Pie – A Flaky Crusted Dessert….

“What are you, a fu*%ing retard!?” ~ My Mother

Nearly every homework assignment I brought home….until I wizened up and quit bringing my homework home….ended with my mother morphing into a crazed lunatic.

Mommie-Dearest

Eyes wild and foaming at the mouth, she would rip the pencil from my hand and violently scribble away any incorrect answers, often ripping holes in the paper in the process.

Then, in a fit of hysteria, she would tear the entire document into smithereens and hurl the pieces about the kitchen while ranting and raving like a mad woman.

Pets would cower, various boyfriends and step-dad’s would go into hiding, neighbor’s wouldn’t call the authorities and my dreams of getting to live with my dad, or becoming a ward of the state, wouldn’t come true.

Eventually, I started to hide my schoolwork from her.  I would claim I didn’t have any homework, or that we had been given time to do it at the end of our class period and she rarely questioned it.

In reality, I would often hurriedly do it in my room when I was supposed to be in bed, or while on the bus on the way to, or from, school.

It wasn’t a bad tactic, except with regards to the subjects I struggled in.  I was never particularly good at anything related to science or math, two topics my mother excelled in and it was infuriating for her that I couldn’t immediately grasp the concepts of long division, algebra, geometry, biology and chemistry.

Without anyone who wasn’t on the verge of going bat-shit crazy to look over my homework assignments, I often ended up with poor markings, which led to failed quizzes and tests.

But, by the time I was in fifth grade, I had mastered my mother’s signature, which was handy for signing off on all my failures.  This way, it wasn’t until report card time that I had to take the beatings for failing grades.  I reasoned this was a much smarter approach.

One bad night of screaming, hair pulling, rampaging, “go get me the belt you God-damn dumb ass,” was statistically much better than enduring the same thing on a per bad grade basis.

Plus, since my brother was typically in the same boat, we split her wrath about fifty-fifty.

Tell me I’m not good at math.

When I was in the sixth grade, my last year of elementary school before heading off to middle school, my math teacher was tasked with presenting her students with the extracurricular activities we could choose from in middle school, like sports, band and choir.

In order to be allowed to participate in our first year however, incoming students had to have at least a C average across all subjects.  I did not.

So when it came time to sign up for the programs we wished to join or try-out for, I selected none and made no mention of it to my mother.

Thanks to an invasive school system however, the same information was mailed to our homes.

Mommy Dearest:  “You signed up to tryout for cheerleading, right?  Why didn’t you mention it?”

Me:  “Mrs. C said I couldn’t sign up.”

Mommy Dearest:  “Why?  

Me:  “I don’t know?”

Mommy Dearest:  “Were other girls allowed to sign up?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Cowardly, I know.  But report cards were right around the corner, and if I could just hold her off for another few weeks or so….we could go right on ahead and kill a few birds with one back-hand….I mean, stone.

It would be important for me to note here, that my mother prized cheerleading as much Wanda Holloway….the woman who plotted to have her daughters cheerleading nemesis offed….it’s probably about the only thing my mother would have killed on my behalf for.

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When she was a teenager, she had been the captain of the cheerleading and gymnastics teams at her high school.  She had been the Homecoming Queen and Prom Queen.  She had been popular and adorable and bubbly and everyone had loved her.

Then, at some point in her adulthood, she’d become a raving lunatic, an abusive alcoholic and then an abusive recovering alcoholic.  But she never forgot those glory days.

So, it should have come as no surprise when my mother gave Mrs. C a little ring on the phone the next day.  I knew about it, because Mrs. C  was hysterically crying to Mrs. K during our lunch recess.

During the meltdown, Mrs. K called me over from where I was attempting to remain oblivious and, while consoling a sobbing Mrs. C asked, “Why did you tell your mother you were specifically excluded from next years extracurricular activities?”

Me:  “I didn’t.”

Cowardly, I know, but I had to be a pathological liar in order to survive my childhood….sue me.

I rode the bus home full of dread.  I knew by the time I walked through the door, she would have flushed out all my carefully constructed lies and it would not be good.

I pondered the durability of my teeth, the thickness of my hair and whether or not I had enough to cover any bald spots that might be created….and then, I took it like a champ.

Now, I have a child of my own.  He’s a first grader and every Monday, he get’s a bit of homework he has to complete and return each Friday.  We practice his spelling words, we read and we I, struggle to understand his math.  WTF common core?

I don’t mean to mom brag or anything, but my boy is wicked smaht.   Academics come easily to him, which I have to assume he’s inherited from his father, though he get’s his good looks and snarky attitude from me.

Seriously though, I’m incredibly proud of him.  And also, I’m proud of myself.  I’m raising a kid who is confidant and capable and brave.  Which isn’t the way anyone would have described me at his age.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a mother.  Or rather, if I could be a mother.   It seemed impossible that I would know what to do.  I was afraid that I would just fall into the same cycles of abuse I’d known as a kid.  That whatever was wrong with my mother, might be wrong with me too.

A few years before our son was born, my husband and I took a road-trip out west that included several days of hiking in Yellowstone National Park.  At the time, park officials were managing a wildfire that had been started by a lightning strike.  One afternoon, my husband and I hiked up Mount Washburn, which hosts one of the three remaining fire lookout stations in Yellowstone.

At the top, we struck up a conversation about the fires with a park ranger.  I asked if park officials were concerned about the fires destruction and he said, “No.  So long as there is no risk to human life, wildfires are a good thing.”

He explained that wildfires make way for new growth.   They regenerate our forests, renew the soil, and help reset the clock for the ecosystem.

I think the same can be said about life in general.  Life is hard.  Sometimes, it burns in ways that feel as though there can’t possibly be anything left when it’s done.

