Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Long Con


My husband is the impatient type. The kind of guy who peeked at his gifts under the Christmas tree when he was a kid. He's still pretty much that same kid today, a 52 year old Scorpio boy child who finds an odd delight in trying to figure out what everyone has gotten him for his November birthday and Christmas. He's a package shaker, he tries to gaze through the wrapping paper as if he's wearing X-Ray glasses, and weighs the gifts in his hands before boldly announcing what he thinks might be inside. And as much as I hate to admit it, he's right about 75% of the time.  

So this year, I decided Eddie needed to learn a lesson.  It was a lesson that took planning, a combination of deception and misdirection, dedication, and an accomplice who wanted to teach Eddie that lesson as much as I did: his older sister Laura. 



For one solid year, Laura and I have been planning my husband's first trip out of the country for his birthday, and to arrange it so that he didn't have a clue until he had to pull out his passport and hand it over to the authorities.

We had to find a date as close as possible to Eddie returning home from his job refurbishing the road around the rim of Crater Lake, sometime around Halloween. So we found the first available dates in November for a week at the Torres Mazatlan resort. Then I asked for a week off of work, which is no small feat. Before it would be approved, I had to find a volunteer who was willing to cover a classical music radio show for six days in a row. Once that was accomplished, Laura booked our rooms at the resort and flights from Medford, Oregon.

And then the misdirection began.

When we were visiting Laura last January, she started talking about how much she'd love to have us join her in Puerto Vallarta where she usually spends a few weeks at her timeshare.  We sat down within earshot of Eddie - all part of the plan - and looked at availability. We put on authentic sad faces when we couldn't find anything within the timeframes that might work. Nothing in November. Nothing in December. Nothing in January, February, March or April. How about Mazatlan? Nothing there either? Oh well. It was a wonderful thought, we said. But just in case something opened up, Eddie would get his very first passport, and I would renew mine.

The pool, restaurant & bar at Torres Mazatlan Resort.

Then life went on for almost an entire year. In the summer, Eddie went back to Crater Lake, and while he was gone his sister and I would touch base occasionally about our top secret plan.

The entire mission almost fell apart more than once. First, the volunteer who had agreed to cover my radio show suffered a fall that left him with a severe head injury, putting him on the sidelines. But since my vacation had already been approved and the non-refundable tickets purchased, other staff stepped in to cover the shifts. Then Eddie called one day to tell me that his crew might have another job lined up in Eastern Oregon as soon as they wrapped up their season at Crater Lake. As it turned out, the job never materialized, but in a moment of panic, I told Eddie that he wasn't allowed to make any plans for the week before or after his birthday, and that he would just have to tell his boss he needed that time off.

I came to regret that. It unleashed the curious little boy in my husband, who - from that moment forward - hounded me day and night for the next 6 weeks about what we had planned. And it drove him crazy that I wouldn't tell him. I eventually got so tired of him demanding to know, that I started making up places. I told him we were going on a mission trip to Puerto Rico. We were going to Mall of America, home of the largest indoor water amusement park in the world. We were taking a cruise to Alaska to visit my old hometown. We had rented a chateau in France. We were going back to Hawaii to rent the submarine that was used in the TV show "Lost" which has now been turned into an AirBnB (I'm sure it actually hasn't). I told him I had rented one of those homes perched on pilings over a lagoon in Fiji. I even told him I had rented a palapa on a beach in Mexico with hammocks for beds, which was about as close as I ever got to the truth. I told him we were going to Cuba, where I'd rented a '57 Ford Fairlane, and I told him that we were finally going to use the 3 night stay at a beach house my mother had gifted us for our wedding anniversary at Ken Kesey's home in Yachats.


It was at that point that Eddie proudly announced that he had everything figured out.

The Yachats Theory


His hypothesis - and it was a good one, I'll give him that - was that we were going to drive to the Oregon Coast, stay with his sister near Coos Bay for a few days before driving up to Yachats to the Key-Sea Koast House, and then continuing on to visit his nieces and nephews in Astoria, one of whom had just provided Eddie with a new grand nephew that had still been cooking in the oven the last time Uncle Eddie visited his family.  I told him I could neither confirm nor deny, which had become my standard answer whenever queried about the trip, which was about every 3 minutes.

To prove his hypothesis, when I was out of the room, Eddie started a con game of his own. He called his sister and proclaimed that I had come clean with the whole secret, and told him about our travel plans. His sister did her best to seem shocked that he knew everything, then said she couldn't wait to see us. Then when I was home, Eddie Face Timed his sister while I was in the room, and laughed gleefully as he told me that he'd tricked her into acknowledging our trip to see her, proving his hypothesis. Then it was my turn to play shocked, as I told his sister, "How could you fall for his ruse, Laura?! You were supposed to neither confirm nor deny!" and then I played hurt, bummed that Eddie had, once again, figured out his gift.


The End Game

The night before we left town, I began packing Eddie's bag for him, selecting a mixture of warm and cool weather clothing. He too-casually said, "Hey throw my cologne in there, would you?" and I did. To which he replied, "Ha! I knew it! We're definitely not flying to Astoria! The TSA would never allow a bottle that big!" I smiled and said, "Oh, you got me. But I will neither confirm nor deny." And then I added another mental item to my checklist (which included grabbing our passports after he was already in the car warming it up) which was to remember to remove the cologne bottle from his bag as we headed to the airport, and give him his only physical birthday gift this year, a travel sized bottle of Armani Code I had purchased from Macy's that day. Because I know my husband and I'm hep to all of his tricks.

I let him pack our winter coats and boots. I let him heft an armload of bottled water and snacks out to the car. And I told him he couldn't bring the dogs, because NO, and let him think that it was because pets aren't allowed at the vacation rental. Eddie's sister texted him that she couldn't wait to see us, and she'd been getting our room prepared. Then she sent a few random photos of plants in her yard, showing Eddie all the hard work she'd been doing landscaping. All part of the con.

