Florida, My Favorite Crazy State.

This photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a really bad jumpsuit, that shows her Spanx lines, causes the viewer to do a double-take, mutter "Oh my God," and laugh to herself-- just like news stories from Florida.

This photo of Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a really bad jumpsuit, that shows her Spanx lines, causes the viewer to do a double-take, mutter “Oh my God,” and laugh in disbelief– just like news stories from Florida.

Ah, Florida. You give and give. I was just reading this story about a really, really subtle Florida drug dealer, and laughing to myself, when I thought I remembered another, similar story (that’s the beauty of Florida: no matter how crazy the news item, I always think to myself, “Didn’t that happen already, somewhere in Florida?”). So I searched “Florida weird news.” I didn’t even get back to searching for that original article, because you guys– did you know there are entire web pages devoted to Florida’s daily insanity? Huffington Post has Weird Florida. There is a hysterical Twitter handle, Florida Man, which you just need to follow because you’re welcome. And Floridians seem to have a sense of humor about themselves, because the Sun-Sentinel carries a blog called FloriDUH.

Full disclosure: my uncle lived in Naples, and my aunt lived in St. Augustine. Lovely places both; I’ve visited lots of other very nice places in Florida (Orlando of course; Destin; Miami, etc. I personally have never met the level of crazy that Florida produces on a daily basis, any time I have visited– but I sort of wish that I had. And I’m not alone in loving the weirdness that is Florida: any time the headline begins with “Florida Man….” — you click it, too. So keep on keepin’ on, Florida. You light up my news feed as well as my life.


    New Year’s Diet Resolutions? I’m Here to Help!

    Often, people will ask me if I’m a vegetarian. And actually: no, I am not. But I think I could easily stop eating meat– as long I could still have eggs and dairy. Dairy because 1. cream in my coffee; 2. chai lattes (and I do not want to hear about the soy milk option); 3. pizza with real cheese. And eggs because, since I tend not to eat a lot of meat, a good percentage of my protein intake comes from my morning scrambled-egg-and-salsa-in-a-tortilla breakfast obsession. But, other than my latest obsession of entering my food intake into Fitbit, I tend to just follow the, “Eat mostly healthy, and also exercise” plan. Now that the holidays are over and we aren’t buying those incredible made-in-house tortilla chips from the nearby grocery, of course. The holidays were a blur of extra salty tortilla chips and vodka tonics.

    We are in the start of a new year, which is the time many people make a life change, such as in their diets. My beloved Gwyneth Paltrow suggests annual cleanses to start off the New Year– last year she recommended that we all eat chickpeas in bowls of lemon water (I actually love chickpeas, but that photo is Just. So. Gross), and this year we’ve got some amazing smoothie options: you can go with kale, dandeli0n, and parsley (she calls this the House Special; I would have called it Lawn Trimmings) or you could try the beets-and-ginger variety. I love her so, so, so much for her genuine belief that people should consume these items together as a drink. But! If you do not hate yourself, and you’re looking for a less terrible way to change your diet, you have many, many other options: the Paleo. The gluten-free. Raw food. And, honestly: go for it. I don’t care at all what you’re eating and why. I might roll my eyes while you’re telling me how superior your sugar-free, carb-free, dairy-free, free-of-all-good-things Prisoner at Alcatraz diet makes you feel– but I won’t begrudge you one single day of denying yourself the deliciousness.

    In fact, just in case you do want to find the weirdest, most obscure and dubious diet possible, I’m going to help you: New York Magazine asked a journalist to try a variety of bizarre celebrity diets. They range from the weird (Elizabeth Taylor liked tuna with tomato paste and grapefruit) to the truly horrifying (Greta Garbo put raw eggs in her orange juice, you guys. For real). So if you’re tired of your existing weird diet, feel free to give one of these a try.

    Looking for something less vomit-inducing? Enjoying developing your jaw muscles? Fletcherism says you can eat whatever you want, as long as you wait until you “have a true hunger” and chew everything at least 32 times.

