Category Archives: Life Lessons

The world as a restaurant

 

Here’s a headline we can all get behind:

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Several years ago I went to dinner in Korea with a group of co-workers.

If you know me you know that I believe there is nothing more fun and delicious than Korean barbecue so that dinner, in Korea with people I enjoyed, should have been awesome.

But it wasn’t. That dinner was a KBBQ exception. When the waitress brought out the platter of meat that day, it was drama for dinner.

The coworker to my right (Muslim) couldn’t eat pork but the restaurant (mad cow cautious) wasn’t keen to serve beef. The ensuing discussion prompted the coworker on my left to warn that if cow was procured it better (for the sake of their respective immortal souls) be cooked on a separate grate. Meanwhile across the table three American southerners used the confusion to steal the flustered waitress’ cooking tongs because they’d eaten enough KBBQ to know that no self-respecting Korean would ever let the meat char to the delicious carcinogenic levels said men desired.  

Now if you have ever convinced a Korea restaurant to alter their menu for you for any reason you…

  1. are my hero and,
  2. fully understand what a nightmare that meal was.  

(Actually grown guys playing tong keep-away was pretty amusing so maybe “nightmare” is a bit strong)

Anyway, I’d forgotten all about that dinner until last week when I read these two articles:

From the Irish Independent:

Burnt food may cause cancer

And (I kid you not, less than 24 hours later) from the NY Times

Charring is the new it cuisine 

So if I want to live long I absolutely mustn’t blacken my meals but if I want to live happy I absolutely must. Where does that leave me?

Hungry, that’s where. And maybe that’s been the problem all along. Maybe we’re all just hungry.

The world we live in (like that dinner and those articles) is fraught with people of differing ideas, preferences, beliefs, goals, sports loyalty, beverage addiction… Demand that it all mold into one unified path towards the future and you risk ending up (like me at that dinner and after reading those articles) – hungry.

(or on a diet of boiled chicken and I ask you, when has boiled chicken ever make anyone truly happy??)

What is the answer? I don’t know and I’m not suggesting we stop looking. I just think in the mean time, maybe we should all have a sandwich.

Yeah peace and sandwiches*… maybe some of that wine…it couldn’t hurt. 

I’ll set the table.

 

*lest my blatantly western sandwich offer offend, feel free to eat instead a panini, gyro, banh mi, kebab, arepa, bacadillo, taco, piroshki, vada pav, chivito…just stay away from the blood of your enemies. That would probably not be productive. 

 

 

How to get your wife to rotate your tires

it's not unpaid child labor, it's a coveted maintenance internship.
it’s not unpaid child labor, it’s a coveted maintenance internship.

 

Mowgli wanted to rotate our tires and I did not.

It’s not the first time we’ve disagreed. It won’t be the last. That’s marriage. It wouldn’t even have been an issue if not for the fact that, a couple weeks ago, we decided to sell the car.

Causing Mowgli to really want to rotate our tires

And me to really not.

For what it’s worth, I stood on solid ground. Tire rotation is preventative maintenance and the car was for sale. SALE. Not to be ours any longer. I could hardly be bothered to put fuel in the thing let alone concern myself with uneven tire wear.

But Mowgli wouldn’t let it go and thus forced me to employ diversionary tactics. I packed our precious free time with activities so that there wasn’t any room for superfluous auto care.

Because I love him.

Then, finally, we had a prospective buyer and I thought the whole episode could be put behind us.

I was wrong.

Once again Mowgli brought up the damn tires and now, with time no longer on his side, he needed my help.  

“No. Hell no.” I told him. “Not for a million dollars, not for a billion. Not even for love. Why? Because it doesn’t need to be done.

“I thought you’d say that.” He replied and then my husband, the love of my life, said the ugliest thing I’ve heard come out of his beautiful mouth ever.  