Visiting my family in Ashland that evening, Eddie continued to brag to everyone he came into contact with that he had figured out our plans. He told my daughter's boyfriend, who said, "Wait. I thought you guys were going to Cuba. You're not going to Cuba?" He thanked my mom for the gift of the beach house stay, and my mom said, "You know, there's more than one bedroom, you could take me with you." I finally played the last card in my hand by saying, "You know, I'm okay with getting an early start. So we can leave as early as you want tomorrow morning," before yawning and heading off to bed at 9pm. Because I knew how early that alarm clock was going to ring.

3am

"It's go time," I proclaimed as I shut off the alarm. "Time to get up."
Eddie asked me what time it was (I misdirected, with "It's early, I couldn't sleep."). He said he needed a few more minutes, and I obliged him as I hastily dressed in the dark and got everything ready, but by 3:15 Eddie was already in the car, warming it up. Ready to head to the coast. I came out, sat in the passenger seat, and as he started to put the car in reverse, I said, "Honey, you need to get out of the car."
He told me to quit playing. Told me to fasten my seat belt and shut the door so we could leave. I told him he needed to come out to the back of the car and help me with something. He grumpily got out of the car and into the rainy night. Standing under the carport, I handed him the little red Macy's bag with the cologne and said, "Here's your birthday present, now take the other bottle of cologne out of your bag, then turn off the car, and put the keys in the house. We're not driving."

Eddie was dumbfounded.

In fact, he simply didn't believe me. He told me to stop playing again, said there was no use playing this game any longer because he KNEW where we were going, and it was freezing out so let's go. I grabbed his phone, started to film him, and said, "Do you think your sister and I don't have you pegged?" And I'll just let the video below speak for itself...but beware, there are a few uncharacteristic F-bombs dropped by my sleepy, impatient, bewildered husband in his hazy state of denial:



Eddie was still sitting in the car, engine on, when the shuttle van came around the corner two minutes later. I wish I still had the camera going, because that's when he realized that his theory wasn't correct, and that he really didn't have a clue about what was happening. His first reaction? "I gotta poop." And he ran back inside.

I greeted the shuttle driver and he started grabbing our bags. When we arrived at the airport, Eddie tried to bribe the the guy into telling him where we were going, and the driver said, "Dude, I got no clue where you're headed." And of course, he did. I'd told him as we were transferring our bags from car to van, removing the cologne, winter coats and anything else I knew we didn't need for the trip.

Because I had sneakily checked us in the night before, and had our boarding passes digitally downloaded onto my phone, Eddie still didn't know where we were headed as we went through TSA screening at the airport, but knew we were headed northbound via Portland when we got in line to head out to board the plane. He asked me where we were going. I asked him, "I don't know, where ARE we going?" He said, "Either we're going to Hawaii, or Alaska."


When we arrived in Portland, Eddie said he thought we might be renting a car and driving down the Oregon Coast instead of up. Then I headed to another gate (honest mistake!) that was boarding a flight to Honolulu, but got directions to the correct place and finally boarded a flight headed in the right direction, to Los Angeles.

It wasn't until we were landing in L.A. and I pulled our passports out of the secret pocket sewn in my purse that Eddie found out where we were headed, and then he didn't believe me. Thought I was still misleading him. Then suddenly we were in the plane, headed to Mazatlan, and Eddie advanced into the next state of dumbfounded disbelief that he'd been had.


By the time we'd landed in Mazatlan however, Eddie had retained his earlier smugness, proclaiming that at least he was going to experience Mazatlan before his sister did, since she always vacations a few hours south, in Puerto Vallarta.


I let him think that, until the moment we walked through the gates of the resort, and a bell hop greeted us with "Buenos tardes, you are meeting friends?"
"No," said Eddie confidently. "We're here alone."
"Actually," I said, "We're not meeting friends. But we are meeting family."
It was then that Eddie's sister came around the corner, all smiles and already tan. She'd beaten us to Mazatlan by a week, and while she was indeed getting our room ready for us, it was our oceanfront condo, not the hideaway bed in the basement.

The look on Eddie's face at that moment was worth everything Laura and I did. He was stupified. The man who made it his mission to always figure out was going on so that there were never any surprises, was surprised. The whole way. This was one present that stayed wrapped until his birthday, even though it took the help of literally every human I came into contact with for a month to pull it off. And now Eddie knows just how far his sister and I are willing to go to pull off a long con.


It was a glorious week. The sound of the surf was so loud that we had to close the sliding door at night so we could sleep. The fresh banana margaritas were delicious enough that I could sip on them all day long in the pool, and weak enough that I never had a hangover, and the gracious and kind staff appreciated my attempts to recall four years of high school Spanish classes (¡ Muchas gracias, seƱora Brewold!).

We launched another surprise on Eddie when Eddie's friend Luis - a native Mexican - showed up a few days later with his family, increasing our group to seven. Then we grew to nine when more family from Guanajuato showed up. A third of us spoke only English, a few spoke only Spanish, and a few of us spoke in varying levels of both languages. That was when the fun really started, because we were living life like a Mexican on vacation showing off for his family (because that's exactly what was going on).

Half of our gang: my partner in crime Laura,
la chiquita Layla, la abuela, Blanca y yo

The gang ended up (more than once) in the back of a pick up truck outfitted with benches, a cooler full of Pacifico Clara and a big bag of chicharrones, singing Mexican songs at the top of our lungs (as well as making up my own lyrics to Despacito after hearing it for maybe the 8th time) while driving around the city. We ended up surrounded by two mariachi bands (because uno mariachi band was apparently not enough) who serenaded us while we put away huge platters of ceviche y pescado at a restaurant with tables in the middle of the street across from a car wash, and I have a vague memory of singing karaoke on our last noche en Mazatlan to one of the canciones I was exposed to during that lovely semana en Mexico that - lo mismo que yo - gets the point across in a blend of English y Espanol, and just happens to reference driving around in a truck with chicharrones and having a very very good time! You'll hear a version of that song, "Las Mulas de Moreno" kicking off the accompanying Mazatlan Long Con playlist below, filled with the music of Mexico that I was surrounded with as part of the incredible pay off to the Mazatlan Long Con. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to share your favorite songs of Mexico as well in the comments section below.