But in truth, the burning isn’t the end.  It’s just life’s way of giving us a chance to reset.  To reevaluate where we’ve been and where we’re going.  It’s a second chance, or a third chance, or a fourth chance, or more.

There is beauty and strength and grace and opportunity to be found in the ashes….if only we are brave enough to put one foot in front of the other and to try.

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I’m Melting….

“Let’s open a store called FOREVER 39.  We can sell wine and yoga pants.”

As often as possible, I attend a yoga class.  Though I never thought of myself as the type of person who could ever achieve a zen-like state….I’m pretty wound….all the time….I have to admit that yoga does wonders for me.

When I really focus in on the practice, I can feel the stress and frustrations of the day, or week, melt away….and I get my best night’s sleep post class.  At least I did until yesterday, when I discovered that my face is falling off my head.

If you’ve ever been to a gym before, you might have noticed that the regulars tend to have a favored spot, or bike, or other piece of equipment they gravitate toward.

My gym is no different, but no one is a bitch about it.  So, when I arrived for yoga last night and found a new person in my typical spot, I just chose another, settled into Lotus pose and waited for class to begin.

My usual spot is near a half wall, that’s kind of like a long, narrow shelf.  I like it there, because I can use the wall to cheat during some of the balance poses.

My new location was directly beside a wall of mirrors that runs the entire length of one side of the gym.  I didn’t think much of it until I found myself in Prasarita Padottansana, which is a wide-legged forward bend.

We can pretend this is me….she’s OK….I guess.

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Typically, I keep my eyes closed during my practice, unless otherwise instructed to open them.  It helps me to block out the activity around me so that I can fully concentrate.

For some reason though, I decided to open them while bent over with the mirror at my back.  The first thing I noticed was that the position made my ass look like a billboard and I wondered for a moment if it would be possible to write supercalifragilisticexpialidocious across my rear.

The second thing I noticed was that my cheeks (face cheeks) appeared to be on my forehead.  It was legit frightening and after I gasped in horror, I did what women have been doing for centuries….I took a look around the room and compared myself to the other women.

This was only moderately helpful, since I was flanked by two, fresh faced twenty-somethings.  But, I did notice that a few other ladies had pools of skin dangling from their hairlines as well, so I was at least relieved to know that the only thing dying was my youth.

Yes, I am aware that things change as we age, it’s just that I would prefer to defy nature….because I like to set goals that are high and largely unattainable.

Having lost all ability to focus on the original intention of my practice that evening, I settled on a new one.  Trying to force my skin back into its original location by making a series of faces.  This did not work.

Then, I was reminded of the Golden Girls and that episode where Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia are discussing how long each woman waited to have sex with someone new, after their husbands were no longer in the picture.

Dorothy says, “You know, when you’re twenty, everything stays where it’s supposed to.  Now, when you lean over, it looks like somebody’s let the air out of your face.”  

#TRUTH

Dorothy then challenges an incredulous Blanche to look over a mirror and see the effect for herself, which she does with comical results.

Anyway, I’m not sure what to do about this.  I’ve seen too many seasons of The Real Housewives of (insert any city) and the evolution of Kim Kardashian’s face, to go anywhere near Botox.

So, is there some kind of fruit, or plant, or cream I can use that will magically turn back time?   I’m looking for a relatively inexpensive, quick fix.  I’ll even accept a potion brewed by the devil, whatever is going to work.

But if there is nothing that can be done that does not involve a scalpel, or a needle….if I am to accept that this is just the natural order of things….then I guess I’ll have to accept it.

But you can bet your ass I’ll bitch slap the new girl at yoga for my spot back.

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Flashback Friday – The Fiestada….

“I followed my heart and it led me to the Fiestada” ~ Me

Does anyone else out there remember the Fiestada?

If you were a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I’m talking to you.

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The Fiestada was an octagon shaped, little slice of pizza-like heaven.

It had a thin, cardboard crust and was topped with tomato paste? and tiny pieces of hamburger? and yellow cheese? that kind of all melted/congealed/slightly burned together to form a  crispy, but mushy, kind of special goodness.

Had my subsidized school lunch program allowed it, I would have stockpiled my ration all week and blown it all on Fiestada day.

I day-dreamed about how I might score a second helping.  I wished the school would announce a contest for which the grand prize would be a lifetime supply of Fiestada’s.

In the lunch room, I scarfed mine down and then circled the cafeteria like a vulture, hoping a classmate might be willing to share.

Are you going to eat that?  Are you going to eat the whole thing?  What!?  How do you not like Fiestada’s!?  Could typically be heard coming from my salivating, Fiestada juice stained, grubby little mouth.

I loved them so much, that I once asked the lunch lady for the recipe….and she pointed to a long, white, nondescript box with plain black lettering that said, “Fiestada” and then I just assumed they had been made in Mexico, because they were far too exotic to be American fare.

“I’ll go there someday.  I’ll go there and eat my weight in Fiestada’s”  I told myself, because I was not a kid without goals.

Some people have cherished memories of home cooked meals, served round a table full of happy family members in a warmly lit dining room….a fire crackling in the background.

I have cherished memories of linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting and the heart burn inducing, probably ADD causing, artery clogging, early on-set heart disease producing, special little octagonal round of awesome that was….the Fiestada.

To this day, I am so obsessed with recapturing that precious moment, that I have scoured the internet in the hopes of tracking down my beloved.

I’ve found recipes on Pinterest that claim to be an exact replica of the original, but there was nothing “homemade” about what I ate in those days.

I want the original.

The one that sat in the industrial sized freezer of an elementary school cafeteria, safely wrapped in BPA leaden plastic.

But I don’t think it’s meant to be.  The best I could find was this thing….made with Whole Grains.

And I literally can’t even….

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The Gazelle….

