleachers where the “cupholders” are the concrete spaces under our seats.  I was tickled to observe how “the other half” lives while waiting for the inevitable win or loss. 

Mom and I were excited to have such a great view in these extra innings.  Things got kind of quiet as we waited for our new pitcher to end the inning (the beleaguered Hanrahan having been sent to the showers).  Suddenly, a guy about 20 feet to my left cupped a hand to his mouth.  I watched with surprise to see where this was going.  He was dressed in a brown leather jacket and a neat blue Red Sox cap.  In his other hand was a carefully nursed cup of dark, non-Budweiser ale product.   No signs of Southie here.  What would he say?  He leaned forward and half-rose out of his seat.  In a voice about as loud as mine gets when my kid leaves the toilet seat up, he called out “Darn you, Hanrahan!”, pumped his fist once and returned to his seated position.  I fell to pieces giggling.  Man, I love the loge! 

Win or lose, this night would be worth the certain foggy, painful morning ahead at work, just to have experienced the two very different Hanrahan bashers in such opposite settings at the same beloved ball park.

As it turned out, Stephen Drew (J.D.’s little brother) hit a wall ball in the 11th, bringing home the winning run.  Before the ball had even bounced off the F.W. Webb sign, the entire dugout emptied out on to the field –about 30 feet away from us!– as the rest of the team ran to congratulate Drew and the base runners.   What a beautiful sight from any view. 

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In the end, it doesn’t matter where you’re sitting at Fenway Park.  When the strains of “Tessie” start streaming over the loudspeaker and “RED SOX WIN” flashes on the Jumbotron, everyone has the same seat.

I love you, Fenway!

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Note:  These pictures were taken with my not-so-smart phone. I really must remember to bring my Canon to these games! 

Posted by: bullyforme | May 2, 2013

Go Ahead and Judge Me.

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Steak.  It’s what’s for dinner.  His dinner.  Yes, just steak.  Steak on a plate.  Nothing else.

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I was reading a post on a “healthy foods”-style Facebook page yesterday.  The post asked whether or not readers cooked a separate meal for their kids during the week sometimes.  Many parents were offended at the very idea that they should cater to their children.  Those who said they did cook separately for their child seemed to feel they needed to offer a lengthy, apologetic excuse.  I’ve shared some of the responses below. 

“Same dinner for adults and kids, 7 nights a week. If we have something new, they have to try it and if they truly can’t eat it, they can have a bowl of cereal. “

“We all eat the same meal at our house. Our menu: Eat it or Go Hungry.”

“I can barely make one meal…if the kids don’t like it, they go hungry!”

“Don’t run a restaurant.  I make one dinner.  You eat it or starve.”

“Unless my husband and I are having wine and cheese for supper, we all have the same meal!”

“I usually end up making something separate for my sons, they each have sensory issues, one is autistic and one is has food allergies.  I’ve tried making them eat the same as us but it’s so traumatic.  They eat only a few things and I feel really bad about that.  I would love to one day have the whole family eating the same meal.   It’s almost impossible to plan out one meal for four people considering each of their allergies and issues.”

“I never fix them a separate meal because I am not a short-order cook!! They can eat what we have or go to bed hungry.”

“The kids usually complain but they eat what we eat. I refuse to raise ‘picky eaters.’”

“I am not a short order cook. It’s important they respect me, my time and the food we eat.”

“You’re kidding right? They are lucky to get what I am cooking cuz I’m not cooking two damn meals at the end of my day. We have a nice little philosophy to that ‘Take what ya get, and don’t throw a fit!’”

I’m not judging these parents, only they could know what’s the right thing for their families.  However, I found the philosophies in these responses sad.  How sad that many parents feel mealtime is a non-negotiable demand rather than a part of the day to be enjoyed by all.  Sad that some parents think it’s okay for separate meals as long as it’s Mom or Dad who is choosing it.  Sad to expect kids to respect “me, my time, and the food we eat,” without considering whether kids deserve respect and time as well. Sad most of all that they would rather raise complainers than picky eaters.  I found it disheartening that those who admitted to cooking separate meals felt they had to offer a lengthy explanation and a full food allergy or sensory condition report to complete strangers.

There was a period when I fought with my son about mealtimes.   He is a very picky eater.  Every day he’d ask “what’s for dinner?” and when I told him, he’d say, “I don’t want that.”  I’d get so frustrated!  If it were up to him, we’d eat the same three meals over and over again.  I felt I was a bad parent if I didn’t force him to try new things, or eat outside his comfort zone.  I worried about his vitamin intake, I worried that he wouldn’t eat vegetables.  I felt helpless because I wasn’t ready to follow my own heart and mind when it came to parenting.  Parenting magazines, professionals, and other parents will tell you that as a parent, you should be in control of what your kids eat.  Lay down the law.  Don’t take any smack.  They’ll eat what you put in front of them, or they’ll go hungry!

After one particularly unsettling dinner argument with my picky son in which I was next to tears and he actually was in tears, I was reminded of a time long ago.  I had picked up a new kind of food for my dog.  She hated it. She would not touch it.  I settled in to a battle of wills with her – a hungry dog will eventually eat what’s in front of it, right?  She didn’t eat for three days.  On the fourth day I had an epiphany.  I loved this dog!  I was her sole provider!  She looked to me for security, love and comfort.  Why was I trying to force her to eat something she found so distasteful that she would go hungry for three days?  I threw out the food she hated and bought some she would eat.  Wouldn’t you? 

