Social Distancing for Dummies & Selfish People….

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King

Every couple of days, I have been reaching out to family and friends just to check-in, say hello, send something funny, make sure they haven’t resorted to eating a family member,  the usual.

Yesterday, I called a friend.

Side note:  I avoid talking on the phone like it’s COVID-19.  My introverted self could probably spend the rest of my life never talking to another living soul beyond those I live with.  So calling, means that I am trying, REALLY, REALLY, hard to show up for those I love.

Anyway, I called, because this particular friend doesn’t love to text.  She is the social butterfly to my hermit.  While I naturally flock to the darkest corner of the room, where I might blend in with the furnishings, carpet, wallpaper….she heads straight to the center and holds court.  People fill her up.  She possesses every social grace, says all the right things and never once has she held someone hostage talking about dry wall  (Me: 2003 at a company function while chatting with the Chief Operations Officer at my then company).

Side note:  I don’t even know that much about dry wall, but I apparently knew enough to fill sixty-minutes of conversation….only, I don’t think you can call it “conversation” if you are the only one doing the talking.  I think you’d call that, maybe, word assault.

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When my friend answered, I could tell right away that she was fuming about something, or maybe chewing on a femur.

“Hey, what’s going on?”  I asked.  “You know that cannibalism is still frowned upon, right?” 

She ignored me, like the true conversation artist that she is, and redirected our chat to saner waters.

“I’m watching my idiot neighbors have a block party,” she said.

“Wait, what?”  I responded.  “Are you serious?”

“Yep, they’ve got music going, red solo cups in hand, their kids are all wrestling and running around together….pretty sure someone is sparking up a grill.”

“Wow,” I said.  “I didn’t realize you moved to a place without televisions, or computers, or newspapers, or Facebook, or….humans….did you relocate to a new planet?” 

“Nope, I’m still here, in the burbs, wishing I had the materials to board up my house, because if Zombies are next, these people are for sure going to be among the first and I’m surrounded.”

“Well, I hope they’re the slow zombies, at least.”  I said.  “Like the one’s from Walking Dead.  Not like the one’s in Zombieland.  Those bastards are fast.”

“Hang on a second,” she said.  Then I could hear her yell, presumably out of a window, “You should Google social distancing!  You are all doing it wrong!”

“They are totally going to eat you first.”  I said.

Apparently, social distancing is a hard concept for people to grasp.  Nearly every day someone posts a photo to my community Facebook page of a packed local basketball court, playground playdates in progress (despite the fact that our town has made it clear, with public notices and signage that these spaces are closed) and a few days ago, a photo of dozens of people congregating and socializing in the parking lot and at the picnic tables of an ice cream stand that just recently reopened for the season.

I don’t blame the ice cream stand though.  They are a local, small business and I’m sure, like many, they are trying to stay afloat.  But with no ability to manage crowd control and customers who apparently refuse to police themselves, they have now been forced to close since our Governor, and rightfully so, has issued a shelter in place order, effectively closing all businesses that aren’t providing an essential service.

Way to go people!  You just tanked a beloved, local, small business.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

And it’s not just my town, or my friends neighborhood.   I’ve read that beaches are still packed with people.  Spring breakers are partying hard, people are forging ahead with vacation travel plans to popular tourist destinations and in Kentucky, several people apparently attended a Coronavirus themed party.

People.  PEOPLE, people.  

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I don’t know if the issue here is that some just aren’t taking this seriously enough….and/or they assume it’s not enough of a concern to bother with altering daily routines….or they just don’t care….or they truly don’t understand what it means to distance yourself socially and/or to shelter in place.

I would like to assume it’s a simple knowledge gap and not a sign that too many people could give a shit about their fellow humans.

Today, on our community page, an irate townsperson pissed about the expanding closures throughout the state said “So, what….I can’t go for a walk now?”

Yes!  You can go for a walk.  You can hike and ride your bike, go for a run, take a scenic car ride, but your only choice in company at the moment is yourself, or those you currently live with.   And I get it, those people are starting to get on your nerves.  But for now, you can’t escape them to be with your “Quads of Fury” walking club.

Socially distancing, means you don’t stop to shoot the shit with your neighbor about the tragedy that is the closing of Dunks and the loss of Touchdown Tommy to the Buccaneers.  (Life is wicked hard here in New England right now).

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You can go to the grocery store, but you should only go if you really need to.  Ideally, you should take advantage of online ordering with curbside pick-up, or home delivery.  But if you must go into a store, forego man-handling all the produce.  You’ll survive if you don’t get the perfect avocado, or you end up with an apple with a soft spot.

And I know that you might really, really, really want to escape your children, your spouse, your parents, your roommate…and go wander the aisles of a Target, or if you’re like me, a Target and then a Home Depot, or whatever remains open in your area just to catch a break and enjoy a change of scenery.  Trust me, I get it.  My kid has said, “Mommy” no less than eleventy-billion times today and it’s not even noon 1:00 2:00 3:00…. I have been trying to write this post for two days now, because I can only get about two-minutes of “free time” at a time.

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We are all bored and anxious and annoyed and going a bit stir-crazy.  We’re trying to manage jobs, or the loss of a job, while also home schooling and stressing over finances and whether or not we have enough stuff and if it’s time to start rationing TP one square at a time and who the hell we are supposed to be listening to at the moment….world renowned doctors, or the guy who keeps saying, “Fuck it, we’ll be back up and running by Easter.”  

I think many are just desperate to find something normal to cling to.  But folks, we exited normal a few weeks ago.  Life, as we knew it, is a thing of the past, at least for now.  We can still see and even have a little bit of the good old days, but we can’t have it all.  The longer we fight what we’re being asked to do, the longer it will take to “flatten” the curve and the more we stand to lose.

Come on, people….we can do hard things.

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We Can Be Hero’s….

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
~Maya Angelou

I, like I imagine most of the rest of the world, have been watching closely as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on our world.  Over the last several weeks, I’ve been skeptical and scared and confused and frustrated and amused and hopeful and curious….all of the feelings.

My stomach has been in knots and my anxiety has been on full alert and I’ve imagined men in black and conspiracies and government “doctors” and secret quarantines and people disappearing without a trace and Putin as Voldemort….I don’t know, I feel like it’s totally plausible.

I’ve found myself diving down rabbit holes created by various media reports, social media posts (shamefully) and our current administration and the governments of other countries.

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And no, I don’t really believe in all the places my brain has taken me.  I think it’s just my minds way of trying to understand and explain this series of events for which we have no prior experience.

At times, I’ve felt as though this really can’t possibly be happening.  It seems so surreal; like a movie.  Only, it’s not exactly the way I imagined an apocalypse of sorts would go down.  Am I really being told to just, like, Netflix and chill for the foreseeable future?  I had always imagined there would be a lot less electricity and a lot more Spam.  Toilet paper and hand sanitizer weren’t the commodities I thought we’d all be hoarding….but alas, here we are.  To be clear, however, this is apocalypse enough for me.  I’m not complaining.

And while I may be losing my shit a bit, I am trying really hard not to be an asshole about it.  I am not among those with a six-year supply of toilet paper and a lifetime, plus twenty years worth, of hand sanitizer.

A few weeks ago, when things started to get weird, I took inventory of our supplies like dry goods, the food in our freezer and yes, of course, our TP situation, and then made my way to the store to purchase what I thought would be necessary to carry my family through the early days of a quarantine, assuming that, along the way, I would be able to continue to have some degree of access to these items; through online ordering, or perhaps, authority controlled trips to the grocery store.  I did not, however, bargain for the Matt and Noah Colvin’s of the world.

A few days ago, I was scrolling through the news and I came across an article published by the New York Times about a guy with 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and “nowhere to sell them.” 

The image accompanying the article was of Matt Colvin, an Amazon merchant, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “Family Man, Family Business,” looking downtrodden as he stood among his hoard of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes.

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The New York Times

 

According to the article, the day after the first U.S. death connected with the COVID-19 virus was announced, Family Man, Matt and his brother, Noah, set off in an SUV and commenced clearing the shelves of hand sanitizer from Walmart, Dollar Tree, Home Depot and Staples in Chattanooga, TN.

