What I Did on Thanksgiving Vacation

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. “Food, family, and football,” I used to say. “What’s not to love?”

I’m less about the football these days — I don’t think we had a game on at all, and we definitely didn’t watch the Steelers at 8:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night. But I’m still about food and family (and drink!). I am fortunate that I don’t have to interact with people whose political opinions they feel like airing. We’ve all agreed to disagree, and not even the deep divisiveness of this year was going to change that.

Overall, it was a fantastic break, but Thanksgiving Day itself was rough. It was my FIL’s favorite holiday, and his absence was huge. In writerly terms, it loomed large. For the most part, we stayed focused on positive things, but there was a collective meltdown right before the meal was served that highlighted our dark cloud. Then, Dan and I received some heartbreaking news about the man who married us.

Life is short people. Love the people you love. Tell them about it.

However, the food was delicious (links to the recipes I contributed are below; both were 10/10, would make again), I taught people how to play Euchre, I learned a new cocktail, and… and we made it through the day.

1. I worked on the second draft of my novel. A lot. Devoted many hours to it Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. I still have more editing to do. But I am feeling very happy with this work. I’d like to finish this draft by Christmas, and start getting into the hands of beta readers by the new year. I have some agents and small presses to start emailing too.

2. I drove to Moio’s to pick up Italian pastries for my husband to give to someone else. To put that in context, this Italian bakery is a 40-50 minute drive from my house. It was busy, but the workers are efficient and cheerful — you’d be cheerful too if you worked in an Italian bakery, I suppose — and in addition to the pastries my husband had ordered (a cannoli kit, three pasticciotti, and three sfogliatelle) for his friend, I picked up three nutrolls.

Those nutrolls made the drive worth it. They were incredible.

As a plus, Dan and Kate spent some time filling the cannoli on Thanksgiving morning, just the two of them. It was a special little moment, and a pocket of sweetness that Dan sorely needed.

3. We went roller skating. As many parents know, between the break in routine and the crummy weather, holidays can make children fractious and give parents cabin fever. (Or maybe the other way around.) So I built some physical activity into the long weekend. We went roller skating Saturday afternoon, and it was great. Mostly great. Michael spent the first thirty minutes refusing to skate; he couldn’t seem to figure it out, and even with a skate mate, he just wouldn’t do it. Around 2 p.m., we stopped for snacks — always stop for snacks — and after a soft pretzel and a fruit punch, he rallied. I had to help him, which gave me a nice thigh workout.

The girls had a ball; they always enjoy skating. They used roller blades for the first time, and they preferred them to standard skates. So, there’s a Christmas list idea for people: roller blades.

4. And, yes, I started Christmas shopping. As per, I waited until Cyber Monday. I don’t shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and believe me, that is a judgement-free statement. If Black Friday shopping is your thing, go for it. I don’t like crowds. Full stop. (I am also lazy.) Black Friday demands a degree of hustle that I lack when it comes to buying stuff. So I wait until Cyber Monday, go through my email for deals and coupons, use Ebates, and buy a few things.

All-in-all, it was a very relaxing, fairly productive break. I probably won’t get that kind of time off again until March.

What did you do on your Thanksgiving vacation? Food? Family, friends? Football?

Recipe links:

My contribution to the appetizer course; light, flavorful, good with crackers and cheese: Lebanese Lemon-Parsely Bean Salad
My main protein dish, and a nice side with turkey: Broccoli, Cheddar, and Quinoa Bake
A light drink that is the perfect foil to Thanksgiving dinner: The Americano cocktail (h/t to @thejqs)

We Pulled Off a Spontaneous Date Night!

Advantage of older children #599: When your husband texts you at noon to tell you that he scored free tickets to Whiskey Fest, you can put the almost-12-year-old in charge for two hours. (It’s true that you have to set consequences for the younger children so they listen to the almost-12-year-old. It’s worth the effort.)

Here are highlights from our tasting:

My New Rye: Dad’s Hat
Strong and spicy, but with zero burn, this rye is going to be the new staple in my liquor cabinet. (Sorry, Bulleit.) It’s a Pennsylvania-made spirit, and the two gentlemen behind the table were delightful. The owner’s opening line was, “Are you rye curious?” Along with the standard rye, they also had rye finished in port and vermouth barrels. I think Dan liked the one finished in the port barrel best.


