Fruit and veggie rainbow

Family Dinner is Overrated

By Wednesday, I am burned out on dinner as a family. Well, as a foursome, because Dan usually only joins us for family dinner Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday.

Flora has super sonic hearing, and it is attuned to Kate. She can probably hear Kate’s heart beating. And it probably bugs her.

Kate squirms, she hums, she sings songs. I don’t even notice the majority of the time.

But Flora notices. “Kate, please stop.” “Kate, please stop.” “Kate! Stop!” “KAAAATTTEEEE!”

In all honesty, I find Flora more annoying than Kate.

Sometimes, to prevent Kate’s aimless humming and singing, I actually play music at dinner. This backfires, too, though. No one can agree on a song or a genre. Classical — of which I’m not a fan either — earns me whines and eye rolls. Rock and roll gets Kate bouncing off the walls, which is the opposite of what I’m going for.

Kate is unable to sit like a regular person at the dinner table (or anywhere, really): butt in chair, knees down, feet on floor, back straight. She eats with her fingers, which drives me right around the bend as well.

And Michael emulates Kate.

Family dinners are chaotic! People jumping up and down to get water and silverware (because whoever forgot to set the table forgot it) and seconds — usually before I’ve even had firsts. Kate and Flora do riffs from YouTube and Vine; I am left utterly clueless as they go on. “Have you seen the one where…?” And they break up into girlish giggles.

And trying to get some assistance in the kitchen unless Dan is home is fruitless. Flora has to be reminded to put away ALL the clean dishes, not just from the dishwasher, but from the drying pad as well. Kate is supposed to set the table; half the time she forgets I’m actually going to eat too, and the table is set for three not four. Michael is supposed to put away the clean silverware and clear his plate from the table.

And once they’ve finished, rinsed their dishes, and put them in the dishwasher — poof. Off to read and play and watch more Vines. I’ve started calling them back to finish clearing the table, put food away, and, since we are in the kitchen anyway, pack their lunches.

To say mileage varies would be putting it mildly.

And half the time — literally, almost half, between soccer practices and gymnastics, and date night (for Dan and me, not the children) — half the time, we don’t actually sit down together for dinner; we bolt it down our gullets and run right back out the door. (I need to figure this out a little better; suggestions welcome.)

family yukking it up at dinner
Ha ha ha! Family dinners are SO delightful! Pass the carrots, please! Copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

Not one dinner I have had with my family looks like this.

And yet. I keep doing it. I cook nearly every night, and sit down with my children almost every night. Experts insist it’s important, and I believe them. Because every now and again, we get it right. We manage to have an actual conversation about school, or playing, or the books that are being read. We remember to do our Q&A journals. Dinner time is usually better when Dan is there; the children are better behaved, and I can sit while he directs after dinner clean up.

So while yes, I get tired of the acting up, the bickering, the cleaning cycle, I do love feeding my children, and seeing what is up with them, and just *being there*, all in the same room. I may get exasperated from time to time, but I probably won’t change the routine.

Although it would be nice if the children would start to *cook* the dinners. How do I make that happen?

Do you get to eat dinner as a family?

a 45 record

Age Is Just a Number

One morning a few months ago, I rolled over in bed and stretched my arms over my head. Just like I do every morning. On this day though, a horrible popping crunch and pain in my left shoulder area ensued.

It hurt. A lot.

I was so busy at work that I couldn’t get to my chiropractor right away. By the time I saw her (Dr. Amber Capra — go to her!), about two-three weeks had passed. The pain was less, but hadn’t disappeared yet.

She checked me out, and then informed me that I had actually not “injured” my shoulder, but had popped my ribs out of position and they were misaligned.

“Stretching my arms over my head?” I asked, incredulous.

“Um. Yes.”

God bless Dr. Capra. The poor woman had to tell me — and probably has to break it to many of her patients — that age is a terrible terrible curse that makes the body do stupid things like pop ribs when one stretches her arms over her head.

Those are not the words she used, but that’s what it boiled down to.

So, she put my ribs back in. It hurt.

