Monday, March 29, 2010

On the Creative Blogger Award (Or, My pants are on fire!)

First off, let me note that my blog has had a facelift (my first dance with cosmetic surgery!), and I'd like to hear your opinions.

Now on to more important things...
A few weeks ago, I was awarded the Sunshine Blog Award, and now another honor has graced my blog: Lesa's Bald Faced Liar Creative Writer Blogger Award, thanks to Lindsey, at Dangerous With a Pen. Aw, shucks guys! (I'm blushing.)

So all I've got to do is list 7 things about myself, 6 of which are lies but one of which is 100% true. Then I'll award 5 more bloggers with this honor. OK, here it goes...

1. When my second child was eighteen months old, I fell from a horse and broke my back. Fortunately, it was the one vertebrae that can be broken without causing paralysis, so I spent six weeks in a back brace and on virtual bed rest, unable to pick up my needy toddler, who took out her frustration on her older brother by pulling out a clump of his hair so fiercely that he still (seven years later) has a small permanent bald spot.

2. At twenty-two years old, I was slated to be the maid-of-honor at a dear friend’s wedding. The night before, we went out for her bachelorette party. I got so drunk that I woke up the next morning in a luxury hotel room, all alone and having no idea how I had gotten there. (This was before the age of cell phones.) My last memory had been doing shots with two gorgeous guys at a club with my girlfriends and then stupidly agreeing to continue partying with them in their hotel. I don’t remember what happened in that hotel room, but after sneaking out and hailing a cab to the hotel where my friend was getting married, I discovered I had been dethroned by the bride for my abhorrent behavior and demoted to bridesmaid.

3. When I was eight months pregnant, I got into a car accident when I pulled out of a parking lot and onto the main road. I hit an oncoming Jaguar that had been obscured by a bush. Thankfully, I had an older car with no airbag, so my belly was alright, but as I got out of the car and saw the other driver getting out of the Jaguar, I recognized her as my ex-boyfriend’s mother. She approached me, established that I was okay, and then said, “You had it coming for breaking up with my son.”

4. When I was a toddler, the pediatrician decided my legs weren’t growing properly and I was put into leg braces. The doctor was very concerned I would be very “small”, well under five feet tall due to my leg condition. Today I am 5’-6”.

5. My ex-boyfriend was a white South African (during the Apartheid years) who spent a short time in a Johannesburg prison for helping his black best friend beat up a group of white guys who were bullying them.

6. My paternal grandfather was a Jewish man who had three wives in his life, the first of which was my grandmother and the third of which was a Taiwanese girl he married when he was 70 and she was 26. They had one daughter (my father’s sister and therefore my aunt), who was raised in Taiwan as a Buddhist. When she was 18 years old, she came to New York to study at the university, met an Orthodox Jewish boy, went to Israel with him, and stayed there for a year to convert to Judaism. So at 43 years old, I now have a 29-year-old Jewish Taiwanese aunt.

7. I have a Chihuahua who has survived being literally run over by a car. She ran across the street just in time to get caught up in the car’s tire well, which made a horrifying thump-thump noise as it spun her around (as I screamed in shock), but she ran away with nothing more than a small limp.

I must confess that there is a smidgeon of truth to every one of these, but only one is honestly valid. I will patiently await your guesses to see how clever you all are. And now I pass on this honor to...

Jm Diaz at An Ulterior Motive
Sweatpants Mom
Julie at A Day in the Wife
Alan at Unauthorized Insights

For the record, I follow many other amazingly creative bloggers (see my bloglist for proof!), but I choose these five because I'm pretty sure they haven't already put out one of these "liar" lists, and I'm also curious to see what they'll come up with so I can learn more about them.

Thanks again to Lindsey for having faith in my creativity ;-)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Siblings in Close Quarters (Or, Infanticide: Is it misunderstood?)

In the wild, there are some animals that eat their young, a seemingly barbaric act called infanticide. As of today, however, I amend that definition to say “an understandable act”. Yes, I’ve just survived (barely) a twenty-minute car ride with both my children, and might I say, they are both damned lucky to not have been eaten. (What is the word for siblings who eat each other? Because that potential was also very prevalent in the car this afternoon.)

What was the fighting over?