A short note to my tale: Now that we're back from Eddie's birthday surprise trip, he's seemed a little worried over the past couple of days. My birthday is less than two weeks ago, and Eddie says he just doesn't know how he'll be able to come close to topping his birthday present. Plus, all he got me was a new pair of boots. At least I'm pretty sure that's what's in the box.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#MeToo.


Me too. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know if you're a regular reader of this column. You already know about a handful of experiences I've had, starting at the age of 8, where men took advantage of their position of privilege and assumed superiority to make extraordinarily inappropriate and lewd sexual suggestions, because I shared them a year ago this very week in The Trouble With Boobs. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again, because it is just as relevant - if not more relevant - today.

And of course you know why it's so relevant, unless you've been held hostage in Afghanistan for the last few years or have spent time running for your life from a raging wildfire recently. If so, you're excused. But pretty much everyone else has heard by now about the rich and powerful man in the entertainment history who was caught on audiotape saying some very sexually inappropriate things, followed by scores of women coming out of the woodwork to say that they had been assaulted and pressured sexually by this same man. The fallout from the exposure of that tape has been massive. 

For Harvey Weinstein, famous Hollywood producer and studio boss who was caught red handed trying to pressure a woman into a sexual situation with him in his hotel room, the fallout has included the opening of several criminal investigations, being fired from his job, losing his wife, coming under fire from his children, being expelled from the Academy, and finally landing in a rehab facility to be treated for sex addiction. The fallout for Weinstein has landed squarely and solidly onto his shoulders in a spectacular fashion.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think I was talking about that other famous rich and powerful man in entertainment who was caught on tape talking about pressuring women sexually, followed by scores of women saying that they had also been assaulted and sexually harassed by this man? The fallout for that guy was being promoted to President of the United States by the electoral college (I think it's important to always remember that 'we the people' didn't elect Donald Trump. By several million votes, 'we' elected Hillary Clinton. The electoral college elected Donald Trump). The fallout for Pussygate has fallen directly onto us. Or, to stick to the theme of this column, it's been forced upon us like a tongue down the throat after a bad date.

But there is some good news. At least that's how I'm going to look at it. Bear with me. I'll get there, eventually.

In the past, many men accused of sexual assault have blamed the victim. In fact victims have been blamed for raping and abuse for eons. Maybe its because - caught red handed -Weinstein admitted to his behavior, admitted it was wrong, and never tried to blame his victims. He is (for the most part) accepting total responsibility for his actions. But the Weinstein situation has opened the floodgates to a wave of women who are coming forward with stories of their own sexual assault. It's shining a big spotlight on just how prevalent sexual assault, abuse, harrassment and humiliation is.


Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for getting the #MeToo movement to go viral on Twitter and Facebook less than a week ago. Since then, other Hollywood heavies have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Jennifer Lawrence. Reese Witherspoon. Angelina Jolie. Jessica Chastain. Gwyneth Paltrow. Rosanna Arquette. Cara Delevingne. Lady Gaga. Rose McGowan (especially Rose McGowan).

But what's more important is the millions - yeah, millions - of other women who are speaking up and sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The official statistics say that 1 in 6 American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. But looking at the staggering number of my own friends sharing their #MeToo stories, I think those statistics are off by a long shot. Especially because women I'm close to that have privately shared horrific stories of sexual abuse (especially by trusted family members) have not made those stories public by sharing. And that's ok. Its not ok to pressure women into sexual situations they aren't comfortable with, and its not ok to pressure them into publicly sharing something that causes them great pain if they don't want to. I even joked on Facebook that it might be easier to ask women to post a status saying #NeverMe to make easier to see how few people haven't been assaulted or harassed (so far exactly two of my acquaintances have done that).

In the meantime, I've seen #MeToo posts from Julie. Hilary. Gretchen. Kate. Buffy. Lisa. Haley. Lyn. Melyssa. Linda. Jennifer. Chellie. Ashley. China. Sue. Keri. Quincy. Gini. Jean Marie. Ursula. Kimberly. Carrie. Noelle. Amber. Rhonda. Laurie. Angela. Pogo. Sarah. Mimi. Anna. Dee. Lori. Francie. Jan. Brandi. Laura. Amy. Danica. Debra. Rachel. Judy. Jenny. Maggie. Dana. Dondi. And another Linda, another Amber, another Angela, another Julie and another Jan. By the time you read this I know the list will have grown longer. And each of their posts are followed by a long stream of hundreds of comments echoing similar situations.

A few of their stories:

"I was 21 I had just graduated from community college with my certificate in cosmetology and was a brand new bride.  As I stepped into the hallway en route to the bathroom, the owner of the neighboring business also entered the hallway. We exchanged our typical morning greetings when suddenly he stopped and turned back towards me. "So, where were you yesterday?" he asked me. "Remember? It was my birthday so I took the afternoon off?" He smiled a strange smile and then stepped in close to me. In an instant, both hands reached for the wall behind my head as he pushed his pelvis and entire body into mine, trapping me against the wall. He leaned in and pressed his lips hard into mine before he thrust his tongue in my mouth. After a 2 - 3 second assault, he stepped back and with a gleam in his eye said something to the effect of, "yeah, I forgot to give you that. Happy Birthday." I was terrified, I was disgusted, I was humiliated and I felt dirty. And for a variety of reasons, I internalized the situation as being my fault. That somehow I had earned the right to be violated. And because of this, I told one person but then kept my silence. This was not the first time I was sexually assaulted in my life. Nor was it my last."