Then, over the next three days, brother Noah Colvin embarked on a 1300 mile road trip throughout Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling up a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and antibacterial cleansing wipes he purchased from any retailer he could find with stock to sell.

Meanwhile, Family Man Matt stayed home, preparing for the arrival of pallets of even more sanitizer and wipes he’d ordered online, while also getting to work listing the bounty on Amazon.  According to Family Man, Matt, he listed 300 bottles of sanitizer that quickly sold for between $8 and $70 each; “crazy money.”    

But then, the next day, Amazon pulled his items, along with thousands of other listings from other Amazon merchants who were also selling sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and face masks at huge mark-ups’s leaving poor Family Man, Matt with a boat-load of much needed resources and seemingly no solution to be thunk up.

He was quoted as saying, “It’s been a huge amount of whiplash.  From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to ‘What the heck am I going to do with all of this?’”

I read that and thought, Um, how about you and your douche-bag brother start returning it all to the stores you wiped out so that your neighbors, the parents of your children’s friends, their teachers, nursing home staff, your local medical providers and the emergency medical personnel within that 1300 mile radius you two morally bankrupt scumbags pillaged, can access those much needed supplies?

To be fair, Amazon and other retailers also increased their own prices on supplies in the wake of the pandemic….(REALLY Jeff Bezos….REALLY?)….though not to the same extent.

Still, according to the article, it wasn’t until consumers and regulators applied pressure that any of these companies chose to crack down on the way their merchants were capitalizing on the fear and desperation of people DURING A FUCKING INTERNATIONAL PANDEMIC.  In fact, until then, businesses like Amazon and Ebay profited from their merchants behavior via the percentages they took from those sales.

Moving forward, I will wipe my ass with my own hand before I order a thing from Amazon.

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Shortly after the article was published, Matt Colvin “donated” his stockpile of supplies as the attorney general’s office in Tennessee began investigating him for price gouging.  The  national backlash the Colvin’s apparently received from the public was swift and incredibly harsh.  While I don’t believe the death threats were appropriate, he’s otherwise getting what he deserves.

Sadly, Family Man, Matt isn’t the only one out there hoarding supplies and trying to profit off the suffering of others, he was just the only one dumb enough to be the spokesperson for the Scrooge McJerk-Off Union.

But, casting aside the trash, I believe that in the midst of all of this, there is an opportunity for greatness.  In gestures both large and small, we all have the chance to be a beacon of light in all this dark.

Lean into your communities.  Support your local small businesses as best you can.  These are often the businesses that sponsor your kids little league teams and donate to a wide variety of fundraisers benefiting your schools and the community as a whole.  If you can’t afford to spend any money at the moment, you can still show some love by promoting them across your social media.

Stay engaged in productive conversations with your neighbors on your community social media pages.  I know these groups often come with a few curmudgeons, trolls and self-righteous know-it-alls, BUT, if you can weed through the BS there is a lot of good to be found, including a wide range of opportunities to be of service to people and groups in need.

Start a donation pile.  That closet, garage, play room, etc., you keep saying you want to purge and organize, here’s your chance.  Toys and games that you no longer need, could be a welcomed gift for another family in your community right now.


If you have too much, give it back.  Take it back to the stores directly, or make care packages for your neighbors, in particular, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.  Or, donate extra supplies to the agencies in your area that are in desperate need.  Especially medical supplies like masks and latex gloves.  We can’t afford to lose our health care professionals to this illness, but we will if they can’t do their jobs safely.

I recently read that many health care professionals are reusing personal protective equipment they would have discarded between patients, but at this point, it’s reuse it, or go in with nothing.  WTF, America, that can’t be the solution.

Unless you have a legitimate reason for needing a stockpile of masks and those 4,000 pairs of latex gloves in all the sizes (and BTW fear is not a legitimate reason) you have no business hoarding them….doing so is, quite literally, killing the team.


Be the good.  There are so many ways to do good things in this world that won’t cost you anything but a little bit of your time.  And right now, time is pretty much all we’ve got.

Do something that makes another human smile, or laugh, or leaves the earth a little bit better than you found it.

Write a letter to a grandparent, a friend….not an email, an actual letter.

Leave a book review for an author you love, or a local small business.

Go to a local park, or a hiking trail and pick up the trash.

Pray….to whoever, or whatever you believe in.  I happen to think it helps, but regardless,    it certainly can’t hurt.

Share your talents.  If you’re a writer, write.  If you’re a musician, play.  Sing, draw, paint.  You don’t have to be famous to create and share content.

Let your significant other breakdown.  Let your kids breakdown.  Let yourself breakdown.  Let it be and then let it pass.

Say thank you!  There are so many people working tirelessly to treat patients, gather supplies for those in need and keep our stores as stocked as possible.  They too have the well-being of themselves and their own loved ones to think about.

My dad works for a truck-stop chain as a shop manager.  His role is considered essential because of the fueling needs and tractor-trailer repairs that are necessary for truck drivers to keep goods moving throughout our county.  My dad’s in his 60’s now and he’s had a number of health complications over the years, including serious cardiac related issues.  He’s among those most at risk for developing serious/fatal complications should he contract COVID-19, but right now, he’s “healthy,” so off to work he goes.

Acknowledge these folks.  The work they are doing is very much holding our communities and country together at the moment.

And if nothing else, just simply do whatever is being asked of you by the authorities and experts who are desperately trying to get us back to some semblance of normalcy.


Find the Good.  Every day my 8yo sits down at the computer to doodle with Mo Willems.  If you’ve never heard of him, he is, among other things, an award winning and best-selling, children’s book author.

For 30 minutes each day, Mr. Willems talks and draws with the kids who are watching. He gently guides them through the days doodle, while sharing information about his characters and his career as a writer and illustrator.  At the end of each session, he reads and answers questions that kids send in via email.

For my son, this has been THE COOLEST.  For as long as he’s been able to articulate the desire, my son has talked of being a writer.  He has dozens of notebooks in which he’s written out short stories with illustrations.  He loves to read and for him, he is in awe of his favorite authors in the way other kids might be in awe of professional athletes, musicians, actors.

My son looks forward to his 30 minutes with Mo every day.  His face lights up and he carefully follows along and then proudly shows me his work and tells me all the things he learned during the session.  “Did you know that Mo worked on Sesame Street?”  “Did you know he made up stories when he was a little kid, just like I do?”

It’s an incredible gift Mo Willems is giving, really.  He certainly doesn’t have to, but he’s showing up.  He’s one of the lights.

And there are more!

Museums and Zoos are offering virtual tours of their exhibits.  Actors and teachers and writers and musicians are reading stories for kids online.  Chefs are hosting online cooking classes.  Trainers and gyms are offering online workouts.  Musicians are live streaming “concerts” from their homes.

And yes, I know, these things aren’t available to all.  They require the luxury of a computer, or a tablet or a cell phone.  You need internet, or a cellular connection and not everyone has the privilege of having those things.

So….


Share the Good.  If you are among those able to continue working from home, if you aren’t facing a disruption in your pay and if you have a little to give, then find an organization that is helping to ease the hardships others are facing and make a donation.    There is no such thing as too small a financial gift.

Show up in whatever way you can.

We belong to each other.

Let’s be hero’s.

Trick or Treat! Don’t be an A**Hole….

“Therefore, it stands to reason, does it not, sisters dear? That we must find the book, brew the potion, and suck the lives out of the children of Salem before sunrise.”
~Winifred Sanderson, Hocus Pocus

Last year, my step-daughter, who was 14 and an 8th grader at the time, told us that while she was out trick-or-treating with some of her friends, an adult had commented, “Aren’t you a bit too old for this?

For months before that Halloween night, my step-daughter had agonized over whether or not she would trick-or-treat that year.  It was as though she had one foot solidly planted in her childhood and another tentatively taking her first steps into young adulthood.

It was clear she was growing-up and embracing opportunities to enjoy and explore her independence.  And my husband and I were happy, albeit a bit wistful, to allow her the space to expand.

