Saturday, January 29, 2011

Requiem for My Jeans

Requiem in Pacis Ventus Jeans

I had just come in from shoveling snow (for the thousandth time!) when I noticed. I was in my room peeling off the layers of sodden, snow-covered clothes. When I tossed my jeans into the hamper I saw the worn patch on the butt on the upper thigh. Upon further inspection I realized it wasn’t simply a worn spot. It was a hole—actually two holes—in my favorite pair of jeans. The first thought that ran through my head was, “Was this hole here when I wore these to work earlier in the week?” I quickly dismissed the thought. Surely I would have noticed the draft. Right?
The second thought was, “Why these jeans? Why my favorite jeans?” These are the jeans that are just the right shade of blue, snug enough to look good but not so tight they’re uncomfortable. My favorite thing about them? Pocket flaps. I love pocket flaps—they disguise the fact that I have no butt whatsoever. Seriously. When I go to the gym I spend a lot of time trying to get something going on back there. I’m the only one at the Y trying to work my ass on.
I dislike jean shopping the way most women dislike bathing suit shopping. I don’t worry about bathing suits. When I’m at the beach I spend most of my time chasing my boys, building sandcastles and catching minnows. I don’t worry if I look sexy or not. Besides, I am so pale my skin is nearly blue—a beach bunny I ain’t. My requirements for a bathing suit are pretty simple. It has to be comfortable, good quality and provide enough coverage so I can sunscreen all exposed skin without help from anyone else. I usually order them from Land’s End. They actually sell bathing suits with pockets. Sexy? No. Practical? Yes.
Jeans, I wear nearly every day. I have to wear them for work and they are the most versatile garments for the stay at home mom side of my life. For a while I did try wearing nicer clothes like khakis and button down shirts when I picked up the kids. But adding extra ironing to my routine wasn’t good for my health. Besides, smeared cookie washes out of denim much easier than out of poplin. I also tried wearing yoga pants like so many stay at home moms do, but it wasn’t me. I wear workout clothes when I work out and then I shower and put on jeans. Besides, yoga pants are not flattering on the buttless.
Of course, I know why my jeans wore out. They are were (sniff!) my favorite so they got worn all the time so they didn’t last as long as my less wonderful jeans. You may be asking yourself, why if these jeans were so marvelous, didn’t you buy more than one pair Vickie? Well, I tried. In fact, I bought a pair of jeans that looked just like them and had the same name. But the manufacturer changed the design somewhat. They still have the same pocket flap and they are the same shade of blue, but they are cut in such a way that they are unmistakably mom jeans. I’m a mom and I drive a minivan (a beige minivan at that!) but I refuse to wear mom jeans. I do have some pride.

The view from the back of my driveway.

My kitchen window.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Rehearsal

            Another snow day today for the kids so another day away from work for me. Like most New Englanders I’m getting tired of snow, but today’s day off comes as a welcome relief. One of my concerns when I started this blog back in September was that I wouldn’t have time to write once I started directing The Secret Garden. So today, in between saying things like, “No horsing around in the living room.”, “Did you wash your hands?”, and “No, I don’t know where your PSP is.” I can sneak in some time to write and spend some time going over the script of my show.
            The first rehearsal for The Secret Garden was on Tuesday night. I arrived early to set up the rehearsal space. I pushed a bunch of conference tables together so all 25 cast and crew members could see each other. Rehearsal was scheduled to begin at 7:00, but people began to trickle in about 20 minutes early. I love a punctual cast!
            By the time it was 7:00 most of the cast was settled in their seats getting to know each other. It was a nice mix of people. Some had worked together before, many had seen other actors on stage, some were new to the theatre, and some, like myself, had been away from theatre for far too long. Seven of the eight children in the cast were sitting together directly across the table from me. They had been in productions of Annie and Suessical together and were having a great time talking and laughing.
The eighth child walked in the door. This is her first play and she looked terrified. Her mother was encouraging her to go sit with the other kids, but she remained firmly attached. I was wrapping up a conversation with my producer and saw the girl’s hesitation. Before I could get up to welcome her, one my young actresses who is playing the leading role of Mary, hopped up out of her seat and raced over to her. She is twelve and tall for her age with a beautiful smile and lovely red hair, “Hi! My name’s Molly. Come sit with us!”
At that, the newcomer detached from her mom and went to sit with the other kids. Her mother was clearly relieved and went to wait in the lobby with the other parents. There is a common misconception that people who like to perform are always outgoing. But it isn’t true. There are loads of very shy people in theatre. Getting on stage and pretending to be someone else can be less scary for some, than being yourself and striking up a conversation with someone new.
At least ten of the girls who auditioned for the part of Mary could have done an excellent job and I only needed two. An audition shows me how well a person can sing and act. But it can’t tell me how they're going to treat their fellow cast mates. In a community theatre production, an actor’s attitude is just as important as his talent. It takes a lot of dedication to put on a show like this. For the adults in the cast it can mean time away from your family or sneaking out of work a little early. For the kids it means trying to juggle the ridiculous amount of homework with rehearsal and other activities. Leading players who are warm, hard working, generous and kind can make a production go so much smoother for everyone. Who doesn’t want to work in an environment where we are appreciated and supported? Molly’s simple act of kindness assured me that I had made a good decision in casting her.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bad Reputation