Does it really matter? The fact is that when my son and daughter are forced to share a confined space, someone’s going down. As it happens, the three of us survived, but as I now sip my Blackstone Cabernet Sauvignon, my hand occasionally twitches in nervous spasm, sprinkling me with drops of red wine that signify the blood almost shed earlier today. As the Jewish holiday of Passover approaches, the symbolism is perfect; I spill the “blood” in memory of those who almost perished in the car and in celebration of my freedom to blog about it all, having lived to tell the gruesome tale. Oh, so truly scary.

I remember growing up with my younger brother. We fought interminably, probably pushing my mother so close to the edge of insanity. Still, when I share my troubles with her, she seems to remember those years about as vividly as a woman remembers the pain of childbirth, which is what pushes us to have a second child…that tendency to forget all the pain as soon as we hold our perfect baby in our arms.

“Oh, you guys weren’t that bad,” Mom insists.

That is when I reconsider my edge-of-insanity remark and think that my mother actually lost it years ago. I don’t know how she couldn’t see it, but I hated my brother. I can only say that now (knowing he may very well read this) because he knows that today he is one of my favorite men in this world, sharing that spot only with my husband and my son, who I affectionately call Little Man on days I haven’t been trapped with him and his sister in the car. My brother is so cool and so on my side that I can’t imagine ever having hated him so much.

Here we are circa 1972. Notice my hands on hips stance as I think, I'm not smiling while standing next to him, if that's what you're thinking, Mom!

But I did hate him. And I remember that. Which is the only solace I have at moments such as these. Moments when I fear that I may commit infanticide soon if my otherwise beautiful children don’t start loving each other NOW. I figure that as long as I keep my hopes intact and my belly full, my children just might survive their youth and grow up to be great friends in adulthood.

Until then, I’ll continue coloring my hair to cover up the gray they’re giving me. And instead of spilling “blood” from my wine glass, I’ll drink the stuff up and celebrate the truth…which is that I am damn lucky to have these sibling-hating angels in my life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Coexisting (Or, God is Gray)

In my blogs, I try to balance the nostalgic and the sentimental with the tongue-in-cheek. But today, I wax a bit serious. Please forgive my transgression as I tell you about the other day in the car, on a gloriously beautiful South Florida day, when I got sucked into the following conversation with my spiritual son and my scientific daughter. (Warning to sensitive readers: This one's about God.)

Son: Who invented the word “stupid”? Did God invent it?
Me: No, people invent words to describe things they experience.
Son: But God made people, right?
Me: Yes…
Son: So why did God make people stupid?
Me: (after contemplating the most honest yet least judgmental answer I could come up with) I guess it’s just part of being human sometimes.
Daughter: (setting her own record for waiting to jump in on a conversation) God’s not real.
Son: How do you know that?
Daughter: You can’t prove that God’s real.
Me: (finally proud to have a kick-ass response to my know-it-all daughter) But you can’t disprove it either.
Daughter: You can’t prove it.
Me: You can’t disprove it.
Daughter: Soooo! You can’t prove it!
Me: You’re going to have to brush up on your debate skills if you’re going to be a successful litigator some day.
Daughter: I don’t want to be a Little Gator. I want to be a Seminole! (referring to the Florida State Seminoles and thus cementing her desire to do exactly what her die-hard University of Florida Gator-fan father would resent)

I gave up the debate because when driving a car, it’s often hard to tell whether the moral argument or the semantic argument is worth battling. However, my children’s differing views on God are a minute-scale example of how the rest of the world feels about the issue. And if two children from the same upbringing can’t make peace with their differences and learn tolerance, how in God’s name can the rest of the world?

Admittedly, my husband and I have probably confused the kids quite a bit. I mean, we don’t send them to religious school yet enforce the observance of the holiest days of the year. And my husband breaks away from his upbringing every Saturday morning to partake in Zen meditation at a local Buddhist temple. He explains that one practice is not in conflict with the other. But when you’re a kid, gray is a hard color to see, since black and white are much more easily recognizable.