    If you really want to emphasize the “cleanse” part of this concept, you might try the misleadingly named Lemonade Diet. Only, um, it’s not lemonade– it’s “lemonade.” You will not spend all day sunning yourself on the wide front porch of your family’s plantation, and calling for more delicious, ice-cold lemonade. Rather you will start off every day by drinking a full quart of saltwater and then trying not to die. If you do live, then for the rest of that awful day you will ingest nothing but hot water with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. This is like lemonade for people who enjoy the taste of the dishwasher’s rinse cycle.

    Speaking of trying not to die: the tapeworm diet? Really?

    Finally, my current favorite diet product: Sensa powder. Just shake that shit all over your food and it will look too disgusting to eat  it will curb your appetite. How well does it work? Well, if you click that link, you’ll see just what happened to this company and its breakthrough scientific product.

    Or, you know: just try to eat healthy most of the time, and then don’t sweat the occasional homemade tortilla chip binge. (Sorry, Gwyneth. I know you’re disappointed in me.)


      Still Here.

      judadThree years ago today, my family and I were gathered around my dad. He was one of the strongest people, physically and mentally, that I have ever known, and he was tired. For whatever reason– pesticides spread on nearby fields, or toxic chemicals in his workplace, or a genetic time bomb, or– as I keep reading recently– unbelievable bad luck, Dad had to battle myxofibrosarcoma. Myxofibrosarcoma is rare in adults. It is difficult to treat. It is resistant to many forms of chemotherapy and to radiation. It is aggressive, and it is relentless. Already once, with all of his strength, Dad had fought it off and reclaimed his life. But that’s the bitch of cancer, isn’t it? It waits. It sneaks to new places. It comes back. And Dad fought it hard again, but now he was tired. And even so, he was still fighting: once, during the last few days in the hospital, we told him through tears that it was okay to let go. And he surprised us all- and made us smile– by replying, “But I don’t wanna.”

      Dad fought all the way to the end, and it was my great, great honor to be there when he won his peace. You know how some events in your life change you? I will never forget those days, when so many people were crowded into his room, never leaving him alone for one second (much like in life, poor guy), crying and laughing and witnessing this great man’s journey. Afterward, at Dad’s services, we received a thrilling gift in the form of  the hundreds and hundreds of people who came to honor Dad. Emergency Services had to be called to direct traffic, and people waited hours in line to say their goodbyes. What a wonderful gift that was for all of us, to feel the love of all of these people and know how important Dad was to so many.

      And then he was gone, and we were faced with the task of living without him. Make no mistake: this part sucks. I remember the day it occurred to me that I was going to live and live and live, and still Dad would be gone. It seems like the most obvious concept, but I was devastated to face the realization. Our family had a ragged, gaping hole at the center, and we all struggled. How do we move forward and honor him for who he was, when we can’t get over his loss? The day-to-day answer to that is that, because we had no alternative, we simply did. Life rolls inexorably forward, taking us further every day from the time when he was here, and we must move forward with it.

      So today is a day when I am still filled with fury, that awful people live in this world, yet my wonderful, much-needed, good-hearted dad was taken from us. I am still sad, for my family and my husband and my kids and for myself. The hole in the center of our lives is still here. It’s less raw, and we’re not getting over it so much as we’re getting used to it– but it’s still there. However: I can also tell you one thing I know, which I have learned in the past three years: Dad is still here. His presence pervades my parents’ house (sometimes that’s difficult and sometimes it’s so comforting). I can sometimes hear his voice in my head, giving me that grounded, smart advice he always has. I see him in my son– how is it that I never realized that Cam gets his people skills from Dad?– and I see him in the way my brother dotes on his newborn (but still does hilarious things like make her “dance” and dress her in Cousin Eddie tshirts). He’s still here in a thousand ways, both tangible and in my heart. And I’m grateful for that.

      Love you, Dad. It’s been forever and it’s been a blink. Thanks for still being here.