But there were still glimpses of the little girl she’d once been.  The one who had delighted in the elaborate Halloween parties her dad and I had thrown for her and her brother when they were younger.  The one who could still be cajoled into participating with our son, seven years her junior, in the Easter basket scavenger hunts we created every year.  Even the occasional game of make-believe wasn’t entirely out of the question.

So when she talked about trick-or-treating that year, it was with a nostalgic sort of sadness.  A part of her was saying that maybe it was time to hang it up, but her heart and her spirit were still drawn to the simple joy of walking the neighborhood on a crisp fall evening, shouting “Trick-or-Treat!” and then returning home to count and sort her haul.

Her friend group was split about 50/50 between those wanting to go and those wanting to do something a bit more grown-up, like a costume party at someone’s house.  And as the date got closer, it was beginning to seem as though most of the girls in the trick-or-treat camp, were gradually beginning to veer more toward the party.

When my step-daughter talked about it, tears welled in her eyes.  We told her, “You can always come trick-or-treating with us!”  Meaning her baby brother, her dad and I.  But we understood that wasn’t the point.  She wanted to cling to that experience with her friends.  She didn’t want to be left behind.  She wanted them to stay with her in that piece of childhood, just a little longer.  I could understand.

When I was a kid, Halloween was my absolute favorite time of the year.  I loved all the movies and neighborhood lawn decorations, the costumes and of course trick-or-treating.

As my brother and I got older, we were allowed to trick-or-treat with a group of other neighborhood children by ourselves.  We would tear through the streets, hitting as many houses as possible on foot, before returning home to dump out the pillowcases we carried, for maximum capacity candy collecting, and then we would hop on our bikes and branch out into other neighborhoods until the last porch light went out.

I loved the freedom of that night.  Cruising the streets, long after dark, with a gaggle of other kids.  And we were all quietly well aware of the responsibilities that came with that freedom.  We were always respectful of other trick-or-treaters, adults and the homeowners property.  So tenuous did we feel that privilege was, that we made sure to never even walk on someone’s lawn if it could be helped.

In those few hours on Halloween night, we were learning what it was like to be responsible for ourselves and to make good, safe choices, without a grown-up standing by.

And it was fun!  Even as we too began to find ourselves in that space between childhood and adolescence, we still reveled in the joy of dressing up and losing our angst for a while, consumed in the spirit of Halloween.

I don’t recall anyone ever saying that I was too old to trick-or-treat.  I made the decision to stop going when I started high school.  But that first year I stayed home and passed out candy, instead of collecting it, plenty of my classmates still came to my door.  I envied them a bit, but I didn’t feel sorry for myself.  The time had simply passed into a cherished memory for me and it had been allowed to happen in my own time.

Fortunately, my step-daughter has some great friends and a few were willing to indulge her desire to trick-or-treat that last year.  So they struck a compromise.  They agreed they would meet at a friends house, who was hosting a costume party for all the girls, trick-or-treat for a bit and then return to the party.  It seemed she would get the best of both worlds.

And by all accounts, the girls were having a great time.  They weren’t heckling the little one’s, or taking handfuls of candy from unattended candy bowls left to the honor system.  They were giggling their way from house to house, in full costume, saying trick-or-treat and thank you along the way.

When my step-daughter told us later about the woman who had chastised the girls for being too old to participate, it was clear she’d been hurt by it.  The woman had made them feel embarrassed, ashamed and self-conscious.  Feelings that, quite frankly, are all too common for teenagers, like, 99.9% of the time as it is, without some snotty middle-aged woman adding fuel to the fire because she thinks she’s the designated trick-or-treat police.

I can barely look at social media these days without seeing some meme, or editorial, bitching about “kids these days.”  How they can’t seem to be able to handle life’s ups and downs.  Well, maybe we should stop evicting them from childhood before they’re ready.

So, “old people these days” calm the fuck down.  Let them be kids.  Let them linger in innocence for as long as they can, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.  And I think for far too many, it’s gone long before they are even close to being ready for it.

And if you can’t do that, you should do what the generations of crabby old people who came before you have done.  Turn off your porch light and hide in the dark.

Happy Halloween!  Don’t be a jerk.

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No, Means F**k Off….

A couple of months ago, I was in my old hometown having lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a number of years.

As we chatted about life,  she told me about her employment lay-off that happened over a year ago.  After struggling, still struggling, to find another full time job, she started driving for Uber and Lyft as a way to make ends meet.

“How’s that going?” I asked

“It’s fine,” she said.  “For the most part, everyone has been cool and I’ve only had a few issues.”

“Like, what kind of issues?”  I asked.  “Creepers?  

“Yeah,” she said, “definitely some of them.”

She told me about a young guy she picked up from a not so great part of town.  She doesn’t like driving over there, but no one does, so the shortage of drivers means more opportunities for her to make some much needed money.

The ride started out quiet, but as she drove, she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, something waving back and forth between the driver and passenger seats.  When she looked, it was the guy waving a twenty-dollar bill.

“No,” she said.  “You’re all set.  The app is linked to a form of payment and that’s how you’ll be charged.  We don’t take cash.”

He continued to wave the twenty.

“We don’t take cash and we don’t carry cash.  I have no cash, at all”  she said, at this point fearing she was about to be robbed.

“What else do you do?” He asked.

“This is all I do.”  She said.

Then, he asked if she wanted to suck his dick.  For twenty-dollars.

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“WOW, a whole twenty-dollars?  I said.  Do you think it’s because you’re getting old and you’re not as hot as you used to be?”  

“Probably,” she laughed.  “I told him I was old enough to be his mother, but he didn’t care.”

“Ah, well, maybe he has some kind of poor, old lady, mom fetish.”  I said.

“You suck!”  She laughed through her signature cackle.

“Not for twenty-dollars, I don’t.” 

All joking aside though, it was a scary experience for my friend.  She told this guy repeatedly and without an ounce of ambiguity, “No,” and “You are making me uncomfortable, please stop,” before pulling over in a busy parking lot and telling him to get the fuck out of her car.

To which he replied, “Seriously?”  As though she were being unreasonable.

She also told me about another man she picked up from the airport.  She said he was nice looking, dressed well and for the first few minutes of the ride, made polite small talk before launching into his troubles with women.

He said he was shy and sensitive, which he repeated….over and over….as he talked about his struggles with dating.  Then, he told her that his biggest fantasy was to just lie in bed naked with a woman and talk.

When they arrived at his home, he invited her in to fulfill his fantasy.  In exchange for a great review on the ride share app.

0-1.jpegShe declined.

I told her she probably dodged the kind of bullet that results in being chained up in a basement, before being deposited into a dumpster.

At one point my friend sighed and said, “I knew what I was getting into when I decided to do this.” 

A statement which can be applied to virtually everything, if you are a woman.  We are practically born a cautionary tale.

“She knew what the risks were when she went to the grocery store for milk after dark.”

“She should have known what she was getting into when she decided to go for a jog in a park.”

“It’s her own fault, really.  She answered the door.”

“Ah, well, it’s the price she pays for, you know, existing.” 

It’s bullshit.

Women want to be able to walk safely through life.  We want to go to our jobs, go out with friends, walk through a parking lot, have a drink in a bar, call for a ride, take a bus, a train, a plane….all the stuff of basic living….and do so without the risk of being harassed, molested, raped, murdered.

So, this one is for you fellas in the back.  The guys who hear “NO” and think it means, “I can be forcefully persuaded.”  

Let me put it out there in words you might better understand:

l. No woman who isn’t advertising her sexual services for pay, wants to suck your dick for twenty-dollars, or any dollars.  No matter how cleverly you try and work the request into a cheesy, lame, awful pick-up line.  

In fact, I’m going to go ahead and speak for all women-kind when I say….no woman is particularly interested in sucking your dick.

Ever.

We may offer it up when engaged in mutually consensual sex, but it’s not on the top ten list of things we like to do.

So if we don’t directly offer it, kindly keep your chump change and your penis out of our faces.

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2.  A short skirt isn’t an invitation.

Would you like it, if every time you wore one of those stupid t-shirts that says something like, “I Make Inappropriate Choices When I Drink” or “My Pen Is Huge” (eye-roll), someone bigger came along and forcibly violated you in YOUR orifice?

