Road Trippin’


Create Your Own Visited States Map

This interactive map is floating around on the interwebs so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’ve visited way more states than I thought, though a few of these are ones where I didn’t do much beyond stop to pee, have a snack or get gas, as most of my visits were during road trips with Pops and Momcat. We did several drives to New England when I was growing up, as summers in the DC area were humid and uncomfortable. Imagine living in a sweatsock or plastic bag and that’s what mid-Atlantic summers are like, though the beach areas are really nice.

My travels through the southern part of the U.S. were trips down I-95 to see my grandparents in Florida, and all my midwest travels are due to having family in Michigan. In 2008, I went to New Orleans on vacation: I went to Voodoo Experience, a 3-day concert event at City Park, to see a ton of amazing bands & singers, including Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., Thievery Corporation, Erykah Badu, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, etc.; I wandered around the French Quarter; I had a hurricane at Pat O’Briens; I ate beignets and drank coffee at Café du Monde. Great trip.

There’s a good chunk of the southwest I wouldn’t have seen if it hadn’t been for three cross-country drives from Maryland to California with Pops. The first was in the mid ’80s. Pops signed up with a car delivery service and we drove a two-seater Mercedes out to L.A., cutting through the middle of the U.S. I remember watching the speedometer hit 100 a few times in the desert – Pops had a blast driving that car. In 1991, our second cross-country drive took a southern route, and that’s when I first remember seeing the road sign for Galax, Virginia – the setting for my novel in progress (which is close to complete, whoo hoo!). The third cross-country drive was when I moved to California in early 2000, the station wagon loaded down with my computer and clothes.

I also wouldn’t have gotten to see Idaho and Montana if it hadn’t been for a road trip with Pops. Last summer he did what I call Pops’ Poker Tour, driving his car to California and stopping along the way to play Texas Hold ‘Em at various casinos. He spent a few days in CA with me, then we drove to Montana, stopping in Idaho and visiting Yellowstone along the way. Gorgeous drive.

Just looking at the map and thinking about all the places I’ve been gets me all nostalgic for a good road trip. I highly recommend them, especially if you have kids who are old enough to appreciate them. It’s such a fantastic way to learn about the U.S. and how people live in different parts of the country.

Where would you go on a road trip?

Five Years Later: What I Learned from Losing Momcat

Earlier this month I read this article on grief and loss, and it made me consider everything I’ve learned since Momcat died five years ago. Today would have been her 72nd birthday.

Here’s what I have learned in the five years since Momcat died:

  • There are a million analogies for grief. All of them apply at one point or another.
  • There comes a point where I feel people should just know that Momcat is gone. Even if I haven’t spoken to them in a long time, there should be something in my voice, in what I talk about that tells them she is gone. Magical thinking at its best.
  • She continues to appear in dreams when I am most in need of guidance, whether I know it or not.
  • There are days when I wake up not sure that she’s really dead. I didn’t see her body, so how do I really know? Having very vivid dreams in which I am with her compounds this feeling.
  • I am easily annoyed by people who bitch and complain about their mothers. I want to yell at them to resolve their issues and get to know their mother as a person, because one day she will be gone.
  • There is still so much I don’t know about Momcat, and every piece of paper I find with her writing on it becomes a clue. Old calendars, day planners, notebooks full of lists offer some insights, but not enough to satisfy my curious mind.
  • There are days when my grief is just beneath my skin, that one small bump or scratch will make me bleed. Other days it is buried deep, a wisp of a seed in my belly. This year I’m aware that my grief manifests itself in overreactions to mildly stressful situations. I resent this sneaky subversion.
  • In moments when things are going really well, I find myself annoyed that I can’t call to tell her my good news and hear her be excited for me, that all I can do is talk to her photo and imagine her response, dig into my memory and hear her voice say, “Hey, that’s great.”
  • I believe there’s an alternate universe in which the events leading up to her death play out every year, and if I could just cross over, I could ask the questions I never got to ask, and tell her once again that I love her.
Momcat holding me outside my grandparents' house.

Momcat holding me outside my grandparents’ house.

Throwback Thursday: Permed Hair & Cybill Shepherd

For the last week, I have been watching “Cybill” on Hulu. This mid-90s sitcom starred a post-Moonlighting Cybill Shepherd, and was similar to the British sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous” in that the two lead female characters were best friends who drank a lot and got into crazy escapades. Momcat loved this show back in the day and often referred to Cybill as “Cyb-Cyb.” Not sure why, but Momcat did love silly nicknames.