This has been a cycle since that first time I did this. It seems to be when I reach and then twist my torso, my ribs, where they are connected to my sternum, stretch and pop. It hurts when it happens, and it hurts when Dr. Capra fixes me, and it hurts when it happens again.

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When I was a teen, maybe 13 or 15, I woke up to the sound of my mother crying in our upstairs hallway. She was rummaging through our upstairs linen closet / medicine pantry. Being the sensitive teen I was, I thought nothing of it and went back to sleep. (Empathetic, I know.)

The next day, I asked her about it.

“Oh, it’s so stupid!” she said angrily. (Sadness and anger in 24 hours was a lot of emotion for my mom. She’s a rather stoic woman, always has been.) “I think I have bursitis in my shoulder. Bursitis! That’s an old person’s disease.”

My mother wasn’t yet 40.

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Dr. Capra and I have discussed how to keep the rib popping thing from happening, but so far, it hasn’t helped — or only helps until I forget that I’m not supposed to reach and twist at the same time, and I pop shit out of alignment doing something perfectly normal like putting away groceries. I’m doing planks and pushups to try to strengthen the rhomboid and stretch the pectoral, but so far, it hasn’t prevented the ribs from moving.

I have never felt old until now. I feel I am young at heart, that my children keep me young feeling, that even though I’m 45, I feel like a 30-year-old. I am stronger than I’ve been in a long time, and even though I can’t run (I have the left hip of a 72-year-old; I’ve named it Gertrude), I am in good, even great, shape.

But here I am, unable to downward dog because something stupid could happen.

And I need to find a new chiropractor, because Dr. Capra practices in Upper St. Claire and Shadyside, neither of which are convenient to my new office.

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Another reason I struggle with the concept of being “old” is that I really, really like new music. Like, I am always listening to new stuff, and finding bands — young, newish bands, that excite me.

I’ve become obsessed with twenty one pilots — which if you follow me on Twitter, you already know. It started with “Stressed Out” from their latest album. The obsession really took hold once I started watching their videos.

If you notice, the lead singer’s neck and hands are black — colored with marker or something. I mused about it on Twitter, and one of my young cousins, who loves the band too, tipped me off to the fact that Tyler (the singer) uses the black as an outward expression of his inner anxiety.

I know, I know, two white boys from Columbus, expressing the millennial angst.

But I don’t know. twenty one pilots is, IMO, expressing something, capturing something, that maybe some of us would do well to watch without the usual eye-rolling that an older generation does toward the latest generation. Just give it a pause for these guys.

Also, I can’t stop listening to this song, or watching this video, or singing along to it in the car while chair dancing behind the wheel.

Flora is mortified, so I’m doing my job there.

Copyright for featured image: whitestone / 123RF Stock Photo

Fruit and veggie rainbow

Changing the Conversation: Part 2, Food

Food is not evil. Food is not poison.

Food is fuel, and food should taste good and make you feel good.

What we eat and the way we eat has gotten tangled up in a lot of things: stress eating, emotional eating, “clean” eating – whatever the fuck that is. We have a person out there calling herself the Food Babe advising you not to eat chemicals.

She is not a scientist. Chemicals are everything. (She may or may not be a babe; I’m not one to judge such things.)

How and what you choose to eat will not make you a virtuous person. Food will not save you.

Yes, if you have food sensitivities and allergies, you do well to avoid certain types of food, and I will not begrudge you that – gluten, dairy, meat, soy, and so on. That’s just common sense.

If you choose to eat a certain way, I also will not begrudge you that. I am a practicing vegetarian for the most part, have been for more than 20 years. Go carbs-free, gluten-free, organic, vegan, what have you. But the minute you start telling me that I should eat that way because it’s so superior, I am going to tune you right the hell out.

If you feel better when you avoid gluten doesn’t mean that I need to give up gluten. If you enjoy your Paleo style of eating, go for it. Doesn’t mean it’s for me. Please don’t insist it is.

The way that you choose to eat doesn’t make you a sinner or a saint. Eschewing a food group by choice doesn’t make you a good person.

And speaking of food being sinful, can we stop talking about “being bad” by choosing rich, delicious food? Can we stop declaring that a piece of cake means so many more minutes in the gym? Can we stop “cheating” on our diets?