I realized if I can do this for a dog, surely I could do this for my own child.  I decided not to care what parenting magazines, professionals, or anyone else had to say about my son’s mealtimes.  I decided to go with the flow—our own flow, that is.  I make what he wants, even if it’s just steak on a plate and a glass of milk.  And I make what I want.  I ask him if he wants to sample my dinner, but I don’t force him to try it.  

My response to the aforementioned Facebook “poll” was simple.  Outside of a few rare meals we both enjoy such as make-your-own pizza and spaghetti marinara, I always make two meals.  He’s a meat eater and I’m a vegan…but even if this were not true, we simply have different tastes. 

Usually, I can’t stand what he likes, and he can’t stand what I like.  I’m not going to force him to eat something he hates…I wouldn’t eat something I hate.   As he’s gotten older, he even cooks for himself sometimes.   But I still don’t mind cooking for him.  I love him.  I provide for him.  He is my child and his happiness is important to me.  I won’t make excuses for that. 

But wait, there’s more to judge me by!   He slept in the crook of my arm, in my bed, until he was a year old.  I stayed in his room until he fell asleep (at his request) for years after that.  Sometimes I let him sleep in the living room while I watch late-night TV because he doesn’t want to be alone upstairs.  Sometimes I cancel plans of my own because he asks if he can be with me.  Sometimes he just needs a break from school and I let him stay home.  Sometimes when he’s at his dad’s, I get in his room and knock it out of the park clean for him…just because.  I don’t typically care if he swears, because I taught him all the swear words I know.  He listens to rap music and plays video games that have guns and decided not to play Babe Ruth baseball this season, none of which I find too appealing, but it’s not about me.  And yes, I usually make him what he wants for dinner, whether or not it’s what I want.  I have two hands, two eyes, two ears, two arms & legs and two sides of a brain…I can make two meals. 

I could go on and on about the whys and why-nots, the sensory issues, the anxiety, but I’m not going to here.  I have my reasons for why and how I parent my child, but the only reason I’m willing to explain is that I had a child and this child is unapologetically the center of my universe.  His needs (and wants!) come before my own.   

This is not to say I’m a martyr, or helplessly at his beck and call.  He’ll be the first to tell you I’m plenty stubborn and spoiled.  I get my way.  It’s just that many times, my way is his way too. 

Oh he’s a spoiled kid, for sure.  But he’s also compassionate and loving, self-sufficient and able.  He’s funny and happy.  He doesn’t worry about what others think of him.  He respects authority, but he will also question authority.  He never has to guess if I love him, or if I’ll be there, or wonder whether he’ll go to bed hungry because I cooked what I wanted to cook, and HE WILL EAT IT OR GO TO BED HUNGRY.  Go ahead, judge me.

 

Posted by: bullyforme | April 29, 2013

Bro, you broke the house!

The boys broke my house.

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I had sort of a rough weekend, from realizing that after I was paid on Friday and paid all my bills, I’d be broke by Tuesday, to being sidelined all day Saturday with some stomach bug.

Let me start by admitting I’m having a challenging time getting organized financially.  I’ve been off the grid for so long.  For years I had no car payment, a very small phone bill, and no credit cards.  I had no internet.  If my dog got sick I just tried to fix it myself.  Then I got a new job and a nice raise.  I gradually increased my monthly expenditures and am now trying to cope with it, after being so long out of practice.

Since I took my new job one year and two months ago, I’ve managed to acquire a car payment, a large phone bill, two lines of credit, a veterinary care credit card, pet insurance, an internet bill, and a TV video service.  Wha’ happened?  Ugh.

I’ve been trying for a couple of months to get ahead of these bills so that they all aren’t due on the same day (they are), and I’ve been unsuccessful as of yet.   Sigh…at least I’m not $500 in the hole every payday like I was many years ago, making a little more than half what I am now.  Whew!

Perhaps Saturday was a result of seeing my checkbook balance as of Friday night.  I woke up that morning feeling AWFUL.  I was queasy, cold, tired.  I took the puppy to the groomer (oh, yes, there’s another $45 a month—note to self, buy some clippers!), came home and collapsed on the couch.  I managed to do a few errands throughout the day with only pit stops for puking, ended up back in bed by 7:30 PM and didn’t wake up until 10:00 AM.

My 15 year old nephew was staying with us this weekend.  Now, he and my 14 year old are literally TITANS of mess, chaos and disorder, and when they’re together it’s all I can do to keep my house together.  It’s not just the mess they generate, in which soda cans, Gatorade bottles, snack wrappers, dirty dishes, sweatshirts and shorts and sneakers and dirty socks, pillows on the floor, basketballs (seriously, do they need 5 different sizes of basketball?), video games and laptop cables are strewn across the canvas of my home.  There is also the fact that they can’t be in the same room together for more than an hour or two without some sort of scrum evolving.  This is nerve-wracking in itself, but that they will enter a no-holds-barred wrestling match within two feet of my 55 gallon fish tank is absolutely frightening.  The minute I see a slap-fest begin I either threaten them with an early end to the visit or send them packing outside.

While I was incapacitated this Saturday, the expected mess did accumulate.  Without me to stay on top of them, it seemed even more voluminous.  There were soda cans stacked on top of soda cans covering every flat surface (I was reminded of various frat party photos you can find on the internet, just substitute Barq’s and Fanta for Budweiser).  As far as I know, they never came to blows in the house, but they did manage to produce a 10 minute video of an outdoor wrestling match that for luck, not planning, didn’t involve anything more damaging than some visible ass crack.  (They even dubbed it with a catchy loop soundtrack). 