“Running is fun!” ~Psychopaths

About three years ago, I joined a women’s only fitness studio and truly, it changed my life.  I have always enjoyed physical activity, but in the past, I had a habit of joining big gyms, for like five minutes.

Then, I would get super bored, because I didn’t know what I was doing, and then I would quit….four years later….because canceling a gym membership is the tenth circle of hell.

But after I had my son and completed my cancer treatments, my body felt like it had been run over by a truck.  In addition, my anxiety, which had been a minor issue for me all of my life, suddenly started to attack more often and more viciously than it ever had before.

quote-anxietyI talked about it with my doctors and also a therapist I had been seeing for a while.  It was normal and typical for cancer survivors to experience symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.  Medication was an option, but I didn’t feel like it was a good option for me.

I just needed some way to release that energy from my body.  I began to recognize its build up.  I could feel that it was trapped, but I didn’t know how to go about getting it out and it made me feel manic.

On the advice of my Oncologist and my Cardiologist, I decided to start working out again.  Their suggestion was based more on the physical benefits I would get from regular exercise, but I thought maybe it might be a good way to exorcise some crazy while I was at it.

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At first, I bought the book, Fitness for Dummies, thinking it would help me understand how to properly use the equipment at the gym and create a worthwhile routine for myself.  And yes, I could have just asked someone, but no I could not.  (See post, I’m Known as the Death of the Party).

Anyway, I quickly realized that I was just on my way to falling into the same old failed routine I had gotten myself into so many times before.  So, instead, I turned to my community Facebook page for local moms….because if you want to know anything from where to get a good bikini wax, to what that noise was over on Main Street at 4:37am, that’s where you go….and I posted something like the following:

“Hey ladies.  I’m looking to join a new gym.  Somewhere with maybe small group classes and trainers who tell me what to do.  And if they are mean, even better.  I need someone to shout my ass back into shape.  Thanks!”

Within minutes, I began to receive a flood of responses. Eventually, I chose a new, women’s only fitness studio that had been open for just a few months.  I chose them, because I loved their body positive message.

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After my first class, I knew this time would be different.  Exercise has been a game changer for me, both physically and mentally and it’s a literal lifeline I can’t do without. And it was thanks to joining my gym, that I came to know my friend Gazelle.  (I call her this, because she has the body of Gisele, minus the height, and she runs like some kind of prancing, dainty, woodland creature).

Gazelle doesn’t teach at my studio. I know her through a game of six degrees of separation that includes both a personal and exercise related connection.  It was through that combination that I came to attend a cardio-kickboxing class she was hosting to raise money for charity.

The class kicked my ass.  In a good way.   So I began following her around to other gyms, where I take her class as a drop-in whenever possible.  She’s amazing.

Fitness is her full time job.  She has a degree in Exercise Physiology, but instead of working in a clinical setting, she likes to teach.  She gets up most mornings around 4:00am to begin her day, which includes a variety of classes taught at several different gyms.  I’ve seen here around noon-time when she’s already five classes into her day and you’d never know it.

In addition to her workload, she’s an avid runner and she’s constantly trying to get me to take it up.

“Hey, want to go for a run today?  It’s going to be so nice out!”  she texts.

“No.  Running is dangerous.”  I say.

“Running isn’t dangerous! What are you talking about?” 

“Um, have you never seen Dateline?  Or 48 Hours Investigates? There’s like a 90% chance I’ll be murdered.”  I tell her.

“We’ll be together though.”  She says.

“No, we won’t. I’ll quit after three minutes and tell you I’ll catch up. And by the time I’m attacked, you’ll be too far away for me to trip you as a sacrifice to save myself.”  


“Want to go for a run?  The foliage is beautiful!”  She tries again.

“Imagine how much better I’ll be able to see it while walking.”  I say.


“Let’s go for a run today!  Just a short one!”  She begs.

“I’d love to but I can’t.  Oh wait.  No, I wouldn’t love to.”


“Ok, I know you’ll probably say no, but how about you give running a chance today?”

“No.”


“Run?”

“I can’t, I hate it.”  

“Have you ever tried it?  Like REALLY tried it?”  

“Yes, that’s how I know that with every stride, a part of my soul dies.”

“You are so dramatic.”

“I know.”  


“Hey friend, great day for a run!”

“Evolution.”

“What?”

“If God wanted us to run, he would not have killed off the Dinosaurs.”

“That makes zero sense.”

“It makes perfect sense.  Think about it while you’re running today.  Alone.”


I’m just not a runner.

There have been many times I’ve gone out and invested in expensive, top of the line running shoes, devised a training plan and envisioned myself crossing the finish line of the Boston marathon.  But then, I just end up gardening in my expensive, top of the line running shoes and watching the marathon from a bar on Beacon Street.

And I can always tell who the real runners are vs. the people like me who go out thinking, I’m going to pound out some miles and then end up walking three minutes in, because running is stupid.

Real runners seem to glide, their strides steady and light, their facial expressions stoic, their breathing, steady.

When I run, I look like a sack full of rocks being dragged across a bumpy road as I desperately suck wind.  My facial expression says, “This sucks, I’m bored, I hate every minute of this and it’s only been half a block.”

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I will hike for dozens/hundreds of miles carrying a 20 pound backpack up and down mountains for days and I won’t complain, even once.  I will bike ride for hours.  I will Spin and Barre and Booty Build and Muscle Pump and Namaste every day of the week….but I cannot bring myself to jog a lap, let alone a mile.

So I will keep on telling my friend no.  And she will continue to ask.

I will offer to drive alongside her in my car, while she runs.  Promising to shout out inspirational quotes, throw paper cups of water at her and play Eye of the Tiger at the highest volume setting for as long as her little legs will go.

And she will attempt to trick me into running by using words like “fun run” and promising a “yummy lunch” afterward.  And I will tell her that her idea of “yummy” includes a plate of twigs and crab grass and my idea of “yummy” includes cheesecake.