          I have been a very neglectful blogger. You see, I have a new baby and she has been taking up all my time. Her name is The Secret Garden and she's the musical I'm directing for a local community theatre group. Auditions were last week and I've been spending much of my time on all the little details of beginning a production. I was blessed with amazing singers and actors who came out to audition and now I have the cast of my dreams (minus a few men--there is a serious man-deficiency in community theatre).  I haven't been writing as much as usual, so I thought I would share an essay I wrote over the summer and entered into "Real Simple" magazine's annual essay contest. The subject of the contest was "I never thought I'd..." and I wrote about settling down and raising my kids in the town in which I grew up--something I never imagined myself doing. This essay is the first piece of writing I did since I graduated from college that was meant to be read by someone besides me. As I look it over, I realize that my skills have improved since I sent this off to Real Simple six months back. I present it to you--warts and all.
 Bad Reputation
She has a bad reputation. People who have heard her name on the news call her dangerous and scary. It isn’t fair really—she’s just misunderstood.  And I ought to know—she’s been my hometown for 39 years. Anyone from Brockton, Massachusetts is familiar with the look you get from other New Englanders when you tell them where you grew up. It’s a little fearful and a little curious. They are always surprised when they look at me. I’m not what they pictured after they heard about the prostitution bust on the six o’clock news. People who make honest livings and raise their children to be good citizens make for very boring headlines. But we’re here—getting our children to the bus stop, shopping at the local grocery store, paying taxes and fighting for education.
            I’m a little surprised myself. I never thought I’d be here now. I assumed that life would take me away from Brockton after college. I saw myself someplace bigger and better—Boston or New York or London. Some of my classmates pictured themselves somewhere smaller and greener. Few of us imagined ourselves settling down in our city of 100,000. A former industrial boomtown that now looks more than a little rough around the edges.
My eight-year-old son says that Brockton is the greatest town in the world. Children have remarkable filters. When he and I drive through town I notice once-stately former homes of captains of industry divided into low-income apartments and empty downtown storefronts and people lined up outside the unemployment office. He sees the vibrant YMCA where they learn to swim and take karate with children of every shade of the human rainbow. They see the mammoth high school that boasts an Olympic size indoor swimming pool, a 1600 seat auditorium and a planetarium. They don’t notice you have to pass through metal detectors to get into the high school.
            Brockton High School—everything about this nine-acre campus is imposing. Picture a building the size of an aircraft carrier. Now fill it with 4,000 teenagers—a handful of whom will sadly make the aforementioned six o’clock news some day. Most of whom only want to pass chemistry and get a date for the prom.
I asked a boy from a town in Western Massachusetts to my prom. He said yes, but his mother vetoed the invitation. Brockton was too scary a place to send her son for an evening. Maybe I had those same filters my son has. Why was this woman afraid? I was 4’11’’ tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. I was a shy and nervous teenager who did community service projects with the Key Club and marched with the school color guard. But I wasn’t afraid at my school. The scariest moments at Brockton High for me were trying to navigate the vast hallways in the four minutes allowed between classes
            The Brockton of past generations was a different place. At the turn of the last century it was “The Shoe City”, manufacturing more shoes than any other city in the world. When Thomas Edison needed a place to build his first complete central power station he chose Brockton, MA in 1882. The newly incorporated little city boasted the first electric-powered streetlights, fire station, theater and school in the world.
Like so many manufacturing centers, Brockton’s legacy as a progressive and industrial city began to dim after World War II. Last year, the final factory was shuttered. After operating in the red for some time, Footjoy closed its doors on the plant that made its highest quality shoes. Good night “Shoe City”. There isn’t much market for hand-stitched, $300-a-pair golf shoes these days.
Now Brockton’s city water tower and website are emblazoned with the new nickname “The City of Champions”. Brockton was the home of boxing legends Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. It’s a nickname that out-of-towners find ironic. When news cameras come to Brockton it’s usually to cover a crime, not a sporting event. The elementary school students raising money for the earthquake in Haiti or the volunteers at the VA Hospital might earn a few lines in the hometown newspaper. But the Boston papers and news channels are only going to cover the drug dealers and the political scandals. Brockton’s bad reputation makes great copy.
So, why do I live here? At first it was convenience. I was still living at home and commuting into Boston and my future husband Dan, got a job in a nearby town. I wanted to live in Boston—but Dan had just graduated from Northeastern University and had enough of big city living. My mother convinced me to take a look at a Brockton apartment a friend had for rent. It was the second floor of a three family house—five rooms plus a walk-in closet. The rent was $500 a month. I had friends paying twice that to share a smaller place with cockroaches in sketchy parts of Boston. I decided that a longer commute was well worth the money we would save.
            Because our rent was so cheap it wasn’t long before we had saved enough to start looking for a house. My first thought was a smaller, more affluent, more rural town nearby. We were married by then and knew that whatever house we bought would probably be where we would raise our children. Every place we could afford was tiny or dilapidated. My realtor said, “Have you ever considered Brockton?”  And again my mother said, “Have you looked in Brockton?”. Reluctantly we agreed to see a few houses. The fourth house we looked at had been on the market for a while. It was built in 1904 and had a huge yard. It needed work—a lot of do-it-yourself projects had been done by less-than competent hands. But as they say in the business, it had good bones. Lovely woodwork and hardwood floors hiding under rose-colored, dog-scented carpet. It was in a great neighborhood—home to judges, attorneys, doctors and retirees. The asking price was less than the bank had pre-approved us for. This was not only the house we could afford. It was the house we wanted.
            Thirteen years later, much to my surprise, we’re still here. We’ve refinanced twice, torn out that pink carpet, painted, landscaped, added two bedrooms and a bathroom. We now have two children who are enrolled in Brockton Public Schools. We’ve been very fortunate and could probably afford to live somewhere else. So why don’t we? Why are we still here?
I asked a group of Brockton natives what was the best part of growing up in this city. By far, the most popular response was diversity. My childrens’ classmates have roots all over the globe: Asia, South America, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. When my boys play soccer and baseball many of their teammates families speak Spanish, Cape Verdean and Haitian Creoles, and languages that I don’t even recognize. But it doesn’t matter because cheering on our children is a universal language. Beyond race, my children have friends from a variety of “non-traditional” families: children with two moms, children raised by single parents, children raised by grandparents and children who are raised in foster homes. Financial diversity—fifty-four percent of the students at my children’s’ school are considered low income. I’m not going to pretend that prejudice doesn’t exist here. But you learn to recognize differences and seek similarities. Getting along with a wide variety of people is a skill you develop at a young age in Brockton.
            The reputation of our mammoth schools scare many folks, but I am impressed every day by the quality of education here. The Brockton Public School system tries to reach every student—whether they’re exceptionally challenged or exceptionally gifted. There will always be budget cuts. People will always get angry over taxes. But every time those talks come up, the passion over education that comes from students, parents and teachers is overwhelming. My boys have been blessed with dedicated and engaging teachers. PTA meetings at their school are always packed with parents willing to give time, talent and money.
            Maybe every kid dreams of being an adult someplace else. Maybe kids who grow up on farms dream about city life and kids in the city long for the suburbs. But a funny thing happens when you grow up and see a little more of the world. You see that there are bad elements everywhere. Picture-perfect towns end up on the news. It just takes the residents by surprise. When you grow up in a place considered dangerous by some, you learn to be resilient and aware. I chose to stay in this “dangerous” place. Maybe by doing so I’ll make it a little better.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Red Dress Club Meme: The Red Haired Step Child