I woke Sunday morning feeling much better physically but as I walked downstairs (the boys still sleeping) and took in the sight of my poor, devastated living room, I felt my energy slowly drain.  I began chipping away at the kitchen sink, loaded with every dish in the house.  I had them help in the living room.  I noticed the tension mounting when my son was doing most of the work and sure enough I heard it:  *slap!* *slap!* *slap-slap-slap, thump!*  “Come at me, bro!”  “You die now!,” and other such exclamations.  I stomped into the room and pointed to the door.  “Do not EVEN get started in here with that.  Go outside before you break something!”

I went back to my dishes and they went out into the side yard which happens to be in direct view of the window over my sink.   I kept my eye on them, watching as my nephew, who is a foot taller than my son, rolled him helplessly across the ground.  My son would attempt to get up, landing a feisty kick or slap on my nephew’s calf, and my nephew would just roll him again.  My two dogs were inspired by this and doing the exact same thing two feet away.  I was very distracted between doing the dishes, watching the dogs and listening to the boys’ comical expletives when out of the corner of my eye I saw my nephew pushing my son toward the house.   I heard and felt my son hit the house.  Then, silence.  Then, my nephew:  “Bro, you broke the house.”  I was immobile for a moment before sprinting out to find a soccer ball-sized crush in the ancient (and irreplaceable) asbestos siding on my house. 

I won’t repeat myself here, but lend your imagination to the smoke, the spittle, the fumes of anger that emitted from my entire being.   Both boys were respectfully silent during my tirade.  To be fair, my son was rolling about on the ground clutching his shoulder and grunting so he may have missed the direct brunt of my ire.  The event quickly diffused the boys’ energies and we all shuffled back into the house, with me continuing to mutter under my breath and shoot dirty looks.

I broke my wallet, but the boys broke my house. booboo

About 10 minutes later, my nephew looked at me with mischief in his eyes.  “Would it be too soon to point out the irony that you told us to take it outside before we broke something INSIDE the house?” 

Sigh.  At least my stomach bug is gone.

Posted by: bullyforme | April 10, 2013

What DO You Eat?

I’ve toyed with vegetarianism for many years.   Off and on for years I’d stop eating meat, or eat only chicken, or eat only fish.  I’ve never given up dairy along with meat, buying into the belief that we *need* dairy for the calcium.  There were many reasons I would do this, most had to do with loving animals and some had to do with “dieting.”Image

One day, a friend’s son posted “The Meat Video” on their family webpage.  The video is called “Glass Walls” and is narrated by Paul McCartney (another version is narrated by Alec Baldwin), a noted long time vegan.  I opened the link to the video, but was unable to finish it.  The short film documents (via undercover videographers) the brutality and filth of the commercial meat and dairy industries.   I started crying within seconds and closed the web window.  I felt like I was betraying these animals by doing so but I just couldn’t watch.  Eventually I forced myself to finish it.  It took me about an hour, because I kept having to stop.  I felt emotionally wasted and helpless.  At this point, I made a commitment to only purchase local, humanely raised meats and dairy products.

About two years later, I purchased the movie “Forks Over Knives” (FOK) which I’d been hearing so much about and was blown away by the film.  The film focused solely on the health benefits of veganism and also eschewing refined, processed foods.  It pointed out with clearly researched and verifiable facts the risks of including animal proteins and processed foods in the diet.  The movie prompted me to evaluate all my health issues:  obesity, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, skin issues, and that I’d been sick with a cold for two months.  After I finished viewing FOK, I sat at my computer and opened up “Glass Walls” again.  I watched it from start to finish without stopping.   I felt I was at a crossroads in my life.  The next day I made my choice at the crossroads.  I chose veganism and whole foods on January 17th, 2013 for health and for ethical reasons, and I haven’t looked back.

I will admit it took a good deal of work for my “start up venture,” including tons of research, planning, and purchasing.  However, once I got everything in place it was smooth sailing.  I took a day and raided my cabinets and my refrigerator and gave away or threw away everything that I used to eat that contained an animal product or was processed or refined.  The one and only animal product I continue to consume is the occasional egg from my own three backyard chickens.   My son has not taken this path and so I’ve left his food alone, and continue to buy locally, humanely raised meats and dairy products for him.

This lifestyle change has predictably generated a lot of commentary and questions from family members and friends.  The notion that I’ve “given up” eating “normally” is extremely prevalent.  My niece suggested I go ahead and eat the Easter ham, because it was a special occasion.  I could not make her understand that I don’t view veganism as denying myself anything.  I’m choosing to not eat what I don’t want to eat anymore.  My son said at a restaurant (after I’d ordered dairy- and meat-free nachos), “Mom, your new vegan thing is really inconvenient.”  It’s not inconvenient for me, and I’m very sorry if I make others uncomfortable with my choice.  I go out of my way not to inconvenience anyone.  I can always order something at restaurants; yes, I usually have to ask for special preparation.  I’ve found the staff more than willing to work with me, probably because, oh yes—I’m PAYING them.  I don’t mind preparing two meals at home since it’s just the two of us.  For dinner parties, I offer to prepare and bring a dish we can all share.

Among the questions I’m asked is if there are foods that I miss.  Not really.  There have been three instances when I really craved a certain food.  Once, it was cheese fries.  After thinking about a certain restaurant’s cheese fries for days on end I finally ordered some.  It was nice, but not worth the sluggishness I felt within minutes of eating it.  The second and third cravings were a gas station hot dog and a greasy Rueben sandwich, two easy no-brainers…just walk away.