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Though it probably doesn’t sound like it, I do appreciate her persistence.  I know that it comes from a good place.  She’s rooting me on, because she thinks I can do it.  She has faith in me and my abilities.  Running is a passion of hers and she wants to share it with me.  Motivation is part of her job and she is really good at it.

It’s just that in my case, there is no will to find the way.  But her constant nagging has encouraged me.  I work out harder, because of her.  I push myself every workout and when I think I’m at my max, I push just a little bit more.

But if you ever see me running, you should probably start running too….because chances are, a zombie, or a serial killer is gaining on me.
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Flashback Friday….That Time I Tried Atkins

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” ~ Kate Moss

Personally, I think her bony ass is full of shit….but, it took me awhile to figure that out.

Throughout my twenties, I did my fair share of fad dieting.  The South Beach Diet, the Cleveland Clinic Diet, Slim Fast and the Hydroxycut and Coffee diet I invented myself.  Which was kind of my take on the Super Model diet (champagne and cocaine), but since I couldn’t afford cocaine, or champagne, I doubled down on the uppers and I’ll be honest, how I didn’t die of a massive heart attack, I’ll never know.

If I could go back in time, I’d just smack the post closing time Taco Bell, taco supreme out of my hand and suggest fewer buttery nipple shooters, in lieu of torturing myself during day time hours.  But, wisdom comes with age, or so they say.

I began my journey of unsustainable dieting after gaining a few pounds at my first office job post college.  I didn’t make a lot of money and so my food options were pretty limited.

Most of the time, I lived off Ramen Noodles, or Spaghetti noodles with butter.  When I had a little extra cash, I bought a few Banquet TV dinners and ninety-nine cent frozen pizza’s.  I ate whatever was cheapest, which meant I mostly ate crap.

The office was relatively small and the owner of the business liked to take us out for lunch a few times a week.  I quickly learned that if I ordered intelligently, I could squeeze several meals out of the leftovers.

This meant, I almost always ordered a hearty pasta dish, since the servings are typically larger compared to that of a salad or sandwich.  I also learned I could steal other people’s leftovers.

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Every Friday, the office supplied bagels from a fancy bagel shop, along with a selection of gourmet cream cheeses.  I took my morning bagel and then casually returned to the kitchenette to snatch up the extra’s for home; hiding them behind piles of paper I had clutched to my chest and in my purse while trying to make it look like I was just on my way to/from the bathroom.

Once, I pulled a container of cream cheese, with approximately one tablespoon of Pumpkin Spice remaining in it, out of the trash….because that’s wasteful and I had no shame.

And then there were the birthday celebrations and the grocery store sheet cakes that came along with them.

After the “party,” I liked to volunteer to clean-up the break room, not because I liked to be helpful, but because I could wrap up the rest of the sheet cake and take it home with me.

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So yeah, it didn’t take long before the one pair of Jaclyn Smith black work pants I owned, started crying at the seams.

One of my co-workers, Ned, a middle aged guy with horribly bad breath, suggested I give Atkins a try.  The fact that a middle-aged man I worked with commented on my expanding waistline, is a whole other thing.

Anyway, he’d been an Atkins devotee for most of his adult life….long before the diet peaked in popularity.

I was immediately lured in by the idea that I could go to McDonald’s, order a whole bunch of cheeseburgers, and all I would have to sacrifice would be the bun.

So….what you’re saying is that I can fry up a package of discount hamburger from Aldi’s, smother it in cheese and eat the whole thing in one sitting?  

I could eat an ENTIRE carton of eggs?

ALL the bacon?

It sounded so easy and I was all about easy.

I never made it to ketosis.

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Shortly after I started the induction phase, Ned was hospitalized with a serious illness that had something to do with his butt-hole falling out.  Apparently, he wasn’t properly supplementing his fiber intake all those years on Atkins and the result was, Butt-Hole Fall-Outis.

I’m sure there was an actual medical term for whatever was happening and I’m sure there was more to the story, but all I heard was “Its like his butt-hole is falling out.”

Even though I didn’t really give much thought to my own butt-hole on a regular basis, it seemed the kind of body part a person would like to keep and so that was enough for me to hop off the Atkins bandwagon….immediately.

On my way home from work, I stopped in at the grocery store for a family sized can of  Beefaroni and a bunch of banana’s, that I began to devour the second I got into my car,  while clenching my butt cheeks together.

But still, it took years of fad dieting and failure, before I discovered that weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight did not have to include suffering and/or the elimination of food groups.

Eventually, I discovered simple calorie counting and for me, it’s made all the difference.  Setting a reasonable and HEALTHY, per day caloric intake….along with exercise….has been key in helping me to maintain a healthy weight.  It’s also significantly improved my overall energy level.

Knowing  that I can essentially eat whatever I want….so long as I stick to my daily goal….helps me make better choices throughout the day (most of the time) and it allows me some slack when I want to indulge….all without sabotaging my efforts and throwing my bodily functions off track.

I’ve also learned a lot about food in recent years….the differences between calories, carbohydrates and cholesterol….and the best way to give my body the fuel it needs to properly function.

But let me be clear….ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, I have written here should be considered, or taken as advice.  I don’t know anything.

I’m a cancer survivor and one of the benefits of that, includes a team of doctors and nutritionists who have given me new insights and instructions regarding my overall health these last six years.  I do what they tell me, because cancer sucked.  And whatever I have to do to prevent getting it again, I’ll do.

But, if you are on the look-out for great recipes that are healthy and don’t taste like cardboard, I am a huge fan of this lady:  Skinnytaste.

I don’t personally know the author at Skinnytaste.  No funds, or food, or favors of any kind have been exchanged for my referencing here here….I just really love her recipes and when I get compliments on her meals, I take all the credit, which is easier to do when you don’t actually know the other person.