Can we stop going diets?

Look, I’m not going to deny that some food choices are far better than others. I’m with Michael Pollan on this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (And no cereal that turns your milk a different color.) I get the fear of chemicals that has crept into our mindset, I truly do.

But we’ve got to change our language about food and eating. Instead of talking about diets, let’s make lifestyle changes that are sustainable, delicious, and make us feel good, not guilty. We’ve got to stop lecturing people who choose differently than us. Especially when it comes to raising our children, we can’t install fear of certain foods, or make certain foods absolute taboos, or act like eating some types of food is “bad” and needs to be paid off by abusing ourselves in the gym.

All things in moderation. Make sure the children are going outside to play. Get them involved in an organized sport (just one, don’t make yourself crazy). Give them access to a lot of different foods to try. Model good eating and exercise yourself. Your child is not going to eat salad at dinner if you don’t. Nope.

And, although children are not picky eaters by default (can we please get rid of the “recipes even your picky eater will try!” meme?) there are some truly picky eaters out there, children who will not try a new food, children who WILL go hungry rather than eat something they don’t want. They are rare, but they do exist, and let’s not shame their parents for it, okay?

I’m an advocate for the one-bite rule, and then my children are free to cook an egg or make a sandwich for dinner. And they aren’t even picky eaters! But there are certain meals (lentil soup and grilled cheese comes to mind) that even Kate, my omnivore, simply won’t have.

Eat when you’re hungry. Do something else when you are stressed or bored or upset. Feelings aren’t for eating. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play a board game. Talk to a friend. Hell, go to bed!

Food is good. Less processed food is probably better in the long run, but that doesn’t mean you can never eat a potato chip again for the rest of your life. I love my farmers markets and CSAs and cooking from scratch; I also appreciate the occasional fast food meal from Burger King (not because it’s good, mostly because it’s fast).

We do have real problems with food in this country, and I don’t mean the latest Facebook science screed about tumeric lemonade curing depression (although that is problematic as well). Food deserts in poor urban areas; produce that is more expensive than processed; parents who don’t know how to prepare healthy foods for themselves or their children. These are the things we should be talking about.

Not Gwyneth Paltrow’s air diet.

Copyright on header image: seralexvi / 123RF Stock Photo

What’s the best meal you ate recently? What made it so good?

Black bean omelet and toast.
Lunch!

Part one of this conversation was about changing how we talk about size.

Changing the Conversation: Part 1, Size

This week Amy Schumer started a shitstorm when she questioned her inclusion in an article in a magazine that featured plus-size fashion:

Some women were like, “Oh, hells ya!” Some women were like, “What’s wrong with being plus size?”

My take is that Schumer is built not like a plus-size woman, but like a woman, period.

I’d like to see the term “plus size” and “women” sizes go away. Also: fuller figured. I mean, if you are fuller figured, and want to embrace that, that’s cool. I just would prefer not to see it on women’s clothing.

My ridiculous body type aside — oh, see I’m doing it too!

Let me start again.

The majority of women in this country are not built like models. Period. Women have boobs, and hips, and butts, and curves. Women want to wear comfortable, flattering clothes. Sometimes we want to dress up, but we still want comfort and flattering cuts. Women, no matter their size or shape, should not have to feel embarrassed by shopping for comfortable, flattering clothes.

I wish the fashion industry would agree to consistently label women’s clothing. We maybe could agree on needing petite or tall sections — a tall size 8 or 10, which is what I am, is different from a petite size 8 or 10. But a regular size 8 or 10 should fit most women across most labels. That should just be a thing. Instead of plus size, just say size 16 or 20, or whatever numbers are needed. No “woman” department for larger sizes — what does that make me?

Also, women’s sizes should start at 2. Not 0 — or, the even more ridiculous 00. You are not a size 00 — you have a size. You take up space. Don’t let someone else erase that for you.

ETA: Better idea: size and length measurements in inches. Waist, bust, hips, legs/arms. It would simplify things for women, although not necessarily for clothes makers.

I went into a clothing store with my 9-year-old daughter recently. It is not a store where I frequently shop because they don’t carry tall sizes — they only offer them on their website. We went back to the girls department because she needed new jeans or leggings that would fit her, preferably a couple pairs of each.