       


        Dad, Cammy, and the Snake

        Remember those days when your kid couldn't figure out how to smile on cue?

        Remember those days when your kid couldn’t figure out how to smile on cue? 

        Cam, as you know, loved going to the garage and working with his Papa. Once, when he was about five, he and Dave spent a Saturday morning at the garage with Dad. It must have been a rather light-duty day, although Dave doesn’t really recall exactly what they were doing. When they came home, Cam came running into the house, holding a jar. “Lookit!!!! Mommy, lookit what Papa gave me!!!!” he said with excitement. And when I looked into the jar, I saw a Headless. Freaking. Snake.

        My five year old son came home from Dad’s garage with a dead snake in a jar.

        Dave later told me the story: when they got to the garage, Dad said, “Is that a snake by the door?” –and indeed it was. It slithered to the side as they went in, where Dad picked up some old, heavy car part. He dropped the part onto the snake, then briskly picked it up again. “Dead!” he announced. “Head came right off!” Then, as Dave related the story: “He dumped out an old Mason jar of nuts and bolts, and stuffed the snake’s body into the jar. Then he handed it to Cameron and said, ‘Here. You can take this home with you. Now go see if you can find any more snakes for your jar.’ And then he looked up at me with that smirk and told me to get over there and help him. Julie, there was nothing I could do.”

        I tried to find the photo of a thrilled little boy, standing in front of the building with his canned snake, but I couldn’t track it down. So instead I’ll give you this shot of Dad and Cammy, chilling out in the truck bed some weekend. See how thrilled Cammy is here? That’s how he looked every time he hung out with Papa.


          The Time I Learned About Crying

          I'm in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying.

          I’m in the green dress, at about the age that I learned about crying. Also you can see where I got my sideburns.

          Once I had a conversation with another parent about kids’ emotions, crying in particular. This other parent was of the opinion that all kids should be allowed to react to any and all of their emotions, completely and fully, at all times. Which sounds pretty good in theory. However, I was (and still am) of the opinion that, while children should of course feel all of the feelings, etc.– they should also at some point learn that they can control themselves. Yes, even while in the grip of The Feelings. When I have discussions like these, I am reminded of a meeting I attended a few years ago. The architect with whom we had been working had never done a performance space before; rather than asking us all for guidance, he made apparently random and ill-advised choices on his own (e.g. no window at the box office counter), then defended them vehemently in the face of rational objections (box office staff could simply answer the phone, what’s the problem?). After about a month of craziness, this gentleman exploded spectacularly at a meeting. Faced with a simple and easily-corrected math mistake, which everyone at the table could see but he refused to acknowledge, he suddenly threw his papers in the air and stomped out of the room.

          He threw his papers in the air.

          I’ve never seen that before or since. Stop and think about your last meeting: did anyone throw their papers and dramatically huff out? (If yes, then please allow me to Skype in at your next meeting.) And as the rest of the group looked around at each other in disbelief, horrified but also sort of thrilled to have witnessed it– that might have been just me– I had this distinct thought: “That guy never learned to control his emotions.” Or more specifically, and as I tell my own children: you may not be able to control how you feel– but you are always responsible for how you behave. Dude let The Feelings dictate his behavior, which is maybe acceptable in a toddler, but at some point, we all have to get hold of ourselves, no?

          So anyway: I remember very clearly the first time I learned this lesson for myself. Dad and I were at church by ourselves; I was maybe 5 years old. I started feeling sick, but when I told Dad, he blew me off (totally understand that one; I know that if I fell for that “I don’t feel good” thing every time my kids used it, they’d never go to school). But this time it was legit: about ten minutes after my queasiness began, I threw up onto the kneeler. Dad had to handle the entire situation on his own– while Mass continued around us and other churchgoers watched avidly– and the entire time I was sitting there on the pew, wailing like a fire truck. (FYI if I remember correctly, he cleaned it up with one of his cloth handkerchiefs. I know you wondered.) Then Dad took me by the arm and propelled me past all the gawkers and out the door. When we got to the car, he deposited me in the back seat. Instead of getting in, though, he just stood there for a second. In retrospect, he must have been homicidal; I know I would have been. He said to me, “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?”