"First time I was 12 and blamed myself. Hard to write this." 

"In 7th grade I was lying on a family beach in Hawaii with my best friend, who noticed that a guy about 12 feet away was watching us and masturbating. We got up immediately and wrapped ourselves in our beach towels and walked away grossed out.
* In 8th grade the dad I babysat for drunk-drove me home and put his hand on my leg and tried to kiss me. The next week when his wife called me to sit again, I said no and told her why.
* In 9th grade there was a classmate who in the hallways grabbed girls by the pussy. He got away with that.
* In 10th grade I worked in a country store on a poultry farm, and the guy who delivered eggs from the barns told me if I didn't watch out he would take me into the freezer. I told the boss's wife, and he was banned from the store."

"I still remember the very first time I became aware of sexual harassment. I was very young and my mom was pushing me around the grocery store in the shopping cart. I began to notice her behaving oddly as she kept looking over her shoulder and tried to choose aisles in the store that this strange man was not already occupying. But he continued to follow us around the store, exposing himself to us from beneath his long coat.
And in case you think this is an isolated incident, something similar happened only a couple years ago when I was on a date with a 41-year-old man. When I politely turned down his multiple advances after our date he proceeded to pull his penis out of his pants and tried to force it on me."

"I was one of the 40% of employees that were subject to this in the National Park Service. In addition to sexual harassment, I faced extreme workplace bullying because of being a woman. When I fought back, work life because ugly and no one even at the regional or national levels would take my complaints seriously. "It's just part of working in a man's world," is what I heard a lot. Bull$hit! I hope my daughter never has to deal with this and I will raise my son to never participate in that kind of misogynistic culture."

"I was on Canner St. walking from my apartment toward Yale Divinity School to start my shift at the Circulation Desk at the YDS Library when it happened. Walked 2 more blocks to school, and decided to call the campus Police in case it would keep the guy from doing it to someone else. I still think of walking this block. That day the campus Police took a report. That was that.
I was/am so lucky to have such strong support structures in my life. It is my responsibility to teach my son to treat all people with respect."

I did say there was some good news in all this, right? OK. Take a look at the last sentence of the last two stories. These are women with sons. Women who are empowered and motivated - with loving, woke partners fortunately - to raise their sons to be better people than the generations of men before them. Because that is what it's going to take. To raise our boys to be respectful of others' sexuality, and raise our girls to be confident that they are worthy of that respect.

I believe we're already shifting in that direction, because as I talk to my daughter about sexual trends in college, she tells me that it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to get an acknowledgement of mutual consent before two (or more) people engage in sexual activity. That gives me great hope. I think we have the ability to raise our children to understand that they can achieve success in life without being coerced or forced into sexual situations they don't want to be in, and that they can achieve success without forcing or coercing others into a sexual situation. It's happening already, we just need to keep the ball rolling.

Also, another important hashtag is starting to make the rounds on social media, and it's an important one. #ItWasMe. Men who's eyes have been seriously opened by reading the stories shared by women around the nation are now reflecting on their own sexual history, and owning up to behaviors that they've always known were wrong. A couple of my male friends have expressed just that over the past few days, and I hope they understand that it doesn't make me think worse of them. Instead, I feel they have become more enlightened, and are ready to be part of the solution. For that, I respect them more. Here's a few examples:

"I have touched without consent. I have been complicit in my silence. I have pushed people past their comfort zones. I have objectified women. I have benefited from a misogynist culture. I am sorry. #ItWasMe"

"I am so proud of all the woman in my life publicly declaring "me too."
I struggled with whether I would post my own. Publicly admitting victimization is so hard, and I stand with the women who have come forward and those that haven't. But, honestly I think as a man its more important to say "IT WAS ME." Its a harder thing to admit. But this is our part as men. Patriarchy gives us a privilege that women will never know. And while I am a gay man, I know I have harassed woman; even if inadvertent, unintentional, joking, or in kinship. So for every bra I unsnapped, or ass I've slapped, or comment I have made on appearance. For every "hey slut," or "hey hoe", or sexual joke... I am sorry. This a behavior that paves the way for worse harassment. Its a new world and time to change."

 "I'm seeing many brave women (and some men) posting "Me Too" signifying that they have been victims of sexual harassment or abuse. Although I have also been harassed what stands out to me is that I have been a perpetrator. Maybe some fellas will look at their behavior as well. I'm not proud but unfortunately I HAVE."

I want to acknowledge that this is not simply a male/female issue. There are women in power who abuse it, taking sexual advantage and putting pressure on those beneath them. And the victim is not always a woman, nor a member of the opposite sex. This is a global sexual issue about not respecting boundaries.  However, since the beginning of time males have dominated the world in terms of power (white heterosexual males in particular), and although the scales have shifted somewhat to give power to others, these males still dominate the world in a position of privilege and power, and therefore still lead the way as the largest abusers of their position of power. If you don't like what I'm saying, chances are you're probably a straight white dude.

Straight white dudes, you've had your time, and look what you've done with it. The world has not become a better place with you in charge of it. I'm not saying all straight white dudes are bad people, of course. Some of my best friends are straight white dudes. I married one. But you know what he did on our first date? That man - who will be the first to admit that he is as straight and white and ape-brained as they come - asked me if he could kiss me. While sitting two feet away from me. He never touched me until he knew that I absolutely wanted to be touched by him. It wasn't unsexy, and it didn't take the fun out of it. But ultimately, it's why I married him. Because I knew he respected me enough to make absolutely sure I was cool with it, because he didn't want to fuck up the chance to be with me.