This week's meme from the Red Dress Club was a doozy: "Hemingway was famous for his super sparse writing. He used almost only dialogue in many of his works. Write a piece in which you use ONLY dialogue." Here's my attempt. Please feel free to comment!

The Red Haired Step Child

            “Say something,” I said.

            “I don’t know what to say. I’m so embarrassed,” he answered.

            “Why? It wasn’t your fault.”
            “Then whose fault was it?”
            “Why does it have to be someone’s fault? Maybe it’s just something that happened.”

            “It didn’t just happen. I promised Zach I’d take care of his goldfish while he was at camp and now it’s dead.”

            “Did you feed him?”

            “Yes. I followed Zach’s instructions to the letter. I fed him, cleaned the aquarium, and checked the filter. But there he is, lying at the top of the water.”

            “Maybe you could just replace it.”

            “Replace it? That’s lying.”
            “I suppose. But it’s not a cat or a dog that he cuddles with. I can’t imagine he’d be able to tell the difference.”

            “That isn’t the point Sarah. It’s hard enough being ten years old and getting used to a new step dad. Being dishonest with the boy isn’t going to help us get any closer. I know I’ll never really be his father, but I’d like him to know I really care about him.”

            “Well, we’re almost to the camp. You have to figure out what you’re going to tell him.”

            “I know. I know,” Dave muttered as we pulled the car down the gravel road that lead to Camp Squanto.

            “There he is,” I said pointing to my skinny red-haired son.

            “Mom! Dave!” he yelled as we got out of the car.

            “Hi Sweetie,” I said giving him a huge hug. He had been away a week. It was the longest we had ever been apart. “I really missed you.”

            “I missed you too Mom. Can you make spaghetti for dinner? The food here wasn’t as good as yours.”
            “Of course! Did you have fun?”

            “Oh yeah. We went canoeing and horseback riding and hiking. It was awesome! Oh! And the best part! We got to use a bow and arrow!”