Almost everything was labeled “skinny”, as in skinny jeans.

My 9-year-old isn’t skinny. She’s tall for her age (go figure) and is a healthy weight. She’s quite muscular, as a matter of fact, one of the strongest girls in her gymnastics class.

And I had to buy her jeans that were labeled ‘plus’. And I could only find one pair of “plus” sized jeans on the shelves.

I hid the label from her. Because she’s not plus size.

So I get Amy Schumer’s side-eye at Glamour magazine for being in an issue that was targeted at plus-size women. When we put labels on what girls and women are wearing that indicates that maybe they may be a little bigger than the norm when they are actually the norm, the pressure could be enormous on those girls and women to want to be ‘normal’ size.

And that’s not healthy.

While we’re at it, I would love to see BMI as a metric disappear. It’s nearly 200 years old. It’s time for us to toss it. Health comes in every size and shape, and it is not dependent on one number divided by another number. Again, my 9yo is on the upper end of “acceptable” BMI, but even her pediatrician is impressed with her health and strength.

And that is something to celebrate.

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Copyright: darkbird / 123RF Stock Photo

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Common Sense Solutions

ICYMI (Dad, that’s short for “in case you missed it”), I wrote an article for kidsburgh.org about managing screen time. It was born out of the frustration I feel about the advent of Kindle Fires in my house.

The opening line? “The tablet computers were the worst Christmas present we ever gave our children.”

After writing the story, I will admit to feeling less despair about our computer tablet quandary. We put new guidelines in place (see below).

I will admit, though, I hate the constant monitoring. Setting timers, collecting the tablets when time is up, checking that they aren’t getting into topics they shouldn’t.

But, such is life with media and children. I will also tell you, if you are in a similar situation, Common Sense Media really does a good job of rating apps, TV shows, and movies for children; providing guidelines for parents; and providing a safe forum to ask questions and get feedback. I would highly recommend them as a go-to parenting site. It’s a new world, and children need boundaries. If you find it’s hard to set them for screen time, this site is a great resource.

In the meantime, here are some of the changes that Dan and I made when it seemed things were spiraling out of control (seriously, he took away all screens at one point, including the Wi-Fi router, which I asked him to return since I needed it to WFH).

New Rules on Tablets

Dear Flora, Kate, and Michael,

Tablets are not be available until after dinner. Please, don’t even ask.

Before you get tablets, the following tasks must be fulfilled:

  • Homework done, shown to mom, and approved.
  • Dishwasher empty, table set.
  • Q & A journals filled in and discussed.
  • After dinner: table cleared; dishes rinsed and put in dishwasher.
  • In bedrooms: beds will be made; clean clothes put away; dirty clothes put in hampers. Floors will be clear of paper, garbage, and books.
  • Lunches packed.
  • In front room: pillows and blankets will be put neatly on couches.

THIS MEANS EVERY DAY, MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY. You may have tablets for an hour each weekday if the above conditions are met and/or activities have been attended (i.e. soccer practice, gymnastics).

On weekends, tablets will not be available until beds are made, breakfast has been eaten, and laundry has been taken next door. Tablet time on weekend is limited to two hours. If I get grief when I ask you to do a chore for the household, you will lose 10 minutes.

If you come in my room before 8 a.m. to get your tablets, you will lose 30 minutes.

The kitchen table and bedrooms are tablet-free zones. Tablets will not be allowed in the car except on long trips. They are not to go to school EVER; they are not to go to friends’ houses or on sleepovers.

Lying to me or dad about tablet use will result in an immediate suspension for 24 hours.

One more call from or conference with your teachers indicating you are not doing your school work will result in tablets going away AT LEAST until the summer.

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I will also tell you: These rules keep Dan and I in check when it comes to our phones. We have to respect our own rules in order for our children to respect them. Mileage varies, but I think we are all getting better at setting limits for ourselves, and figuring out what to do when the screens are off.

Do you have rules about screen time? Why or why not?

