Day 42: When I Grow Up

05Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-Two.

It’s funny how the idea of what being a grown-up means changes as you actually grow up. When I was younger, I imagined a transformation of myself, like a caterpillar into a butterfly, where I was substantially changed, morphed into something else.

I used to think I would somehow mellow, transform into a mild-mannered, more genteel soul. I imagined myself as a patient sage, who did more watching the world go by with patience and wisdom. I imagined myself has having sufficiently banked my fiery passions that they no longer fueled my life, and that calm dignity would cloak me.

Yeah. That hasn’t happened. Surprise.

Just like I knew exactly what kind of mother I would be before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of adult I would be before I became one. Life has a way of laughing at us, undoing us, doesn’t it?

It amuses me how sweetly unformed the ideas I had about life and my own abilities were. I am actually many of the things I imagined, but they don’t look anything like I imagined they would. A real, lived life, with rough edges and refining sandblasting in places I never expected it is so much deeper, so much richer, so much better, than the simplistic fantasies I once entertained.

I’m wiser. But I’ll be damned before I am ever genteel. My wisdom has come to me not a silver plate with white gloves, but rather through fighting through some of the hardest years of loss and struggle. My heart is carved deep with the lessons I have learned, because of those carved out spaces, I can also encompass levels of compassion and love I never dreamed possible. I know in my bones that we cannot ever unravel or separate loss, sorrow, joy, love, risk, fear, bravery… they are woven together and do not exist without each other. I know that my fire was a gift from God that allowed me to survive things that might have otherwise crushed me. I know that the passions and fire still fuel my direction and shed light on not just my own path, but have also helped other people find their own footing at times. I know that my gifts are my own, and I no longer wish or worry about turning into something that I am not.

It’s simply not possible to be someone else. I love growing up.

Day 41: Favorite Recipes

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Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty-One.

In my mother’s kitchen cupboard is a small, tattered, batter-stained, oil-splotched green-covered cookbook that says What’s Cooking in Chokio, Minnesota on the cover. It’s the kind of paper-covered cookbook communities and churches made seven or eight decades ago—you probably have one in your kitchen, or your mother’s kitchen, or your grandmother’s kitchen. This one belonged to my great-grandmother, and someday it will belong to me; my mother knows I want it, and it’s been earmarked mine.

One of the things I treasure is hand-written material culture from women in our lives. Recipes are sometimes the only record we have of our foremothers writing. My own grandmother wasn’t much of a writer, and I don’t have any recipes written on small cards from her—if you have such things from your grandmother, I suggest scanning them in and framing them in your kitchen. I wish I could.

What I do have is the green cookbook. It has notes and marginalia from my great-great-aunt Evelyn my, whom everyone loved. It has directions like “use a medium hot oven” and “adjust racks away from coals.” It’s beautiful, and tattered, and it is absolutely a family heirloom. My own aunt has taken to copying some of the recipes in the book, and this last Christmas, she sent Abby a recipe box with handwritten recipes from the book, along with notes about who is now Abby’s GGG-aunt-Evelyn. It’s a treasure, and Abby now has recipes written in her great-aunt’s hand. I hope she treasures them as much as they deserve. I suspect she will. This last weekend, she got the box out and made Great Great Aunt Evelyn’s Almond Spritz Cookies. All by herself.

Someday, the green cookbook will be hers.

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Day 40: Family Pictures

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Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Forty.

When I first had Jeffrey, I had it in my head that it was suddenly time to take family pictures. It was just what you did as a new parent, right? For my mom, it meant taking us to Sears, and sitting stiffly on the furry, scratchy platform, and needing to keep our clothes perfect. For me, it meant JC Penny, and arriving a stressed-out, sweaty mess from trying to control everyone and everything to get that perfect shot of a family that didn’t really exist.

By the time Bean came along, I gave up.

We never took another studio portrait. I got a camera, and I learned how to take pictures of my kids. I draped sheets for a backdrop, I took them outside, and I utterly gave up on presenting a perfect (whatever that means) image of anything regarding my children and family. It’s kind of the trend now to take darling photos in orchards or putting the baby in an apple barrel or whatever—but I skipped that, too.

I just started taking candid shots of my kids. I’d throw them together and talk to them, ask them to tell me about their day, and I would click away. Even for Christmas cards, I just gave up on getting a nice shot. If that meant Bean was screaming in the Christmas card, that was at least an accurate shot of what life was like for us.

Now, looking back, I have a pretty cool anthropological study of the state of my family. In nearly every picture Bean is being uncooperative. Jeffrey is goofing off. Abby is reading or refusing to smile. I couldn’t have created a better documentary of who we are, from the beginning, if I had tried.

And I never get sweaty and angry at anyone. It just is what it is. I’m really grateful for younger me grasping this truth and letting go of any need to enforce perfection. I think we’re all happier in the end.

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Day 39: Pomegranates

Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Thirty-Nine.

I dont remember when I had my first pomegranate. They grew wildly on trees in yards all California where I grew up. We’d pluck them from overhanging craggy boughs while walking home from school. Our fingertips would be stained crimson and deep sepia with the juice, while the leathery peels trailed behind us, more substantial than Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs.

The smooth crimson seeds would roll around on your tongue, until it was impossible to resist biting gently, and the bittery-sour sweet juice would make your tongue curl and your eyes water. I didn’t know they were a delicacy. In my world they were a beautifully odd and free fruit there for the taking—like the apricots and artichokes that also grew unrestrained and everywhere.