At this time, I’d like to mention my own difficulty in distinguishing between God and organized religion because I believe that belief in the former does not require affiliation with the latter. I see the purpose of organized religion and can acknowledge its benefits. But get me on my soapbox (or my blog) and you’ll hear me scream from the highest heights my disdain for what we do to each other in the name of religion. We hate each other, insult each other, and even kill each other over who is right and who will be damned, when the truth is that nobody knows the truth. We all get by on our faith (or adamant rejection of faith, which is a belief system all its own). And as long as we are kind to each other and respect each person’s right to free will, what difference does it make which compass we use to guide ourselves down that road to good living?

On my car, I have a bumper sticker that frequently attracts inquiries of where I got it. It says, “Coexist” and is written in a variety of symbols from religions all over the world. I believe in this philosophy whole-heartedly. And when my son, daughter, and I finally arrived home from our outing, I walked them around to the back of the car and pointed to my bumper sticker.

Daughter: But you can’t prove that God exists!
Son: I don’t want to coexist with her!
Me: (in exasperation) Oh, my God!

As we walked into the house, I reminded myself that they are immature eleven- and nine-year-olds.

So what’s the rest of the world’s excuse?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On Rambling (Or, Samantha Brown had better watch her back)

I want Samantha Brown’s job. If you’re not sure who she is, she’s the charming and charismatic host of the Travel Channel’s Passport to Europe, or Latin America, or wherever you want to go. (She’s also the only person I follow on Twitter who has responded to my tweets. Thanks, Sam!) I’m home sick today, which means that between the frequent bathroom visits (I won’t get more graphic than that), I can relish back-to-back episodes of Samantha Brown’s Passport to Great Weekends segment, where she took me first to Brooklyn and then to Cape Cod.

(Here she is crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Doesn't that look like a better way to spend a dreary Wednesday?) Now I want her to come to South Florida so I can take her around my stomping grounds and be on her show – since I can’t steal her job.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually love my teaching job, where I get to meet people as exotic as Samantha does. (I teach English as a Second Language at a local college.) The big difference is that Samantha gets to travel to these exotic places and then say good-bye to these people while I spend sixteen weeks with mine and then have to give them a final grade, which they often don’t like. Well, the philosophy is that professors don’t give grades; students earn them. But nine out of ten students don’t buy that crap, and so I’m left having to look them in the eye when they sometimes fail, wishing I could instead hop a plane outta there as quickly as Samantha Brown does.

So as the sixty-degree rain falls from the oppressive gray sky today, exacerbating my headache and stomach cramps, I’m wishing I were somewhere else, maybe snuggled before a fire in an Alpine ski lodge or nestled comfortably in a hammock on Bali (channeling the fantasies inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love). If I had Samantha Brown’s job, I could do that and then spend the rainy days blogging about it.

(For the record, Microsoft Word does not yet recognize “blog” as a noun or a verb. How behind the times is that? It also doesn’t recognize “jonesing”, which is what I wanted to write earlier instead of “wishing”.)

Anyway, I’m rambling, which is what sick people do when they’re bored and jonesing to be somewhere else, to have someone else’s job, or just to feel well enough to stay away from the bathroom for more than thirty minutes. Incidentally, I just had to renovate my bathroom due to leaky wall tiles, and though it’s the last thing in the world I would have chosen to spend money on, I have to say it looks great. I also have to thank God I didn’t get this stomach bug one week earlier when dust coated the sink counter and a man named Jack lowered my A/C to 65 degrees and spent his days blaring country music while he worked. I like country music ‘n all, but I was home on Spring Break and so had to listen to Dierks Bentley sing about a Long Trip Alone, which is what I really wanted to take on my break instead of having to endure frigid temperatures inside my own home. I tell you, it just ain’t fair.

Then again, I could have needed the toilet every few minutes, which I guess puts things into perspective. And since perspective is a hard thing to find when you’re rambling on ‘n on ‘n on, I thank you for staying with me on this blog about absolutely nothing. I love you all!

P.S. (Beware: shameless plug coming) Did I mention that my novel, Looking for Anita, is a finalist for the ForeWord Reviews 2009 Book of the Year Awards?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the Sunshine Blog Award (Or, I’m kvelling!)

I am new to the blogosphere – only been here since February 5th, in fact. But this morning, I’m breaking from routine in a big way. I usually blog weekly, Thursday mornings being my post days, and this morning I posted my latest entry. But at 4:00pm, it’s already playing second fiddle to my exciting news...