How about I just walk up to you and kick you directly in the balls?

Or, would you prefer I grab hold of them and squeeze until it makes you want to cry from both humiliation and pain?

That seems a fair exchange for an unsolicited slap on the ass, or a boob grab, no?


3.  Remember that time you were working as a pizza delivery guy and you showed up at that Malibu beach house where that sexy housewife answered the door and then invited you in for a threesome with her equally sexy neighbor who just happened to be hanging out topless and spread eagle on the kitchen table?

No, you don’t.  Because it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen for any of your buddies either.

We don’t hang out naked with our girlfriends in locker rooms/saunas/hot tubs, getting all hot and bothered with each other hoping you’ll burst onto the scene dressed like a plumber.

We aren’t wearing sexy lingerie under our workout clothes, waiting with bated breath for you to take us behind the gym, or more realistically, Target.

In other words, if you saw it in a movie.  No.  Just no.

When Debbie does Target, she really just wants to go in there for one thing and come out with fifty things….none of which include you, your commentary, or any of your DNA.

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4.  If you’re just standing there, you’re guilty by association.

In college, I worked at a popular local restaurant in Virginia Beach.  A male manager named Matt bombarded me on the regular with offensive comments.  He also couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

Once, he came up behind me and kissed me behind my ear and then bit me on the shoulder hard enough to leave a bruise in the shape of his teeth.

Another time, he approached me while I stood with a group of my co-workers in the dining room, waiting for the restaurant to open for the evening.  As we all stood chatting and laughing beneath a giant paper mâché dragon that decorated the room, Matt walked up and said to me, “Why don’t you go slip on a pair of black panties and dance with the dragon for me.”

In the early years of my professional career, it wasn’t unusual for me, at times, to be the only woman in a room full of men who called me sweetie and honey and never once used my actual name.

Once, prior to a financial planning meeting with an all male executive team, a female Admin who was sitting in on the meeting, told me afterward that before I’d arrived, one of the local VP’s had asked the group if they’d all met me.

A few said they hadn’t, and in response the VP told them, “Wait until you see her.  She’s hot.  You’ll never be able to tell her no.”

I was humiliated.  I had worked hard on my presentation and the research that backed up the financial requests of my department.  At the time, I was the youngest and the first female in the organizations history, to have been promoted into the upper level management role I held.

In the wake of that meeting, I wondered how much of it I had earned through the hours of hard work I’d put in and how much of it had been handed to me because I was a good looking token.

In both of these examples, the other men in the room didn’t say a word.  Many were men I trusted, considered friends, and/or even professional mentors.

Over the years, I would learn to identify, by their awkward and nervous shuffles and the way they averted their eyes, which men found the behavior of their male counterparts inappropriate, but none of them had the, um, balls, to speak up and say so.

I know the good guys are out there.  Step-up and speak-up.  We need your advocacy and partnership and support.


5.  No means fuck off.

It doesn’t mean maybe.

It doesn’t mean….please keep on harassing me and/or groping me, because I’m right on the cusp of saying yes.  I just need a little more pressure to get there.

It doesn’t mean….no, but I’m kind of hoping you’ll slip me the date rape drug.

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Want to know what does mean, yes?

YES

It’s really not that hard.


It’s 2019 and we’re still debating whether or not a woman should have complete control over her own body.

There are many who still grouse about how young women dress these days and people who say things like, “cover up, it’s too distracting for your male counterparts.”

We’re still teaching young women that they are responsible for a man’s behavior.  While teaching young men that they have no accountability for their actions; that women are a free for all.

Too many shrug and say, “Ah, well, boys will be boys” and “That’s just locker room talk.” But when a woman expresses/explores her sexuality, she’s a slut who had it coming.

When women are assertive, we’re told we’re too bossy, too frigid, too much, a bitch.  And to be fair, when men aren’t, they are too soft, too much of a pussy, a bitch.

It reeks.  And not just the typical stench of misogyny, patriarchal ideology, oppression and abuse of power.  It reeks of weakness and desperation and fear, really.

I think it’s the fear that strength of character will become more important than strength of power and force….and not just when it’s fashionable, or convenient, to say it out loud, on public platforms.  But because it will become, fundamentally, the right thing to do when everyone is watching and when no one is watching.

Imagine a world where the shit actually rises to the top and is skimmed away and discarded, immediately.

And if that were the way of things, imagine all the actors and musicians and sports figures and religious leaders whose names we might have never known, but who might have been replaced by better talents.  People who never got a chance, because the wrong kind of people were taking up all the space.  What might they have accomplished?

Imagine all the politicians and lawmakers and businessmen who would have never had an opportunity to impact public policy.

And imagine what might have become of the victims, if they’d never been victims.

It changes everything….

Chicks Before….Well, You Know….

“Somebody asked me if I knew you….A million memories flashed through my mind, but I just smiled and said I used to.”
~Unknown

About a year ago, my best friend and I broke up.

It’s not the first time we’ve been angry with each other and it’s not the first time we’ve gone a long stretch without speaking; each of us too angry, stubborn and self-righteous to extend the olive branch that would bring us back to one another.

But in the past, it had never been a question of if we would reconcile.  It was just a matter of when.  We were drawn to each other in a way that made the idea of going through life without the other, inconceivable.

Ours was a friendship that was forged in our childhood.  We’re cousins, but our biology wasn’t what bonded us.  In our family, familial bonds are tenuous at best.  Not even a wedding, or a funeral are guaranteed reunions.

We chose our friendship and we worked to maintain it.  Even when the adults in our lives were falling apart and fighting and cared little for their collateral damage.

So in many ways, we were each others refuge.  Not just from the storms in our family, but through the storms of adolescence and all the ups and downs that come with being teenagers and then young adults.

We had our own language that consisted of facial expressions and single words that just between us, could convey an entire story.  And we had so many stories that made up a crazy, beautiful tapestry of life and love and loss and friendship and growth and adventures.

We were each others witness; keepers.

This break-up though, is different.  At least for me.  This time, it’s for good.

The title above would suggest it was a guy who came between us, but in truth, he was just a catalyst.  We are deeper and more complicated than that.

For a long time, we had been walking roads that seemed to run parallel to one another.  Our roads weren’t exactly the same, we each had our own goals and obstacles to overcome.  But we remained close enough to hold hands as we helped each other over and around and through.

But eventually, our roads began to diverge.  As we headed in fundamentally different directions, I tried to pull her onto my path.   Not because hers was no good, or because mine was so much better, but because I could clearly see that we were headed toward very different horizons.

We had grown up with one another and then we had grown out and away into very different people.  Our relationship lived solidly in the past.  It required that we constantly double back to the place where our roads still ran side by side in order for us to find one another again; back to the people we had been before we’d become wives and mother’s and had to make difficult decisions about careers and family and finances and all the other grown-up hard stuff of life.

But you can’t stay in the past.  You can visit it and reminisce and then you have to return to the present and keep pressing forward.  And I had to admit that the people we’d become, had stopped being the others keeper and witness a long time ago.

In these last several years, our friendship had begun to feel like something I was holding tight to so that it wouldn’t escape.  I was exhausted by it and as this last year has passed, I’ve wondered what to do next.

The idea that if you love something you should let it go, seemed too simple and easy, but then again, if it felt that way, I thought there was a reason for that.

And then, the other day, while driving, I heard a remix of the song 99 Red Balloons and I thought, “Yes, this makes sense,” as I sang along….

It’s all over and I’m standin’ pretty
In the dust that was a city, 
If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here it is, a red balloon
I think of you and let it go….

A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Burying a Groundhog….

“Ashes to ashes – Dust to dust.” ~The Bible?

All spring, my family and I have delighted in watching a trio of baby groundhogs hanging out in our yard.

Sometimes, they are accompanied by a larger groundhog who we have been calling Homer P. Groundhog for the last couple of years.  Although, it’s more likely that we should be calling her Henrietta, since according to my research, male groundhogs are dead beat dads.