Others want to know how I know if I’m getting enough protein, calcium, and vitamin B12.  I don’t even think about it.  My hens’ eggs provide some B12 and a supplement provides the rest.  My protein and calcium all come from whole vegetable foods.  Research has shown that we need much, much less protein than most people believe.  Other studies prove that calcium from dairy products is less beneficial, since animal proteins acidify the body and absorb the calcium.  (The United States consumes more dairy products per person than most nations yet also has one of the highest osteoporosis rates).

I also get asked: isn’t it expensive/time consuming/inconvenient?  I have found the cost of this lifestyle is not any higher than my former one.  Yes, the foods I buy now can be more expensive.  I buy whole foods, organic when I can.  I look for products that don’t contain corn syrup or additives.  However, I no longer eat on the fly at fast food places, my restaurant visits have decreased significantly and I nearly never get takeout (we were ordering pizza 2-3 times a week!).  Many times, eating vegan is cost-effective; I can make five meals out of a 99-cent bag of beans.  Yes, it is time consuming to prepare whole foods, to plan ahead so that I’m not caught hungry away from home, to make sure I have lunch and snacks for work so that I stay away from the deli counter.  So I take a couple of hours on Sunday afternoons preparing my meals and snacks, making extra of everything for the freezer.  It’s very convenient to pull out a container of homemade stuffed cabbage from the freezer and have it thawed out by lunchtime!   It’s very convenient to have five sets of lunches in my fridge or freezer, all made and ready to grab for the work week.  Of course, fruit and raw vegetables are the ultimate convenience snack food.   I find my lowered blood pressure, my elevated energy levels, my dropping weight, and my improving health VERY convenient!

So the big question I receive, the #1 from everyone is:  What DO you eat?  And the answer is so very simple yet covers a cornucopia of wonderful, tasty and healthy foods.  It will be even simpler if I just explain what I don’t eat.  If it had a face, I don’t eat it.  If it came from something with a face, I don’t eat it (except my hens’ eggs).  If I didn’t make it from scratch, I probably don’t eat it.  I eat everything else!  A few of my favorite meals include crockpot soups, pasta dishes, pizza (cheeseless or made with vegan cheese), homemade bread, casseroles — all vegan and all made by me from scratch – and of course vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts & seeds.  There is so much to choose from and it’s all wonderfully tasty!

Of course I’m not Mother Earth’s perfect  daughter, and I’m not above being strapped for time and need something quick or craving something junky.  If I’m short on time I can eat a peanut butter sandwich – on whole wheat and maybe some tortilla chips.  If I get caught in a traffic jam and start getting hungry, I can pull a Clif bar from my purse.  If I’m really in the mood, I can have a (vegan) bologna and (vegan) cheese sandwich or a veggie dog steamed and covered in kraut, or even a chunk of dark chocolate.   I do buy some packaged foods but I always read the labels – it must contain no animal products, no corn syrup or artificial ingredients and bonus if it states it is non-GMO (they have a customer for life!).  I love the food I eat and I love that it’s all guilt free.

I try not to preach to people.  If I’m asked questions, I offer straightforward answers.  I tell people it works for me.  I tell them I’ve dropped nearly 20 lbs without trying.  I tell them I’m almost never hungry.  I tell them how much better I feel.  It has been such an amazing journey so far that I do have to rein myself in frequently from soap-boxing or monopolizing conversations.  I want everyone to join me, but I realize that most people don’t want to.  I do urge others to view the “Glass Walls” video and also “Forks Over Knives,” as well as research the subject and the science thoroughly before dismissing veganism as a choice.  It may not, but it could change your life.  It changed mine.

Posted by: bullyforme | November 23, 2012

Bullyland

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  Predictably, and like a billion other Americans, I joined my family for a huge traditional turkey dinner.  Everything about the day was as it has always been – my mother cooking, me helping somewhat, the table setting, the thanks we gave before our meal.  Yet, this Thanksgiving was markedly different from other years.  This year we sat at the Thanksgiving table, for the first time in my 44 years of life, without my father.

Dad passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 30th of this year, at the age of 69.  It was six weeks until his 70th birthday, twelve weeks until his 70th Thanksgiving.  Losing my father seemed to come right on the heels of losing my brother, although my brother left us six years ago.  Mike died from brain cancer on October 14th, 2006.   Thanksgiving 2006 was another anomaly – the first without…

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Posted by: bullyforme | November 23, 2012

A Very Different Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day.  Predictably, and like a billion other Americans, I joined my family for a huge traditional turkey dinner.  Everything about the day was as it has always been – my mother cooking, me helping somewhat, the table setting, the thanks we gave before our meal.  Yet, this Thanksgiving was markedly different from other years.  This year we sat at the Thanksgiving table, for the first time in my 44 years of life, without my father.

Dad passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 30th of this year, at the age of 69.  It was six weeks until his 70th birthday, twelve weeks until his 70th Thanksgiving.  Losing my father seemed to come right on the heels of losing my brother, although my brother left us six years ago.  Mike died from brain cancer on October 14th, 2006.   Thanksgiving 2006 was another anomaly – the first without my brother present in 31 years.

As we gathered together and ate our meals, my mind kept reaching its inner recesses for memories of both of them.  My brother, for example, would stuff himself so full it was comical.  I could not believe the amount of food he could consume, and still have room for dessert later.  His favorites included the butternut squash, which I never had particularly cared for.  When it was time to clean up, Mike would mysteriously have to go to the loo, and would reappear just about the time all the dishes were put away and pie was being served.  Dad would help Mom with the food preparations, often leaning on the counter while peeling this or that vegetable.  He insisted on picking at the turkey, just like the dad in “A Christmas Story,” and Mom would slap his hand away just like Ralphie’s mom would slap his father’s.  He would gnaw on the turkey neck, and chop it up for the giblet gravy.  He always saved the wishbone for my Mom.

