Ah, 2016. The year you discovered you had nuts because you got kicked in them. And because it ended with an event that had the entire U. S. of A. angry and frustrated, even those people whose wildest dreams had come true, it’s hard to remember anything good that came out of the past 12 months. But trust me: There was a lot that didn’t entirely suck about 2016. [Read more…] about 2016 Was a Very Adequate Year for a Number of Reasons
This is not going to be one of those blog posts where I declare that by Spring 2016 I’m going to look like Christie Brinkley, who by the way, what the hell? I mean, you can see signs that she’s not 25 anymore, but you have to look through a Helium Ion Microscope to do it. What you can’t see are signs that she ever spent more than a couple of weekends on a diet of Funyuns and Hoarders. Or ever gave birth to another person. Or ever had a middle-schooler in her charge. Give me a freaking break. Propping up Christie Brinkley as a goal when you’re 57-years-old but with the discipline of a second grader with ADHD is just setting yourself up for failure.
I’m also not going to proclaim that I’m going to spend less time on Facebook, live in the moment more, commune with nature, take more hikes on wooded trails, unplug, get in touch with my inner Thoreau. That all sounds good, but it’s just not going to happen. [Read more…] about Not Your Average New Year’s Resolutions
I am not a fan of self-help books. I can be walking through a book store, feeling really good about life because of all the books that are in the world, fighting off a slight panic that I may not have time to read all of them, but still very positive about things in general, what with all the books, and then I get to the self-help section and it’s just a major bummer. It’s a multi-million dollar reminder that there’s a lot of room for improvement for me and my weird habits, and who wants to be reminded of that?
Despite this aversion to organized self-improvement, I am embarking on The Happiness Project, which is the only self-help project that I know of in which the author and advice-giver is funny and not a douche. She starts admitting her faults right off the bat. It’s a rare self-help book author who doesn’t lecture in a condescending way and make you feel like a loser for not being as accomplished and together as he or she. Most self-help authors dive headfirst into patronizingly shaking their fingers at the rest of us, devoting chapters on just why we are such losers, without a single thought to how stupid they’re going to feel when it comes out that they are cross-dressing sadists who suck their thumbs.
“I know you don’t do self-help,” my friend Diane said, “but I bought you this book anyway. I want to do this next year and I want you to do it with me.” I whimpered a little bit. And then she said this project would not involve removing wine or Cheez-Its from my daily routine. So naturally I said, “I’m in.”
The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin also scores extra points with me for being like me. She says she’s very good at planning how rocking her life is going to be, but very bad at actually implementing anything that even remotely rocks.
“One day I’d stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes all the time, and eating exactly the same food every day. I’d remember my friends’ birthdays, I’d learn Photoshop, I wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV during breakfast. I’d read Shakespeare, I’d spend more time laughing and having fun. I’d be more polite, I’d visit museums more often, I wouldn’t be scared to drive.”
With the exception of laughing and having more fun, that is so me. (I laugh enough – maybe too much in church – and I have enough fun for half of my neighborhood.) I know this perfect person that I want to be; I know exactly what she looks like, what she acts like, how she pronounces every word, how much she doesn’t bite the sides of her mouth, what languages she speaks, what her shoes make her ankles look like, what shitty TV shows she doesn’t watch – it’s all there. But signing up for the actual Italian classes is another story.
Rubin also admits that she started out pretty happy. There was no dramatic life-changing event, no complete turn-around. This is not a Lifetime movie here. At the beginning of her happiness project, her husband asks her, “Aren’t you happy now?” She says, in so many words, “Yes, I’m happy. You don’t understand. You’re a man. Go away and just let me run with this.” I liked that, because I, too, am already happy. But as a girl, I know there’s always room for improvement and that means charts and lists, two things that make me extremely happy.
The idea behind The Happiness Project is that you first identify what is going to make you happy and then you map out specifically what you have to do to be happy. And then you put it on your calendar and do it. For instance, your first list might include Don’t be so critical of people who are different from me. Under that, on your second list, you might put: 1. Instead of keying the cars of the Republicans at work, buy them a Starbucks. 2. Say at least once during husband’s diatribes at dinner parties “Karl has an interesting perspective. There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” 3. Put daisy in soldier’s gun barrel.
