Is This A Test?

Spring Break, ahhh, the time saved up for families and college students to get a well-deserved break from their day-to-day routines of school and work. At this point in the year, it’s been at least three months since Christmas and New Year’s so it’s definitely time. The destinations have gotten quite extravagant over the years. Hearing about the trips that kids are relished with during this week-long break makes me kind of sick; zip-lining in Costa Rica, spilunking in Mexico, wake boarding in California, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, not all kids get to lounge in the luxurious clear blue waters of the Gulf or even the chlorine-infested waters of a Holiday Inn mini-pool. Instead, this year, I decided we were not going to use our credit card money for a Spring Break. This year, my daughter got lucky with two plays in Chicago followed up by some indigestion-producing cheese fries.

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Me, my daughter, my mom

My 14-year-old daughter is a freshman, so as you might imagine, it’s the beginning of her breaking away from the dreaded parents. She and I are learning to develop a new type of relationship with each other. She’s more independent and I’m doing my best to allow this. Not being embarrassing is my biggest hurdle. I try not to break out into song every time Up Town Funk comes on or car-dance too close to the school, and definitely not when we are giving a friend a ride home. She is not a wild and crazy kid (like her mother was). She’s quite demure, soft-spoken and still averts her eyes if there is anything remotely sexual shown on TV.  If I were my mother, I would have wished for a child like my own, not what she got in me, a wild, rebellious high schooler who did so many things under her nose she’d be embarrassed to hear about them today. My mother had three girls, three tries to get it right some might say. For me, I’m sure I end up scratching and clawing to keep my daughter as close as possible, especially since she is an only…my only.

It was on this night when we went to the play that I realized no matter how much I want us to develop a friendship of sorts, to be buddies, to have girl’s night out, there will always be certain instances in life that really highlight the mother-daughter relationship as the first and the primary, and that’s a good thing.

Perfect seats!

We made our way downtown in record time and took prime seats in the front row balcony of the Mercury Theater to watch The Addams Family musical.The theater was a mix of families and couples, both young and old. I was feeling quite comfortable that I had made the right choice and this play would appropriately entertain both my daughter and myself. I grew up on musicals at The Muny Opera in St. Louis and have been exposing her to theater and musicals since she was just a young girl. I love old 60’s and 70’s kitschy TV and who could miss with a theater version of The Addams Family?

Well, for almost the entire play we were laughing and yucking it up. I had succeeded as the perfect mother, with the perfect choice, creating the perfect night out for a mother-daughter duo…. until one of the character’s roles went from straight and conservative to crazy and kind of nutter-butter. I think I was still picking up my chin off the mezzanine level minutes after this actress ripped open her shirt to reveal her 50’s style Maidenform bra. My daughter and I exchanged looks that in one glance said- “WTF just happened?” Well, that’s what mine said, hers said “are you kidding me?” So much for the perfect mother-daughter night out.  All I could think was, are my choices as a mother being tested?

Not wanting to end our evening on such an awkward note, I asked her if she’d like to have some of the best cheese-fries in the world. I was really hoping to continue our night kind of like I used to when I was single and living in the city, minus the tequila of course.


Those of us who have lived in Chicago for any period of time know that Weiner Circle on Clark is hands-down the best place for cheese fries. That yummy, ooey-gooey goodness that comes in the best shade of orange– really, orange, not yellow! When I first moved to Chicago in the early 90’s, it was the place to go after a drunken night out in Lincoln Park. And, it didn’t hurt that it was directly out the back door of my heat-included, studio apartment. Unfortunately, because I’m now old (embarrassing and uncool),
I had forgotten some of the, let’s say, ambiance that you’ll find at this late-night spot.

So, with hope for a better ending to this night and mouths watering, we made our way to this dive of a hot-dog stand. There was one youngish couple sitting quietly on stools eating their food and a man and woman behind the counter. Being the extrovert that I am and loving being back in my old stomping grounds, I had to chat with this couple letting them know I had lived just across street 20 years ago and frequented this place regularly. Somehow I think I was already apologizing for bringing my very innocent daughter into this establishment. As we stood at the counter, I glanced at the tip jar and read to myself, “Leave your f*$%ing tip here.” “Oh damn,” I thought. I had forgotten about the spicy language doled out here in the late night hours. But, it was only 10:30PM and all I could hope was they’d see how young my daughter was and go easy on us. I pleaded with my eyes, “Have mercy on me, she’s only 14. She’s just a baby.” It would not be the case. They read the scared look on my face like a dog senses fear in a human and decided just to mess with me even more.