Cybill, Cybill Shepherd, Christine Baranski, Alan Rosenberg, Dedee Pfeiffer, Alicia Witt, sitcom, television

The cast of “Cybill.”

Some of the writing is quite good, yet there are some plot lines that really are tiresome, such as younger daughter Zoe’s (Alicia Witt) constant cynicism and BFF Marianne’s (Christine Baranski) obsession with Cybill’s ex-husband Ira (Alan Rosenberg). I do love all the cameos, like Tony Bennett, Phyllis Diller, Tim Conway, just to name a few. Cybill seems to enjoy all the people who guest star on her show, and they seem to be enjoying themselves, too. I also really like Cybill’s singing – Christine’s great, too – and the two women are very believable as besties.

I know the point of Throwback Thursday is to share a picture of oneself and a story. Right now my story is that I miss my mom and watching “Cybill” makes me not miss her as much. As for a photo, here’s one of me circa 1993, permed hair and all. (My plan was to post a photo from mid 90’s, when the show was on the air, but I couldn’t find the one I wanted.)

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Games People Play

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube, the six-sided, three-dimensional puzzle that was the bane of many a Generation X’er back in the 80s. It got me thinking about all the games I grew up with and the role they played (no pun intended) in my childhood.

My family loved games – the old school kind that involved tiny plastic or metal pieces, rainbow-hued paper money, and coated cardboard playing areas. Our den closet was the main storage area for our game collection; it was where you could find Battleship, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk, Clue, Benji (which was an awesome game). On a shelf by the stereo in the living room, there were two clear plastic storage boxes where we kept travel games, card games and 3-D puzzles.

Rubik's Cube, Rubik's Missing Link, Rubik's Magic Snake, Pyraminx, Ivory Tower, Whip It, puzzles, 3-D puzzles, games

Some of the puzzles from my youth.

Because I was an only child, I had to either convince Momcat to play games with me, wait until the weekend so Momcat, Pops and I could play a game together, or find a friend to play. Deena loved games, too, so we played many of them together. Inner Circle was one of my favorites, as was one that had plastic square pieces with rotating numbers that would change as you moved around the board (anyone remember the name of this game?). But our favorite was the Mad Magazine game.

board games, games, Mad Magazine, humor

Mad Magazine Game – never read the magazine, but man, I loved this game.

A few years ago I gave the game to Deena, who was so excited as she’d lost her version. We played and she beat me, and we had a great time, but it wasn’t as fun as when we sat in my carport on a warm spring day, avoiding the oil spots, putting the “this card can only be played on Friday” underneath the board when we played the game on a Friday.

Two summers ago I found a good home for many of our board games with my friend Kirsten and her family – I heard her husband was even more excited than her kids about the games. Deena ended up buying several of the old 3-D puzzles from me, too. But that Rubik’s Cube? It’s staying with me, even if I’ll never be able to solve it.

What were your favorite games from your childhood?

Spring Has Sprung and Other Poems

041313-tulip-festival-OR.jpgEvery year at springtime Momcat would recite this little poem:

Spring has sprung,

The grass has riz;

I wonder where

The birdies is?

Thanks to the misinformation that proliferates on the Internet, I can’t be certain of this poem’s origins. Goodreads says it’s from Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne, while several other sources credit Ogden Nash, comedian Spike Milligan, or e.e. cummings.

But the poem that’s been on my anglophilic mind these days is “Locksley Hall” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – one line in particular stands out, as I think it does for many folks this time of year:

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Over the last few days I have come up with my own versions of that line.

In the Spring a young(ish) woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of changing the duvet cover and what a bitch it is to change the duvet cover with two cats trying to help.

 

In the Spring a young(ish) woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of needing to buy a fan before it gets really hot, because spring in California lasts all of five minutes.

 

In the Spring a young(ish) woman’s nose, eyes and throat begin to itch and sting due to allergies.

Have any lines of your own to add?