I’ve been given the Sunshine Blog Award by fellow blogger, Julie, The Wife. And I am kvelling! For those unfamiliar with Yiddish vernacular, it means I’m so excited that my pits are sweating. Okay, maybe that’s not a literal translation, but I am incredibly honored and excited enough to re-blog (is that a word?) on the same day as my crazy post about living in Ikea. (Please see below this post for more details.)

So as a recipient of the Sunshine Blog Award, I have some rules to follow.

First, after posting the award on my blog, I must pass on the award to five other bloggers. This is actually challenging since I haven’t yet developed an extensive bloglist. (Remember, I’ve only been here 5 weeks.) And I don’t want to throw this award around casually since it means I am honoring those who bring a ray of sunshine to my days through their inspiring and “sunshiny” blogs. And since I can’t reaward those already awarded (Aleighopolis and Anissa off the record), here’s how I’m handling it:

1. Eternal Moonshine of a Daydreaming Mind, and…

2. Megan Rebekah Blogs....and Writes: both great writers’ blogs that always make me smile.

3. Sweatpantsmom: very fun. Thanks for the sunshine.

4. Unauthorized Insights by Alan Williamson:. Alan, I hope this inspires you. As one of my writer’s group colleagues, your humor column has always made me laugh, and I’d like to see more of that ilk in your blogs, which are clever but a bit too short for me. I WANT MORE! So spread your sunshine generously, dude.

5. What Could Happen?: I salute you Julie Powell. Even though you don’t post very often, you were the first blog I searched back in February. And it was through you that I found Julie, The Wife, who led me to everyone else!

Second, I must link these recipients in my post.

Third, I must comment about this award on their blogs.
Will do.

Fourth, I must link Julie, The Wife's blog, A Day in the Wife, since she honored me with this award.

And fifth, I must list five things about myself. Okay. Here it goes…

1. I had so much fun taking those pictures in Ikea. Thanks to my bud, Linda, for all her photography help.

2. I have a menstrual headache today…argh! (But receiving this award has helped.)

3. The weather in South Florida sucks today. (But again, this award has sent a ray of sunshine into these dreary skies.)

4. I had yummy lunch with my husband today since I’m on spring break from the college and therefore could.

5. My kids are growing up too fast. I’ve tried pressing on their heads and stepping over them when they’re lying on the floor watching TV, but they resist my efforts and keep getting taller and more mature. Maybe I should take away their food???

So that’s it. (For those who don’t know me well yet, please don’t take the food deprivation thing seriously.) Now those who have been awarded have to follow these rules and help spread the honors. I’m walking on sunshine, and so should you!

On Thinking out of the Box (Or, A Balmy Winter in Sweden)

Almost a lifetime ago (make that 19 years ago), I ventured out on what would be my first of two overseas living experiences. I started in Seville, Spain and immediately fell in love…with life. (Well, sure, men were involved, but in the scheme of things it was Life that won my heart.) Then I found myself in Bologna, Italy, where my desire to live abroad was cemented in my soul. Except that life has a funny way of putting you exactly where you need to be, and apparently I need to stay in the U.S., where the educational system better suits one of my children’s special needs.

That being said, my husband and I still fantasized regularly about our next foreign sojourn, but the conversation always ended with, “When the kids go to college.” Well, I did not have that kind of patience. So I decided to live in the now and make my next home in Sweden, where I have two dear friends and a few more acquaintances (carry-overs from my years in Europe).

But I had to think out of the box to make this happen.

Rather ingeniously (if I don’t say so myself), I came up with a solution. The kids would be thrilled with their new bedrooms (though the space would be much smaller, as European scale often is). They would get a fair sampling of authentic Swedish cuisine (whether they liked it or not). And I would finally have the sleek kitchen and Scandinavian-designed home I’d always wanted. My kids could continue in their same schools. And they could still visit their local grandparents. All this without traveling more than 10 miles from my South Florida home. How did I make this happen, you ask?

It’s a little Swedish village called Ikea.

Here’s a picture of my living room, where we entertain our Swedish friends and all our other overseas friends via live Skype chats. (My narrow-minded American friends won’t come over because they think it’s weird that I live in Ikea.)