But I'm digressing a little bit again. Getting back to the point, things are shifting again right now. Women are becoming more empowered. They're still trying to figure out just how many women participated in the Women's March in January 2017, but so far their best estimate is around 4.5 million. Taylor Swift kicked some serious ass on a radio DJ who thought he could get away with grabbing hers and proved that she is not just a pretty voice, she is a strong woman who demands respect. I wonder what will happen next. Maybe next we'll be ready for a president with a vagina, instead of one who likes to grab women by the vagina. #SophiaMiller2032 #beengroomingmydaughtersince1997


The last time I wrote about sexual assault and harrassment, I couldn't curate a playlist. It just didn't seem right to set my own person humiliations to music. But this time things feel different. I guess I feel that not only am I part of a movement that is gaining ground, but we're growing bigger because even those who have never suffered - those who have been part of the problem in the past - are now joining with us, wanting to make things better in the future. So it seems like the perfect time to share a streaming #MeToo Playlist on Spotify featuring women artists with some incredibly fierce and empowering songs.

 I don't want to force it on you though. I'm just putting it out there, and hey, if you like what I'm puttin' down, think about picking it up and consenting to a good time for your ears!



Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Pedestrian Never Wins


I feel bad about it, but I honestly wasn't paying attention. When Hurricane Harvey was blowing down houses, killing families and turning entire towns into lakes, I didn't even know. When the Helena fire ripped through Trinity county and people were literally jumping from cliffs to escape the flames that devoured almost 80 houses in a matter of hours, I had no idea. People kept asking me if I'd heard about what happened in North Korea, and my response was "Huh?"

A crap ton of other catastrophes happened the last week of August and on into the first week of September as well, and none of it was on my radar. Our trainwreck of a President made two racist announcements: that he'd pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and next on his agenda was shutting down the Dream Act (and all this right after he signed a directive to ban transgender military troops). And then Hurricane Irma came knocking.

Trying to catch up on the news for just one week has left me feeling completely ignorant, but I think I have a pretty good excuse. The entire world pretty much stopped turning for me and my entire family the day my mom entered battle with a Honda Accord.

It was a matchup like Mayweather vs. MacGregor. In this case the Honda was Mayweather, my mom, Gigi, was MacGregor. Car vs. Pedestrian. And she never saw it coming. TKO. But mom says she'll always remember the horrific feeling of being slammed into unexpectedly, that jolt she experienced just before she lost consciousness. She was crossing Pearl Street a few Wednesdays ago, in Eugene to volunteer planning a fundraising gala for Ophelia's Place, a non-profit that supports and empowers young teenage women. Then she woke up on the pavement with broken bones. Everything was bruised, she was bleeding from the head with holes in her clothes, her bra was cut off (and it was a really nice bra), and  her ruby red toenail polish was scraped off. But when a pedestrian enters the ring with a car, the pedestrian never wins.

It was a teenager that hit her. A sixteen-year old driving his mom's Honda in the left lane of a one-way street with a speed limit of 25 mph. We're guessing he might have been going about that fast when he hit my mom, who had almost reached the other side of the street when the lights went out. We don't know yet what the real circumstances were. Did he not see her because she, just like the street, was covered in black material? Did he see her and just think she'd get out of the way because - duh - he's bigger? Was he distracted by Snapchat, a Facebook post, or a text from a friend? We have no idea. What we do know is that my eighty two year old mom is lucky to be alive, and lucky that doctors were able to repair her fractured tibia just below the knee where his bumper connected with her leg, and her broken humerus just beneath the left shoulder. She has a total of seventeen deck screws holding those parts of her body together. To quote my husband, "We always knew your mom was tough as nails. Now we have the X-rays to prove it."


Our family has been relying on humor to get us through this devastating course of events. Turns out that making someone laugh is a really good way to get things going when one has a bedpan underneath them. Another fun fact: turns out my mom has a really dirty sense of humor. I put a request out there on Facebook asking my friends for a few good jokes to share with mom as I sat by her hospital bedside for 3 days, and her favorite was: Why does the Easter Bunny hide his eggs? Cause he doesn't want anyone to know he's been doin' the chickens.

  Since the accident, my sister and I have been taking turns staying by our mother's side. She took the first 3 days, when mom was flying on morphine and undergoing surgeries, talking with doctors and getting the facts about how long they thought it would be before mom could walk again (a year). I took the next 3, driving 5 hours north and spending hours on the phone with eight insurance companies, trying to figure out how to advocate for my mom and figure out how to start planning for the long year ahead of her.

 I won't go into all of the dirty details involved with advocating for someone's care right now, but what I've learned over the past few weeks is that it's exhausting to love someone as much as they need to be loved during a catastrophic illness or injury, but it's the most important thing you can do for someone you love. And it is not a thankless job. Every day my mother tells us how much she appreciates her daughters and everyone who has visited or sent a card or care package.

The family has been rallying around her, and the nurses say my mom has the liveliest room in the place since she transferred from the hospital in Eugene to a skilled nursing facility in Ashland. We all showed up for a big pizza party and football game last weekend because if Gigi can't go to the party, the party goes to Gigi. We ended up shutting the door and setting up a big fan in the corner to help circulate all the hot air that had gathered in one room and cheered the Ducks to victory. It's probably a good thing my mom doesn't have a roommate right now.

Mom will stay at the rehab place until she's well enough to continue the healing in her own home, hopefully within a few months and after a few modifications to the house. My mom will survive. Gigi's got things to do, places to go, and charitable fundraisers to organize. She wants to be independently mobile again in the worst way possible, and is operating at 120% of her brain capacity. That's why we call her Tenacious G.

Mom's favorite CNA, John, teacher her how to transfer from bed to wheelchair.
 So that's why I wasn't really paying attention when the rest of the world burned up, flooded out and fell apart, but I had some important stuff going on. But I've fund that trying to catch up on all the news that happened during that time is a little overwhelming. Good thing I've got a playlist full of wind, rain, firestorms, broken limbs and speeding cars. And there's even a few filled with North Korean political intrigue, I hope you'll check out the Spotify playlist below. Maybe you've got your own songs about all the crazy events going on in the world these days, and I'll be happy to entertain them in the comments section below. And if you've got a good joke to share, Gigi would still like to hear it, although she has graduated to a bedside commode now with the help of something called a transfer pole. But I like to tell people that my mother is learning how pole dance.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Breathe


I've known Caroline since we were both student volunteers at Jefferson Public Radio back in the 80's. While I continued to stay on the radio path, Caroline has gone on to accomplish pretty much everything she's ever set her mind to, which - after a stint working in radio - has included a career as a corporate jet pilot, achieving a masters degree in Business Administration, renovating a house and publishing two children's books while raising a couple of children on her own. In fact she did all that at the same time.