Bon apetit!

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A Eulogy for my Step-Mom….

“You can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family.” ~My Step-Mom

A year ago, my step-mom, Cindy, passed away.  She was found on her front porch by her mailman.  She was 58 years old.

I like to imagine she was found in death, like I remember her best in life.  Dressed to the nine’s.  Hair and makeup, perfect.  A Kool Mild cigarette in one well manicured hand and a Cosmopolitan in the other.  Almost like she’d just stepped out of an episode of Mad Men.

In reality, I think it likely looked far more tragic.  And for a woman who prided herself on optics, it seems an exceptionally cruel way for death to have come knocking.

Although she had been my step-mom for nearly 30 years, I learned of her death via Facebook; one cryptic post.

To be fair, I suppose she wasn’t technically my step-mom any more.  She and my dad had divorced a few years prior and in the wake of their divorce, she made it clear that she was divorcing my brother and me as well.

So perhaps, I didn’t deserve to be counted among those who got a phone call with a gentle breaking of the news.  I wasn’t family anymore.

Cindy was a beautiful, funny, vivacious, silly, complicated woman, who was also a drug addict.

It began in the late-90’s, when she was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition in the aftermath of a work related injury to her left arm.  It wasn’t a serious injury, but it required minor, outpatient surgery.  In the months that followed, the pain never lessened.  Instead, it became increasingly more severe.

Once, while at their home for the weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night and found Cindy in the bathroom, sweating profusely.  She looked like she wanted to crawl out of her own body for the pain and she couldn’t stop vomiting.  Her left arm, from her elbow to her hand, was swollen and waxy looking.

When I talked to my dad about it the next day, he said it had been going on for months and no one was able to explain it.  She’d been to doctor after doctor, most of whom suggested it was all in her head.

Eventually, she was properly diagnosed, but not before she began to lose some of the strength and coordination in her left hand, along with her spirit and her interest in life.

After the diagnosis, her treatment included things like nerve blocks, physical therapy, and narcotics; specifically, Oxycodone.  There were other treatment options as well, but over time, she abandoned those for the quick fix of the drug.

Then, there were more drugs; many, more drugs.  Drugs for insomnia, anxiety, depression, different drugs for the pain, etc., etc., etc.

By the time I was an adult, she seemed to have connections in pharmaceuticals….and not the legal kind.  But, she always maintained that her doctors knew what she was taking and she didn’t seem as though she felt she needed to hide anything.  The pills were always in prescription bottles with her name on them, but had I looked closer, I would have noticed the expiration dates had long since passed.

Eventually, she started mixing her meds and washing them down with alcohol.  Then, my brother found a small baggie in their house that contained a white powdery substance.  At first, he thought it was cocaine, but later learned, at a family gathering when Cindy became inebriated, that she’d been grinding up her medications and snorting them.

“My doctor told me to,” she said, “because it helps the medication get into my system faster and then I don’t have to take as many pills.  It’s better for my liver.”

We didn’t believe her, but we didn’t question her either.  There were no staged interventions, or heart-felt discussions about our concerns for her well-being.  We didn’t call a hotline, or the authorities.  We didn’t talk to our dad about it.  We didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t do anything at all.

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Looking back on those days, it was so obvious that she was losing herself and that we were losing her.  Her personality began to subtly and then drastically change. Sometimes, she would wander around in a fuzzy bathrobe and a pair of Ugg slippers, looking disheveled and vacant.  Sometimes, she was mean; very clearly angry with everyone and everything and looking for a fight.

But then, she would sort of snap out of it and she’d be almost back to her old self and we could still see glimpses of the person she’d used to be; impeccably groomed, upbeat and silly.  Maybe she was fine after all, we’d think.

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Cindy had never been able to have children of her own, save for two twin boys she had miscarried late in the pregnancy.  They weren’t my fathers children, they had been conceived when she was married to her first husband.

A few years after the miscarriage, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.  A few years after that, she’d had to have an emergency hysterectomy.

As a kid, I couldn’t understand all that loss.  I just saw her as the kind of aunt and step-mom who never missed an opportunity to shower the kids in her life with fun.

She always came home from the store with an assortment of quirky things.  Like wind up toys in the shapes of animals wearing formal wear, small tubes of slime, glow in the dark Yo-Yo’s and other treasures she’d discovered in some check-out aisle, or when wandering through a Five and Dime shop.

She brought home weird candy that came in tins shaped like coffins, or a toilet.  There were sour elixirs in test tubes and lollipops with real bugs like centipedes and grasshoppers in their centers.

She also always stocked up on the latest National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News and Sun magazines.  We would all take turns reading, while laughing and seriously debating the truthfulness of the articles.

She introduced us to movies like Hairspray, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Tommy and many other off-beat flicks we watched on repeat until we had them memorized.

She loved cartoons and on Saturday mornings, we’d lounge around in the living room watching old episodes of the Flintstones, the Jetsons and the Smurfs.

When I was an early teen, she got a job at a factory that made car parts for the now defunct, Saturn automobiles.  She worked a second shift, so that during our extended summer visits with our dad, someone would always be home with my brother and me.

Every morning, we would watch The People’s Court and all the daytime talk shows; Sally Jesse Raphael, Donahue, Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, etc, followed by repeats of Designing Women and the Golden Girls.  

In the evenings, my brother and I would wait for her to come home and while she ate her dinner, we would watch old sitcoms on Nick at Nite, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dick Van Dyke, Rhoda and Laverne and Shirley.

Cindy loved Elvis and Rod Stewart, who she called, “Rod the Bod” and occasionally, she would break out into one of their songs, while doing a little dance and trying to entice our dad, who didn’t dance, to join her, while she giggled and swayed.

She regaled us with tales from her 20’s, that often included stories about dancing her nights away in Disco clubs.