A Pleasant Surprise: Art in the Age (ginger) Snap

A friend of ours likes to gift us unusual spirits for Christmas. Last year, he gave us a bottle of this distillery’s rhubarb spirit. Suffice to say, Dan liked it much better than I did. (Note to future self: mix with lemonade.) I was skeptical to try another from Art in the Age. But I do like ginger as a flavoring, and I love ginger snap cookies, so I decided to take a risk. I was quite pleasantly surprised. The spirit is very sharp, but not overpowering, and excellent in apple cider.

One of the suggested cocktails is Ginger Rye:
1 part SNAP
1 part rye whiskey
1 tsp honey or maple syrup
2-3 dashes bitters
Garnish with slice of orange
And if that doesn’t sound like a refreshing fall drink, I don’t know what does.

My New Irish Whiskey: West Cork Irish Whiskey
Puts Jameson and Bushmills to mass-produced shame. They do a special distilling that carries the Pogues moniker as well, which is just a bonus.

The Best Thing I Drank All Night: Balvenie 21
If I ever do something really, extraordinarily nice for you, or you just like me a whole lot, a bottle of this as a gift would be most welcome. The Balvenie Portwood Aged 21 years is the best single malt I have had. It is large, a big and rich smooth flavor, with notes of honey and spice.

Other nice touches on the evening: Dan won a bottle of Jeffersons Bourbon for knowing what Montecello means. And we came home to a completely clean house, courtesy of a houseguest and our children.

So it is possible to date after children! You just have to be patient.

What I Did on My Sick Days

I woke up Saturday with a fierce headache and a sore throat. This is how I made it through the weekend.

Saturday:
A little career counseling for a young writer a bit at sea. We talked digital media, inbound marketing, and next steps he can take to get into a career.
Michael’s soccer game. I sat. A lot. And drank Throat Coat tea.
Flora’s soccer game. I powered through coaching. Lots of yelling encouragement from the sidelines.
Went home, and went to bed.

What I asked for when I went to bed:
The laptop
The laptop charger
Two books: The Girl on the Train, and Man’s Search for Meaning (neither of which I read on Saturday)
A glass of water
A cup of Throat Coat tea
The phone charger
An egg (Dan had to send someone next door for an egg; I made myself ramen with a soft boiled egg and some peas)

I sent Dan to Costco with the shopping list. He took Flora and Michael. Kate stayed home with me. Dan didn’t want to leave me alone, and I quote, “in your weakened state.”

I watched about three episodes of Jane the Virgin.
Fell asleep at some point; woke up at 7:30 p.m. Dan was cooking pizza. I went downstairs for a piece; made a salad.

Dan put the children to bed. He fell asleep.
I made myself a hot toddy, and watched more Jane the Virgin. Went to bed around 11.

Pout-Pout ready to cheer on Michael.
Michael with his classroom pet Pout-Pout. Pout-Pout went to the Pirates game with Flora and to soccer with Michael. Michael read him books. Pout-Pout had a pretty low-key weekend.

Sunday:
Got everyone rolling to CCD and Mass; I stayed home, watched more Jane the Virgin, and sorted through a basket of papers and books that needed to be disposed of. Progress!
Cleaned the kitchen from the night before.
Made myself eggs and toast.
Showered. (Progress, again!)
Took Kate to buy new shoes. She went from a size 3 (last year) to a women’s size 7.5.
Picked up something for Dan to take to his football watching party.
Laid on the couch.
Helped Michael make his Pout Pout book.
Made myself grilled cheese and tomato soup; fed the children leftover pizza.
Read a lot of The Girl on the Train (I’m not done. No spoilers!).
Kate read a chapter of Fortune Falls to me.
Helped children get ready for Monday (pack lunches, organize book bags, and so on). Got everyone to bed.
More reading, another hot toddy, more Jane the Virgin.
Bed.

Monday:
Feeling better and went to work. Not 100 percent, but not as sick as I was on Saturday. I’ll take it easy, because I don’t really have time to be sick like that.