If she sounds familiar to you, it might because I've written about her before. More than once. I think that's because of all the people I know, Caroline is the one who isn't afraid to take the bull by the horns, assess the situation when things aren't going as expected, chart a new course and then set sail, pretty much always ending up at her destination using her own self-propelled steamroller. Goals achieved. So you can see why I have mad respect for this woman (and the parents who raised her, God bless 'em).
Caroline at her previous job. Holding on, and holding her breath.
The only thing is, she forgot to breathe.  Or just never had time. Until now. And now, she has become an expert in just letting go.

For the first time as long as I've known her - for more than thirty years - Caroline is unemployed. And loving it.  Her kids may be loving it even more than she is, because finally, for the first time in their lives, they've got a full time mom. She's there every night to tuck her seven year old daughter into bed and kiss her good night in person. Instead of packing her suitcase every couple of weeks to fly off to Africa or Australia, this mom is packing the car with her son's musical equipment to take him to open mic night to help not only encourage his artistic passion, but to be a part of it.

The whole family gets into the open mic night at Creek Monkey Taphouse.
She's also breathing. Which is a major part of letting go. Or, as Caroline says, "enjoying the ride." And it's not that my friend has stopped setting goals for herself. She's just charted a course that is completely unlike any other journey she's been on in her life, and it's all about healing her Chakra, letting go, stretching her boundaries and her body, and getting her OM on.

The first thing my friend did after ditching the corporate jet pilot gig that left her life "a little bit crazier and more unpredictable every day" was to sign up for Yoga House Co.'s 200 hour Yoga teacher training course in Benicia, CA. She says she did it because she thought it would be a good way to transition from that two decade corporate jet pilot career to her next educational goal, going back to school to get another Master’s degree and a whole new career as a Counseling Psychologist.  "Yep, it’s an odd path for sure," she says, "but going through an intense Yoga training course is the perfect antidote to the stresses of life."

From here on out, I'm just going to let Caroline tell you - in her own words - about the brain and body bending journey that her Yoga teacher training course took her on, and let her introduce today's relaxing yet invigorating playlist that she put together.

"The whole experience turned out to be one of the most beautiful, lovely, and mind expanding things I have ever done for myself.  I formed deep friendships with several of my classmates.  I was able to see life from new perspectives, and practice approaching the ups and downs of life with more ease and equanimity.  And it whipped my physical body into shape. So many gifts have come my way through this training over the past three months! 

One of the parts I enjoyed the most as I was preparing to teach my hour long Vinyasa Yoga class was creating a playlist.  It brought me back to my roots, as a DJ during college at Jefferson Public Radio – spinning New Age hits before and after the Hearts of Space feed on Sunday evenings and as a World Music show host on Fridays.  It’s so interesting how these old skills (and my love for music) came back into use again as I pursue an entirely different direction – 20 years later.  

So, I invite you to take a time out this weekend. Sit back and relax, or get your OM on as you listen to some of my favorite tunes to support a Yoga practice.  Move with the ones that move you, or just sit and chill out to a few of these tunes this weekend.  However you use them, I hope that this music brings you a little bit of peace and happiness.  It probably goes without saying that we could all use more of those two feelings today -- and every day!"

And don't forget to breathe!

Press the play arrow below or click here to access Caroline's Breathe Playlist on Spotify, and let me know what tunes help you relax or heal your mind and body in the comments section below.

Namaste!


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer Love


Have you ever had one of those moments when you fell in love all over again? Not with your lover (although that did happen to me, and I'm forever grateful that I had the chance to get those butterflies again with the same incredible man), but with your town?

That happened to me recently, and it makes me wonder if I'm the only one, or if any of you have become disenchanted with your community, and then suddenly things clicked into place, and BAM! Butterflies. Ear to ear grin. Total contentment. Pure bliss. I'm in love with Redding, and want to shower its face with kisses.

I find it odd that its the littlest things that can make me fall in - and out - of love with the place I choose to live like the flip of a switch. For me, when the dispatcher who fielded our 911 call asking for help when drug selling squatters took up residence in the house next to mine told me that the police weren't going to come, I fell out of love immediately. The city I loved so much didn't love me back. At least that's what it felt like. The switch in my heart (I'm convinced I have one) flipped off. And it stayed that way for awhile.

And then I had a moment last week that flipped my switch back on. And again, it was just the simplest moment.

It was Thursday. I was floating in my friend Carey's pool while she played bartender, bringing out Moscow Mules with fresh mint and fruit. Her husband grilled up sliders, and we feasted on a refreshing arugula and watermelon salad - my new favorite thing. In fact here's the recipe, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa:



I digress.

I was surrounded by some of my favorite women; the women that I trust and enjoy. The conversation was delightful and fun. The water was perfect. So perfect.

Then another friend Destiny asked, "Have you heard this?" and played her new favorite song of the summer. And then she played another. And then someone else suggested their new favorite song of summer. Within 30 seconds we were all bopping around like a water aerobics class at the Y. I've never felt more 50 than I just did when I imagined what you must be imagining, but I don't care. You know why? Because I'm in love. And it happened in the blink of an eye. I caught feels for summer. For my friends. For my town. Gave me even more love for my husband, my family and my job. But especially for the place I've called home for the past fifteen years.