            “That was always my favorite part of Boy Scout camp too,” said Dave.


            “Yeah! I even won a contest. How’s Norbert?”

            “Zach, I have to be honest with you,” Dave began.

            “Oh, man! He didn’t die again did he?”

            “Again? He’s died before?”

            “Yeah, my dad can never keep him alive either. He usually just gets me a new goldfish before I get home from camp.”


Monday, January 17, 2011


            I’m directing a production of The Secret Garden for a local community theatre group. Last night was the first night of auditions. At a production meeting a couple months ago someone said, “I hope we get a good Mary.” Mary is one of the leads and has to be played by a girl around 10-12 years old. I said, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. It’s a dream role for a little girl. If it had been written when I was that age, I’d have given anything to play the part. I think we’ll have Marys coming out of the woodwork.” I was right.
            There were a dozen or so adorable little girls auditioning last night. They could sing, they could act and some of them had more experience at 11 than I had at 20. And there is still another night of auditions on Tuesday and I’m sure a few more potential Marys will show up. It’s a mixed blessing. I’ll be able to easily double cast* my show with two very talented little girls. Unfortunately, it also means that I’m going to break a whole lot of hearts on Friday when I announce the cast.
            This is a new experience for me. Most of the shows I have directed were performed entirely by adults. The children I have directed had small ensemble roles—such as a member of the chorus with a speaking line or two. They were very often played by children of cast members and came along with their parents. The children last night had clearly put a lot of time, effort and talent into trying out for the role of a lifetime.
            I love directing. Your ideas go into in every aspect of the show—costumes, sets, acting, music, lighting, movement and on and on. I love collaborating with other artists to create an illusion of being in a different place and time. One of my favorite parts of the process is working with the actors. I love helping actors to overcome challenges and create believable characters. Putting on a show requires a lot of effort on the part of many people working together. You spend long hours in the theatre and drink lots of coffee and eat junk food to help you stay awake and energized. You create and conspire and worry and sweat and smile and argue and laugh. And when it’s all over, you have created a living piece of art that makes the audience laugh and cry and tap their feet and cheer.
But first, you have to break a few hearts.

*Double casting means giving the part to two different actors. They’ll each play the for half of the performances. It’s a chance to give more kids the opportunity to play the role and keeps them from straining their voice or getting over tired (and therefore sick).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Strange Brew

Today’s post is brought to you by a writing prompt from The Red Writing Hood! Here’s the assignment, For this week’s prompt, grab something out of your pantry and write a short piece - using all the words in the ingredients. It can be fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose. I chose a box of Tazo Zen green tea. The ingredients are: green tea, lemon verbena, spearmint leaves, lemongrass, and natural flavors. I feel like it was a little forced. Please feel free to let me know what you think!