“Alright,” he told me, “I will just do it tonight…after dinner…”

After dinner. *GASP* After Dinner! *GASP AGAIN!*

Can you believe the impudence? After dinner is together time, family time, us time. It is for relaxing in each other’s company only. Cell phones are off, cocktails poured, and conversation engaged in. We might play a game but “after dinner” is always labor free.

And Mowgli knows this. Suggesting he work “after dinner” was akin to suggesting he hit a strip club, booze up with the boys, gamble away our savings then fall asleep on the couch in the middle of a video game marathon.

In other words, my husband had just told me that my refusal to help sparked in him a Cro-magnon fire that would burn all night.

I didn’t go down easy. I’ll tell you that much. I stewed hard for a good thirty minutes.

Then I rotated the tires.

Or, more accurately, I talked our sons into rotating the tires.

I still had to supervise (they’re just boys) and that’s almost more work than doing it yourself sometimes.

So I’m still mad.

And just because the car rides smoother and the guy bought it on the spot, doesn’t make me wrong.   

Nope.

 

 

 

Habits

“How do you find out if someone is a runner? You don’t have to. They’ll tell you.”  Author: everybody who doesn’t run.

 

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I am a runner. There I’ve said it. After decades of trying, it’s finally stuck. I like to run. But you can relax. This isn’t a blog about how great becoming a runner is because it isn’t great. Running isn’t fun or exciting. It isn’t even interesting. It’s just hard, painful and hard. Living the running life doesn’t just take commitment it takes masochism. Running hurts. In fact, the last time I remember suffering so much for a hobby was that time, years ago, I decided to become a smoker.

Yes, when it comes to formed habits, running and smoking are remarkably similar.

In the beginning there’s the burning in your chest. Your lungs are on fire and you want to die. You wheeze like a 95-year-old with Emphysema and when you catch a glimpse of your red face in the mirror wonder when running/smoking is going to make you look sexy like promised. But you carry on, even though most days you have to talk yourself into it, because running/smoking is what all the cool kids are doing.

You buy a gym membership, a carton of smokes in the hopes their nagging presence will force you to get serious. Then, miraculously, you manage to spend an afternoon continuously running/smoking and you feel invincible. The flood of adrenaline in your system has you believing you’ve made it and that all the hard work is behind you.

Lies. Like a bad boyfriend, the happy hormones slip out in the middle of the night leaving you, and body parts you forgot you had, aching in misery.

But you are not a quitter so you get back on the running/smoking horse over and over…and over… until finally, thankfully, you are addicted. Suddenly running/smoking no longer requires any effort. Logic and rational thought give way to desire and from here on out you are nothing but desperate to feed the beast…

I’m not sure I ever got there with smoking. With running, however, I’ve definitely passed over to the dark side. I am a junkie. Last week Mowgli was late returning and, as I watched precious minutes I could be running slip away from me, I considered leaving him.

It’s that bad.

Learn from me friends. Save yourselves.

 

When Democracy Fails

 

Family Movie Night: An evening of forced communal film watching. We love each other. Try to show it.

Friday in our house is family movie night (FMN). It’s kind of a big deal.  We make pizzas, pop corn, then gather in the living room and make everyone watch something they probably haven’t asked to.

(Coerced family time is what all the best parents are doing these days)

But there's pizza!
But there’s pizza!

It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning we used an elaborate voting system to decide what film we’d watch each week. The idea was to ensure collective satisfaction but, like most complicated political schemes, the only surety was everyone equally disenfranchised. That plan was quickly scrapped.

Today, determined to have all voices heard, Friday’s selection is given to a single family member. Each week one person alone is in charge of what 4 others watch. I call it a rotating dictatorship.

It’s surprisingly effective but not completely without issue. Someone hates musicals. Another is prone to sneak in meaningful cinema. One of us, we learned, is a die-hard Godzilla fan. So we instigated the first of what would be many policy amendments the “30 Minute Minimum” rule. You must give the movie thirty minutes. If you are still miserable after that, you are free to go.