Like the story about the man who approached her one night wearing a silk shirt, with the top most buttons undone, so as to show off his ample chest hair (sexy), and wearing a necklace in the shape of a working stop-light.  She said he walked up to her and switched the light on his necklace from green to red and said, “I saw you from the across the room baby and my heart stopped.”

My brother and I would erupt into shrieks of laughter at how corny and gross it all sounded and she would say, “What!?  That was cool!”

At one point, she had raced American muscle cars at a local drag strip.  She would tell us that when she pulled up to the starting line, wearing a sparkly pink helmet and a rhinestone jumpsuit, the men would laugh.  And then….she’d leave them in her dust.

Cindy loved a good scary story, the quirkier and more paranormal, the better.  Her favorite authors were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  But as much as she loved to read scary stories, she loved to tell them more.

In the summer, we’d gather around an enormous bon-fire in their yard, surrounded by thick woods, and she would tell us an elaborate story that always had local origins. Inevitably, she would manage to scare us into screams, tears, wet pants….and afterwards, she would laugh until she cried, while recounting how scared we’d been.

She loved the water and for a number of years, she and my dad lived on a lake and we’d spend our weekends on their boat from sun up to sun down.  We’d water ski and tube and read and swim and float.

She knew a million recipes that almost always included a can of some type of Campbell’s soup and my brother and I thought she was the best cook around.

I loved to watch her work in the kitchen and though I was a tom-boy with no interest in cooking, or anything domestic, I would sit on a stool at the counter and we’d chat about anything and everything, while she cooked.

She was high maintenance and a total girly girl, who took a Caboodle case full of makeup and hair products along on our annual, weeklong camping trips and I don’t recall ever seeing her without a glossy red manicure on her perfect fingernails.   “A girl’s always gotta look her best” she would say.

Her hair was naturally curly and she wore it the exact same way, until she discovered Chi flat irons in early 2,000.

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Her personal life and backstory were fascinating to me and she never held back the details.  I could ask her anything and she didn’t hesitate to tell me.

But the questions I should have been asking later in life, I never did.

Her addiction seemed to draw to the surface old, buried wounds from her childhood and her first marriage and the loss of her babies and her inability to have biological children of her own.

And it was addiction that kept her from coping with these things in a healthy way. Instead, she began to dwell and stew in resentment and it wreaked havoc on her mental health and her relationships.

I had always imagined that Cindy would be a funny and quirky grandma for my kids.  I looked forward to sending them to her house for long weekends and hearing all about the Snipe hunt she’d tricked them into and about that time she dated a Vampire.

But addiction took that away long before it was anything more than a hope.  The last years that I was a part of her life were complicated and filled with anger and disappointment.  We didn’t fight directly.  Instead, we didn’t really talk at all, which was worse in a lot of ways.

When I needed her most as an adult, when I was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, she wasn’t capable of being there for me.  But looking back on all of it, I realize that she might have needed me first and I wasn’t there for her either.

Her addiction was a well kept secret that everyone knew, but no one talked about, except in whispered side conversations.  Instead of calling her out, we all tiptoed around her, hoping we’d just get through things; holidays, birthdays, funerals, weddings and other family gatherings.

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I would find out later that she wasn’t in denial about her addiction.  That she and my dad had many conversations and fights about it over the years.  That she made promises and then tried to hide things and then decided she didn’t have to hide anything and she would do whatever she wanted.

That cycle of acknowledgment, deception and defiance, repeated itself for years.

And then, the marriage imploded and she was gone from our lives.  I was angry with her for letting us go, but I didn’t reach out.  I kept waiting for her to come to me.  To snap out of her addiction.  To realize she’d messed everything up and want to make it right.

I never fantasied that she and my dad would rekindle their romance, but I thought she would want to rekindle a relationship with me.  I thought she would want to know my son and that we would figure out how to forge a new relationship in the wake of our broken family.

I wanted her to tell me she was sorry.

Then, I wanted to tell her about how I had always loved when she introduced me to people as her daughter, because it made me feel wanted and important in a way my own mother never made me feel.

I wanted to tell her that some of the best parts of me as a step-mother and a mother, I learned from her.

I wanted to tell her how grateful I was for the hundreds of wonderful things, both big and small, that she did to make our lives better.

When I became a step-mom, I wanted to tell her that I could now understand how difficult it had been for her at times, and I wanted to tell her thank-you for hanging in there.

I wanted to tell her I loved her.

Addiction doesn’t give you the things you want though and I didn’t understand that until it was too late.

I also didn’t understand Cindy’s kind of addiction. She wasn’t smoking crack, or shooting heroine.

She was taking pills that had been prescribed, at least in the beginning, by her doctor.  I didn’t understand that those pills could have the same hold on her as any other drug.

I thought she could just stop taking them if she wanted to.  Especially when other treatments she tried for her condition, were working and she no longer needed the pills. I thought she was choosing to be a junkie and I hated her for it.

In the end, I never said good-bye to her.  After the divorce, it never occurred to me that I should.  I always expected we would reconnect.

And when she died, I chose not to attend the Celebration of Life her family held.  In part, because my brother and I weren’t mentioned in her obituary and the rejection stung.

For so many years, more than half or lives, we’d been her kids.  She’d witnessed and participated in our milestones.  She’d helped to provide for us, financially and emotionally.  Now, she was gone and it all felt unfinished and permanently broken.

Life goes on though and over the past year, I’ve tried to make peace with all that happened.  And the thing is, I don’t want the final chapter of her story, of our story, to define the whole thing.

It wouldn’t be fair.  Not to her, or to me.  Instead, I’m going to celebrate and remember the woman she was, before addiction took her away.

Goodbye Cindy.  I hope you have found all the peace.
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This Beach Body Runs on Taco’s….