When Mike died, I remember thinking, this is my new normal, this life without my baby brother.  This now, is my new normal without my father.  I never have and never will get used to it.

When I pull in to my parents’ driveway, I still think Dad’s going to be there in his favorite chair, watching the squirrel guys or the pawn shop guys on TV, maybe peeling some peanuts or doodling on a pad.  It’s still a shock when I remember he won’t.  When I go to hug my Mom goodbye, I still turn toward that chair to give one to my Dad.  I almost sent him a text about Big Papi getting re-signed (two years, Dad, isn’t that the bomb!?).

When loved ones leave us early, it leaves our lives unfinished too; a part of life unled.  I know that sounds selfish, but it’s so true.  Mike died six years ago and I still haven’t figured out how to fill in that portion of my life, so I doubt I ever will with Dad, either.  The best I can come up with is to keep them at the forefront of my mind and heart, always.  People talk of moving on, but I say, why?  I move forward, I believe in that – but I won’t move on like I just dumped a bad boyfriend.  My Dad and my brother may not be here, but they are here.  

I’ve found that I subconsciously adopt them into my being in subtle ways.  I eat butternut squash, in fact, I love it now.  I even make it at home sometimes, just because.  I caught myself leaning on the counter while peeling and cutting up said squash for Mom yesterday.  These little things keep them both close to my heart and soul.  I was always a Daddy’s girl and I was always a protective big sis, and I can’t just let that go, I can’t just forget.  Why should I?

So, this Thanksgiving Day, this Thanksgiving of comforting routine, this Thanksgiving of unbearable change, I’m most thankful that I still have my family and our traditions.  I still have my Mom, my sister, my sons, my nephews and nieces, our collective memories with my Dad and my brother.  I’m thankful that my parents both raised me to be grateful even through adversity – to find the grace and hold it close.

Peace.

Posted by: bullyforme | April 8, 2011

If I Were Brave…

…I’d write a book. It shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? I’m not too modest to know I’ve got some skillz in the writing arena. I’ve probably wasted about a billion words in the blogosphere. I’ve got about 40 songs under my belt and hundreds of poems. I love to write. How hard would it be to put together a few hundred pages of logically connected, finely executed, well thought-out prose? Sounds simple doesn’t it?

The book is the spoon.

To answer this I must examine the reasons I have not yet even begun to try and write a book. To be honest, I’m intimidated by the process. Also, I’m a procrastinator and lazy as well. I don’t do well with self-imposed deadlines whether they be time or content related. I’ve joked that I can’t comply with deadlines unless motivated by a paycheck or an angry mob – but it’s not really a joke. I don’t even try and pretend there are any real excuses for myself.

I can write a decent song in about 2 hours. I can write a meaningless blog entry in about an hour. I can write a poem in about half an hour. I can write a killer haiku in about 40 seconds. If I could translate these abilities into writing a book I could probably get it done in a few months. If I could write a book and get it published, I could potentially quit my meaningless, soul-sucking administrative job and *gasp!* perhaps even earn a living by writing. So. WTF?

Every few months I start mulling all the above points over and over in my mind. It never amounts to anything. I never even get as far as choosing potential subjects or storylines. In fact this is where I always drop the book project. I just can’t wrap my mind around a subject or genre. Fact? Fiction? Memoir? Which will it be when I finally get pregnant with this book?

Curled on my couch the other night, I was trying to get into the movie I had rented. It had been a long day and I really wanted no more than to lose myself in video for a couple of hours before retiring. I felt a little restless, however, mentally and physically. My mind refused to focus on the movie. I started pacing around the house. I smoked a cigarette. I smoked another cigarette. I sat down again. Then it came to me – my idea. My big literary breakthrough. I grabbed one of my many empty journals (bought and stored in plain view, in anticipation of this very moment) and started scribbling. A genre, a subject, a starting point, some segues, you name it – they all started coming to me. I scrambled to get them down on paper before I ran out of steam.

I won’t say anything yet about this project, it’s too new. Let’s let my baby cook for a few more weeks before I start announcing my literary pregnancy. I’m absolutely stoked, but this is a first for me. I hope I can stick with it and flesh it out a bit. I’ll be honest, it’s a really emotional subject for me. It seems a little unfair that when the big idea finally implanted itself in my mind, it had to be quite possibly the hardest thing I could ever write about. Once it came to me, however, I knew there could be no other subject. I just have to go with it and pray I don’t scare myself away. I must be brave.

I never thought it would happen, but here’s one more blog entry for the “What I Don’t Know” category. I’m just surprising myself more and more these days.

Posted by: bullyforme | March 21, 2011

music is my mother because my mother is music

So I’m at work and an email notification pops up, from Davis, my oldest son. I never get emails from him, he’s just not a very email-y guy. Well, of course the title (this entry’s title) caught my eye straight away and I stopped what I was doing to read it. Five minutes later, I’m bolting to the ladies’ room with a handful of tissues. I emailed him back to I ask him if I could publish this (he agreed); apparently he wrote it in about 10 minutes, for a quick class project. I just can’t keep it to myself, it’s so good – and I’m not just being biased. When I told him how amazing he was, his witty reply was: “I am but one thread in the colorful quilt that is our family.”