But even that didn’t fix everything. 30 minutes of ALIENS triggered a frustrating run of nightmares. So came amendment 2, “Fright Assessment Veto Power”. I probably don’t have to explain that one to you.

But still all was not eternally well. I don’t believe any of us will forget the ten solid months one family member chose the same movie…over and over and over…As much as I dislike regulation, amendment 3, the “Rerun Dispersal Schedule“, was a necessary evil.

Then Netflix and rentals failed us. First it was a new movie purchase here and there then suddenly we’re single handedly keeping the local video store open.  Enter item 4, the “FMN Spending Cap”.

The list goes on.

Today, though, I’m happy to report Family Movie Night is a much loved and anticipated event. So what if it houses more legislation than the U.S. tax code? Isn’t that the mark of good lawmaking these days? 

On a side note, Mowgli and I have started a tradition just for the two of us. Martini Fridays.

It’s going very well.

 

The perfect storm

A public sibling row.

The equipment:

2 brothers. Dangerously close in age and interest.

Very good friends but hello, BIOLOGY. If they were any other species one would have eaten the other well before adolescence. The fact that they get along “most of the time” is testament to man’s benevolent nature.

1 parent.

The other parent away for a duration slightly longer than the family without him is able to hold it together. (You could hear the clock ticking)

A board game.

That one brother is just a little bit better a winning, all the time.

The setting:

Indoors.

A not so large room waiting (impatiently) for an event (that isn’t starting) to start.

Thanksgiving day.

A lesser known American holiday that no one around you is celebrating. You’ve convinced yourself you are OK with that but behind everyone’s sunny exterior a little homesick and lonely hides waiting to blow.

Now, enhance for maximum impact:

Incorporate passion.

Make the game the brothers will soon fight over involve a thing they are equally crazy about (for us that would be Birds)

Add an audience.

Surround the boys by 15 or so people who do not know them all that well and who are probably pretty unfamiliar with the brother’s code:

“If there’s no blood, we’re doing it wrong”.  

 And finally, seconds before the bomb goes off, remove the one parent:

I went for tea.

It was a selfish moment of extreme self-selfishness that I’ll never forgive myself for, but I did it. Just then I was literally the only person in the country able to tell when a fight was on the horizon and how to keep it from landing and I left.

BOOM

Incredibly there was no physical damage.

FYI in brother land that’s a win.

Reflection

The boys were over it faster than they were in it because that’s part of the code.

“The death I wished upon you 3 seconds ago is…Squirrel!”

Me, I’m an elephant. A female elephant. I’ll never recover or forget.

Sometime in the future, after a couple glasses of wine, I’ll phone my daughter-in-law at 2am and whisper “Whatever you do, don’t go for tea. Trust me. It isn’t worth it.”

 

 

How not to be thankful

 

We all have that friend who, no matter what life throws at her, is perpetually optimistic. She’s that girl who smiles in the face of tragedy, laughs at pain and never views her glass as anything less than mostly full.

How do they do it? Well, my most-positive-pal, I found our recently, has a ritual that helps her keep on that happy track. With blind indifference to the weather, she steps outside every morning and thanks the universe for her existence. 

Isn’t that beautiful? As soon as I heard it I knew I had to make that practice a part of my life. 

But…

Because I’m less focused-contented her and more ADD-spastic me, I worried that being thankful for my life every day would get boring. So I opted for thanks that differ daily.

And…

Because I’m less spontaneous-spiritual her and more if-its-not-on-a-list-its-not-real me, rather than risk forgetting, I set up a Google calendar reminder.

And also…

Because I’m less fine-with-being-out-in-freezing-weather-first-thing-in-the-morning her and more where-is-that-extra-blanket-who-opened-that-damn-window me, I further opted to practice this ritual in bed.

So, for the last few months, at half past six in the morning I’ve woken to a cheerful “ding!ding!ding!” and a happy little note glowing on the face of my phone:

“What are you thankful for?” it reads.