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#PghGBE: The Doing Is The Thing

Today’s post comes Rosanna Paterra of Secrets in the Wall and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. Secrets in the Wall is a songwriting blog exploring what Rosanna finds to be the fascinating components of being a modern day musician. You can see my post over on Feedback Soup, where I talk about what I value about live music. It’s a musical blogging extravaganza!

“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”
—Amy Poehler, Yes Please

My fiancé and I formed our acoustic duo, Scott and Rosanna, in 2012 after we met in our college jazz band and quickly started dating. Our passion for music and to spread happiness to others through our songwriting has deeply shaped our souls as musicians and a couple. Our journey towards becoming “real musicians” has been unbelievably rich in experience, love, intense joy, doubt, and challenges we never imagined we would face. Working through our fears gave us inner peace and working through our uncertainty gave us the ability to trust in our work. Most importantly, working through our frustrations developed an appreciation for the act of creating.

Scott & Rosanna live

The actual act of creating is so incredibly crucial to the outcome of the work; but it can be the most challenging part. It is so tempting to take shortcuts with writing music; so many artists today take the simplest four-chord progression, slap some generic heartbreak lyrics overtop, and call it a day. That’s how they can crank out so much material.

But when Scott and I fixate on merely finishing a song we lose the magic of the process. Allowing ourselves to let go, stop thinking, and just play with developing ideas may take more time and effort, but the end result has so much more truth and meaning. I like to compare it to cooking: Taking the shortcut is like removing the soup from the burner just because everything is cooked and you are hungry. Leaving it on for that extra hour will add richness and depth of flavor, and make the wait much more satisfying.

I was inspired by Dawn’s blog and her declaring 2016 as being the year of creation. As a musician, writer, teacher, home cook, and DIY enthusiast, I do my fair share of creating; however the creating I have been focusing on for the past few months is within myself. Scott and I recently moved back home to Pittsburgh after living in Brooklyn, New York, for the past two years, and I have been reflecting on our time spent in that beautifully manic city. I concocted the plan to move to New York because I knew we had the talent to make our mark there, but my naïve brain (freshly hatched from my safely incubated college egg) was not quite able to rationalize the actual reality of a modern day musician, especially not one living in New York City. A montage of movies, Patti Smith songs, and our perfectly imagined future floated in my head, and I was drawn to the illusion of New York with eyes beaming. After moving home, I realized that New York was the one that actually left its mark on me, and time we spent there changed my life, igniting a powerful shift in my attitude.

My focus for too long had been on the outcome of our “success” of becoming “real musicians.” What is “success”? What is a “real musician”? I allowed idealistic images and ridiculous comparisons cloud my ability to see any accomplishments we made with our music because nothing seemed to be enough, which made me sad. I don’t know if it was just the added pressure of living in New York City or my own extreme expectations of what we should be accomplishing there, but I was always striving for the next thing and was never focused on the thing itself. If only Amy Poehler had been in my life sooner! We became exhausted working so hard only to realize we were treading water. After we decided wholeheartedly to move back home, I knew we needed to sit down and define what being a musician meant to us and what it means to be successful for us, not anyone else.

Musician: One who creates music with their heart and belongs to a collaborative community who support each other
Success: Taking part in the things you love every day

Scott & Rosanna, posed

Our personalized definitions launched a turning point in our aspiring musical career. Now we have a greater understanding of our true desires. We don’t want to aim for great fame or fortune; our goals are set with the humblest of intentions, always aiming to just be a working part of a community of people who share and support each other. And our definition of success is not only rooted in music, but in doing all things that bring us joy because every creative outlet fosters inspiration. Now when I spend an afternoon cooking my favorite meal or crocheting a hat, I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not working on music. This new attitude has planted a seed of inner peace in my soul that is blossoming into a richer, more positive outlook on the future. Doing the thing is now the focus, whatever thing it may be.


“Nothin’ to Do — Live”

To listen to more of our music, click HERE
We would love for you to connect with us!
Website: http://www.scottandrosanna.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScottAndRosanna
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/scottandrosanna

Read more about Rosanna and Scott over at Secrets in the Wall. Rosanna also writes about songwriting tips, musician style, and the stories behind her own music. Thanks, Rosanna! And I’m glad I could inspire your thinking about creation. It’s very much a part of my daily writing life as well!