Strange Brew

“This is my favorite part! It may not be a real a garden, but at least I can grow some herbs. Maybe I can even add some pots of tomatoes when it gets warmer.” said Amy as she showed her mother the terra cotta pots of herbs on the terrace of her new apartment.
“It certainly is a lovely neighborhood,” said Aurora. “Are you sure you can afford it dear?” It wasn’t the first time Aurora had made a comment about finances since Amy announced her new job. She thought there might be some raised eyebrows about the company she was working for, but Amy couldn’t understand why her mother thought she wasn’t getting paid well.
“It’ll be fine Mom. Would you like a cup of green tea?” Amy asked, hoping to distract her mother from her worries.
“That would be lovely dear. Maybe later we can go to that Thai place for lunch.”
“Yes. That’s the one,” said Aurora as she settled into a small chair on the terrace. “I loved those little spring rolls we had last time. So delicate.”
 Amy set out a tray with a small pot and two mugs. “Unfortunately, Lemongrass closed down a couple of months ago,” she said as she poured the tea.
“Oh! That’s a shame. The family that ran it seemed so nice. What happened?”
“I’m not sure,” Amy told her. She didn’t want Aurora to know about the rumors she had heard—failed health inspections, rats, and broken labor laws. “There is a Korean barbeque place there now. I haven’t tried it yet. There is also a bakery around the corner that has homemade soups and delicious crusty bread.”
            “A nice bowl of soup sounds good. It’s still a little brisk for May.”
            “That’s Boston weather for you. The wind is chilly, but it’s pretty warm when you’re in the sun.”
            “I’m not used to the cold anymore. I thought I would miss the seasons when I moved south, but I think I’ve had enough winter for a lifetime.” Aurora wrapped her hands around the mug to warm them. “This tea is good. What’s in it?”
            “I snipped a few spearmint leaves from my garden and added a slice of lemon. Are you cold Mom? We don’t have to sit on the terrace.”
            “I’m fine Amy. Well, shall we get some more unpacking done?”
            “I only have the little things left to do Mom. Besides, I invited you up to see the new place, not to put you to work.”
            “Don’t be silly, I love doing things for you kids. Just last week I watched the baby for David and Sarah. She’s getting so big!”
            “Sarah?” Amy asked.
            “The baby! Silly. The baby is getting big. I guess I should stop calling her the baby and start calling her by her name.”
            “You really don’t like it, do you Mom?”
            “I shouldn’t say anything. It’s not my place. But, Verbena? It’s a plant, not a name. I understand Sarah wanted something that would stand out, but all I can think of is lemon verbena. What will they call the next baby? Oregano? Parsley?”
            “Rosemary?” Amy offered.
            “I would be thrilled with Rosemary! At least it’s a name. Oh, listen to me! I’m starting to sound like some old bitty of a mother in law! Sarah is a wonderful mother, I’m sure the name will be fine. Maybe we could come up with a nickname.”
            “V… what’s her middle name again?”
            “Delores,” Aurora started to laugh. “I don’t think that will work out. Oh my goodness Amy, I swear you put catnip in this tea I’m getting so silly.”
            “Your blood sugar is probably low. Let’s go get some soup.”
They walked up the brick sidewalk on Charles Street to Panificio. Amy was right. The sunshine would warm them, but then the breeze would chill them. It was a good day for soup.
            “Honey, I left my glasses at your place. Can you read the soups from here?” Aurora asked when they arrived.
“Sure Mom. Chorizo and Kale, Vegetable Barley, Greek Lemon Chicken and French Onion.”
“What’s Chorizo?”
“It’s a Portuguese sausage. It’s pretty spicy.”
“I think I’ll get the Vegetable Barley. I like simple, natural flavors,” she said. “Are you going to get the French Onion?”
“Yes,” Amy laughed. Aurora was terrible at remembering birthdays, phone numbers, and appointments. But she always remembered what people liked to eat. They approached the counter and ordered their soup. Aurora insisted on paying.
“Mom. You’re my guest. I want to pay,” said Amy.
“Don’t be silly. You’re just starting out in your career. You have a new apartment. I’m sure you’ll need things to set up your home.”
“Mom. Do you think I’m having trouble making ends meet?” Amy asked as they found a table.
“I didn’t want to say anything Honey. I know you’re excited about this new job. But you have a lot of loans from law school to pay off and I know non-profits don’t pay as well as some of the big law firms might.”
“Non-profits? Mom, I’m not working for a non-profit. The NAAP is most definitely a for-profit organization”
“I thought your company dealt with retirees from the entertainment field.”
“Mom, we represent people in the adult entertainment industry.”
“Isn’t that what I said?”
Amy started to laugh, “Mom, the National Association of Adult Performers. They’re people who perform in films for adults. You know… pornography.”
“Oh dear. I did misunderstand.”
“I’m sorry Mom. I should have realized you didn’t understand when you weren’t upset about me taking the job.”
“Upset? Honey, I’m not upset.”
            “You aren’t?”
“Of course not. You’re a lawyer—everyone needs representation. Besides, I can’t think of a more recession proof field than… what did you call it? Adult entertainment.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Are You Going to do With That?