How was your weekend?

Copyright for featured image, which accurately represents how I felt this weekend: frenky362 / 123RF Stock Photo

I Blame Netflix

One of the reasons that I am not reading much is, in part, because of Netflix, as I mentioned. TV on demand is hard for me to resist. (Also, I am lacking in time to go to the library. I have to fix that.) (Also: Netflix is making some damn fine television.)

I couldn’t tell you what exactly made me watch anyone of these shows. Maybe friends of mine were talking about them, or they were trending on Twitter, or a combination of the two. Dan and I usually pick shows to watch together, but I confess to watching Stranger Things and Jane the Virgin on my own. He watches The Walking Dead. To be fair, he did ask me to watch TWD with him, but I can’t do zombies.

Here are the shows that I am letting keep me away from books. (Spoilers are possible.)

1. Stranger Things

If you haven’t heard of this show yet, I question if you even Netflix. The night I decided to start it, Dan was out with a friend. Within the first five minutes, I was curled in a ball on my couch with a blanket clutched to my mouth. Hooked from the get-go, pretty much. To sum up, it takes place in 1983 in a small town. Stranger Things involves a group of four boys, one of whom goes missing, the boys’ families, a mysterious government building, a weird girl, and a terrifying monster.

Or, to put in another way: Stephen Spielberg directs Stephen King, with a little John Carpenter thrown in.

The story-telling is non-stop. You barely get time to breathe throughout each episode (or was that just me? I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time). Even as the episode careens from plot point to credits, character development builds. The 1980s references, look, and feel are spot on.

But what made this show an absolute stand out for me was the trio of Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, and Natalia Dyer, as Joyce Byers, Eleven, and Nancy Wheeler, respectively. Yes, the four boys were great actors, with Finn Wolfhound simply heartbreaking in his boundless loyalty and optimism. David Harbour made Jim Hopper incredibly layered and complex.

But, damn, the ladies. Joyce Byers could have been a one-note character: bereaved mother loses her mind. Instead, Ryder gives us a nuanced portrait of a hard-luck mom who loves her boys, and even as she confronts the impossible and horrifying, is going to do her damnedest to protect them. I almost dismissed Wheeler from the get-go — I even wondered “aloud” on Twitter if the teenage romance storyline had any purpose.

It does. Hoo boy does it. #RIPBarb

But as far as I am concerned, Brown stole the whole entire show. At turns fierce and vulnerable, she brings such a touching humanity to a specially gifted, and fairly terrifying, girl. Every flicker of emotion across her face was breathtaking. She knows her life has not been normal, and while her character reaches for normalcy, she also strives to protect her new friends from some bad truths.

2. Jane the Virgin

When I first heard the premise of this show, I thought, “No way they make that plausible.” But of all the things in this modern day telenovella, Jane’s unexpected pregnancy is the most plausible. This is a delightful show, again lead by an amazing female cast, with real touches about what it means to be a daughter, a mother, and a woman, all at the same time.

3. Daredevil / Jessica Jones

I enjoyed the heck out of the first season of Daredevil.
I felt obligated to watch Jessica Jones at first, and in the middle of the season I was frustrated, wondering if the plot was going anywhere. And then it switched into high gear, and was completely mind-blowing. Solid characters, all amazingly flawed yet human (except for Kilgrave, of course, that guy was a whackjob). Hoping season 2 (there is a season 2, right??) is just as good.
Season 2 of Daredevil is disappointing. Too violent, too graphic, too profane. I am totally over Karen Page, Murdock/Daredevil’s martyr act, and the relationship angst – and I mean *all* the relationships: Murdock and Nelson, Matt and Karen, Daredevil and Electra, Electra and Stick. My current favorite character is Marci. I’m not even sure I care what’s in that sarcophagus. Dan and I have two more episodes to go. I doubt the series is going to redeem itself in my eyes.

4. Person of Interest

Formulaic, ridiculously violent (but not graphically bloody), the characters take themselves a wee bit too seriously, but still a pretty good romp for a network show. We’re currently waiting for Season 5 to get to Netflix. A satisfying watch.