 

Friday’s Hot Tip: Homemade Salsa

When I was growing up, my parents and I would frequently go out to lunch on Saturdays. It was a post-church treat as Momcat didn’t have to cook or clean anything up. One of our preferred lunch spots was Alamo, a Mexican restaurant with a more Tex-Mex flair. The salsa came to the table in a big Melamine bowl and was the perfect consistency: finely blended fresh tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro. This is the place where I first heard Pops say “Don’t fill up on chips! You’ll be too full to eat your tacos.” But they were so good, and the salsa was so tasty, it was hard to stop.

For many years I have searched for the perfect salsa like Alamo makes (yep, they are still in business), without much success. Sure, there have been some strong contenders – I particularly like Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial. Only in recent years did I consider the possibility that making my own salsa could bring me to that same blissful state as Alamo’s chips and salsa did so many years ago.

A few months ago, I had lunch with a friend who makes all sorts of fabulous sounding dishes at home. I mentioned wanting to make salsa and she whipped out a notebook and started writing down a recipe a friend had given her years before. I believe its origins are from someone’s Mexican grandmother. Todo del mundo ya sabe that abuelitas make delicious food, and this salsa is no exception. Even better? It’s super inexpensive to make and all you need is your blender or food processor. I’ve even made a short video to show you how easy it is.

You can easily adapt this recipe to suit your tastes. Can’t get fire-roasted tomatoes? Use regular instead. Don’t like cilantro? Leave it out. (You have made abuela cry, but she understands.) Too spicy? Use mild chiles instead. No lime? Use a lemon, or, if you must, use ReaLemon or ReaLime in the plastic container.

Homemade Salsa

  • 2 14-oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes (Make sure there’s no added garlic, onion or chiles in the can. Trust me on this. You’re going to be adding fresh garlic, onion and chiles anyway, so why do you need it here?)
  • 1/4 C onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 4-oz can diced jalapenos
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, rinsed (jam the cilantro – leaves, stems and all – into a measuring cup)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Put all ingredients in food processor or blender. Process/blend on low speeds until ingredients are combined. Makes approximately 4 1/2 cups.


Puppet Show

While looking for old tax paperwork on my hard drive, I started poking around to see what other files I had floating around on the computer. I found this video I made back in 2009.

Some backstory: A couple months after Momcat died, my friend & I were cleaning out a corner of the basement and discovered several large plastic trash cans full of my childhood clothes. There was a lot of ugly 70s plaid in there: pants, jumpers, dresses. A couple handknit ponchos. And some bright yellow tights. It was not pretty.

But when I found these gloves I got all excited. I remember wearing them as a kid and how fun it was to pretend each finger was a different character.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to present…a completely ridiculous puppet show starring Moxie and her childhood gloves. Save all applause and questions for the end.

Paint It Black Friday

My dear friend Ms. Chick recently wrote a blog post about Black Friday. After reading it, I started to comment, then realized it would make for a better blog post.

Ms. Chick’s post focuses on the madness that is Black Friday sales, and how they are starting earlier and earlier each year. The discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart are fond of late Thursday sales. I know people who thrive on mingling with large crowds to get their holiday shopping done. Possibly they get an adrenaline rush from the experience. As for me, I’m not a fan of shopping on Black Friday, though I admit to occasionally hanging out at malls & shopping centers the day after Thanksgiving to people watch. I’m a fiction writer, so this constitutes research.

Where I took issue, though, is with the end of her post:

It’s not like someone has a denominational difference that would prevent them from celebrating Thanksgiving.  It’s a purely secular holiday.

 

…It’s just that is whatever you are going to buy so important that you have to give up sleep and time with family/friends in order to obtain it? Not to mention possibly trample someone? And do you really need to see a movie on Thanksgiving?  Can’t you wait until the next day or watch something at home?

The holidays are a really tough time for folks who can’t be with family or friends for whatever reason, or their family is so freakin’ dysfunctional that it’s easier to be on their own. Even before Momcat died, I wasn’t a big fan of the Thanksgiving/Christmas season: I always had high expectations, only to end up feeling let down. There were several years when I made a point of doing nothing for either holiday because I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and with whom I wanted. There were other years in which I spent holidays with friends and those were really fun times. Again, it’s what fiction writers call research.