          I stopped abruptly. I had only been crying out of habit: if you barfed, then you would also cry. I had never questioned that sequence of events before. I thought for a second, trying to see if I was indeed hurt. “…..No,” I said.

          “Are you still feeling sick?”

          “No.”

          “Is anything wrong right now?”

          “…No.”

          “Then stop crying. You don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like,” Dad concluded, and he got behind the wheel and drove us home. I never forgot how amazed and self-actualized I felt: I could choose how I responded to circumstances. I could choose to be in control of myself. It was like Dad had given me a superpower.

          That architect could have used some of Dad’s simple life rules: one that would have really come into play at that meeting is that, if you’re wrong, you should just say you’re wrong. (Everyone usually knows it anyway.) And of course: you don’t have to cry every time something happens that you don’t like.

           


            Home Movie Dad

            Remember this? Hilarious.

            Remember this? Hilarious.

            Over the holidays, we watched a bunch of movies from when we were kids, and even some from before we were born. It’s always fun to see the plaid pants and giant clown bowties my brother wore, to pinpoint the exact year that Mom decided Betsy would look cute in a frizzy perm, and actually I didn’t remember that my grandma had an impressive collection of print pantsuits.

            We also saw some film shot in Jamaica, at my parents’ honeymoon. Which reminds me that,when my parents got to the airport to leave for their honeymoon, they realized that Dad had forgotten my mother’s plane ticket. This was 1968- it wasn’t like they could text someone to email them a new copy. They had to buy her a new one with traveler’s checks or something. Dad’s explanation for forgetting his new wife’s ticket? “My mom packed my suitcase.” Still cracks me up.

            Anyway. In these movies, Dad is prominent: he’s pushing one of us on a new bike. He’s holding court with a bunch of guys at a barbecue. He’s frequently filmed holding one of us in one arm, sort of absentmindedly, like he held babies so often that he hardly even noticed. (In one film– taken on a sunny day– he can be seen in the background, removing his cap and putting it on the head of the sleeping child in his arms. So sweet.) While watching these movies, we made a game of trying to figure out what Dad was drinking: Old Style a couple of times. Budweiser. He was a connoisseur of beer– and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised as a college student, when he could always identify at a glance the random beer in our fridge. He is present in nearly all of these films in some capacity. It’s so wonderful to watch him, in his element, surrounded by loved ones. He was such a great dad.


              Dad Was a Beauty Queen.

              OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching the Golden Globes last night reminded me that, when we were kids, my dad was part of a charitable organization in our town. And one year, as part of their nonprofit fundraising, they decided to dress up as women and hold a beauty pageant. Who knows where this idea came from, except that it probably seemed like a fun sendup of pageants, and also like something that people would pay to come and see. Dad was one of the contestants, in some wig that (I think) my mother used to actually wear, and a full face of makeup. And, naturally, Dad won the beauty contest. Mom has an incredible photograph of Dad after he won, looking hilarious and ludicrous and fun.

              Dad was presented with flowers as well as a crown and a cape; Jill and I dressed up in them for years. In the crown and cape that our dad won in a beauty contest. We had no idea how bizarre that was.

              Anyway. I just thought you should know that my dad, along with everything else, was actually a pageant queen in his youth.


                Almost Three Years?

                My brother is probably trying to explain the Greenhouse Effect, with which he was obsessed at about this age. Meanwhile, Dad just looks awesome.

                My brother is probably trying to explain the Greenhouse Effect, with which he was obsessed at about this age. Meanwhile, Dad just looks awesome.

                One week from today, it will have been three years since Dad won peace in his battle with cancer. As always, it seems like forever and it’s only been a blink. I continue to try, every day, to honor and celebrate his memory rather than mourn his loss– not because I’m that amazingly self-aware, but rather because I can’t function if I focus on everything my family has lost.