5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Dan and I have to rewatch the last two episodes of Season 2, so we can get on with Season 3 (we’ve forgotten everything). I’ve really enjoyed this Marvel Universe creation on the small screen. Clark Gregg has too much fun as Agent Coulson, and I would watch it just for him. But I do enjoy the implausibility the various super powers and of secret organizations both sanctioned and evil, the interplay between Fitz and Simmons, and checking out Mack’s physique. (I ain’t gonna lie.)

What are you watching?

Image credit: Copyright: enki / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s National Book Day, and I’m Not Reading a Book

My reading habit has tanked this year.

I made the resolution this year to only read minority authors. I have read exactly eleven books by minority authors, which is not impressive. And I’m not currently reading anything! I have no half-finished book at home!

I blame Netflix.

Here are the books by minority authors that I have read so far this year:

  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates — Amazing. A must read, especially in this turbulent, messy election year.
  • Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, Marjane Strapi — An interesting look at a different culture
  • Home, by Toni Morrison — Not one of her better novellas. But not terrible.
  • A couple of essays from Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay — I wanted to like this collection of essays a lot more than I actually did. Maybe I’ll try again.
  • Push, by Sapphire — This was good to read. Challenging, difficult to think about. Necessary.
  • Who Asked You?, by Terry McMillan — Meh.
  • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese — Beautiful, lyrical, stunning, moving.
  • I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai — It took me three tries to get all the way through this book. Not because it was badly written, or not compelling. I struggle with non-fiction, and this story didn’t help me overcome that. This book is a definite must-read, though. The view into the foreign culture is important.
  • We Should All Be Feminists — This slim volume, based on the TED Talk, especially in conjunction with books like I am Malala and Push, did leave me thinking, “Wait a minute. Why aren’t we all feminists??”
  • Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie — WOW. I had never read Alexie before. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is probably the most affecting fiction I’ve read in a long time. This will go on a summer reading list for my children at some point. Flora wanted to read it, but I told her she needed to wait a couple of years.

I also read Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides. Sides in not a minority writer, but the book is about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his assassin, AND it was non-fiction, so I’m putting it on my minority subject shelf.

I also read two books by the whitest male author in America, and I can’t apologize for that. (End of Watch and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.)

What are you reading?

Tight Schedule

I am starting to notice that I have some rigid tendencies. (Somewhere, Dan is rolling his eyes thinking, “Really? You JUST noticed?”)

Shut up, Dan.

Anyhoo: I like to do things in a certain way or in a certain order. If you’d have asked me if I minded change, I would say to you, “No, I don’t mind change.”

I may be lying. I don’t mean to lie. I would like to be a person who is flexible and can roll with the punches — as long as they aren’t actual punches.

For example: I drink two cups of coffee at work, one that I bring with me from home, and one that I make from Starbucks VIA instant coffee at 10 a.m.

And I mean, precisely at 10 a.m. Sometimes 10:02, but seldom later than 10:15. Maybe 9:58 if I have a 10 a.m. meeting.

I usually have a handful of trail mix with that cup of coffee. Every so often I will have granola bar or doughnut or cookie with that cup of coffee. But point is, my morning looks like this:

8 a.m.: Coffee and Belvita (2) at my desk
Work, work, work, surf a little bit of internet
10 a.m.: Coffee and handful of trail mix

To that effect, when my co-workers do a breakfast run (or bring in cupcakes) I tend not to participate. Not because I don’t like fast food breakfasts or cupcakes — but because it’ll throw off my schedule. And that makes me anxious.

++

When Flora was born, I was a schedule Nazi. Especially when it came to naps: we had to be home for naps. HAD TO BE. Naps and bedtime.

I told myself at the time that I wanted Flora to have a routine, that we would both benefit. But when I turned into an anxious mess if we weren’t home for that nap, so help me God, I probably wasn’t doing anyone any favors.

I was more laid back with Kate. Although I still tried to instill a routine, I don’t think I was as rigid about it.

And when it came to M, that little dude got dragged around everywhere with us. Thanks be to the heavens he was easy going.