            Every once in a while, on a Thursday night, I set my mommy duties aside and head out to a local bar that hosts Country Night. There are a surprising number of country fans here in New England so the place is usually packed. Sometimes they have a mechanical bull. Other weeks they host a country line dance contest. Once in a while they have a live band. I usually show up for their “Country Idol” contest. I don’t get to sing as often as once did and this gives me a little fix. It isn’t the kind of music I’m used to singing—I’ve been in lots of choirs and Broadway style musicals and I can do one hell of an Ave Maria. So, while country music may seem easier, it’s outside my comfort zone. I’m used to singing with live musicians—karaoke scares me. But I must be doing okay. I’ve made it to the semi-finals on two separate occasions.
            So last Thursday I put on my favorite jeans and my lucky boots and picked up Jessica, my number one fan and headed over for Country Idol. There were a few folks I work who just happened to be going out for drinks that night, so I had a little cheering section.
            The DJ announced the line up and I was the fourth singer out of ten to perform. That’s a pretty good spot. I’ve done this often enough to know that going last is absolutely the worst. You have all the time in the world to 1.) freak out over the competition, 2.) drink way too much and therefore 3.) accidentally say something unkind about someone on-stage within hearing distance of his or her family and friends. So I was pretty happy with my placement.
            I stayed in the comfort of our booth and chatted with my friends while the first two singers performed. Then I made my way through the bar so I’d be near the stage when it was my turn. I was close to the stage when singer number three started up. Her music came on and I recognized Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing”. Here’s the thing about that song—it always wins. Those two times I made it to semi-finals? I sang “A Broken Wing”. And it isn’t just me—I have been beaten by less talented singers singing this song.
            Well, there was nothing less talented about singer number three. She nailed that song. She is one of those women you look at and say, “I’d like to look like her in ten years—hell I’d be happy looking like her now.” Mature, gorgeous, soulful, looked good in a pair of jeans—and did I mention she could sing? She added a cool raspiness that to “A Broken Wing”.
            It isn’t the first time I’ve had to follow someone better than me. It tends to relax me (because when you know you can’t win, the pressure is off) or I freak out a little. Sadly, I did the latter on Thursday. I sang Jo Dee Messina’s “Because You Love Me”. I did’t sing nearly as well as when I practiced it at home—but I am a pretty tough critic of my own performances. I made my way back to our little group. A woman at an adjacent booth thought I did a great job, “You have a wonderful voice!”
            “Thanks!” I said. I love getting fans.
            “Now what are you going to do with it?” She asked me.
            “Um. Well.” I fumbled. “I do community theatre. And sing at weddings once in a while.”
            “You need to get out of Bridgewater.” She insisted. “With your talent you should go to New York.”
            A number of thoughts ran through my head at this point. It was a country song—shouldn’t I go to Nashville if I’m going to run away? I’m almost 40—it’s a great time to start a writing career—a performing career not so much. How much has this lady had to drink?
            “Why not take a chance?” She said. “Are you married?”
            I held up my left hand and said, “Yup. For almost fifteen years.”
            “Oh. Any kids?”
            “Uh huh. Two boys.”
            “Oh.” She said. “You must look a lot younger than you are.”
            Well that was nice to hear. Maybe it was the dim lighting. Maybe she had a few too many. Maybe it was because the folks at my table with me are young enough to run away to New York. Or maybe I really do look younger than I am—that’s the one I’m going with for now.
            I thought her choice of words was interesting: “What are you going to do with it?”  I briefly flirted with the idea of trying to make a living as a performer when I was younger. One time when I was home from college on break, a casting agency was hosting a “cattle call” (an open audition where gazillions of actors hope to catch the eye of someone who can help them with their career).
            I typed up a resume, dressed up, and lined up for my big chance. I had an interview with one person and was then sent on to a smaller room to speak with an agent. I was beside myself that I had made it to the next level—some folks were sent home at that point. I had a very nice chat with an older, balding man. He asked me, “Do you know how heartbreaking this businesses can be?”
            “I know,” I told him. “But someone has to make it.”
            He smiled at me, shook my hand and told me he’d be in touch.
            A few weeks later there was an article in the local paper. The whole thing was a fraud. This “casting agency” didn’t exist. There were no connections to anyone in Hollywood or New York. When some folks went to the rooms they were conned into forking over thousands of dollars for photo packages.
            They never mentioned money to me. For some reason they didn’t try to scam me. I have often wondered why. It can’t be the fact that they didn’t think I’d fall for it. I was about 19 or 20 and had the word gullible stamped on my forehead. Whatever the reason, they let me off the hook.
            That small incident isn’t the main reason I never pursued a career as an actor or singer. While I love to perform, I’m just not that ambitious and I have a crazy need to know where my next paycheck is coming from. I remember a conversation with my dad many years ago and he said something about me being an amateur. I bristled at that word. Me? An amateur? He reminded me that the word amateur isn’t the opposite of professional as so many people use it. The word amateur comes from the Latin and it means one who does something because he loves it. Latin gets me every time!
            So I am an amateur performer and proud of it. I don’t need to go to New York to sing. In fact, I probably get to sing more since I’m not trying to get a paycheck out of it. What am I going to do with my talent? Sing country music in a crowded bar, participate in a Halleluiah Chorus sing at Christmas time, play Rockband and Singstar with my family, sing Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus at the wedding of any cousin or friend who asks, and sing “Sweet Baby James” every night to my own sweet baby James until he decides he’s too old. That, is what I’m going to do with it. What I’m going to do with my writing skills is another question altogether.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vickie Climbs a Soap Box

It is a very rare thing for me to discuss religion or politics. So, please bear with me as I get on my soapbox. I don’t do it often.

I come from a family of “wordy” people. We are all voracious readers, eager storytellers and in many cases writers. The image in my blogger profile is Word Girl—a PBS character who fights the bad guys using the power of her exceptional vocabulary. I even share the same hair style with Word Girl—at least I do every six to eight weeks when someone with far more patience than I tames my curly mass of hair into a cute little flip.
Language is powerful. It can inspire or incite. It can heal and it can harm. Lately, this valuable tool that I love is being cheaply used. In the comments left on websites, one side blames another in a vicious circle where no one takes responsibility for his or her own words. Anonymity has been giving people license to say things that no civilized person would utter in public. If I were to write a letter to the editor of any newspaper or magazine without signing my name, it would end up in the recycling bin. Why should it be any different in cyber space?
            I read a news story this evening with an optimistic report on the health of Gabrielle Giffords. There were over 18,000 comments—most of them anonymous. Eighteen thousand comments. Were they wishing her a speedy recovery? Offers of prayers to the victims? Comments expressing a desire to curb violence in this country? Reminders of the heroes that threw themselves into harms way that day? A few. Mostly they were people stirring the pot of blame and hatred who lacked the courage to leave their names.
            We live in a country where you have the right to say anything you want. Men and women have laid down their lives for centuries so that we may have that privilege. It is a right we should exercise with responsibility. If you have something to say, say it. But if you wouldn’t claim those words as your own, keep them to yourself.
            Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
            Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
            Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land
            Blessed are they who hunger and search for righteousness,
            for they will be satisfied.
            Blessed are they merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
            Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
            Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
            Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
            for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
            Matthew 5:3-10