We proceeded to order my favorite color of cheese fries and a char-dog and wait on a couple stools in the corner. A few more couples came in as did a group of 20-something men. Only one of the men ordered and the guy behind the counter yelled to one of them as he was leaving, “get out of here you F*cking Frodo.” We both genuinely laughed at this comment, finding that the description was right on about this customer. The F word can be funny if used appropriately and the alliteration helped in this case. I wasn’t offended by this, but sat tensed wondering when the storm would hit. Thinking once again tonight, What sort of test is this?

We both sort of hung out in the corner watching the other couples chat and order. A few cuss words were exchanged, but nothing horrific. Then, I heard the male voice from behind the counter call out,
“Hey, Sweet T*ts, what do you want on this?”

I hoped my daughter hadn’t heard and I scanned the other three women in the restaurant wondering who he might be addressing. Oh boy, I thought, that poor woman, whichever one she is. Oh my gosh, she now has to walk up to the counter and respond to that?

Not long after the first request, it came again, “Hey, Sweet T*ts, what do you want on this dog?”

I exchanged horrified glances with my daughter- no doubt she had heard it this time—they were the same WTF looks we shared at the theater.

One more time, louder and more insistent, “No Sweet T*ts, YOU, in the corner, what do you want on this char-dog?”

I almost fell off my stool, turned six shades of red and said, “OH, ME?”, laughing and sputtering my way the 10 feet (that felt like an entire runway) to the counter. I focused in on this young whippersnapper behind the counter like I had a mind-altering superpower and said, “puleeeeeaaaase, my 14-year-old is with me.”  The woman helping out responded with, “Oh honey, every woman’s got Sweet T*ts.” 

I gave up. I was putty in their hands. I sluggishly walked back to my stool in the corner feeling embarrassed, misrepresented and oh-so-stupid. Stupid for not remembering that bringing her here at this time of night was not a good move.

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” I said to her.
With all kinds of annoyance and defensiveness in her voice she said, “It’s not your fault mom.”
“Well, I didn’t have to bring you here,” I told her, apologetically. “Were you offended by that?” I asked her, knowing full-well by her tone that she was.
“Well of course I was offended,” she said with all kinds of certainty.

Wow. Although in the moment I felt bad, in retrospect I realized this is exactly the determination a mother of a 14-year-old girl needs to hear. It’s an indicator that she’s developing a healthy, strong sense of self that she will not allow anyone to disrespect.

It was in that moment, in that dive of a hot-dog stand when my child was embarrassed, that I realized, yes, I had been tested this entire evening. Tested on how I would respond when dealing with inappropriate situations I had not yet encountered with my teenage daughter. Oddly enough, she was being tested too, on how to deal with the real world treating her mother as something other than just her mother.

Found Treasure

This piece is dedicated to the Ralston Writers, those 11 strangers I now call friends. It reminds me of our time in that wonderful old house–getting to know each other, ourselves and learning to appreciate the moment.
I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the second time. Always interesting how you can see so many different things the second time around. I don’t usually like to watch movies more than once (unless of course it’s Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, or Date Night), but this time I consciously told myself to observe the settings in the film. And of course, I focused on the furniture and the hotel architecture. Even though the hotel was somewhat rundown, the furniture seemed so functional yet relaxing. The hanging basket chair in the yard and another outdoor wicker chair nearby. And, yes, it had an ottoman. This made me yearn for a yard without neighbors 6 feet away, a concrete company banging on their trucks all day and noisy cars racing back and forth on the street (another 6 feet away). Come to think of it, I had this scenario when I attended a writing retreat created by author Elizabeth Berg at a beautiful mansion just North of San Francisco.
Ralston 2   redwood path   waterfall pond
     We, myself and 11 other women from all different parts of the US, had our own Best Exotic Marigold Hotel via the Ralston White Retreat House. A gorgeous, old, home with so many bedrooms we got lost trying to count them. For a design junkie like me, moving from room to room was like being a child let loose in a toy store given the chance to choose anything she wanted.  Each room was like it’s own little treasure, just like this gorgeous piece.

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     At first glance, each room seemed pretty basic. A bed or two, and a bathroom if you were lucky. Some even had balconies (we liked to call them verandahs) that were perfect for hanging out on when you needed a new fresh space to write. However, as I learned more about these women, I began to realize it wasn’t just the house and this perfect space I’d been given, it was the overall opportunity that was a found treasure. The opportunity to recharge, connect and renew. No demands on me, food prepared for me, time to think, time to listen to my own voice, time to actually hear what I’d been saying to myself for a while now.