What’s that flickering light, you ask? That’s his own torch, being lit from mine. What’s that creaking noise, you ask? That would be my pride swelling.

music is my mother because my mother is music

Music is my life and my passion. In fact, without music my passion for life would be in eternal jeopardy. It’s not just the soundtrack to my life, but the orchestra of my soul. Since my brain has been able to retain memories, they have been coordinated with that of the sound of music. Various bands and songs can literally catalogue my life’s experiences as a time-line of sound. Not only has music been my salvation in times of peril, but it has been a driving force into making me who I am, and also what I’d like to be in the future. Ever since I could distinguish sounds I would categorize things from noise pollution into melodic form. Lured away from science and arithmetic, or sports and cars, I was helplessly a slave to the intoxicating drug that is music.

When I was but a hatchling, my mother was at her most conflicted state of mind. An unwed mother of an illegitimate child, she was also very young. Having been a phenomenal singer in her youth, it was not hard to tell that her life was about to become far more complicated with my arrival. Throughout my childhood, I have visually witnessed her become hopelessly shackled to a physically abusive relationship. I have been pulled away from her by faceless doctors at a mental hospital only to interact with her through hand-drawn pictures detailing her struggle. At its worst point I was halfway down the spiral believing I would never see her again. I had completely abandoned music and was searching for answers.

Reluctant to believe in a supreme all-governing higher power, I found secret moments to not just pray but literally beg any intangible spirit to let me sell my youth and soul for my mother’s well-being and safety. With no father still residing amongst the living, I wasn’t able to convey this angst to anyone, and it seemed the odds were infinitely stacked against my mother and me.

My mother always told me, “If life seems like a bottomless pit, don’t forget there’s still time to change, because you’re not at the bottom yet.” I know she has lived by these words because just as that bottomless pit was coming to it’s darkest depths, she found the brightest light. She threw herself into her music, singing, and writing, all the while not forgetting about me. Constantly urging me to go to her band practices and gigs, I went from feeling my presence was obligated, to being her little roadie. I Learned various skills, tricks, and ethics from some of the most talented players I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with.

Eventually, taking things to the next level as I got older, I taught myself to play bass guitar, drums, and write lyrics. These hobbies were aggressively, but kindly, influenced by my mother and grandparents. This is the reason music is my life, because it can give back the gift of life as well. Can it bring a dead body back to life? Absolutely not. However, it can resurrect every potentially dead soul with the desire to flourish in ways they never knew possible.

Note: It is noteworthy to mention that this is the one and only post I’ve ever filed under my “What I Don’t Know” category. Because I don’t know the depth of his genius!

Posted by: bullyforme | August 27, 2010

Summer Reflections, K-cups, and Fanny Packs.

Welcome back, reader. (Literally, I think I have, like, one reader). (Hi Kelly). It’s been a short but fairly traumatic and eventful summer for me. I spent three months in the worst pain of my life with a herniated cervical disk, underwent surgery on my spinal cord, took three weeks off from work to recover and had to withdraw from Percocet. My Dad, my one and only, was diagnosed with kidney cancer and just had life-threatening surgery. His recovery is ongoing, (but ongoing well, thank God). My brother would have celebrated his 35th birthday this month. Instead, my family celebrated it for him, at Fenway Park, where the Sox took a 16-2 loss to the Jays. At least it didn’t rain. And please, I’m a professional – don’t try any of this at home.

The brighter highlights of my summer include my 24 year old son getting his high school diploma, after many years of putting it off, avoiding the structure of school, and most importantly, overcoming his fear of failure. I have rarely been as proud of either of my children as I was watching him in his stately maroon cap and gown, finally being handed proof of his bravery and grit. I’ve taken in a few games at Fenway (one of which was a Dodgers game…one word – Manny!). Sis and my niece came to visit & help out on the homefront. I haven’t seen them in a year, it was great to catch up. Oh yes, and I was out of work for three weeks recovering. This allowed me to finally find what it is I want to do with my life – retire. I LOVED being at home for three weeks, pain or no. I find myself counting days like a recovering alcoholic until I can retire. (Only 5,830 to go!)

All this aside, however, I’m focusing on K-cups and fanny packs. (I know, right?)

First off – K-cups. I return to work to find my beloved coffeepot has been replaced with this…Keurig thing. I’m not an idiot, I know what a “K-cup” is in the way a man may know about tampax. I’ve seen them, heard about them, I know what it is, but I’ve never had one, or had the desire to have one. So my coworker announces to me, “We got a Keurig.” I look at her blankly, and displaying her bounteous people skills, she rolls her eyes. She says, “Keurig” again as though she were a politically incorrect person using the word “retard.” Some would be intimidated by this but I know her, and surprisingly like her anyway. I ask, “What is a Keurig?” She tells me it’s a coffee machine and I instantly know what she means. I also instantly see one of my happy routines swept from under my feet. I’m told that we all purchase our own K-cups. I am now hostage to the Keurig machine because I can no longer just expect a nice if perhaps stale pot of coffee when I walk in the door to work and amazingly, on this first day back to work, I don’t have any K-cups. So this first day back to work, I’m fucked, no coffee, and say as much. She brightens and says, “We were given free samples, so you have four.” Well, there’s that. But what about this machine? In case there’s anyone out there in space, bored with Chuck Berry and hungry for some news from earth, a Keurig is a machine that brews a cup of coffee at a time. Literally, a cup – a little plastic, foil covered cup of coffee that you insert into the machine. Our machine is hooked directly to a water line, so all we have to do is place our coffee mugs under the dispenser, press a button and about 16 seconds later there is a cup of coffee. My office is enchanted by this machine. The coffee is so fresh. It’s so convenient. No one has to drink stale coffee. Coffee is not wasted by the half-potful. It makes the coffee purchasing more fair, no one is stuck being the sucker who always buys the coffee. It’s like the pay-as-you-throw town trash policy! I should be thrilled by this.