Even now, though, when I have a plan, even if it’s just one in my head, if you interfere with it, so help you God. (Dan can attest.) If I have in my head that we are going to start driving Friday at 6 p.m., but we are not ready at 6 p.m., the anxiety starts.

It’s not pretty. I should probably work on it.

++

I deal with it in a couple of ways: lots of prep — lists, packing, lists, shopping, cleaning, lists, drinking (when appropriate). I communicate to my husband and children my wishes — i.e., I would like to leave by 10 a.m. — and realize it will probably be closer to 11:30 when we do actually leave. Because vacation preparation goes a little bit like this in my house (h/t When Crazy Meets Exhaustion).

I try to stay flexible in my day-to-day. Mileage varies. I did eat a strawberry cupcake that my newest coworker brought in recently, and got something ordered from a fast food place another day. I can do this stuff, I can (especially if I’m starving).

But, too, I also like to have plans and routines. It’s soothing to me. I put my workouts on my calendar; I try to lay out clothes for myself the night before. I like having habits that I don’t have to think about too hard. And it wasn’t marriage and children that did this to me — I have always liked to have my ducks in a row, even if they were short-term ducks (today, this week, this month) rather than long-term ducks. (I still don’t have a 5-year plan, never have.)

And it’s okay. Sometimes my anxiety bubbles over and gets everywhere; sometimes it makes my husband short-tempered. But we work through, we get by.

And maybe my children will learn to roll with the punches a wee bit better if they see me doing it. That would be nice. For everyone.

How do you do routine? Printed itinerary or go with the flow?

Copyright on clock image: luchschen / 123RF Stock Photo

Arts Fest Selfie

Summertime, When the Living Is… Not As Difficult

I’ve talked about how much I like having a nanny during the summer, yes?

I was reminded of how much I like it yesterday.

  • I get myself up and ready and out the door in the morning. I only have to get myself going, and I leave a houseful of sleeping darlings.
  • I come home to a clean kitchen and some dinner prep done (when I remember to ask).
  • The girls keep their room cleaner.
  • The children get to sleep in. They go to stuff at the library. Flora and Kate will be attending summer camps in July. They get to go to the pool.
  • Sometimes, Kim goes to the store for me! This is a fantastic time-saver, I can’t even tell you.
  • She helps with special projects around the house.

I love being home by 5 p.m. Some evenings, Kim meets me with the children at Aldi or the farmers market, which means weekends are for fun and not errand running. Some evenings, she can stay a little later, so I can attend Stephen King events or happy hours.

Evenings involve much less rushing around. Tuesday night, we had eaten and were done with clean up by 6 p.m. Michael and I went for a walk; the girls elected to stay and do an hour of tablet time. Michael told me a long rambling story about Bob, his deaf wife (“She used her hands to talk.” “Yes, that’s called sign language.”), and the doggie toy they bought. He asked a bunch of questions, some of which I could not answer (how do you explain radio waves to a 5-year-old?), some of which I could (we can’t go to the sun because it’s far too hot). Then we all played Sorry! I won.

Then it was 8 p.m.!

Last night we met at the farmers market, and then Michael and I planted herbs in the backyard.

Having a summer nanny gives me breathing room. Yes, it’s more expensive than sending them to daycare, but not by a lot. The tradeoffs are worth the extra expense.

What is your favorite part about summer?

The Girl Who Loved Stephen King

When I was a child, I read everything. And I mean everything, and all the time. I was reading Nancy Drew mysteries by the time I was 8. I tackled The Yearling (although, if I finished it, I don’t remember the ending) while still in elementary school. I was a solitary, quiet child who preferred a good book to just about anything.

My parents never suggested I *not* read something, and they were both readers themselves. One day, my dad came home with a book by an author we hadn’t heard of before.

“My coworker really likes this guy,” he said. The book was for him to read, but I eventually co-opted it. Because it was something to read.

The author was Stephen King. The book was Firestarter.

I was 12.

**

Stephen King finds it pretty fucking incredible that he’s a famous writer. He is floored that more than 600 people stood in line in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, to buy tickets to see him speak live. He is also grateful, and honored, and funny as hell.