photo   The house was nestled in the Redwoods; mist settling in over Mt. Tamalpais every day. It was beautiful, but a little creepy sometimes. I was certain Edward from Twilight was going to fly out of those giant trees right onto my verandah. At night, the darkness and unidentifiable sounds from the woods limited my time spent on the verandah. I’m used to the bright lights and big city now and I need to make more opportunities to learn about the dark and settle into it.
It’s still so very hard to try to articulate the magic that occurred within this house and among these 12 strangers. All of us signed up for the same ride–4 days in a quiet, remote place that would allow us to spend time in our own heads, writing, and also sharing this time with like-minded writers. I was somewhat surprised and uncertain about the lack of agenda for the days ahead.  No meetings, no scheduled times together other than meals, come and go as you please, stay in, go out, interact, become a hermit, whatever you fancied would be fine with the group. For me, traveling from Chicago to SF seemed like a long way to have such a free-flowing non-agenda. I’m most definitely a type A personality and need to know ahead of time that what I’m planning is worth while and will have some sort of pay-off in the end. I’m certain this trip was when I began working on the patience I would need in 2015– in December of 2014. The “little birdie in my ear” that helped me with that patience was Elizabeth Berg herself. I had accidentally met her about a month before the retreat at my local bookstore. She was very excited to hear I was headed there and told me to remind her, to remind our retreat group that there should be no pressure at a retreat to force the writing. Often times, she said, she herself just relaxes and does a lot of reading on retreats. Although I wanted to question her and say, “but it’s a writing retreat, doesn’t that require writing?”, I refrained. I kept her tip in my head and just tried to focus on the moment, whatever that happened to be.
Boy were you right, Elizabeth. I learned there is a real difference between quality and quantity. By listening, quieting my mind, and all-in-all just being with these women, I was able to learn so much more about writing than I ever thought possible. I wrote just 2 small scenes for my book while I was there. I say just, but the feedback I received was enough to encourage me and give me the strength to move forward. The reason I was able to do this, though, was because I was present. I know this is sounding all Kum-bah-Ya and everything, but it’s true. Taking yourself out of your daily element where your mind and body are competing with all the tasks of your typical day is so important. For me it has meant the difference between solely completing the mundane tasks like dishes, cleaning, and laundry, to moving myself forward through those tasks and into that thing that I know is in me, writing.
There is now a Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a sequel. And although I loathe sequels, this one was as good as or better than the first. I’m taking this as a sign that the Ralston Writers next retreat (already scheduled and booked)can only be a bigger success than the last.

There’s No Warning System for Change

Why did I give my blog this crazy title? Well, I thought that might be your first question. So, I’ve given it a lot of thought– about 10 minutes to be exact. It’s pretty easy to explain in just a few short phrases, or for me, some long analogies that usually only I get. But I’ll give it a try and hope that you all start to understand where I’m coming from and why Who Moved My Ottoman is absolutely the best possible title for the writing I hope you are going to quickly become addicted to. ottomans

Ottomans are critical. Other pieces of furniture are overrated in comparison. The couch can’t just up and move to the other side of the room. The TV cabinet stays where it’s put. The china cabinet is overloaded with the weight of dishes. Those pieces are where you put them unless you’ve got a lazy afternoon free to play “design.” Ottomans, on the other hand, are easily moved, yet much more important. In my house, we all have our own particular ottoman, or combination of seating and ottoman. Our house is tiny and the use of a coffee table was thrown out years ago when my daughter was an infant. Instead, now that we are older and really ready to relax when our butts hit the couch, there must be an ottoman for the oh-so-tired feet.  However, the problem ensues when you have to walk through, find crap on the floor, play with the dog, vacuum, and so on. The ottomans get moved. The world as we know it turns upside down! The worst possible scenario occurs after a long day when you take your seat, begin to swing your legs up and find there is nothing there to place them on. Similarly, think sitting down on the toilet to find the last bozo didn’t replace the toilet paper roll. How often does this happen to me? Very, very frequently. Almost as frequently as change happens in my life.

CHANGE- that damn word that everyone just loves to throw around and warn you about as if you’re really listening and going to take heed to everything they say. Change happens, Change is the only constant, Change is the only thing we can count on in life. Oh please, do you think people are really listening when they are 8, 14, 22, or even 35 years old and some “adult” is trying to forewarn them about something that WILL occur in their future?