                I can’t even function when I type it out like that. I just spent five minutes, staring into space.

                And if my dad stood for anything, it was for never giving up: never stopping, always moving forward. He would channel his energy into progress. So that’s what I try to do every day. When my son remarks offhand, “Did you see the mismatched rims on that LeSabre?” I work on being happy instead of sad. And when my little one tells me that, when she wakes up at night and feels afraid, she thinks of Papa protecting her– I make it a point to tell her how lucky she is, to have this guardian angel.

                So. Today, instead of being sad, I will tell you one sweet thing and two fun things about my dad: the sweet thing is that, against all probability, Dad loved the song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” He had a tape of it– a tape— and he used to play it when he went to bed at night. He requested that this be the song for the father-daughter dance at Betsy’s wedding, in fact. And then, at the wedding, he had it played three times in a row, so that he could dance with all three of his daughters. The first fun thing is that yesterday, I had to remove about a pound of lint from the laundry drain (no, that isn’t the fun part). It was even grosser than you think it was; I called Dave at work, mostly to commiserate. Since he was at work and unavailable, I said that I wished Dad was home, so that I c0uld call him. “He’d come over and do it for me,” I said. Dave said, “No he wouldn’t. He’d call me at work, tell me to get my ass home and clean out the drain so that his daughter didn’t have to do it, and then he’d say, ‘Come on over if you need to borrow any tools,’ and hang up. One hundred percent.”

                Actually, this is totally true.

                The second fun thing is that, once, Dad was washing dishes after dinner (this is very unusual; normally all the kids cleaned up after dinner. No idea why Dad was in the mix on this occasion). I have told you before, how delicate was the protocol when working with the person washing the dishes: if you tried to dry an item and found it was still dirty, then you had to politely place it to the left of the sink. Never, ever, ever directly into the sink: dropping dishes directly into the dishwater was tantamount to punching someone in the face, and I can’t really explain that except to say that was our sibling dynamic. But: since Dad was the dishwasher, we kind of thought this rule didn’t apply that day. Someone dropped a plate splashily back into Dad’s dishwater with a casual, “Still dirty, Dad.” Without a pause, Dad grabbed the plate, pivoted, and spun it directly into the trash can. “Now, do that again and see what happens,” he said, returning to the dishwater.

                No one did it again.

                 


                  This is a Gross and Embarrassing Story. FYI.

                  I was reminded of this story earlier today, and because you read this frequently childish and puerile blog, I thought you might enjoy it as well:

                  Once, years and years ago, I went to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of my date’s friend. I had not been dating this gentleman for very long at all (no, it was not Dave). Midnight arrived, we all celebrated, and my date and I decided to head out to another party. He said, “Let me just use the bathroom, I’ll be right back.” I had my coat on and was thanking the hostess when the bathroom door opened a crack. My date’s face appeared. “Um, there’s no toilet paper in here,” he said.

                  Then I spent ten minutes, awkwardly making small talk with the hostess while we waited for my date to finish his business. And also trying not to die.

                  That is all. Enjoy your Thursday.


                    Bean Boozled: the Stuff of Nightmares

                    You think this would be no big deal. You are wrong.

                    You think this would be no big deal. You are wrong.

                    Yesterday, I referenced the game Bean Boozled, and the fact that the adults in my family foolishly played this game over the holidays. It’s very simple: you spin the spinner and you take your chances. The green ones are either Pear or Booger-flavored. The speckled ones are either Peach or Barf. You won’t know which you get until you put it in your mouth. Sometimes, you’re faced with the possibility of Stinky Socks, and instead you get Tutti Frutti. Other times, well….. enjoy watching me gag. By the way: I’m dressed like a lunatic because we were about to go for a run in really cold weather. Also, yes I was wearing two hats but only because I was about to give one to Jill, Lloyd Christmas-style. (Remember this? God, this movie will never stop being funny to me. “Harry, your hands are freezing!”)


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