Follow along with the rest of PghGBE here, and thanks to Alex (@AlexanderFIV) for organizing the madness!

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Tadone: In Memory of the Best Father-in-Law a Girl Could Have

When Dan told his father about me, he said, “This one is special, dad.”

His father said, “If you love her, I will love her like a daughter.”

And he did. He was a fantastic father-in-law. It was easy to call him dad. It was easy to sit down for family dinners with him. We didn’t agree on anything, from politics to parenting, but we never fought about it, either. He watched Fox News, and I often rolled my eyes at him about it. “I’m a registered Democrat!” he would say, on more than one occasion. We sometimes had some heated conversations, but nothing that would divide us permanently. We very much practiced the “agree to disagree” maxim. We had to.

Because family was everything to him. He was thrilled to have his son and three of his grandchildren right next door. If he had a house big enough, he would’ve asked us all to move in with him. (And then complained about the noise.)

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About two months after I lost Gabriel, my in-laws asked us to travel to California with them. About half of my FIL’s relatives had relocated there, in San Francisco and Sonoma. Plus, my FIL managed a very popular restaurant in the airport corridor in Moon Twp. It was practically a business trip!

My pregnant sister-in-law traveled with us as well. She was about six months along. For every 10 samples of wine we had as we toured wineries, she would have one. At one stop, the man serving us said to my father-in-law, “Is this going to be your first grandchild?”

My FIL hesitated. And then he said, “No. No it’s not. My son and his wife lost a baby a couple of months ago.”

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Before he even had any grandchildren, he knew what he wanted them to call him: Tadone, dialect from his Italian village in the hills of Abruzzo. TA-down (own as in own, not as in down). Say it with a little bit of Italian flair. Image Marlon Brando saying it as The Godfather.

He went from being called Ta-Ta, to T’down, to Tadone, even for a short time, because of Kate’s inimitable style: Tadonio.

He loved being a grandfather. His grandchildren brought him such joy, and made him laugh. He loved sitting with them, telling them jokes — he had the worse puns — and sharing food. If my children wanted crunchy cheese puff balls or black licorice, they knew the man to ask. He made a mean French toast, and I am pretty sure he is responsible for my children’s love of fried eggs.

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When I was pregnant with Kate, my FIL sometimes drove me down to and picked me up from the bus stop. At this time, Flora was about 2, Nephew was 3, and Niece was 1. Some days all the children were at my IL’s house, depending on their parents’ work schedules. My ILs sometimes picked Flora up from daycare as well. It was a busy time for a couple of retirees!

One day, Tadone picked me up. I could tell he was in a bad mood. I asked about his day. He groused that all the children were at his house. “I don’t remember asking for this,” he said.

“I know exactly when you asked for it!” I laughed. “Dad, you whispered ‘grandkids’ to your son-in-law on your daughter’s wedding day. You at least gave DR and I a day or so before you asked when we would give you grandchildren!”

He paused, and then burst into his signature Coraopolis cackle. “You’re right,” he said.

“And you wouldn’t trade it for the world,” I pointed out.

I was right again.

++

He had special bonds with each of the children. He and Michael were buddies; Kate loved to snuggle with him; he tried to make Flora laugh with his jokes. He was there for us when one of the children couldn’t go to school. I know he adored Nephew and Niece, too.

It was hard for them to see him so sick and suffering. He was not his cheerful self. They each got to say goodbye at the hospice. Tadone died surrounded by love.

We, none of us, can ask for more.

I know my husband lost his best friend, and he is struggling. Please lift him up in love; lift all of us. We’ve lost a good man.

He will be missed.

Here are the details of arrangements for my father-in-law. The outpouring of love and support we have gotten has been overwhelming. If we haven’t said it yet, thank you.

The Dulli Effect

“You’re going to what?” asked Flora, her face a picture of confusion.

“Wait,” said Kate, all anxiety. “How far away is Cincinnati?”

I had just gotten done telling the girls that on Friday morning, they were going to have to remember the treats they needed for their respective activity days. They were going to have to help their dad get up and get them out the door. I informed Michael that his Aunt Irene was picking him up from daycare on Thursday.