“Here at Globo Gym we’re better than you.  And we know it.”
~
White Goodman, Dodgeball

After my lay-off, my first order of unemployed business, was to cryptically post my change of employment status across my social media accounts.

This, so that all of the people I don’t actually keep in touch with, could shower me with attention in the form of, “What happened!?” and “Are you going to be OK?”….because I didn’t get enough attention as a child, that’s why.

I’ll admit, I was genuinely touched by the number of people who offered to put me in touch with someone they knew who was hiring.

And, I was flattered when I began receiving regular phone calls and messages from hiring managers who said, “I see that you’re now available and I’d love to talk to you about an exciting opportunity at my company.”  As though they had just been waiting for me, which was crap, but still, I ate that shit up.  It’s nice to be wanted.

Of course, I then had to come clean and explain that I wasn’t actually looking for work.  That I had other plans.  To which they responded with, “Ok, deadbeat.”

Actually, no one said that, but it’s what I would have said.

After about a month or so, most of the calls and condolences dried up and I was busy moving on with my life.

Then, I got a message from an old high school acquaintance, via FB Messenger.  It started out with, Hey girly!

Important side-note here.  The only person who should address me with a “Hey girly” is a shirtless Ryan Gosling.  He should be holding a skinny vanilla late and asking if I’d like to watch The Notebook.  End, side-note.

Anyway, here’s the message:

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By “page,” I can only assume she meant my Facebook page.  So, I immediately went there to scrub out whatever might have led her to believe that I would be interested in being an online health and fitness coach.

Here’s the thing, I love to work out.  A few years ago, I joined a women’s only fitness studio after spending years joining traditional gyms where I spent my time trying to look like I knew how to use the equipment, while trying to dodge the hardcore sales tactics of gym employees, while also trying not to lose a finger in all the gym equipment I didn’t know how to use.

I would go faithfully for approximately one month.  Then, I would stop going, but continue to pay for my membership for at least a year before working up the guts to face the fifth layer of hell.  Also known as….trying to cancel your gym membership.

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Then, I got cancer and I had a baby….all at the same time….and I decided that my fitness goals were all wrong.  For years, I had been studying the body parts of other women and wishing I could make them mine.

Come on fitness equipment machine!  Give me JLo’s ass and abs….Jennifer Anniston’s arms….legs like Carrie Underwood! 

And of course, it never worked.

So, after life smacked me in the face, I decided I should be grateful I still had a living body and perhaps I should just learn to work with it.  I found my current gym and I love it.  It’s small, with a variety of classes and a body positive message and I’ve seen great results.

I’ll never have a six-pack, because I refuse to make the dietary sacrifices it would require, but I’m fit and in far better shape at 38, than I ever was in my 20’s.  Of course, in my 20’s, I lived off Ramen Noodles and the occasional, post closing time trip to Taco Bell, so….

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My point….I love to work out, but a scroll through my Facebook page would lead most to believe I hate it….when I even mention it all.  In the beginning, I checked-in for my daily 5:30am workout’s.  I mean, I’m working out at 5:30am!  Praise me!

But for the most part, my posts were snarky and complaint-like, because obviously, I was being forced into working out.  And eventually, it got old, for all involved.  (Read: I no longer needed the praise and validation of Facebook).

So, I couldn’t figure out exactly what she was seeing that would lead her to believe I would make a good fitness coach.  I decided to just ignore the message and hope she’d go away.

Two days later:

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Argh!  So, I responded with what I thought was a polite no.

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The irony of my misspelling “jam-packed” as “ham-packed,” is not lost on me.

And I wasn’t lying about the work thing.  For years, my husband and I had been talking about starting a small business.  When I learned my job was going to be eliminated, it seemed as good a time as any to give it a go.  So yeah, I’m busy.  But apparently, that wasn’t the right answer.

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Seriously?  Is it me, or are there a lot of assumptions being made here?

Like:

1.  We feel exactly the same way.

Nope, Sarah.  I don’t think we do.  I feel like YOU are sort of a self-righteous asshole, if you want to know the truth.


2.  That when I’m sitting on the couch watching my favorite show, I’m wasting my time.

I am fairly certain that the good doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital have earned my undivided attention.  It’s thanks to them that I am so confident at making self-diagnoses.

And, I’ll have you know that sometimes, my computer is present.  How else am I supposed to further research the historical figures portrayed in Victoria, or collect screen grabs from various segments of This Old House?

I’m exercising my mind, Sarah!


3.  That I have debt to pay off and cannot take care of my children.

I was raised to believe two things:  That I wouldn’t amount to anything and that it was rude to discuss politics, religion and money, uninvited.


4.  That I have any desire to understand your business.

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah….I think YOU are selling people a load of crap.

Here, drink this shake!  Work out to the same series of video’s that’ll only cost you $19.99 a month for infinity months.  And be sure you buy the $400 worth of cheap, shitty fitness equipment you could pick up for $20 at Target.  The pounds will melt away and you’ll get a daily inspirational message from me to keep you going!

In a word.  No.

I’m not a healthcare professional and I’m certainly not an authority on diet or exercise.

Earlier this week, I ate a great breakfast consisting of an egg white, on some kind of fancy-pants Whole Foods bread, topped with Avocado and a small dish of strawberries.

Yesterday, I ate an entire bag of dill pickle potato chips and a roll of fruit Mento’s.  What about that says, “This person is totally qualified to give diet advice.”

And sure, I can be all Rah, Rah!  You can do it!

But, I don’t actually know if some stranger I’ve never met, CAN do it.  Maybe there’s a health or mental issue that needs to be addressed, so that I don’t rah, rah some poor woman into cardiac arrest, or a nervous breakdown.

Isn’t that sort of why actual trainers become certified?