I remember multiple things from growing up that someone older than me said, and did I do anything about it when they told me? NO! For example, trying on swimsuits with my sisters and my mom when I was 9. I picked out this adorable, side cut-out suit with ties on each thigh. Yes, it was skimpy, but I was 9 and concerned only about how it had a cool design and ties that I could play with. It took one try-on and I was set. “Let’s go!” Seemed to take my 19 and 17-year-old sisters a lot longer. At that time, I couldn’t understand all the hemming and hawing over a simple, fun swimming suit. I distinctly remember my sisters telling me, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get fat someday.” Harsh right? Well… metabolism is a great thing when you are a kid eating Pringles and Lil Debbies, and it’s a killer when you are middle-aged. Why didn’t someone tell me? Oh yeah, they did…I just wasn’t ready to listen. Is there really any point in trying to forewarn the younger generation of all these things that are going to change? For one, there’s no frontal lobe development, right? They can’t really process the idea of time, the future, and how what you do now affects what happens to you later. But what about the 35-year-old, or the 51-year-old that’s not listening to the words of someone’s wisdom? Are they just adults and making adult choices at that point? Are they wrapped up in their individual lives, their car pools, their kids’ tennis matches and track meets, their new house?

Another great example, dental work. When I just get used to the stress of fillings, even learning that a good shot of whiskey can calm the nerves before the procedure begins , I’m told I need crowns! What?????? Are you kidding me? I sat in that chair like a 1st grader looking up at a very tall teacher, stunned to hear the dentist relay the process of the aging tooth- cavity, filling, replace filling, filling too big for tooth, needs a cap, replace cap, ROOT CANAL. With no hesitation I said, “It sounds like death.” The dentist and the hygienist both reared back, trying not to laugh and said, “I don’t think I’d go that far.” My next comment was, “Do I need to stop drinking red wine? Would that help?” “Oh no,” they said, “we’re not going to take your wine away from you.” Whewwww! What a relief. Again, I thought I had been on my way to dental hygiene recovery. I’d become a better brusher and flosser and my teeth were making a comeback- sort of like Brittany Spears in Vegas. Unfortunately, no one had told me about all the other players in this game- my age, my hormones, my DNA. But mainly, why hadn’t anyone told me about how if I had paid better attention to brushing and flossing as a kid, I could keep my teeth healthy, and ALIVE, much longer? Oh yeah, they did… I just wasn’t ready to listen.

You see, no matter how hard you try to keep that ottoman right where it’s supposed to be, to count on it, to instinctively know it will be there when you’re ready to settle in for a night of Downton Abbey, it’s inevitably always moving on you, even if you live alone. The trick is learning to anticipate that it may not be where you originally placed it and that’s OK.

Everybody starts somewhere, right?

Well, this is the beginning of a whole new world for me. Once again, my ottoman has been moved and I begin from Step 1. That’s ok, I’m getting pretty good at starting over. It seems to be the theme of my 40’s (my 30’s too). In fact, could I be so bold as to say I’m starting to get used to “change.” Oh no, not that word again. In this case, it’s the start of a new creative venture, the “painting furniture” era. I’ve done this before, but not for others or for sale. My pieces have been for myself or my family; no pressure. A little drip, a scratch, a brush hair in the final product, none of that matters really when it’s just your family, right? Well, that’s my take anyway. Kind of similar to my house cleaning values– only really necessary if there’s a party. In fact, there’s no better inspiration for cleaning the house then inviting a whole houseful of people over. Now, when your art is for sale or for presentation for a store, shop or studio, that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Big Redphoto 13photo 7This is where the fun started, with Big Red.  If I knew when I started I was going to create a blog about this process, I would have taken a before picture. But, since we’ve learned change happens without announcing herself (ottoman moving), there’s only this gorgeous finished piece. This little gem is like a good flirt who knows how to showcase only her best sides.

Oh, the number of mistakes I made with this initial attempt. The list is long and arduous, but it’s a learning process, right? If you read this list, this could save you from a whole lot of cussing and a whole lot of apologizing to any of the youngsters that might hear you:
Wrong type of paint, never use oil-based paint if you plan on shabby chic’ing the piece.
Red on your first try is a no-no. (It’s just scary because it takes a million and one coats to get it right.)
Sandpaper- 200, 220, what’s the big diff, right? (think Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom pretending he knows about wiring) Wrong! Learn about sandpaper, especially if you are trying to shabby an item.
Preparing the holes correctly for your chosen hardware. Make sure the hole is slightly larger than the size of your hardware screw. I learned the hard way by trying to screw the hardware in and getting it stuck. Multiple times. This led to trying to get it out, which of course led to nicks and scrapes on the drawer front.
Screw length. (Sounds kinky I know. Unfortunately, not in this case.) Pay attention to how long the screw is. If it’s too long, it will be difficult to use the inside of the drawer. If it’s too short, it won’t work at all. Think Goldilocks- it has to be just the right size (ahhh).

Despite all of those mistakes, Miss Big Red was sold within 24 hours of being finished. WOW! Red may be a good color choice after all. Again, the beauty of painting is things can be covered up. The same reason I like winter and warm, chunky, sweaters.