I said again, “I’m going to go out of town for the night. I’m driving to Cincinnati to see a show.”

It was something I hadn’t done since becoming a mom, traveling on a weeknight. It’s something I hadn’t done since college, probably. I had gone to Cleveland for a couple of shows — Lollapalooza when Jane’s Addiction was at the helm, and Erasure. My first solo concert had been Depeche Mode when I was still living in Erie.

But until now, I hadn’t purchased a ticket to an out-of-town concert that was taking place on a Thursday night, figuring out the logistics for my children, and informing my husband once every detail was covered.

So their confusion was understandable.

But when I heard that Greg Dulli, frontman for Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers, was embarking on a solo tour, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket in October for a show on March 17. I almost bought a ticket to the Chicago show, too, but between finances and logistics, I decided that would be pushing it.

This is what Greg Dulli will do to you.

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I meticulously planned my children’s life the week of the March 17th show. I didn’t want to miss any detail. I had requested PTO in February, so that was covered. The Flex had new tires. A fellow Pittsburgh-based Dulli fan had contacted me via Facebook, and so I had a traveling companion and someone to split the cost of a hotel with.

Michael had a ride home from daycare; the babysitter was booked; reminders for the girls were left. Dan was on board, even if a bit reluctantly. He was dealing with a lot; his friend has succumbed to her cancer that Monday, and his father was in and out of the hospital with his own cancer. But Dan didn’t breathe a word about me not making the trip; Kate was more worried.

“I don’t think you should go,” she said baldly. “I don’t like it.”

How to explain it to children? How to explain it to anyone who wasn’t a Dulli fan?

It was something I needed to do for me. It was something I needed like air and writing — something mine, something I didn’t share with my husband or my children, with whom I shared just about everything.

So I went.

++

Cincinnati was an easy drive. My traveling companion was good company — totally easy going, chatty but not overly so, undemanding. She told me about other Afghan Whigs shows she had traveled to, usually solo, usually driving back to Pittsburgh afterward. She was glad she didn’t need to do that on this trip.

We met a group of fans at a restaurant across from the venue. All of us headed into the show together, stood as a group at the front of the stage, saved spots when someone needed a drink or a bathroom break.

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We cheered for spoken word artist Derrick Brown. Screamed for Dulli and for the Afghan Whigs when most of them took the stage for the second encore. AW had been born in the Queen City, and John Curley, bassist for the band, still lived there with his family. Heck, Dulli’s mom still lived in Cincinnati; she was at the show. Curley was at the show as well; he had come to say hi to some of the group I was with beforehand.

Yes, John Curley came up to the group I was standing with, greeted a number of them by name, talked about leaving his daughters home for the evening (they are teenagers, brave, brave man).

And this is the thing that is hard to capture about this experience. Yes, something about Greg Dulli is magnetic, is compelling. It goes beyond the old cliche of being a rock star that women want to fuck and men want to be. Far beyond.

Dulli captures a darkness in his music that many of us have dwelled in. The addictive appeal of the bad relationship, the desire to be in pain and to cause pain, and the plain old nature of addiction, the inability to break free. I have often wondered at how many men are Dulli fans, but then again, we’ve all been there haven’t we? With the wrong person, hopelessly in thrall to their spells or to our own fears of loneliness.

This is the appeal of Greg Dulli, this and the pure virile swagger of the man, undiminished — nay, nearly enhanced — by the years. This plus the sheer normalcy and sweetness in the rest of the band. Of Dave Rosser and Jorge Sierra coming out to chat after the show, taking pictures with and offering beers to those of us still hanging out. Greg is there too, signing autographs, and making Derrick Brown take pictures of him with the fans standing in line for a moment to chat.

Somehow we want to communicate to him that he touches us, that he has reached us. He takes it all in stride, giving each person his attention, his total focus for a minute or two.

And we are refreshed, our faith is renewed. We turn away, alive again.

Some fans travel on, back to their home bases, to their normal lives; some fans, more than a few, go onto the next show, and the next one after that.

Me and my travel buddy — we headed back to Pittsburgh the next day. I had a phone interview at 3 pm, and then many more child-related things to tend to. My father-in-law was back in the hospital; my husband needed me.