Here’s my eat-in kitchen, where I fight each night with the kids over why they should eat their pickled herring, meatballs with lingonberry jam, rose hip soup, and of course their turnips, but then end up ordering Domino’s Pizza…because we can. (Though Ikea frowns upon outside catering, since they provide their own Swedish market right on the premises.)

Here I am making my daughter’s bed. Apparently, her laziness carries overseas.

And this is my son's idea of how to make his bed…

My favorite part is the home office. In this immaculately organized space, I can write my blog entries and my next great novel, An American Almost in Sweden.

And my reading room, where I spend time reading the BEST NOVEL EVER WRITTEN!

All this for free! Of course, I have no sex life because of all the security cameras (and we think the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is invasive), and privacy does not exist in Sweden, as evidenced below.

But all in all, I tell you this is the life here in South Florida, Sweden. And I don’t even have to take vitamin D supplements to survive the winter. Now, let’s see how long it takes Ikea’s security to kick us outta here and turn us into homeless Swedes...I mean Floridians.

Until then, vi ses nästa vecka, och undvika matjessill om du kan! (See you next week, and avoid the pickled herring if you can!)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Being Real (Or, The Cheryl Lynn Revival)

In 1978, Cheryl Lynn released her pop hit, Got to Be Real, which I danced to in my bedroom, stereo blasting, heart and mind pumping with the notion that, at twelve years old, I had it together because I was being real!

Though the song has very few lyrics, this pre-teen was a deep thinking, introspective, and contemplative girl. I analyzed the hell out those words (to be real, got to be real, it’s got to be real, to be real) and determined that I was the genuine article being true to myself. Of course, I now realize that I had no idea of how much time it would take me to actually be real. I also realize that the song talks about real love and has nothing to do with self-actualization. But for my purposes, this is irrelevant.

I was given the chance to reaffirm my faith in Cheryl Lynn’s lyrics a few years ago, when I started hearing her song again on the radio. Or maybe it was in that Sex and the City episode, The Real Me. Or was it in a commercial targeting Generation X? I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the girl in me wanted to jump to her feet, throw her hands in the air, and dance her heart out. Which is exactly what the advertising executives wanted to happen.

Those ad execs didn’t count on the fact that I would take Cheryl Lynn’s message to heart. Or maybe they did, those crafty devils. I began taking a personal inventory, which I believe everyone should do at least once a decade, and I wanted to foster my meditative side. It had been too long since I last felt I was being real, and I wanted that feeling back.

Sure, this sounds like a typical story of self-searching in middle age. But what people always forget when they rebuff that cliché is that there’s nothing wrong with following the crowd sometimes and making that effort to improve ourselves. Mid-life is called that for a reason. The average life span is around 80 for women, so the middle seems the perfect time to stand on the top of that peak of life and dig deeply into your heart before being bold enough to look down that hill and say, Okey dokey, here I go.

And speaking of metaphors, I do think life is like a ski slope. You spend the first half on the ride up, dangling your feet on the ski lift, looking at things from a distance, feeling excited about moving on, and anticipating the adventure of what is yet to come. Then it is time to exit the lift and ready yourself for the journey down. The ride down the slope is much faster as time travels more than twice as quickly as it did while you were twiddling away on the ski lift. On the way down, images fly by in a blur. The wind feels so fresh and invigorating. You are flying while still grounded, and the thrill is beyond measure. A few moments into the ride, you suddenly become terrified that you will reach the bottom too soon, which will rob you of that feeling of being so alive and end the fantastic voyage.

Here is where the allegory ends because, unlike in life, you can always get back on the ski lift and do it all again.

But getting back on my tangent, the renewed popularity of Cheryl Lynn’s song is really a beautiful thing for my generation. We first heard it in adolescence while struggling with the fruitless dreams of understanding ourselves. And now we hear it again as a revival of what it means to know yourself and finally, after so much waiting, have the wherewithal to be real.

Back in 1978, I played Cheryl Lynn’s song on my album, and now I listen to her on my iPod. But no matter the media, the song remains the same, as I throw my hands in the air, ignore all inhibition, and dance in my living room, knowing that I have no other choice.

I’ve got to be real.