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Surprises: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

            I work about four days a week for a giant home furnishings store. We are having a sale right now. We only have two sales a year so sale time is insanely busy for us. It isn’t unusual for us to do over a half-million dollars in sales each day on the weekend during a sale. Sunday and even Monday were very busy and stressful days. Customers have been particularly demanding and easily disappointed lately. I was really looking forward to my day off on Tuesday.
            Tuesday unfortunately, I was greeted shortly before 6 am with a frantic, half-naked, eight-year-old in my face yelling, “Mom! James is throwing up.” Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the day off I had planned. Fortunately, my little guy is not a particularly demanding patient and his bug was pretty short-lived. Unfortunately my well-thought out “to do” list was left out in the cold.
            Wednesday I was feeling the effects of not getting myself as pulled together as I had planned on Tuesday. I’m pretty sure that the medication I’m on is really messing with my hormones. I was stressed and full of self-doubt. I wasn’t prepared for my day (and I need to be prepared—it’s my safety net). I over-reacted completely and yelled at the kids for something that just wasn’t that big a deal. I was anticipating a horrific day at work—and it lived up to the anticipation. Fortunately I knew I had Thursday off, so that got me through the day.
            My husband (God bless him!) was a very calming influence on me Wednesday night. He encouraged me to order pizza for dinner so I didn’t have to cook and he checked the boys’ homework. When I’m feeling that frazzled, 3rd grade arithmetic might as well be advanced calculus. We got through our Cub Scout Den meeting and after the boys were in bed we had some quiet time and a couple of drinks. I had a great night’s sleep Wednesday night, which I desperately needed.
I woke early on Thursday and managed to get some writing done. The boys were ready for school early. I was calm and peaceful. There was no yelling. About 20 minutes before we needed to walk to the bus stop, I went upstairs to prioritize my “to do” list and throw on some work out clothes—I had planned on hitting the gym after I got them off to school. I took one look at the calendar and realized that I didn’t have the day off. I had Friday off.
            Thanks to my lovely and restful evening. I just took it in stride. I told the boys that I was going to need a little extra cooperation to get us all to school and work. They came through like champs. The “to do” list would have to wait another day. Yes, I was looking forward to working out and going to Trader Joe’s. And yes, I really do need to sort through the ever-increasing pile of papers in the dining room. But I realized the world would not come crashing down if those things waited another day.
            I realized (as always—much too late) that anticipating a rough time and stressing about it always makes matters seem worse. Yes, my son was sick—but he wasn’t that sick and he wasn’t sick for long. No, I didn’t get to the gym when I wanted to—but I hardly went at all during the months of November and December and I managed to survive. Yes, customers were mean and nasty to me about things I couldn’t control—but when I go home my kids fling themselves into my arms so hard their affection nearly knocks me over.
            Because I had let go of all of my little annoyances and allowed the love and affection of my family to heal my anxieties, I could handle it. If I had been in that place of stress and frustration I found myself earlier in the week, I wouldn’t have made it through on Thursday. Instead I looked at the calendar, took a deep breath and got ready for work. Instead of being overly irritated by my mistake, I was just grateful that I had a uniform that was clean and ironed. And having a Friday off is way better than having a Thursday off anyway.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Red Writing Hood

            In an effort to spark my writing, I’ll be participating in The Red Writing Hood’s Tuesday writing assignment. The assignment this week is to write a short piece - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatevs - in which each sentence starts with a the next letter of the alphabet. Starting with "A." So, yes, your finished product will consist of 26 sentences. Here is my first stab at it. Enjoy!

            “Absolutely not!” I told him.
            “But MOM! he yelled. “Can’t you see how much this means to me?”
            “Don’t act like this is the first time you’ve ever heard the word no before.”
            “Everyone else is going to the concert. For once, can’t you grant me a little freedom.”
            “Grant you a little freedom? Haven’t I always done that? I don’t understand why you think this is a good idea. Just because the other parents are going along with this doesn’t mean I have to.”
            “Keeping me home isn’t going to help mom.”
            “Listen to me, young man.”
“Maybe you’ll say something original. Not!”
“Original? Perhaps I might remind you about what happened last time you went to a concert like that.”
 “Quit reminding me Mom!”
“Reminding you? Sorry if the sight of you on the six o’clock news is something I can’t forget.”
Taking my hand, my son actually looked concerned for a moment, “Usually I agree with you Mom. Virtually everyone from school loves this band.”
“Wiggles—aren’t you a little old? Xavier I just can’t believe you want to see the Wiggles. You’re seriously going to go see the Wiggles  with a bunch of other eighteen year-olds?”
“Zany, huh mom?”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Eat, Drink and be Merry… for Tomorrow we Diet