I didn't realize it right away. It wasn't until I was on the drive home. I rolled all the windows down to dry my hair,  and I realized that I was smiling so wide my mouth was open, and I was singing at top volume to another new song on the radio - one that JPR is playing every single day - the one that has become my personal favorite hit of the Summer of Seventeen. (It's the 2nd song on today's playlist, "Feel It Still" by a band called Portugal. The Man. More on them and their backstory later, because I have a whole nuther cool story to tell you at a later date that came out of the discovery of this song).


Something happens to me when I'm in love. People know it. I can't hide it, nor do I want to. And since that moment I have woken up earlier in the morning, happy to get up and see what the day is going to bring. I brought my car into the Subaru dealership for an oil change, and made a new friend. A picked up the phone at work twice this week and made new friends. Suddenly I love everyone, and everyone's delightful and pleasant. I even left my phone in the bathroom at Lowe's, didn't realize it until I got to Grocery Outlet, and I made a new friend in the parking lot who let me use her phone to call Lowe's...and I even got my phone back.

Things are just falling into place. And I think it has a lot to do with the love revival I'm experiencing with Redding right now. I think people respond differently to someone who has a genuine smile on their face and is content with themselves and their life, and right now that person is me.

Things are good. Blissful. I feel at peace. And I think it all starts with me and my attitude. And the music of summer. I know I've said this a million times, but music has always transported me. If I'm in a bad mood, a kickass song can give me that attitude adjustment I need so badly. I also mark moments of my life by the music I listen to, and if  you were to look through my iTunes playlists, you'd see "Summer of 2008" "Summer of 2009" and now...Summer of Seventeen. All I need to hear is one snippet of a song from any of those collections, and I immediately know which summer that playlist is from, and I'm taken right back to that moment in time, to what I was wearing, what I was doing, and what I was feeling.

Think on that...the songs that made your summers special. But while you're doing it, hit the play button on the streaming Summer of Seventeen playlist on Spotify, and share your ultimate songs of summer in the comments section below, and the memories they bring back. I know I'm not the only one.

 



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hair Of The Dog



This may turn out to be the most appropriately titled column of my writing career.

I love a good martini. I even have my own leopard spotted hand blown glass goblet that I'm especially fond of drinking them from. A birthday present from my dear friends Ray & Kathleen years ago that no one else is allowed to touch.

It was that glass - the one that I always wash by hand - that I grabbed last Sunday evening, to make my favorite summer martini as I prepared to sit down to watch the two hour season finale of Fear The Walking Dead.

What is my favorite summer martini, you ask? I call it the Tropical Lemon Drop. Sounds delicious, right? It is. Believe me, it is. When made correctly. I'll tell you how to make it (and how NOT to make it) below, although I don't really follow an exact recipe. I wouldn't have been able to read it anyway.

I should back up a moment to tell you one important little detail about this story: I have really bad vision. I usually wear thick, tri-focal glasses, and occasionally wear contact lenses (as I was that day), but they are purely for distance. I can't sew, do crossword puzzles or read the measurements in a recipe unless my purple Dollar Tree glasses are perched on my nose. And I didn't have those handy last Sunday.

Back to the story.
The subject of my tale.
I drink out of that goblet almost every day, and it's not necessarily just for martinis, it's for all my beverages, because I'm just that fond of this glass.  I had just enjoyed club soda with a twist of mint from my backyard the previous Thursday out of that glass.

Can I halt our story for just one more moment while I take another short diversion? Thinking of the mint in my backyard,  I just want to mention that while I love my backyard and all the delicious things that grow in it, I'm also a little miffed at it these days. This is mainly because the dogs keep coming in from the yard with little burrs stuck in their fur, and I can't quite figure out where the little devils are coming from.

In fact, just last Thursday I spent a good half hour pulling a handful of burrs (and of course a good chunk of hair) off of my thirteen year old Westie's head. He was so dirty, because when its hot outside, he has a tendency to burrow into the dirt. He's basically just creating a cloud of dust, but I suspect he thinks he's digging down to some cooler dirt beneath the top layer of dirt. He could always come inside to chill, but he chooses to wallow in the dirt instead, and come in dusty and covered in burrs. That particular Thursday after I'd drained my club soda and plucked the burrs from Casper, I brought him and my favorite glass into the kitchen and placed both of them on the counter with intentions of giving them each a good washing by hand in the kitchen sink.


OK, let's head back to that cocktail. I grabbed my stainless steel shaker, and filled it with ice. I poured a healthy slug of vodka over it, followed by a splash of coconut liqueur (maybe two splashes), some raspberry lemonade and a squeeze of lime. I shaked it like I was doing the hokey pokey, grabbed my glass which was still next to the sink (well, to be honest its always by the sink if its not in my hand), poured my martini into it, and took my Tropical Lemon Drop into the living room where my favorite show was waiting for me.

I grabbed the remote and pressed play. I grabbed the glass and took a sip. And gagged. And coughed. And may have peed my pants a little bit as I ran to the sink retching and retching and retching.

Friends, don't do what Valerie did. When making your favorite martini in your favorite glass - the one that is so precious it has never seen the inside of the dishwasher - always look inside the glass first to make sure there are no unwanted guests lurking at the bottom.

I know you think there was a tomato worm or cockroach in my glass, but no. The upside of this episode - what Doni would call a cautionary tale - is that I did not have a tomato worm nor a cockroach in my mouth. But there was definitely something in my mouth that should not have been there.

When I took that sip, here's what I experienced. First, a delicious, coconut tinged vodka washed over my tongue. Followed by an unexpected slight hint of earthiness. Then something that felt like a spider web settled into my mouth. All over my mouth. It covered my tongue like a vodka soaked cotton ball, and tried to force its way down my throat like a bad first date. Then I crunched down on something soft, yet spiky. Like a seed. Or a burr. A burr attached to a lot of dirty dog hair. It took me a second to realize what I'd done, but as soon as I did, I ran for the sink.
It was then that I remembered that as I was picking burrs off my dog a few days earlier, I had placed each burr (and the tangle of hair that came with them) into my empty goblet, knowing that I was about to wash it. At least I intended to wash it. Only I decided to wash the dog first, and then promptly forgot all about washing the glass, and there it sat, until I returned home Sunday evening. If I wasn't blinded by my contact lenses, I might have seen the clump of stuff in the bottom of my glass. Instead, I was completely unaware as I took that first sip of the dirtiest martini of my life.