As the spring has progressed, we’ve watched as the trio has become increasingly more  independent and brave; venturing further into the yard and away from the comforts of one another and their various hiding places.

Today, while I was busy moving a large pile of mulch, I saw the trio peeping in and out of the wood-line at the back of our property and darting in and out from underneath our shed.  It was as though they were watching me work and hoping I might stop to play.

So, I started singing just like Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and they ran into my arms for a cuddle, while a tiny bluebird perched on my shoulder and a baby bunny hoped excitedly around my feet waiting to be picked up.  I may or may not have made that last bit up.

Anyway,  as I continued my chores, I was oblivious to the predator lurking in the trees until it was too late.  As I was making my way through the lawn with a wheel-barrow full of mulch intended for a flower bed around our shed, I saw a huge hawk take flight from the ground near the doorway.

I was momentarily in awe of the bird.  I’ve seen them quite a bit, but never that close and I’ve never seen one land in the yard.  Wow, I thought.  I wish had been able to get a picture.  

Then, as I continued toward the shed, I saw him….one of the trio….lying motionless on the ground.

“Oh, no!”  I said, crouching to see if he might still be breathing.  There were no significant injuries that I could see at first, but upon closer inspection, I saw a small amount of blood on his chest near one of his little armpits.

“Really?”  I said, looking up into the trees where the hawk was perched.  “That is so fucked up.  He was a baby.  You should be ashamed of yourself.”  

“Get away from my kill, or I’ll scalp you.”  The hawk said in return.

“Just try it, assshole.”  I said, waving my shovel in his direction.

After shouting profanities at one another for a couple of minutes, I told him he should come and claim his meal.  But he just called me an overly sensitive bitch and asked me if I was on my period, before taking flight and fleeing the scene of his crime, leaving me to deal with the body.

As I stood there, I saw two tiny heads, what remained of the trio, now the duo, poke out from underneath the shed before quickly disappearing again.

I said nothing, just stood there.  Again, the duo poked their little heads out, but this time, they made a tiny, high pitched barking noise before hiding again.

I backed away and for the next hour, I watched as the duo peeked out from underneath the shed, calling for their sibling.  Ugh, it was heartbreaking.

I didn’t want them to have to continue to see their loved one like that; dead and waiting to be claimed by something, so I decided to bury him.

I was making the grave marker out of two sticks and some twine, when two men pulled into the driveway.  About a week ago, I had posted some old fencing material for the taking on Facebook Marketplace and the two were there to claim it.

“Hey,” I said, the makeshift cross in my hand, “I just buried something in the woods.”  

It wasn’t until the words had spilled from my mouth that I realized how creepy and odd they must have sounded.  And so of course, I decided to run with the theme.

“What did you bury?”  One of the men asked me.

“I can’t tell you that,” I said.  “You know where I live now.  Come along though.  The stuff you’re looking for is in the woods back here.”  

Then, I began to whistle a tune as I walked towards the woods with my little crucifix;  (One, two, Freddy’s coming for you)….”Just a little farther, we’re almost there.”

Just before we hit the path to the woods, I stopped and said, “I was just joking.  I buried a groundhog.”

They did not seem assuaged….but who could blame them, really?  I mean, what kind of a person buries a groundhog?

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Flashback Friday – That Time I Wore A Hair Piece….

Earlier this week, while trying to keep myself occupied….and my anxiety at bay….until an upcoming doctors appointment, I decided to clean out and reorganize a closet that has essentially served as a dumping ground for things that otherwise have no sensible place, or purpose.

The task was long overdue and a good distraction.  As I pulled out things like a taxidermy bull frog wearing a sombrero and playing a vihuela and a small jar containing a couple of baby teeth, my hand brushed across something hairy resting in the back of the closet on one of the shelves.

Instinctively, I jerked my hand back and bent to gaze, squinting into the dark recesses of the closet, trying to figure out what might be living back there.

Did we end up getting that cat?  I briefly wondered.  Oh man, when was the last time I saw the dog?  

Then it dawned on me.  My wig.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I of course wanted to know if I was going to lose my hair.

“Yes.”  My doctor said.  “And when it falls out, it will fall out in chunks, which can be very distressing.  I always suggest that my patients just go ahead and shave it off.  Just get it over with all at once.”

At first, I thought the loss of my hair would be no big deal for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having hair, but I’ve never been one of those people who is deeply attached to it.

I’ve never cried after a bad haircut and over the years I’ve never been afraid to experiment with different lengths….including a super short pixie cut I sported throughout much of the late 90’s.

But, as the time grew nearer to when my doctor predicted it would begin to fall out, I found I couldn’t do it.  It seemed an outwardly visible symbol that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to see it.

So, my doctor’s advice to go all GI Jane was the only time throughout the entire ordeal that I did not do exactly as he advised.  It was a decision I regretted when it began coming out in large pieces and precisely when he said it would.

It was horrifying to find that by pulling, ever so slightly at my scalp, the hair strands would pull free as though they had never been attached at the roots.  I was surprised to find myself equally, if not more distressed, at the prospect of shaving my head as I’d been by the news of my diagnosis.

I delayed the inevitable for a few more days, but after a shower left me with sporadic, patchy bald spots….that made me look like I was on the verge of becoming that creepy doll from Toy Story….I gave in and headed off to have it shaved….a baseball hat clutched in my hand and my husband in tow.

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When the hairdresser asked, “What are we doing today?”  I told her it all had to go.

“Are you thinking a choppy bob or something even shorter?”  She asked, running her hands through my spotty hair that left strands between her fingers, with a somewhat confused expression.

“I have to shave it off.”  I said.  “I lost a bet with my husband and he’s being really mean about the whole thing.”

“OH!”  Was her shocked reply.  “Really!?”         

“No.”  I told her.  “I have cancer.  So, one way or the other, it’s gotta go!”

This was the way I preferred to tell everyone I had cancer.  When I was initially diagnosed, I  sent an email to family and friends that asked,“Hey!  Anyone know where I can get one of those yellow LiveStrong bracelets?”

As the responses came in, I responded with varying degrees of “Thanks, I have cancer now, so I figure, why not get the accessories!”

During the initial discussion about my impending hair loss with my doctor, he provided me with several resources for securing a respectable wig.  They were references his patients over the years had shared and he was happy to pass along the leads.

I wasn’t sure if I was a wig person, a scarf person, or a hat person, but I knew I wasn’t a bald is beautiful person.  My head looked lumpy, with strange lines that made me wonder if I might have been abducted and experimented on by aliens at some point in my life and I reasoned a wig might at least give me the appearance of a normal person.

I settled on a shop in New Hampshire that catered specifically to women undergoing cancer treatments.  I made an appointment for a wig fitting and my best friend flew in to be with me for the event.

When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a very sweet woman who introduced herself as my personal stylist for the day.  She escorted us to a private room where I was free to try on as many wigs as I wanted in the comforts of my own space, while she bustled about pulling different styles and color options for me to try and offering styling tips and tricks along the way.

I shared with her that I was concerned it would look exactly like I was wearing a wig.  That everyone would know, and I would just end up looking….well, sad.

Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something scalped from the head of a Barbie doll.

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“All those women in Hollywood….they are all wearing some kind of hair piece.  No one has hair that glossy or full or perfect.”  She told me.  “We sell the best here and trust me, no one is going to know the difference.”   

For the next many hours, my friend and I laughed so hard I thought I might go into labor as I tried on everything from pin straight platinum blonde wigs with fringe bangs, to dark black curly wigs that looked like eighties Cher.

I tried on mullets, the Farrah Fawcett shag, the “Rachel,” the 90’s era style haircut made famous by Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends.

I tried sleek bobs and spiral curls and every hair style ever seen on the Golden Girls.  It was hysterically funny and the laughter felt so refreshing that it alone was worth the trip.

Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham.  My stylist gave me instructions on keeping it clean and preserving its shape and style.

She also cautioned me against wearing it close to open flames or bursts of heat….like those from an opened oven, or boiling water….which caused a whole new hysterical burst of giggles as my friend and I imagined various scenarios where I might find myself wearing it when it caught fire.