            I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. If you want to change something in your life, just do it. Why wait for some special date on the calendar. Besides, most resolutions involve giving up some form of comfort—food, nicotine, sitting around on your butt. Who wants to do that during the darkest, coldest time of the year? One of my favorite bloggers (who happens to be my niece) once wrote, “I think January is a terrible time to resolve anything. January is cold. January is long. January is when you lie in bed and eat pie.” The only resolution I ever really enjoyed keeping was one I made before my children were born. I decided to stop buying boring underwear. That was a fun resolution—but I didn’t even keep that one for long. A few months later I was wearing maternity underwear.
This year, however, my physician has told me that I need to drop fifteen pounds. Normally, if given medical advice, I follow it immediately. It’s one thing when your favorite jeans are snug.  It’s another thing altogether when your weight raises your physician’s eyebrows. My dad had his first angioplasty when he was in his mid-fifties and his father never saw sixty-five. I take heart health very seriously. Since Dr. M’s orders came mid-way between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I went home and started making fudge instead of starting a diet. I don’t diet at Christmas. I enjoy myself. I eat prime rib and apple pie on Christmas Day and my Aunt Diane’s meatballs and my uncle Brad’s chicken cutlets on Christmas Eve and my husband’s rugelach whenever no one is looking. I wash it all down with red wine or bourbon. I. Love. Christmas.
            Now even the beef and barley soup made from the bones of the Christmas roast are gone. It’s time to follow doctor’s orders. Exercise won’t be a problem. I love putting in time at the gym. I love getting sweaty and really earning a long hot shower. I really like being able to do more push ups than some of the big scary looking muscle heads at the Y. Sadly, I can’t out-push-up the muscle heads these days. For a variety of excuses reasons I haven’t been my exercise fanatic self for the past few months. In addition to not being quite so svelte, I’m also not as strong as I was a year ago and that bothers me more than anything. I’m also not as fast. I ran a 5K on Thanksgiving and added eight minutes to my time since my last 5K two years ago. Eight minutes—plenty of people can run a mile in that time (not me of course—maybe if I were being chased by a gun-toting bear I could run that fast for a whole mile).
            My challenge is going to be food. You know how some people say their weakness is sugar or chips or fried foods. My weakness is… food. All of it. I can’t stand the idea of giving up a particular food group like carbs or fat. If I give myself too many rules, I’m going to break them. I think I’ve found my best bet. The editors of Prevention magazine have come up with a book called The 400 Calorie Fix. The idea is pretty simple. You get to eat four, 400-calorie meals a day or three 400-calorie meals plus two snacks that equal 400 calories. 1,600 calories a day is a long way from deprivation and still a big enough cut from the way I’ve been eating. Mixing that with a renewed commitment to working out should get me started. I’ll let you know how it goes. But I promise not to be one of those people who talk about nothing besides their diet. But I’ll tell you this, the minute I can do more push-ups than the guys at the gym, I’m telling everyone.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Muffin Time

Happy New Year! I’m working on a post about my New Year’s resolution that will probably be ready later today or tomorrow. For now, I want to share with you a recipe I created this morning. I make muffins from scratch just about every weekend. It all started a couple of years ago when my boys were taking karate at the Y on Saturday mornings. I didn’t have much in the house for breakfast, but since I always have baking ingredients on hand I whipped up a batch of cornmeal muffins. Owen was doing particularly well that day in class and the assistant instructor said, “Wow Owen, that’s great. What did you have for breakfast?” Being a literal-minded boy he said, “Corn muffins and yogurt.”
Guess what I had to make the next week? And the week after that? It became something of a tradition in our house now. Unless we have to be somewhere really early I still make muffins every Saturday. I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t even have to look up the recipe for corn muffins anymore and we’ve branched on to other varieties: cinnamon oatmeal, applesauce, pumpkin. Today there were three small over ripe bananas in the kitchen so here’s what I came up with:

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

3 small or 2 large bananas, well mashed (about 1 cup)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole-wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1tsp. baking soda
1/2 mini chocolate chips

*Preheat oven to 500º

Spray a 12 muffin pan with non-stick spray.

In one bowl mix bananas, eggs, sugar and vanilla thoroughly.

In a separate bowl mix flours, salt and baking thoroughly.

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Don’t over mix.

Add chocolate chips.

Evenly divide batter into muffin pan to make 12 muffins (slightly less than a 1/4 cup for each muffin—an ice-cream scoop is really helpful for this).

Put muffins in the oven and lower your oven temperature to 375º.  Bake muffins for 18-20 minutes.

Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Let muffins “rest” in pan for 3-5 minutes before removing.

*Preheating the oven to 500º, then dropping the temperature helps the muffins rise higher.

            These got great reviews this morning. Even the picky little boy who didn’t want to try them changed his tune. Have a happy and healthy New Year!