Hair of the dog indeed.

This dog.
 After you're done shaking your head and finished being grossed out (I'm still not over it), you might want to make sure there's nothing already taking up residence in the bottom of your glass before preparing your favorite martini, and hitting the play arrow below to stream today's Hair Of The Dog playlist on Spotify. Also, I'm curious to hear your favorite summertime cocktail recipes, or your best gross out tales (which are always a hit at our family dinners)!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

You've Got Mail


Everybody's got their hobby. For some, its golf. For others, scuba diving or mountain climbing. For Wendi Harner, its handwritten letters. I have to hand it to my friend, who may be single-handedly keeping the post office alive in this modern age that has moved us from the swirls of penmanship and licking envelopes to sending instant messages with our thumbs. Writing letters is, as Wendi says, "a dying art."

As for me, I belong to the E-mail generation. It's how I communicate, all day long. But I can't even remember the last time my daughter sent me an E-mail. That's because her generation is almost strictly into texting. Young people her age are so into using their phones to text, that they can't even be bothered to speak into one. In fact her outgoing voicemail message is "Hang up and text me!"

But my friend Wendi sends real mail.  Like actual cards and letters that involve stamps, envelopes, trekking to the mailbox and the U.S. Postal Service. In fact sometimes she just throws it out there to the world and offers to write mail to anyone. "Want snail mail? I am your girl," she posted on Facebook. "Send me your address and I will send you something handwritten." 

And she will. She really will.
Everybody, meet Wendi Harner.
I found out about Wendi's passion for writing letters when I bumped into her in Safeway a few years ago and she asked me how my daughter was doing. We've known Wendi pretty much since Day 1 in Redding. When we enrolled Sophia at West Redding Pre-School, Wendi worked in the infant room. Sophia was with the pre-school kids on the other side of the building with Wendi's daughter Maddie, and a friendship was born between kids and their moms.

Back to that day in Safeway. I told Wendi that Sophia was having a tough time in the dorms because the roommate situation wasn't working out that well, and she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. Wendi asked me if Sophia might appreciate getting some mail. I gave her the address, and she actually sent her a sweet note of support which really made Sophia's day.

Wendi says writing has been one of her favorite things to do since she was in grade school and kept a journal. And around the same time, she grew fond of receiving mail, because her grandmother Iris sent her mail on a regular basis which often included goodies like gum, a few dollars or some stickers. So all of the mail Wendi sends today is decorated with stickers. But where did her passion for sending letters really begin? Well, it all had to do with music.


Wendi's collection of stationary.

"I've always been a music fanatic," Wendi told me. "My dream job was to be a singer, musician or radio DJ, and that is no joke! Remember Star Hits Magazine?" That was a magazine that had articles on popular alternative rock musicians like Adam Ant, the Thompson Twins and The Cure. Wendi says there was a section in the magazine called RSVP where you could write in, listing info about yourself and the music you were interested in. That's how she got her pen pals Susan in New York and Paul in Hawaii. "We still send each other snail mail after 36 years, and we all prefer snail mail over any other means of communication." She also had a pen pal in Kansas during junior high, and another in Egypt that she corresponded with for years until he got married, and told Wendi he wouldn't be able to write to a woman any longer. 
Madison Harner, crafter of homemade postcards.
There's one person Wendi has been corresponding with for years and years who has saved every single letter that she's received. That would be her daughter Madison, who - like my own daughter - is away in Oregon at college. Wendi visited her in Monmouth earlier this month and Maddie showed her a big box of letters...then told her mom it was just ONE of the boxes she's saved! Maddie thinks its pretty awesome that her mom sends letters to people. "She sends letters to a lot of my friends, even when they are as far away as France! Her letters make my day so much better, and I'm happy that she can make someone else's day too."

Unlike my daughter, Maddie actually writes back to her mom sometimes (Wendi says for every ten letters she writes she might get one back), but Maddie prefers to talk on the phone - which is also pretty rare these days for a person on the cusp of 21. But Maddie is starting to pick up some of her mother's passion. She says she prefers sending postcards to letters, and although her postcard of choice is to send something from an Oregon state park, she also likes to get crafty and make homemade postcards. 




Wendi gets immense personal satisfaction putting pen to paper, and says it's kind of cathartic. "Often I envision the person I'm writing to opening their mailbox and finding something delightfully positive among the pile of advertisements and bills."

Wendi says she sent over 25 pieces of snail mail last week, which might be a personal record. But she's got an ulterior motive right now. There's an entire movement dedicated to sending supportive and encouraging letters to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Wendi is all about kicking cancer's ass. So she's asking everyone she knows to join her in writing a letter of support through Girls Love Mail. Its a simple concept... you write a letter or two and send it to someone you don't know. But you at least know that this person has been diagnosed with cancer. Girls Love Mail bundles them and sends them along to cancer care centers. The staff then makes sure that your letter offering peace, support, love and well wishes will make its way into the hands of a woman who has just been giving some pretty awful news. Wendi even promises that for every one letter written by folks she's invited, she'll write another two. So don't let this girl down. She needs to break last week's record!

While you sit down and put pen to paper, let me entertain you with some music to write letters by. Just click on the play arrow in the embedded You've Got Mail Playlist below, or listen to it directly by clicking on the link. And let Wendi know if you've taken her up on the Girls Love Mail initiative with a comment below. It'd make her day. Also, if you know someone who's day Wendi could make with some  handwritten mail, all she needs is the address!