When I grew up and moved from the verdant bread-basket of California, I wept the first time I saw pomegranates in the store; they were waxed and manicured and shiny and were $3 each. Same with artichokes. It was odd to me that these were delicacies and considered gourmet items and that I met people who had never tasted them. Earlier this summer, now 15 years removed from California, I found a basket of apricots grown in my hometown. I picked them up and inhaled their intoxicating scent, and then burst into tears. You may grow up and leave home, but home never leaves you.

I wish I could give these lush memories to my children. I know they will have their own, but the further I get from home, the more I realize what I assumed was normal was actually quite extraordinary.

Remembering James V. DeBlase: The 2996 Project

This is a repost of a tribute I wrote for Jimmy DeBlase, who was killed sixteen years ago today. Say his name. Remember.

deblase.jamesHis friends called him Jimmy D, and he was probably the only Dallas Cowboy football fan in all of New Jersey; he was certainly their most fervent!

Jimmy was born in lower Manhattan, and grew up playing football in the streets of Little Italy. He grew up with two brothers, Anthony and Ritchie. His wife, Marion, remembers meeting Jimmy in 1978, when his team, “Carmine’s Animals” had just won a neighborhood championship. Jimmy’s (perplexing to local New Yorkers) love of the Dallas Cowboys is something he passed onto his three sons, Nicholas, Joseph and James, even going to far as taking them to Dallas to see the team play. The neighborhood kids called him Coach Jimmy- he was very involved in his sons lives, coaching them not only in football, but baseball and basketball as well.

In Lower Manhattan, Jimmy attended St. Joseph’s Elementary School, and went on to Bishop DuBois high school, where he excelled at athletics. After high school, Jimmy decided football would not be his career path, and enrolled in Baruch College, known for it’s business courses as opposed to athletics.

After college, Jimmy and Marion made their home in Manalapan, New Jersey, and Jimmy worked on Wall Street for 14 years as a dealer at Oppenheimer. He joined Cantor Fitzgerald in October 1999 as a USA Bond-broker.

Jimmy was at work in the North Tower on the 106th floor on the morning of September 11, 2001. His brother Anthony was in Tower 2, and was fortunate enough to make it out. Anthony spent days after the attack looking for his brother. Jimmy’s body has never been recovered.

His godson, Robet Netzel, has this to say about his godfather:

Uncle Jim, you are a hero to Aunt Marion and the boys. We miss you so much. We are all in this together to help your family from here on in. I will take your boys under my wing as best as possible. You have been a great inspiration for your boys to be the best that they can be in life and as their coach, you helped make them some of the best players out there. Keep a safe watch over all of your family and shine down on them. Jimmy D, your are the best.

Please take a moment and pause to remember the innocent people, such as Jimmy D, who were taken from us sixteen years ago today.

This tribute has been written about James V DeBlase as part of the 2,996 Project, a grassroots movement among bloggers to commemorate all of the lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For more information on the project, or to take part and be assigned a person to commemorate, please visit The 2,996 Project.

Day 37: Sunrise


Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Thirty-Seven.

I’m nocturnal. Sunrises, for all their poetry and grandeur, have never been my friend. The idea of a sunrise is poignant and representative of all the things Pinterest and aspirational . There is a reason they use photos of sunrises on which to plaster quotes written in pseudo flex-nib calligraphy. I mean, it’s nice and all. But if I’m seeing sunrise, there are only two reasons, and both of them mean that something is generally wrong.

If I am watching the sun rise from the wrong side—meaning not as the dawn of a new day, but rather as the cruel punctuation point on the end of a long battle with insomnia. I don’t welcome the sun when my old friend visits me, when I have been counting down how many hours of sleep I *could* get if I fell asleep NOW… No, the sunrise seems like a mean “haha!” in the face of my bleary, bloodshot eyes, and what will be my inevitable snarling demeanor for the coming sleepless day.

The other reason I would see the sunrise is not as churlish. I might have gotten some sleep, but if I did sleep, and am awake to see the sunrise, it means something went wrong, and I am functioning on very little sleep. Someone or something woke me up, and see above for the demeanor of the day.

Try as I might through all the incarnations of my life, but I have never been able to reset my longterm circadian rhythms. My mother is a natural morning person, and views this (like so many do, oddly) as a morally superior disposition. Even as a child, my creativity and mind would turn on after dark. That’s when I think best, write best, paint best, plan best, figure life out best… see a best pattern? I can impose an outside structure—and have for long stints of time out of adult necessity, but as soon as I again give myself free rein, I revert to staying up until 2 am, and sleeping until 9 am. I don’t need a ton of sleep; sleeping the day away also sits wrong with me. But seven solid hours, just clicked over three or four variations from standard, and I am happy as a pig in mud.

With very few exceptions, I’m perfectly happy to leave the worms to the ridiculously cheerful and morally superior early birds. I’ll be over here with the curtains pulled.

Day 36: Election Day


Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Thirty-Six.

Like the majority of America—Electoral College results aside—I sat watching the returns with an aching heart and more than a tiny bit of fear. It’s now been ten months since that day, and it turns out the tiny kernel of fear in my heart was right to be there.

My daughters went with me to vote that morning, and we all wore white, in solidarity with our suffragette ancestors, to cast my vote for the first major female presidential hopeful. Gallons of ink has been spilled since that morning, and there is nothing I can add that would be in any way meaningful beyond the weight of my actual vote. My heart aches for where we are today. I hope the painful lessons America is receiving will be things we will actually learn from, change, and grow.

My days of distancing myself, of claiming I am “not political”, are behind me. #Resist