Every day. For more than 2 months. At six freaking thirty in the morning.

Care to know how it’s gone? Here’s the abridge version:

Week 1:

What are you thankful for?

Love!

What are you thankful for?

Butterflies!

What are you thankful for?

The laughter of children!

 

Week 3 (a little more corporeal but still from the heart…):

What are you thankful for?

Coffee, black as pitch and scalding hot!

What are you thankful for?

The snooze button!

 

Weeks 6 (spirituality waning…):

What are you thankful for?

Phone apps that don’t wake me up at the crack of dawn!

 

Week 7 (system challenged…)

What are you thankful for?

Wine and that in 11 hours it will be socially acceptable to drink some!

What are you thankful for?

Not being socially acceptable!

 

Week  ? (Days blurring together…):

What are you thankful for?

Shut up!

 

It’s possible I went a bit extreme but that’s not too surprising for a girl who’s less Zen-centered and more do-all-the-things-now!

I should have known me better.

Thankfully I have a husband who does know me better. He reprogrammed my phone and if I’m good for a whole week, says I can have the key to the wine cupboard back.

I’m thankful for Mowgli…  

Family photo taken sometime before week 4...
Family photo taken sometime before week 4…

 

 

0 and 1 at the half

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Oh, like you don’t.

Mowgli’s on a business trip again. I’m home with the kids again.

For the record, I generally don’t complain about such situations because in them, I’m generally having a much better time than he is. 

This time though, that is not the case.

We’re moving house.

My days are spent packing, unpacking, phoning utilities, paying deposits, cleaning everything and dragging three less than enthusiastic boys around with me while doing do.

Meanwhile, Mowgli is doing something else.

(I’d be more specific about his activities but pretty much everything is better than moving, so it doesn’t really matter.)

Then, late Thursday evening, my beloved husband made what will go down in history as one of the gravest mistakes of our marriage.

He sent me a photo of himself, drink in hand, lounging in first class on a 787. (In other words, flying in a four star hotel).

What was I doing when said photo arrived? Organizing a trip for the boys: tent camping in Ireland. (In other words, camping in the rain).

Mastercard, take me away.

Will he make that mistake again?

Hello Paris? I’d like a suite…

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

 

Domestic Bliss

 

Gastronomically, it was a rough weekend.

Which came as a bit of a surprise.

I’m not new. I’ve lived overseas before. I’m familiar with the drill, you make do with what you have.

Even in this golden age of shipping (what do you mean drones aren’t delivering to your neighborhood yet??) I know it is still not possible to procure anything you want anywhere you want.

I had this. Cooking for the family was the least of my concerns. 

Besides that, I’ve not ever seriously considered America to have an actual cuisine (sorry if that offends anyone). Not one I would miss anyway. Not one I would go through painstaking effort to reproduce.

I had this. Adapting to an Irish kitchen would not be a challenge. Nope.

Then it happened.

In our kitchen amidst a pile of blackened cookery and kernels of maize I now believe were meant for a task other than the one I wished to employ them in, the following phrase erupted from my person with embarrassing volume…

“How the feck do these people make popcorn?!”

 

If you've not seen it before, this is what Serious Failure looks like.
What Serious Failure looks like.

 

It took me sever days to do it right. 

Several days. Can you believe it? For a girl who has popped corn for as many years as…well, never mind now long I’ve cooked popcorn. I know how to do it. A several day re-learning curve is unacceptable.

We just got here. I’ve much more to cook.

And something tells me the kitchen trials are not over…

Spontaneous Blender Explosion! Its not a fun as it sounds. Really.
Extreme Blender Sports! It’s not a fun as it sounds. Honestly. 

Sadly, the blender did not survive this experience.

Just as well. It wasn’t cutting the mustard.

On the bright side, with this chaos fresh in their minds, its possible the other appliances will buck up and pull their weight.