And I was there. I was there because for a few hours I was able to be away.

To have one thing that was all mine. Just for me.

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An Open Letter to Men Covering HRC This Election Season

Dear Male Pundits, Journalists, and Other Men Who Want to Talk about Hillary Clinton This Campaign,

Avoid the following words: shrill, aggressive, loud, likable.

Avoid talking about the following things: her voice, her hair, her clothes, her face, her age.

Avoid saying things like, “Hillary should really smile more.” “Maybe Clinton shouldn’t be yelling.”

It is not up to Hillary Clinton to make you, the media, like her. It is not up to you, the media, to decide how Hillary Clinton should appear or talk.

You’ve got a joker out there calling you vile things (liars, terrible people), and threatening to sue if you write negative things about him.

And you have the gall to tell Hillary Clinton, probably the smartest person in any room she is in, to fucking smile?

Stick it where the sun don’t shine, laddies.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Look, I can see some of you thinking, why do women get so uptight about being told to smile?

Imagine standing on a street corner. You are getting ready to walk down the sidewalk. Maybe you are going to meet a friend for coffee. Maybe you are going to work. Maybe you are window shopping, picking up your children, meeting your lover or husband for dinner.

Doesn’t matter what you are doing. You have to walk down that sidewalk.

Now imagine that sidewalk has a person standing on it. He’s going to talk to you, and you don’t know what he’ll say.

He might say, “Hi, beautiful!” He might say, “Smile!” He may say nothing, but you may feel him checking you out as you pass by.

It’s just one person, you’re thinking. I got this.

It’s not one person. It’s 10 people. It’s 100. It’s 1,000. It’s a hundred people a day, a thousand people a month, while you’re just trying to walk down a sidewalk. And if you don’t engage with these people the way they want you to, once you pass on by, they may call you a bitch. Say, “What’s your problem, lady?” Spit at you.

Now imagine you are a woman who is running to be President.

That’s a really long sidewalk.

Hillary Clinton has been a student, a lawyer, a wife, mother, and grandmother. She has been a governor’s wife, a First Lady, an advocate, a senator.

She has been Secretary of State.

She is smarter and more accomplished than any of those men on that sidewalk.

So stop telling her what to do and how to look. Stop commenting on any aspect of her bearing or being that you have not commented on before when the candidate has been a man.

Your tone deafness is showing.

Do better.

Sincerely,
red pen mama

Clinton Benghazi *yawn*
Hillary Clinton is gonna get shit done, and I don’t care if she smiles when she does it.

International Women’s Day

Flora has been a perfectionist since… well, since I don’t know when. At some point, maybe when she started pre-school, she took a lot of cajoling to even try things.

She wanted to be good at them right away. I suspect it’s a first child trait. She’s a rule follower. I also suspect this is at the root of her antipathy toward homework as well. She resents the idea that she needs to practice.

Kate, as you may be aware, has no such standards for herself. She will try *just about* anything. But if she gets hurt or embarrassed, she’s done. It took a long time to talk her into going back to gymnastics — she was afraid of the uneven bars for a bit.

Michael is good at everything, and I am not exaggerating. He’s good at every video game he tries; he’s good at cleaning up; he’s good at sight reading — the list goes on. He has no doubt that whatever he is doing, he’s good at it.

So far, I have done my best to encourage my girls to be brave, to try new things. I don’t push, I encourage. And I’ve let them try almost anything they’ve been interested in. They have both done soccer and gymnastics, with Flora sticking with one and Kate going back to the other.

I haven’t had to encourage Michael to try anything; as a matter of fact, he bugs me to try everything: soccer, hockey, football, drums — you name it. (He’s signed up for spring soccer.)

Maybe I need to take Reshma Sujani’s advice, and be more brave myself. I’ve cast myself so much as a writer — but I’m also a fast learner. I CAN do more than write; I’ve learned how to do other things in design and marketing and social media. Maybe I just need to be brave, and go for every job I want to.

Maybe I need to be brave enough to recreate myself.

What can you do to be less perfect and more brave? Or encourage a girl in your life to be more brave?