I know someone who has PH.D in exercise!  It’s called something else, I just don’t know how to spell it, but she’s legit.  I am not.  I’m in no way qualified to determine whether this crap is the right program for anyone.

And really?  How is it possible that you are properly supervising 515 other so called “Health and Fitness Coaches?”  It sounds to me like you are just sitting on-top of some kind of Ponzi-Scheme.

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5.  That I did not notice that the only thing you talked about was YOURSELF.

I spend a lot of time at the gym.  The various fitness instructors I work out with, all talk about how much they love helping people.  None of them, talk about how much money they are making off of them.

In fact, most come directly from their full time day jobs and they just teach classes on the side.  While we work out, they correct my form, they know what exercises to modify in order to accommodate physical limitations.  They know the names of the muscles I’m working and they know if my aches and pains are just a product of being sore, or a possible sign of injury.

I’m sure the extra money is nice, but I know what an instructor makes per class at my gym and it’s not enough to retire at 40 and then continue to work their day job just for shits and giggles.

So again, thanks but no thanks, Sarah.

And yes, I know exactly where to find you.  On social media:

Posing in a sports bra and yoga pants for before and after photo’s that always look suspiciously staged.

Snapping a selfie with your logo’d plastic bottle full of whatever that shake is.

And in the video’s with the hashtag, what’s your excuse that showcase your workout routine while your kids crawl all over the place in the background.

But trust me, I won’t be looking anytime soon.

Lay’d Off….

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.” ~White Snake

In November 2017, I was Lay’d off from my corporate job.  It was a moment I had been eagerly waiting for.  I know how that sounds, but allow me to explain.

Simply put, I was over it.

Over the grind, over the politics, over the mission statements and the core values and the pressure to “lean-in” and “have it all” and “explode through the glass ceiling” and blah, blah, blah.

I’d become disgruntled, dissatisfied, dis-enchanted, disengaged, dismayed….dis-everything.  And life is too short to be dis-everything.

It hadn’t always been that way though.  When I started my career, I had big goals for myself in corporate America and I sacrificed much of my twenties toward achieving them.

I regularly worked 80 hours a week and for the first five years of my career, I didn’t take a single vacation day, or sick day; time I wasn’t paid out for.  In other words, over a five year period, I worked an extra 15 weeks….for free.

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Of course, nobody made me do it, but I reasoned that corner offices and fancy titles don’t come cheap….and if I didn’t have both by the time I was in my thirties, well, life probably wasn’t worth living.

I had balls to bust and power suits to purchase and if it meant I had no social life, hobbies, or the time to eat more than twenty cups of coffee in the course of a day, so be it.  I’d have a life when I retired….assuming I didn’t stroke out first.

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But the universe had other plans for me and it would take a sucker punch to the gut before I realized it.

The lead up included meeting my husband, Clark Griswold, moving to a new state and taking a new job with Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor.

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Then Clark and I got married and I became a step-mom.

Right before our wedding, I took another new role at a Fortune 500 business captained by a female CEO ranked among the world’s most powerful women.

After a difficult upbringing, during which I’d been voted most likely to end up on an episode of Cops, I’d gotten a college degree (the first in my family), I was happily married with plans to add to our family and I was building a successful career.  What more could I want?

Then, in November, 2011, when I was twenty-two weeks pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with stage 2, primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma.  A rare and sneaky form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Cancer.

Everything changed.

But it didn’t change all at once.  Instead, it was like a slow burn of all the things I’d thought were important to me.

Then, I picked up the pieces of what was left and started to put my life back together.

I realized that when it came to my career, I had been sprinting toward something I had wanted….because I thought it was what I was supposed to want.

So instead, I leaned into my health, my marriage, my faith, my family, my friends and motherhood.  I found that when I was doing all of the things that were supposed to leave me feeling trapped, unappreciated and uninspired, I didn’t.

I started saying no when I was supposed to be saying yes.  I made time for books and nature and exercise and other abandoned hobbies.  I was still.

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I stepped off the corporate ladder and watched my peers pass me by.  I knew it meant my career was dying, but I also knew that I would never come to regret it.

Because when I was diagnosed, and the possibility that my child and I would not survive the disease was discussed, I didn’t cry for the career goals I might never achieve.  I cried for the extended hours I spent in the office when I could have been at home having dinner with my family, or enjoying an uninterrupted vacation.

I cried for the books I hadn’t had a chance to read, hikes I never got a chance to take, places I never got a chance to see.

I cried for the baby I might never get a chance to meet and the little boy and the man he might never get a chance to become.

And I cried for all of the little things I had taken for granted; the millions of simple moments I’d let slip by, always believing there would be more.  That someday I would stop and smell the roses.  Someday, someday, someday….

It was in the midst of that grief, which was so raw and so painful I thought I might actually break into pieces, that I felt my son move for the first time.  It was a tiny flutter of life followed by a feeling of peace and calm that abruptly stopped my sobs.

I knew we would be OK.  And I knew that I would never be the same.

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Shortly after I completed my cancer treatment, I read an article about a book the New York Times had published called, “Picture Your Life After Cancer.”  

The book was a compilation of photos and stories submitted by cancer survivors in response to the question, “How is your life different after cancer?”  

A number of inspirational quotes and insights were used in the article, but one in particular resonated most with me:

“Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.” – Allison A., Cairo, Egypt

So, very, true.

I don’t love every moment, but I try, every day, to say a prayer of gratitude for all of it.

I am keenly aware, always, of how fortunate I was to survive cancer and to come out the other side with a beautiful and healthy little boy.

I don’t have it all figured out though.  When the cloud lifted and there was nothing more to do than carry on, I knew only that I wanted my survival to matter.  That I wanted to do my best to live a life that felt good.  A life that, when it inevitably ends, I can look back on and say, “I made the most of this one wild and precious life.”  (nod to Mary Oliver)