I left wearing the Posh, but it didn’t stay on my head for long.  It was itchy against my scalp and though it looked as real as it possibly could, I was terribly self-conscious about it.

Eventually, the wig made its way into its cardboard travel case, and was replaced with a pink stocking cap that said, “Cancer Sucks” in white embroidered letters across the front.

I told myself I just needed to get used to it….that I would practice wearing it at home first and then maybe test it out on short errands.  I could never shake the anxiety that having it on caused though.

What if I sneezed and the hairline of the wig ended up at my eyebrows?

What if a strong wind blew through, yanking it from my head and I had to chase after it while it rolled like a tumbleweed through the Whole Foods parking lot?

What if I had an itch and people could see the entire piece shift as I scratched?

What if it shifted throughout the day without my knowing it and it ended up sideways?

In the end, the only time I wore it for a prolonged period of time, was for a holiday party thrown by a college friend of my husbands.  The guest list for the party was long and included a wide range of close friends and acquaintances my husband had known for many years.

I didn’t feel like answering the myriad of questions that always came with seeing a bald, pregnant lady.  I just wanted to enjoy the food at the party and the rare evening out as a normal person, so I put the wig on for the night.

All evening, I made frequent trips to the bathroom to pull it off, scratch furiously at my scalp and replace it.  Or, to just double check that it hadn’t shifted in too noticeable a way.

As soon as we were back in the car, I pulled it off and hung my head out of the car window like a Xoloitzcuintle, enjoying the cool air on my scalp and deciding once and for all, I was just going to be a hat person.

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I kept the wig, but instead of wearing it, I used it as a tool to harass my family, our cleaning service and anyone else who might come through our house.

When it wasn’t perched on its metal rack on my bathroom sink in a variety of styles and with random hair accessories stuck to it, it was posed on a teddy bear in one of my step-children’s bedrooms waiting for them at bedtime.

Sometimes, I would leave it lying on a pillow in bed with socks stuffed into the cap to give it the look of someone sleeping under the covers.

Once, I affixed it over a remote control car and drove it through our living room scaring the piss out of the dog….literally.

After a while though, I ran out of ideas.  So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the closet deciding I would eventually donate it.

Yesterday, as I held it in my hands, running my fingers through the smooth synthetic hair, I knew it was time to find it a new home….preferably with someone who could really use it.

But first….and then I made my way to my sons bedroom, retrieved his remote control car, and went in search for the dog.

I Love the Smell of Cal-Stat….& Other Long Term Side-Effects of Cancer

“The best thing we can do is go on with our normal routine.”
~Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Recently, I celebrated one of my cancerversaries….a pretty big one too; five years, disease free.

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Back when I was going through the cancer, my family and friends would check-in on me all the time.  “How are you doing?  How are you feeling?  Is there I anything I can do for you, anything you need?”  they would ask.

So many people were worried about me and for me.  I was added to prayer lists across multiple denominations all over the country.  People mediated for me and gave me small tokens of faith meant to bring healing.  They sent me inspirational quotes and cards and handwritten letters and books about faith and grace.

I both loved and hated the attention.

I loved it, because it made me feel important and wanted and loved.  It made me feel tethered to life at at time when I was terrified I wouldn’t survive.

I hated it, because I prefer to spend most of my time trying to just blend in.  I’m not comfortable being the center of attention, ever.  I’m not comfortable with attention period.  I prefer to go unnoticed.  At all times.  Like an awkward ninja.

But being pregnant with cancer was the sick persons equivalent of being famous.  There was no blending.  Everyone noticed me.

At the hospital, walking into the infusion center with my big, pregnant belly, the nurses, other patients, volunteers, even the janitorial staff would remark with compassion about my plight.

When my hair started to fall out and I had to shave my head, seemingly every person on the planet began to notice me.  It was like I was walking around with a neon, blinking sign that said, “I am pregnant.  AND I have cancer.  Feel bad for me.”

And please don’t take this the wrong way.  I really did appreciate the support, even from total strangers, but it was overwhelming at a time when I could barely manage the broad spectrum of my emotions on a day to day basis.

Some days, I was the person who would respond with uncontrollable tears and fear.

Other days, I was the person who would say things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, really.  I’m going to be fine and so will my baby.  At worst, he’ll glow in the dark for six months or so, but they’ve assured me it won’t last.”  (Lies)

But now, it’s been nearly eight years since my diagnosis and I’m five years disease free, which means for all intents and purposes, I am cured.  Every night and every day, I say a silent prayer of thanks for this life I’m so blessed to be living.

Now, it’s only on the cancerversaries that people ask how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and I always say, “Great!  I’m doing great.  I feel great!”  and that’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.

When you look at me, you can’t see the cancer anymore.  The chemo glow is gone from my face (think less glow, more wild animal trapped in a cage).  My hair has grown back and I don’t have any physical scars, save for the four small radiation markers that were tattooed on my chest.  I don’t have any physical limitations, at least none I’m aware of.

If we were to meet as strangers, you would never know I was a survivor….unless you got close enough to smell my favorite perfume and then you might ask why I smell like the exam room at your doctor’s office.  (I’ll explain in a second).

The whole truth is this, I am cured, but I’m also not.  I don’t physically have cancer any more, but it’s side effects still linger.

I’m not the exact same person I was before the disease.  In some ways, I’m a better version of the person I was before and in other ways, maybe not so much.

I have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.  Cancer reset me in a way I think I needed, though I won’t go so far as to say I am grateful for it.

On the flip side, I am also far less tolerant and patient with people I think are ignorant.  I’m talking to you Trump supporters and the state of Alabama.

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So what I really want to say when someone asks me how I’m doing is this:

“I’m great, I feel great and also….”


1. I love the smell of Cal-Stat

Literally.

If you are one of those people who loves diffusing a specific essential oil, or burning aromatherapy candles because it helps to alleviate your stress, or anxiety, or just generally makes you feel good….well, that’s what Cal-Stat does for me.

BTW, in case you don’t know, Cal-Stat is a hospital grade hand-sanitizer.

And since you can buy it on Amazon, I am free to wear it like it’s perfume.  And I do.

The smell reminds me of my doctors and being at the hospital for my treatments, which some might think would have the opposite effect, but not for me.

I LOVE going to the hospital.

I feel safe there, surrounded by machines that beep and all the sterilized equipment.  I like when they take my blood and check my vitals.

If I could persuade my doctor to scan me every week, I would.  But apparently, that’s a ton more radiation than would be good for my already radiated body, so he very patiently tells me no every time I ask for a quick zap through the machine.

He likes to tell me it’s a good thing I no longer need to see him more than once a year and of course, that’s true, but my doctor and the hospital are my comfort items.

And since they won’t let me move in, and I can’t just fit my doctor into my pocket….and he refuses to come and live at my house, Cal Stat is the next best thing.


2.  Speaking of Anxiety…

Me:  I feel really great!

Anxiety:  (while I’m minding my own business watching a Southern Charm marathon)  No you don’t.  Remember that headache you had a month ago?  That was a brain tumor and now it’s too late.  You are riddled with tumors.  RIDDLED.  Really.  You should Google it.

So, that’s been fun.


3.   Bucket lists are kind of my jam

Actually, lists in general are my jam.  I love the small pleasure of making a list and crossing things off.  But my version of a “bucket list” doesn’t only include big adventures, or once in a lifetime vacations.

It’s an ever changing, running To-Do list of all the things I’ve said I want to do over the years, but haven’t followed through on.

Every new year, in lieu of a resolution, I review my list.  I mark off the things I’ve done, I add new things and I carry over the stuff I didn’t accomplish.

It includes books I want to read, recipes I’d like to test out, DIY projects I want to complete and activities I want to do with my family.

I feel the pressures of time and the shortness of life in a way I never did before.  My list is a way of keeping me accountable to the actual living of life.

For me, that means all the small things; baking Christmas cookies with my son, teaching him to ski, taking him camping, teaching him how to fish, carving out time just for my marriage and carving out time just for me.


4.  But I also have a Fuck-It-Bucket:

I will never be the exact right amount of enough for everyone.  And quite frankly, I don’t care to try.

I’m no longer available for things, or people that make me feel like shit.