What it comes down to is this: I love my family and friends, and yet during the holiday season it can be so difficult for me to love them as fully as I normally would. Spending time with them can also be difficult. This has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. Yet being alone is just as hard, because my brain loops back through all those memories of holidays gone by and lost loved ones, which makes me feel much worse. Despite all this, I try to find ways to make the holidays pleasant for myself, because dwelling on the used-to-be’s and the remember-back-when’s can be emotionally crippling. I think that’s why I love the original version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, because of these lines:

Someday soon we all will be together

If the fates allow

Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

For that reason, escaping to a shopping mall or movie theatre, where I can float anonymously through a sea of humanity, sounds like a good way to muddle through.

My Declaration of Independence: the 2012 Edition

As many of my semi-regular readers know, every year I use Independence Day as an opportunity to declare my own personal independence from something. (You can read the background here.) Frequently I use the text written by our Founding Fathers as the basis for my own declaration. This year I’m doing it a little differently. Probably because this year’s declaration is harder for me, but, as I am discovering, it’s necessary for my health and well being.

I’m declaring my independence from gluten.

This is not about me jumping on the Paleo bandwagon – I’m way too picky about meat and fish to go full Paleo – or following what seems to be a trend among some circles. This is about my health, and my belief that Momcat’s early death was the result of undiagnosed celiac disease.

A quick gluten and celiac disease primer:

  • Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grains, such as barley and rye.
  • Gluten adds elasticity to dough – it gives bread its chewy texture and helps it rise.
  • Gluten is often added to foods as a stabilizer, or to add protein.
  • Celiac disease is a chronic, hereditary, autoimmune disease. If someone with celiac disease eats something containing gluten, their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. They may experience diarrhea, nausea, or bloating. And they end up not absorbing necessary nutrients from food, all because their body can’t process it.
  • Someone who is undiagnosed with celiac and continues to eat gluten may become more susceptible to other autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. They may have unexplained skin rashes that do not go away. They may have gall bladder, liver, or kidney problems. They may suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. They may have problems with their teeth. Their hair may thin or fall out. They may be constantly tired or fatigued. (You can find a more comprehensive list here.)

Momcat had a lot of the above symptoms for years. A month before she died, I asked her if she’d ever been tested for celiac. She muttered something about the test coming up negative. But anyone who’s ever been to the doctor and had blood tests know that sometimes tests aren’t accurate, and that diagnostic tests, especially for food allergies, tend to improve over the years .

I’ll never know for sure if she had celiac. But I know how I feel when I eat a lot of glutentastic products:

  • I get really sleepy. I call gluten my natural sedative because if I eat bread or pasta at dinner, I am guaranteed to be asleep in two hours or less.
  • I get weird rashes on my body.
  • I have a lot of gastric distress: bloating, abdominal pain, and what I will not-so-delicately refer to as poo problems.

And I know that Momcat’s sisters and my cousins suffer from a lot of the same medical issues Momcat did: fibromyalgia, arthritis, fatigue, allergies, asthma, high blood pressure. And none of them have gone gluten-free.

At this point in time, I can’t afford to get tested for celiac. But when I look at all of the evidence, it tells me that declaring my independence from gluten is the thing to do.

But giving up gluten is so damn hard. Those of you who love tortellini and cinnamon rolls and burritos and pizza and bruschetta understand this. Because even if you stay away from gluten, and you dutifully eat all the gluten-free substitutes (many of which are quite good), there are moments when gluten beckons to you and says, “Oh, come on, one little piece of pepperoni pizza won’t kill you. Look how thin the crust is! All the gluten has leaked out. Honest.”

I think of gluten as my bad boyfriend, the dark, mysterious guy with the six-pack abs, the guy who promises that this time he will treat me right. (In my fantasy, gluten looks like Joe Manganiello.) So I let him spend the night and wake up the next morning, all alone, feeling as if a fleet of moving vans ran over me, then shifted into Reverse and ran over me again. And there’s no note, no kiss goodbye, nothing. That’s because gluten is a selfish bastard.

Joe Manganiello, actor, True Blood, Magic Mike

What gluten would look like if it was a person.

So I’m going to try extra hard to live independently of gluten. But if the real Joe Manganiello knocks on my door, offering me a latte and a gluten-free cinnamon roll from Mariposa Bakery, I am so going to hit that.

 

 

 

Blogging Streak Has Ended

The last three days were either busy or I was too emotionally spent to blog. More of the latter than the former, if we’re being honest. Yesterday was Momcat’s birthday and the days leading up to it are very challenging for me. But I’m feeling better now, and ready to get back into the game.