They better. I feel a cheesecake coming on…

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Lessons

 

I’m happy to report we made it the first leg of our trip (a stop in Washington State to be with family) with little incident.

Someone did forget how to walk through the metal detector (In. Out. It’s a complicated process for a ten year old) but we survived. And there was a dispute over beverages just before takeoff (They wanted water. I wanted to wait. They argued that I should just get them water. I countered with a crazy suggestion that they should just do as I said) but this too passed (because I realized I love my kids and thirst is not the gateway to perpetual obstinacy).

I’m not perfect. After all the trips we’ve taken together, I’m still learning.

With that in mind, today’s blog is a quick tip guide to travelling with kids. This not an all encompassing list. This is a start. One that I hope all you brilliant people will expand on!

Learn when you’re children travel best. My guys do not do morning. When they were little the hours between 2 and 9 am were like a scary version of kid’s Vegas: anything could happen. Age has given them the ability to tolerate early flight, but still… (see above). You can avoid much heartache just by watching the clock.

Remember that your flight is not an absolutely necessity.
Seriously, it isn’t. Unless it’s a matter of life and death, you don’t have to go. (Furthermore, in true matters of life and death, airlines generally step up to help make your journey as painless as possible). Before you fly, ask yourself this “if my child was ill/injured/insane, would I still take this trip?” Trust me, you are not the first parent in history changing their plans to accommodate their offspring (it’s kind of what parenting is all about).

Abandon the belief that your child “needs to learn to entertain herself.”
Children need to learn a lot of things: how to use a toilet, how to ride a bicycle, how to write a college essay…The question is, do they need to learn any of it in a metal tube at 32000 feet with 150 strangers?

On that note you might want to also drop saying things like…

“My child is filled with patience and compassion; he will be an angle in an airplane.”
You know what else if filled with patience and compassion? An elephant. Force an elephant into a strange and uncomfortable environment however and you’re setting the timer on a weapon of mass destruction. Make good choices. 

 

Alright, it’s your turn!

Happy travelling to all.

 

Life, the later years

stock-footage-flashing-police-lights

People don’t change, nouns do. 

Friday night got a little out of control. But who hasn’t been there, right?

I started the evening ready for a wild night of fun (aka staying up past 11:00 eating chocolate and watching Iron Man). Sadly none of my roommates (aka husband and sons) was in the mood to join me. So, alone but undeterred, I put on my party clothes (aka pajamas and bunny slippers) and set out for the most popular club in town (aka my living room).

The bartender (aka me) could tell I was ready to get rowdy so he (aka I) directed me to the best seat in the house (aka the couch). Before I could tell him (aka me) not to, he (aka me) cracked open a bottle of the clubs finest liquor (aka Merlot in a box) and poured me a glass.

The entertainment that night was awesome. The band (aka Netflix) played an endless eclectic stream of my favorite hits. No matter what I was in the mood for the singer (aka my instant queue) was more than willing to accommodate.

A couple of hours later the night started to really buzz. My dear old friends (aka Overstock, Amazon, and Nordstrom.com) dropped by! The four of us don’t get to spend much time together these days and I was ready to make up for lost time. What a blast!

Unfortunately, the evening after that is kind of blurry. I forgot how much my old buddies and I (aka just me) like to cut loose.

Things went downhill fast and at 1:00 am the fun came to a screeching halt. Someone had called the police (aka my internet data cap). Everyone ran but it was too late. The cops had back up. In no time at all a state trooper (aka my credit card spending limit) had me face down on the floor. While he reviewed my Miranda rights (aka over charge fee schedule) I lay with my cheek in the dirt wondering what had gone wrong.

When I looked up there were my “friends” giving me a round of sympathetic looks.

“Well,” they said shaking their heads, “that escalated quickly.”

Jerks.    

Don’t worry though, I’ve learned my lesson.

Next weekend, I’m staying in.