Also, I’m going to eat the cake and all the taco’s and none of the kale.

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5.  Everything hurts and I’m dying…

I had no reason to believe I had cancer, before I was told I had cancer.  I was in my early 30’s and seemingly, perfectly healthy.  I was 22 weeks pregnant and my child was developing without a single complication or concern.  Life was good.  REALLY good.

When I was diagnosed, my doctors theorized that the cancer had been developing for 6-9 months before it ever said a word.  It was terrifying to me that I’d been living with cancer for that long and had no idea.

In the years that have since passed, I have become obsessed with trying to remember how I was feeling during those months I was sick, but didn’t know it.

Were there any clues I missed?  Symptoms I didn’t recognize?  Something, anything I can watch out for now, so that if it comes back, I’ll know before it gets another head start?

The answer is mostly no, which is scary AF.  So as a result, I pretty much think everything is cancer.

Muscle aches = bone cancer

Those occasional post child-birth hemorrhoids = colon cancer

New freckle (age spot, fine) = skin cancer

Headache = brain cancer

Cough = lung cancer

Stomach ache = cancer in all the organs

Normal?  What’s that?


In the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some gradual, physical changes that have sent me reeling.  My Google search history currently reads like I might be preparing for a gynecological board exam.

And of course, the more I read, the more aware I become of my body.

I have to pee.  When was the last time I went?  Am I urinating more frequently than I was before?

I think I look a little bloated.  Am I?  Wait, do I feel pain in my abdomen, my pelvis?  Where is my pelvis?    

I feel tired.  Am I more tired than usual?  What exactly is fatigue and when is it just fatigue and when is it, you know, FATIGUE?

My back hurts.  But I think it just feels stiff, or is that what “pressure” feels like?  Oh God, how can I tell the difference?  Why doesn’t Google have a definitive answer?

I just ate.  Did I eat as much as I normally eat?  Do I feel sick now?

I’m crying.  I’m crying a lot.  I’m terrified and anxious and if I stop moving, I’m going to have to sit with this.  And if I have to sit with it, the “what if’s” are going to start running through my brain like a freight train.

What if I have cancer again?

What if this time I can’t survive it?

What if I don’t get to watch my son grow-up?

What if he forgets about me?

What if….what if….what if….

And then today a casual friend says, “Hey, how are you?”

“Great!  I say.  “Just great….”

Wild Potato Chip Bags….

“Don’t be afraid to walk alone.  Don’t be afraid to like it.”
~John Mayer

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail.

If you’ve been following the news of late, you might have heard a lot about the trail recently.  Sadly, two hikers were attacked on a section in Virginia this past Saturday.  One of the victims, a 43-year-old military veteran named Robert S. Sanchez, was killed.

Deaths along the trail are rare, and killings even rarer; two to three million people from all over the world, hike all or part of the trail annually, yet Saturday’s murder was only the 10th in the last 45 years.

And yes, I understand that’s of small comfort to those who know and love the victims.

My heart breaks for them and their family and friends.  And it breaks for the trail too.  I know that probably sounds strange, but there is just something about taking a long walk on a dirt path that’s so very good for the soul.

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I’ve been section hiking the trail for the last 5 years.  Not continuously, of course, but in sections.

There are a few ways one can endeavor to hike the trail.  You can thru-hike….which means you start at either the northern or southern end and go all the way….2,190 miles through 14 states, stopping at intervals to resupply, shower, wash clothes, etc.

You could slack pack….which is a thru-hike with a twist.  Slack packers carry a small backpack with a day’s worth of supplies.  They hike (some run) a bunch of miles from a designated starting point to a designated stop on the trail, where a car is waiting to transport the hiker to a meal and a bed….and then back to the trail to pick up where she left off, and repeat….day after day….until completed.

Or, you can section-hike the trail….like me, completing chunks of the trail over a series of backpacking trips until you’ve pieced all the sections together and completed the whole thing….it can take years.

No matter how you experience it though, it’s an experience worth having.  I love the trail.

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Sunset, Mt. Killington Summit, Vermont

I love the people you meet on the trail….fellow hikers and wanderers from all walks of life; the ridge runners, caretakers and the people who live along the trail and are often eager to provide a little trail magic to those who amble past.

Like, the cookie lady who leaves out plates of fresh baked cookies for passing hikers.

And Jim Tabor, a trail maintainer in Pennsylvania who leaves hand-carved, wooden spoons along the trail.

And the caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin in Massachusetts who make pancakes every morning for hikers who stay the night.

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Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts

I love that you can feel totally comfortable taking food from a stranger you meet on the trail….or bunking down next to one in a tent or a shelter.

I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag at night….cozy in the confines of my tent….reading by the light of my headlamp….or simply lying there and listening to the varied sounds of the woods at night.

I love how people are happy to connect and share a bit about themselves and their own journey’s around pots of trail food and campfires.

I love how, inevitably, the conversation almost always turns to gear and pack weight and how I learn something new from a fellow hiker every time I venture out.

I love the huge sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a particularly difficult section of trail….and how grounded and centered and confident I feel from having lived for days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed to survive on my back.

I love that I miss it when I leave it.

I love the natural beauty of the trail, its history and the stories of the many unique individuals who have hiked it.

People like Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran, who, in 1948, told friends he was going to “walk off the war” and became the first known person to thru-hike the trail from end to end.  His journey has inspired dozens of other military veterans struggling with PTSD.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the trail solo in 1955….at the age of 67 and wearing a pair of Keds sneakers.

At the time of her journey, Emma was divorced, having survived a 33 year marriage, during which she was often savagely beaten.  She later said that when her husband became violent, she would run from the house into the woods, where she found peace and solitude.

One day, she told her grown children she was going for a walk….and then she completed the AT.

She hiked the trail again five years later at the age of 72….and again at the age of 75.  She was the first to hike the trail three times.

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Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

In 1990, Bill Irwin was the first blind person to hike the trail.  He relied solely on his guide dog, Orient, as he ascended mountains and forded rivers.  A recovering alcoholic who turned to religion in his sobriety, Mr. Irwin once said the first bible verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”   Not long after, he decided that an AT hike would serve as a powerful example of living his faith.

In 2016, a group of 40 thru-hikers carried a pair of size 13 boots known simply as “Paul’s Boots,” the entire length of the trail.  Each hiker carried the boots for hundreds of miles before passing them off to the next hiker waiting to take Paul along on the walk.

Paul was an Australian who had dreamed of hiking the trail, but never got the chance.  He died of a heart-attack in July, 2015 at the age of 53; leaving behind a packed backpack and three pairs of polished hiking boots.

His wife wrote a letter to Paul’s favorite podcast, “Dirtbag Diaries” hoping that perhaps someone might be able to take a pair of Paul’s boots out onto the trail, just for a picture, but the trail community did far more than that.

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Paul’s Boots on the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. End of the trail.

I don’t know that I will ever attempt a thru-hike.  I’m not sure it’s my style. I earned my trail name, Mosey (yes, we take on trail names which are typically bestowed upon us by another hiker), because that’s the way I hike the trail.  I mosey.

It’s not unusual for me to plan my hikes based on a campsite I want stay at, or a particularly beautiful overlook where I might like to hang-out for an afternoon and read a book, bird-watch, or just simply sit awhile.

One afternoon, I was sitting on a large rock in a small river, soaking my feet, reading a book and having some lunch, when a thru-hiker I had been crossing paths with off and on for days stopped and said, “You really do just mosey along, don’t ya?  That’s your trail name, kiddo, Mosey.”    

I’m not concerned with crushing the big miles.  I’m not racing the change in seasons.  I have the luxury of time on my hikes and so I try and absorb every step of it.

But don’t get me wrong.  Thru-hikers are beasts!  It takes a significant amount of grit and fortitude to tough it out and that, in and of itself, is it’s own special journey.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to complete a section with my dad.  He filled a chunk of my childhood with memories of long hikes in state parks, canoe trips down winding rivers, bike rides along abandoned railroad beds, fishing from small, tucked away ponds only my dad seemed to know about, long drives on rural, country roads, camping and boating.