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer, or a negativist, but I am not thrilled by this. I find the daily collection of numerous used plastic K-cups in the trash disconcerting. It makes me think of the environment. It makes me dwell on America’s obssession with convenience. It makes me angry that Americans are so obssessed with single serving products that they will ignore all that extra packaging. It makes me think of the days before people became environmentally conscious – the days when people tossed their 8 ounce Coke bottles in the trash (or on the ground) and recycling was what your washing machine did halfway through the load. It annoys me that now, I must purchase these little land-fillers. I’m nonplussed that my co-workers, as well as millions of others, are so bothered by the three to five minute act of actually putting a filter in a coffee basket, dumping four tablespoons of coffee into it and actually waiting 3 minutes for the coffee to brew. I’m embarrassed for myself that it’s bothering me. All these emotions, just because my office changed our coffee routine without me. WTF! Well, anyway, I went to work the next day armed with a 24 pack sampler of Green Mountain K-cups and damned be the landfills, I guess. My sampler K-cup pack came with Breakfast Blend, Vermont Country Blend, French Roast, and also, some blend called “Black Magic” which I just discovered is kind of disgusting. Stupid Americans.

Now on to the fanny pack. All the time I had during my recovery from surgery was nice, but I’m a busy person, and all this enforced leisure (a doctor-ordered static state) was frankly driving me nuts. I started rearranging knick knacks, changing pillowcases on the couch, sorting my enormous book collection, writing “desert-island” lists (you know, what five books, foods, items of clothing would you take to a desert island). Then the doc said I could walk around and do some neck exercises so I made a vow to start walking the dog every day. The poor thing had been neglected through the hustle and worry and commotion of my family’s dual surgeries (Dad had to go to Lebanon, NH, a two hour drive away). The first day we started out, I had to change my pants beforehand as the pair I was in had no pockets. Now, I don’t like to go out for a walk without at least my phone or ID, and my keys. I also wanted to pop into the convenient store during our walk. However I didn’t want to bring my purse, and my backpack hurt the scar on my neck. What I needed was a fanny pack. Of course there isn’t a fanny pack in my house. Fanny packs are hard to find even at the Goodwill. You will be more apt to find a back-pack for your dog than you will find a fanny pack at any store. Fanny packs have somehow become an anathema. Ben Folds, one of my idols, even has a song degrading fanny pack wearers. If we do see a fanny pack in action, it’s always on a tourist in Old Orchard Beach or somewhere similar. You know, a woman who is wearing the kind of shorts that ride up between the insides of her chubby legs, with the plastic visor and the dirty kids. When did this happen, and why?

Fanny packs were invented for a reason, and they truly were a pretty good invention. They were convenient. You could stash your money, your lipgloss, your keys, a small camera, your ID, all close to your waist and have your hands free to walk your dog, take a jog, or whatnot. They fit more than a pocket, but less than a purse. You could have the things you need perched on your fanny (or belly, however your personal style may be) without having to cling to a bag over your shoulder, or being paranoid someone’s going to snatch your purse (fanny pack snatchers have always been decidedly rare, especially for belly wearers). Even men could wear them and no one would think, ha ha, that dude has a purse. It was just a common sense fanny pack. That dude is jogging and he has a fanny pack. Smart guy!

Well, all this convenience has definitely gone out of vogue. For whatever reasons, perhaps too many fat ladies at Splashtown, or the insidiousness of fashion magazines convincing stylish girls they canNOT be without their designer handbags, no girl or guy will now be caught dead in a fanny pack. I think another reason is that manufacturers got carried away. Fanny packs were EVERYWHERE, and at the height of their popularity (late 80s and early 90s) fashion wasn’t exactly subtle. I remember fanny packs with neon lightning bolts and bright pink zippers, theme park logos. I remember fanny packs going the route of cheap, dollar store umbrellas or corporate seminar PR items. They became ubiquitous and cheesy. It’s too bad they never achieved their potential as the useful and practical items they are. Instead of becoming dollar-store disposable, they could have been sold at finer department stores, with classy brushed bronzed buckles and zippers, in distressed leather, with an extra hidden pocket or two. But no…they were mass-produced as so many really unique products are, to the point of scorn. Now, the only people who own them are those who never throw anything away, and still have one or two nylon blue, black-belted fanny packs with some corporate logo on it.

As I walked my dog, pockets bulging and elastic waistband sliding down my butt with the weight of my keys, phone and wallet, I surely did wish for a fanny pack. I would have even used one that was neon green with a hot pink buckle or had “Six Flags New Jersey” imprinted on the front. I would have even worn it from my belly side. Come back, fanny pack, I miss you.

So there you have it, 1,726 words of which at least 1,000 are completely useless. But, I have been pretty stagnant lately, and it feels as good to let off some rant steam as it would to be able to walk my dog with a nice-looking fanny pack…or drink a nice cup of coffee.

That reminds me. I have five “Black Magic” K-cups, and if anyone is interested in trading for a doggy back-pack, holla.

Posted by: bullyforme | May 28, 2010

Memorial Day, and a Dirty Girl (revisited)

Hello all, it’s been a long, long while since I’ve fired up the keyboard and wrote anything other than some boring spreadsheet or log for work.