To paraphrase King, who was paraphrasing John Grisham, he said, “John said to me, ‘We are famous writers in a country that doesn’t read.’ So thank you for that.”

When he finished the evening, giving us nearly 90 minutes of his time, and we all stood to give him a standing ovation, he applauded us as well.

++

The true story of my ticket is that I didn’t buy it. I stood in line for close to six hours, and I was six people away from the door of the Penguin Bookshop when they sold out.

I was glad I had sunscreen in my purse, because what started out as a cool morning was 80 degrees by 2 p.m. I didn’t have water, or cash, or snacks, though, which was a little sad. I really could’ve used water.

When we handed in our contact information to the owner of the bookstore, and we were all dismissed from the line, I walked across the street, got myself some water and a bagel sandwich, and went home. It took all my strength not to cry. I was seriously disappointed. I was also berating myself. Why hadn’t I gotten up earlier? Why hadn’t I gone to wait in line sooner? Some people CAMPED OUT OVERNIGHT. I had fucked up my only chance to see my favorite author of all time. I posted a “poor me” post on Facebook, and went to eat my late lunch.

And then Meghan texted me. “Hey, do you want my extra ticket?”

Uh, are you serious?

“Sure. I was going to do a give-away at the library, but I feel bad you stood in line so long.”

Yes. YES I WOULD LIKE YOUR EXTRA TICKET. Please.

So, last night, Meghan and I met up at the Sharp Edge for dinner, then walked over to Sewickley Academy, and settled in.

IMG_20160608_181412
++

I met Meghan through our children’s daycare. Her older son and M are friends, although her son is one year older than M. We spent one field trip to Riley’s Farm talking Stephen King books on the back of the bus. We follow each other on social media, and take our sons on the occasional outing together. She’s great. Also, she did this, which is pretty awesome. I’m the friend mentioned near the end of the article.

20160608_204248

++

Stephen King is a tall, shambling guy, 68 years old. He’s a little stooped, and all over gray-haired now, but the facts that he’s 1) alive and 2) able to stand up and walk around a stage at all, are pretty amazing, and King recognizes that. He is dressed in jeans, black sneakers (that his grandson bought for him), and a black tee-shirt.

He didn’t read from prepared notes, he just told some stories of Pittsburgh, and of writing. He read a soon-to-be-published short story, not from the just-published End of the Watch. He explained how he got his ideas by launching into a rambling lecture about odds.

“The American Insurance Group says that in a group of about 500 people, about 5 or 6 of them have forgotten to lock their cars. And, the American Insurance Group says, that statistically speaking, out of a crowd of, say, 1,000 people, one or two probably forgot to lock their houses.” We in the crowd start giggling nervously. “So, yeah, a few of you probably forgot to lock your cars. Or you left the house unlocked because you were so excited to get here.” He invokes the image of the maniac with a knife, an unlikely character; even King and the American Insurance Group know that. “I don’t want you to think about it, don’t even let it cross your mind, but you’re going to get in your car to go home later tonight — ” more nervous laughter. “You’re going to go to bed, and when you get up to go to the bathroom, you’re going to look at your shower curtain and think, ‘Did I close that before I went to bed?’

“And, it’s cool, you’re laughing now because you’re all together, and we’re safe. But sooner or later, you’re going to be alone.”

This is what Stephen King, the author, does. He reminds us that sooner or later, we’re all alone.

++

King has always said that to be a writer, one also has to be a reader. As a child, he says, he was a voracious reader. And one of his older neighbors called him on it one day. “Hey, Stevie. I see you all the time walking around with your nose in a book. What do you read so much for?” King says in the moment, he was a little embarrassed to be a reader; he felt like he was doing something wrong. “But if I could go back to that 9- or 10-year-old boy, I would’ve told that man, ‘You only get to live one life. But with these books, man, With reading, I get to live ten thousand lives.'”

++

The picture at the top of the post is just one shelf of the Stephen King books I own.

My favorite of all his works is The Stand.

Thank you, Meghan.

Thank you, Steve, for giving me, and all your Constant Readers, ten thousand worlds in which to walk.

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.

++

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.

++

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.

++

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

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.

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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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