It was from my dad that I developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for the outdoors.

“Never do this.”  My dad would often to say to my brother and I as he stooped to pick up a discarded wrapper, bottle, or can tossed along a trail.  “Never litter.”

“Why?” My brother and I would ask when we were young.

“Because….it turns wild.”  My dad would say.  “Haven’t you ever come across a wild potato chip bag?”

“No!”  My brother and I would exclaim, wide-eyed.  “What do they do?”  

“Ooh, they are vicious!”  My dad would say.

Thanks to my dad, over the years, the outdoors became a peaceful sanctuary and a trusted friend, where I love to disappear as often as possible with a book in hand….or my husband and our little one in tow….to spend hours happily embraced by the woods or a mountain….exploring a new trail, rock-hopping across a stream, or just quietly sitting and watching as my son explores the abundance of rocks and trees and sticks and flowers.

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Since the terrible tragedy that occurred this past Saturday, I have been getting dozens of texts and social media tags from concerned family and friends with links to the articles.

“Are you still going this year?”  They ask.  “Aren’t you afraid?”

And the answer is, “Yes, I’m still going and no, I’m not afraid.”

It has saddened and frustrated me to hear and read the commentary from people who are shouting things like, “Well, of course this happened!  They were out in the WOODS, with STRANGERS!”  

When, in reality, it was among the safest places they could be.

Safer than getting into an Uber.

Safer than walking through a major city.

Safer than attending any large scale public event (concerts, movies, marathons, etc.)

Safer than going for a jog through most neighborhoods….

What happened is not a reflection of the trail or the hiking community, and it would be a shame if it scared people away from the experience, but I don’t think it will.

I think now, more than ever, those of us who love the trail and are drawn to the adventure, will hike on.

What a waste it would be if we didn’t.

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Happy Mother’s Day….

“God could not be everywhere.  Therefore, he created mothers.
~Rudyard Kipling.

Until I actually became a mother, my relationship with Mother’s Day was a complicated one.  My parents divorced when I was very young and in the years that followed, my dad felt no obligation to ensure my brother and I had something to give to our mother for the holiday.

My parents had a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce, so its possible this was an intended malicious act on his part, or it may have been something he didn’t realize he was supposed to do.  Regardless, the slight wasn’t lost on my mother.

It wasn’t that my brother and I had nothing to present to her.  There was always a school created craft.  Also, as we got a little older, my brother and I used to pay special attention to the neighborhood curbside trash and yard sales for treasures we thought she might like.

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This is pretty much what my brother looked like in the 80’s

We brought home things like second-hand wallets, old bottles of perfume and umbrella’s.  Sometimes, we’d scrape-up enough loose change and walk to the Hallmark store in town to pick out a small magnet or a mini-figurine.

Sometimes, we would pick flowers from garden beds throughout town and attempt to fashion a bouquet.  We also made her breakfast in bed, which usually consisted of a loaf of soggy french toast, cereal, pop-tarts and whatever beverage was on-hand.

If my mother ever appreciated our efforts, it was lost in her anger at my father for his failure to help us purchase more suitable gifts.  She would rant and rave, call him and leave screeching messages on his answering machine and grill my brother and I about what he’d purchased for our step-mother.

She would cry and tell us how badly her feelings had been hurt, how sad she felt at not having anything to open, how hard she worked and how she deserved more.  The day would be lost to her disappointment.

The weight of it all was not something we should have been expected to help carry.  We were just little kids.  But, carry it we did.  Every approaching holiday would leave me feeling crippled with dread and anxiety.  I worried endlessly about how we were going to be able to provide my mother with enough to make her happy.

As I got older and eventually began earning money of my own, it became easier to get through these events, but I would still spend weeks worrying that I hadn’t gotten enough, or the exact right thing.  I also knew that no matter what, my mother would want to compare it to whatever had been purchased for my step-mother.

When I reached adulthood, Mother’s Day began to take on a feeling of dreaded obligation, rather than a feeling of joy at celebrating the woman who had given birth to me.  When my relationship with my mother came to a final end, I was relieved not to have to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations.  It became just another day.

When I became a step-mother, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Mother’s Day.  In the beginning, it continued to feel like just another day.  I felt no maternal stirrings for my step-children, so I had no emotional connection to Mother’s Day.  I was not their mother.  I’m still not their mother, but I am something.

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Being a step-parent is the most complex and complicated relationship I’ve ever been a part of.  I know that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my case, the biological mother of my step-children pretty much hates me.

Even though we’ve not once had a single conversation in the more than 10 years I’ve been around, and though I had nothing to do with the demise of her marriage, I seem to be symbolic of something she can’t handle.  As for what that might be, I can only speculate.

When I embarked on the journey of step-parenting, I was without great expectations.  I knew we wouldn’t love each other right away.  I expected there would be feelings of jealousy and resentment on their part and mine.  I knew there would be loyalty conflicts and lines drawn and hurt feelings.  I didn’t push.

I let them get to know me and I got to know them.  When their mother’s negative commentary seeped into our household, I refused to become what I knew she wanted me to be.

Overtime, I think the kids slowly began to see the motives behind what they were hearing versus what they were seeing.  Not that this caused them to love their mother any less and like me any more, but I think they began to form their own opinions and to open themselves up to a growing relationship with me.

I like to think I’ve been a positive influence.  When I first met the kids, they were often paralyzed by any new experience, whether it be trying a new food, visiting a new place, or trying a new activity.  It seemed they believed the world was fraught with danger.

Little by little, I worked to crack that shell.  I took them rock climbing and hiking and camping while patiently and continually reassuring them that they would, in fact, not plummet to the earth and die, get lost and starve, be kidnapped and eaten by hillbillies and/or obtain some type of biological disease carried by random woodland creatures.

I introduced new foods, my dad taught them to fish, I sought out fun and interesting places to visit, coaxed them onto their first plane ride, taught them to golf and tried to teach them to ski.  My step-son is now obsessed, but my step-daughter is still afraid that she will crash, head first into a tree….on the treeless bunny slopes.  We’re working on it.

But still, I’ve often said that if my step-children grow-up and do amazing things, some will say it happened despite my presence in their lives.  If they grow-up and become serial killers, it will be all my fault.

As the years have passed and our relationships with one another have continued to evolve and seek definition, I’ve continued to have no expectations of recognition on Mother’s Day.

In part, I’m sure it’s to save myself from hurt feelings, but at the same time, I know I am not their mother and if the day holds an exclusive meaning for them, I would never seek to intrude.

With that being said, I’ve not gone without it.  At some point, they began getting me a card and a small gift.  The card typically has the word “Step” written by one of them in front of the word “Mom” anywhere it’s printed on the card.  I’ve never viewed it as a negative, only as a boundary.  I am their step-mom.  It’s not the same as being their mom.  I like the distinction.

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My husband has always insisted he has not influenced the kids to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he may have planted the seed.

However, one year, when my step-son was ten, he presented me with a school craft he’d made.  It was a long piece of construction paper that included a picture of himself holding a giant sunflower.  Underneath the photo, it said, “Happy Mother’s Day” and printed below was a list of things he loved about me.

I’m not a particularly emotional person, but when he gave it to me, I’ll admit that I thought my heart might burst.  I thanked him and told him it was the best gift I’d ever been given and I meant it.  Later, I took it to my room and cried.  Then I framed it and hung it.

Then, I became a mom in the traditional sense of the word and I still don’t want or expect grandiose gestures for Mother’s Day.  I just want to enjoy a quiet, simple day with my little family.

My own son always presents me with a handmade craft and I always cherish it.  More importantly though, he knows that I cherish it.  He know’s it enough and that he is enough.

All this week, I’ve been reading the various editorials written about the all the different kinds of mom’s out there.  The harried and frazzled, the mother’s who have lost children, the women who have lost their mother’s, the foster and adoptive mom’s and the all the other women who stepped in and took on the role of a mother when they were needed most.

I’ve laughed, sympathized, felt sad.  Mostly though, I’ve felt grateful.  And that is truly the best gift of all.

I hope all you moms out there get what you need this Mother’s Day too.

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