Summer is almost here. It’s Memorial Day weekend. I always get kind of creeped out when I hear people say (with the best intentions, but still) “Happy Memorial Day!” I mean, isn’t this a day to remember those who have died? It seems that the media (you know, my old friend, snort) has turned it into a summer frenzy free-for-all. Let’s not forget the real purpose of this day. I know that the day is traditionally to remember those fallen in war, and anyone else who has served our country and passed on. Despite the fact that he’s not a fallen veteran, it’s always my brother that my mind turns to on this day. My brother passed away in 2006 after a battle with brain cancer. I miss him so much, and since I inevitably think of him on Memorial Day, it’s hard to hear, “Have happy Memorial day!” But, I will try to enjoy this weekend that in current years has become a hearkening of the summer season.

Speaking of summer, I finally got my garden in. I have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, and some herbs. I have tons of flowers, and my roses and clematis are coming in beautifully with a little TLC from me. It’s not much, but it looks much, much better than last year’s mess. My roses never bloomed, my vegetables all died. I really haven’t tended my gardening well, to be honest, since…well, since Mike passed away. I’m not blind to the obvious. It’s been hard to nurture my garden…watching plants with their gaudy display of life; it was difficult. I know I’ll never “get over” my brother’s death. But I am ready to begin nurturing life again. I’m not over my brother, but I am at peace with his spirit all around me, in my house, in my car, and behind the life force of all my beautiful plants. So. Let’s dig, baby.

(The following is one of my favorite blog entries from long ago in Bullyland version 1.0, I hope you enjoy it).

Dirty Girl

The onset of spring, with its baby green offerings, really sucks me in with its promise of continuity. No matter what happens in my life, that peony is going to emerge, red and purple like a newborn baby and pushing up at an amazing speed from a blank spot in the soil every April. I am in awe and buzzing with excitement this time of year. I pace the yard every morning and evening, to see what plants are coming up, what is getting buds, repeating a kindergarten mantra under my breath, “ready, set, grow.” I start making a list: dirt, compost, peat moss, purple & orange annuals for this spot, white and purple for that spot, etc. Through some mysterious metamorphosis I have become a plant loving, dirt digging obsessed maniac.

I have no idea how this happened, but it began about the second year into my homeownership. It started with a couple of container plants, and by the end of the summer I’d nearly relandscaped the entire yard with over 100 new plants. Now, I’ve never been one to like dirty hands or clothes. I’ve always been comfort oriented, and dirty fingernails and muddy feet weren’t in my program. Insects have always horrified me, especially spiders. I managed to contract some sort of mental disease that not only gave me a new tolerance for such things, but in some cases actually makes me desire them! I have CHAD — Compulsive Horticultural Acquisitional Disorder. I’ve got it bad!

Working in my garden, I have no less than 100% chance of something, usually a big hairy spider, freaking out after I’ve inadvertantly moved his hiding leaf or something. If not a hairy spider than a beetle of ominous posture, a centipede or a nasty white pinchy grub. Now, this isn’t something that I’ve come to love. But I swear to you that five years ago I would have never considered rustling my hands through dead leaves to uncover something so (at the time) menial and nondeserving of risk as a crocus. I can’t say that I’m exactly fearless when it comes to bugs now, but unless the little bastard is actually crawling on me or jumping at me, I don’t even bother to scream. I give an involuntary peep, scoop it up with my spade, pitch it into the woods and just move on. If it’s a cute bug, such as a ladybug or butterfly, or even a praying mantis I might even talk to it. (In the bug world, cuteness saves).

Dirt, on the other hand…Let’s just say I must have found my inner child when it comes to dirt. Some mood or presence, youthful and carefree and delighted, sets upon me when I get going in the garden. I get snips of memories, like film clips, from when I was a very young child. I remember lying on my stomach on the fresh green grass and watching all the little life move around in its own tiny ecosystem. I was too entranced with discovery –how things felt, how they grew, how they moved in the breeze outdoors — to care about dirt or grass stains or bugs touching me. I have a renewed love for the feel of the moist soil in my hands, my hair, dampening my knees and socks, streaking my face. I love the smell of the dirt, the plant roots, the cuttings, and the mulch.

And the plants themselves – I’m devoted to them all. I await with baited breath the a posse ad esse of a ripe tomato from the seed I planted. I love finding plants left for dead behind healthier ones at the Home Depot and being victorious the following season when they burst back into life. I am fond of every plant I own to a ridiculous point. Some have names. I mourn for plants that don’t make it. I collect seeds and cuttings from gardens of anyone who will let me. I agonize over Japanese beetles and lily beetles and ground bees that set up their little tunnels in my annual bed. I fret pitifully on a solution to the “puppy problem.” There is nowhere in my yard, currently, that the puppies can be and not dig into, chew up, or pee on something that I prize. (This will be my Garden Challenge 2006).

Anyway, I welcome this time of year like I’d welcome a bottle of lithium after a six month bipolar spree. Spring and summer’s opportunities to play in the dirt like a child and play god with the life in my garden are like hall passes from heaven. Every April, freedom is mine, at least for a few months. Depression cannot break through my armor of garden soil and washes down the drain with the dirt when I at last get into a hot shower. My old friend, mania, nips my heels but I am too tired from gardening to play with her, so she eventually moves on, pouting and swearing she’ll be back (yeah, whatever!). I am busy getting my fill of spring and summer and dirt and plants and inner peace and childish happiness, so that when November comes and kills it all, I won’t be too devastated. I know it can’t last forever, so I will be a dirty girl while I can!

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
– Robert Frost

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