I’m not sure, because I haven’t started the book yet, but I think I’m supposed to make my first list this week, in anticipation of Jan. 1. I’m hoping that since I’m doing this with Diane, this will go better than my previous New Year’s resolutions and get thrown away with the Christmas wrap.
One of my items might be 1. Don’t be so averse to reading self-help books. It might help me stop biting the sides of my mouth.
I had the most wonderful new year’s celebration. My lifelong friend, Janet, and her family came to visit us from St. Petersburg. Janet and I recently reconnected, so while we had a lot of catching up to do (like she didn’t know that I waitressed at Howard Johnson’s in college and I was not aware that she lived in a haunted house and loved jewelry) the main stuff – the important stuff – is still fresh in our minds from the time we were little girls.
Janet’s family, the Balestrinos, were a big Italian family that lived two doors down from me. In between our houses was The Field, which was actually only a half-lot drainage area, but when you’re little, even a small patch of grass seems huge and with endless possibilities. Next to The Field were the Fuscos, an old Italian couple who kept forgetting when Halloween was. Then there was the Balestrinos’ big yellow house. Their family seemed huge. They only had one more kid than we had, but they had a dad, which was a rarity in our neighborhood, and their grandmother lived there with them. Grandma Balestrino ruled the house, owned and operated a nightclub in Youngstown, had boyfriends with names like Thirteen and Lucky, was a near professional fisherman, and was super intimidating to a skinny little redheaded Irish girl, who was me.
A typical non-school day when I was ages 6 through 12 was getting up, putting on my pedal-pushers and walking down to the Balestrinos’ house and waiting on their back porch for someone to come out so I could ask if Janet was allowed to come out and play. My mom forbade me to ring their doorbell or knock on their door, because little kids shouldn’t bother adults, so I had to wait until someone came out to take out the garbage or leave for work or go fishing.
Eventually Janet would come out and we would go to the playground or play Barbies or go down her basement to listen to Bill Cosby albums and laugh until a little bit (or a lot) of pee came out.
The Balestrinos had a cottage at Conneaut on Lake Erie and I regularly went with them for days at a time. Like their six kids weren’t enough, they happily took me along. While the Balestrino kids were notoriously brave and adventurous (for instance, they hung upside down from their knees on the monkey bars without batting an eye) I was afraid of everything. Across the street from their cottage was a big roller rink and I didn’t know how to roller skate, so when all the kids would go over to skate, I would lace up my skates and sit on a bench. I also didn’t know how to ride a bike without training wheels, and I didn’t know how to swim. (Now that I think of it, how I ever survived childhood is a mystery.)
Because their kids were who they are, Mr. Balestrino would take us all out on his boat and drop us off in the middle of Lake Erie. I’m not kidding about this, and I’m not exaggerating. There was a sandbar out there and you could walk around in water about up to a small child’s shoulders, far from shore. I can still hear Mr. Balestrino’s voice over the noise of the boat motor saying, “Watch out for drop offs!”
The dreaded drop-offs. You’d be walking around the middle of Lake Erie and suddenly the ground beneath you would disappear and you’d be doggie-paddling like there was no tomorrow, squeaking, “help! help!” until one of the younger, more capable Balestrino kids would come and lift you back onto the sand bar.
Despite the constant, almost rhythmic tragedies, scary moments and anxiety-filled events, most of my childhood experiences with Janet were spent laughing our rear ends off. Sometimes we didn’t even need anything to laugh at.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“Wanna get mouthfuls of milk and look at each other until one of us starts laughing and the milk comes out?”
Janet’s visit for New Year’s was so much fun. We got all caught up on all the things that have happened to us since high school. We looked at our old yearbook, walked on the beach (I even walked closer to the water than her. Nya, nya!) and ate her pepperoni roll, which Grandma Balestrino used to make. And laughed, without the milk this time.
I’m having company for New Year’s (please pray for me, that I’ll be able to stay awake until at least 12:15 a.m. Jan. 1 – it could be embarrassing to fall asleep watching an ancient, post-stroke Dick Clark radiating vim and vigor on live TV, putting me to shame).
My friend Janet and her husband and three kids are coming Wednesday and staying until Thursday. Which means I have to make something for breakfast for everyone. I’ve planned all my menus for a really good dinner which my husband will grill, lots of party food for leading up to midnight, and snacks and a variety of beverages for everyone. But breakfast always brings my company-planning wheels to a grinding halt.
