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

Day 35: Things in My Bag

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

Over the years of my life, the appearances of my bags have changed, and so have the contents. Every bag I have ever carried, from ones that I love to ones that drove me crazy and I couldn’t wait to set down, needed to be periodically dumped out, sorted and culled. As we move through life, we tend to collect things—especially as women, whose clothing is almost always sub-optimal on the pockets.

When I was young, most of the contents of my bag were things given to me by other people—hand me downs. While I may have chosen the outside to be floral patchwork or a floating hippie skirt, I hadn’t yet learned if the things given to me were valuable or were in need of culling. For a long time, one of the things in my bag was the idea that I Didn’t Follow Through on things, that I was Flighty and Unreliable. I lugged these ideas around in my bag for years. Even when I finally thought I had thrown them away, I found little pieces of them broken off and wedged into the seams and hidden places deep at the bottom of the bag.

Another idea that took years to find and clear out was that I wasn’t Valuable Enough Alone. That one was harder, because it was so tiny, but it was everywhere. I would easily dump out and discard other hand-me-downs, but it took years to notice the film Not Good Enough left on everything I threw in my bag.

As I moved through my life and switched out the hippie backpack (whose strap worked well as a generator belt on my Bug on Hwy 1 one summer—add Resourceful and Competent to the bag!) for a leather bag, I added more things I liked and chose myself, instead of just accepting the things other people gave to me. Adding things like Good Communicator, Sensitive to Others’ Feelings, and Excellent at Teaching Concepts gave me great satisfaction and happiness. My bag was somehow lighter, even though it had more in it, when I took an active role in choosing what to carry.

Today, there are still occasional fragments of old ideas that prick my fingers if I reach in carelessly. Some things are much harder to rid of all trace, and I have found that having  gotten rid of some things leaves me much better able to help other people. That’s another things I like in my modern bag: Insight and Helping.

I’ve added some Calm and some Experience to the Fiery Temper, but have learned that getting rid of things that might be detrimental in large doses isn’t wise— that Fire is actually super useful in certain situations, and my life wouldn’t be the same if I believed people when they said it needed to go. That was just about their personal comfort level with the cold. Turns out Fire is a really good addition to Advocacy, Education and also Love…along with so many other things. I just keep it in a special pocket now; it doesn’t spill nearly as often as it did when I was younger.

What’s in your bag?

Day 34: Candy


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

Our neighborhood was one of those post-WWII neighborhoods that sprung up for all the returning soldiers and their special girls who would soon create the baby boom. By the time I was born and my parents bought our house, those young families were all grandparents, and their modest GI-bill houses had mature trees and large green yards with apricot trees and lush vegetable gardens. Our neighborhood was populated by Freds and Dons who wore suspenders with their trousers, and Connies and Evelyns who wore lose flowered dresses and costume jewelry that was fashionable 30 years before.

Mostly, I remember the old men. They would sit on the milk-delivery cooler next to their side door, or in a lawn chair next to their front door, and wave as the neighborhood children played and rode our bikes. Fred had two giant orange trees in his front yard that he tended meticulously. Don was friendly, but his wife didn’t speak English and his porch smelled like mothballs.  Mr Frietas would go for a slow walk several times a day, with his hat perched high on his head, and butterscotch candies in his pocket for any child who stopped to say hi.

When the mailman, Mac, would drive up in his post WWII-era re-comissioned Jeep, the men would gather and chat. Looking back, of course they were all veterans, and I can see now patterns that were invisible as a child. Mac would turn off his Jeep some days and join one of them on their porch for a sandwich and a Coke. They’d all wave to us scrappy children paying tag or hide-and-seek. Our neighborhood—the safe, happy children laughing and playing, the huge orange trees, the milk-man who still brought us milk form Edelweiss Dairy, the younger families buying the modest homes as the older folks moved to San Diego—were the culmination of what they had fought for, what they had risked their lives for, and the things for which maybe a Coke and a sandwich with another old man on a sunny porch helped them forget together.

I don’t think any of us kids really liked the cellophane-wrapped butterscotch candies Mr. Frietas would offer from his sweater pocket. But I don’t think a single one of us ever turned one down. We may not have understood why, but we always thanked him and shoved them in our own pockets.