I actually love to eat breakfast. And brunch – well, fergettaboutit. I love brunch. I love cooking it, eating it, serving it. I even love washing out a quiche dish more than any other dishes in my cupboard.
But because they’ll have to leave, we’ll be on a schedule, and I don’t want to drag out a bunch of cooking while they’re here, I’m not making brunch, I’m making a regular breakfast, and I’m stuck.
I don’t have a waffle iron and it just now occurred to me that I should have asked for one for Christmas. (Dang. I’ll have to wait for my birthday in October.) I don’t like making eggs and pancakes for company, because people have to watch me cook them and I hate when people look over my shoulder when I’m cooking. Family, OK, but company really intimidates me in the kitchen. And my kitchen is basically part of all the other rooms in my house, since we have this open floor plan. People still in bed can see me flipping pancakes.
My friend Barb has had big crowds of us over for breakfast after our class reunions and anything else that brings a bunch of her friends into Hubbard for a weekend. You walk into her house and everything’s all perfect and you can smell that she’s made the coffee already and she’s got this big long griddle that plugs in and there are pancakes on there and they’re perfectly toasty brown, and she’s wearing lipstick and she’s obviously had a shower and put deodorant on. She serves breakfast to you at her beautiful dining room table with sausage, orange juice and a bunch of other stuff. And her silverware matches.
My other friend Gail gave me a good recipe for Raspberry Crepes, but which Gail nicknamed “The Lesbian Lover’s Breakfast.” She was disappointed because all the men in the house took one look at the crepes and opted for black coffee and hunks of bread dipped in bacon grease. “Well, I guess this isn’t really a man’s breakfast; more like something you’d serve to your lesbian lover for Valentine’s Day.” The name stuck. I’ve made it, but never for anyone even slightly mannish, or even with a really short haircut, for that matter.
I have some recipes for some breakfast casseroles that are good, but Janet and Ben have teen-agers and so many of them are vegetarians, I think the Meat Lovers’ Cheesy Breakfast Enchilada Bake is probably not going to go over super big.
I will make breakfast in my grungy robe and I’ll probably realize about halfway through that I ran out of butter and will be forced to send one of the kids into Dunkin Donuts for reinforcements. Or we’ll pile everyone into the SUV and make the drive to Barb’s house.
I’m always a little bit sad when Christmas is over. One minute all those tacky red and green sparkly decorations look so heartwarming, and the sounds of any Joe off the street singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” makes you tear up and put rare gold coins in the Salvation Army bell ringer’s pot, and then you wake up one morning and it all is so kitsch you wonder what possessed you to keep celebrating this holiday year after tacky year. It’s like a bad morning after a wild night out at the bars.
Christmas was just two days ago but already it seems like eons ago. I still have new toys to play with, but I really need to get some laundry done so we have clothes to wear and I should stop eating that damn chocolate candy. (Please, god, . . . ) It’s not January 1st yet, though, so how can I do anything that’s good for me right now?
Yesterday was Boxing Day, the day I should have inviting the closest British people over for Bubble and Squeak, but my husband is on vacation, so instead I took turns with my daughter and my mother-in-law going into Home Depot with him. Five o’clock in the evening and he was already on his third project. The three of us each took our turn driving into the ‘po with him to listen sympathetically as he chose mirror hangers, drill bits and shelf thingydoodles. We’re not sure why he can’t go by himself. I think there’s a bully there and he is looking for some protection. First he took me because I weigh the most out of all the women in his life. Then he took my daughter for the youth factor. Then he took his mom because everyone knows that when moms are around, even mean bullies in orange aprons and back braces shape up.
I told him to pace himself. If he does all the projects on the first day after Christmas, what’s he going to do for all of next week? Besides eat some of the chocolate that should be all mine.
Today I’m going on my daughter’s shopping spree. Two malls, minimum eight stores, roughly 2.5 cups of Starbucks, bajillions of dollars in gift card money spent in less than a day.
And then I have to start looking ahead to the next holiday. My friends Jill and Janet are coming with their families for New Year’s eve and day and I have to get out all my sparkly, silver, black and gold decorations, so that by Jan. 2 I hate that holiday too.