Monthly Archives: April 2005

Becoming my mother

My mom and I get along great, we always have. But I’m a little concerned, I think I’m becoming her.

When I was back home in Portland last December, my mom and I went out to dinner, just the two of us. We went to ChaBa Thai (amazing thai food, four blocks from my parents’ house) and ordered lemongrass chicken (with peanut sauce, I start to salivate just thinking about it) to share. Once the food arrived, the conversation hit a lull as we both focused on eating our yummy food. A couple very-satisfying bites into my meal, I glanced up at my mom and then said, “Look at us!”

We were both sitting, slightly schlumped over our plates. Both of our left arms were resting on the table, a bit curved (as to protect our plates from scavengers?!?), fingers fisted, with the thumb sticking up, as if we were hitching a ride. Our right hands were moving in steady cadence, carrying our forks from plate to mouth and back again. We were mirror images of each other, our bodies unconsciously falling to rest in identical patterns.

We both got a really good laugh from that experience, and that was the end. Until yesterday.

Sunday afternoon, I was standing in my kitchen, washing dishes. My cousins had been over for brunch, and there was a towering pile of silverware and utensils. There were three knives in the sink, and in my concern to avoid puncturing my finger on the two I was washing, I managed to catch my finger (right hand pointer, hugely inconvenient) on the edge of the third, a very sharp serrated bread knife.

As soon as my brain registered that I had cut myself, I grabbed the bleeding finger with my uninjured hand and did just what my mother would have done. I gave it a big squeeze. I did this automatically and unconsciously. For most of my life, I’ve teased my mom about this habit. I’ve never understood why she feels the need to make minor flesh wounds bleed more, the whole point is to stop the bleeding and move onto the healing stage as fast a possible. She claims that she does it to ensure that all the debris is removed from the cut. I’ve never bought that argument, and so I have no rational explanation as to why I squeezed my cut, except to say, I’m becoming my mother. It could be worse.

Lost and found

Two weeks ago I found something that had been lost since I was eight years old. As many of you know, I live in an apartment that has been in my family for forty years, so you’re all probably thinking that I found a toy lodged behind the couch or a book that had gotten stuck between the pages of another. But that’s not what I found.

I found my playground.

When I was younger, we used to come to Philly to visit my grandparents every summer. One day we discovered a little playground, with a red painted twirly slide, some swings and a sculpture of sea lions basking in the sun. We have pictures of my sister and me on that red slide, frozen at the ages of five and eight. Her braids are blonde, mine are brown and we are both giggling. Finding this playground was a a delight, because the park near my grandparents’ apartment didn’t have any play equipment. The only thing in Rittenhouse Square that even remotely resembles something for kids to play on is a painfully uncomfortable sculpture of goat on which every child in Philadelphia has posed for a picture, while the tufted bronze hide of the goat impales them in the crotch. I know, I was there once myself.

We stumbled onto this little pocket playground later in my childhood years, it was one of the last summers we spent in Philly. I’m not sure if we even went there more than once, my memories are so thoroughly entwined with the pictures we took that day. When I moved Philly three years ago, I couldn’t remember where this park was and never once did it cross my path as I walked the city.

Recently, on one of our daily phone conversations, I asked my mom if she remembered where the playground was. She thought it was somewhere near Logan’s Circle, but didn’t remember the exact location. My childish sense of direction had planted it south of Rittenhouse Square, so the conversation ended with me no closer to figuring out where the red twirly slide had gone.

On March 29th, I went out to dinner with a friend for his birthday. He lives in the Art Museum area, and I met up with him at his place so we could walk over to the Cherry Street Tavern (he argues that they have the best hot roast beef sandwiches in the city, they weren’t bad) for dinner. Well, as we wandered down Cherry Street, there was my park, placidly sitting in the middle of the block between 21st and 22nd, as if it had been waiting for me to return after all those years. My own personal Brigadoon! I’ve walked and driven and run and biked up and down both 21st and 22nd, but Cherry has never become part of my pattern of streets I travel. It made me feel so light, so happy, so infused with gleefulness to rediscover a place where I had played and laughed and experienced delight.

There is a unique joy for me that comes with being an adult who is able to walk in the footprints of my childhood. Philadelphia amplifies this for me, because living here, I’m also given the opportunity to travel the same streets that my mom and her mother and her mother and her mother did. They were children and young women here. The paths they traveled have crossed and blending, forming a web that brought me back here from across the country, back to my home.

Sore knee and interesting movies

When I woke up this morning, my right knee was sore and it’s gotten increasingly sore and stiff as the day has gone on. It started to freak me out, because immediately I started fretting that my running was causing it, and with the Broad Street Run only three weeks away I can’t stop running now. I’m so close to my goal!

But then I started thinking about what I did yesterday, and I knew. It’s not a running injury, it’s a kickball injury! (As Cindy pointed out, you don’t get to use that phrase in a sentence often). It still hurts, but knowing that it was the kickball that caused it and not the running has assuaged my anxieties. I realize I’ve become really dependent (in a good way) on running. It has become part of my life, part of my daily (or at least every other day) routine, and I depend on it for clarity, peace and a little calorie depletion.

Tonight I went to see “Our Naked City” at the Philly Film Festival. It was a collection of independent shorts (really, what shorts aren’t independent?) all done by Philadelphia Filmmakers and it was terrific. Seeing these movies tonight made me think about all the talent and artistry out there in the world that is going unappreciated and unknown. Rarely are we given a chance to see short films, and if there are these six (I think there were six) that were all made by people in this area in the last year, think of all the spectacular stories that people are telling with film that are out there. I want to see more.

Lastly (before I collapse into bed) I have to rave about solo movie viewing. I love going to movies by myself. It strangely makes me feel more like an adult than paying my rent or driving to my 40 hour a week job does. I like the thrill of never knowing who you’ll talk to or sit next to. I like that I don’t have to chat before the movie, but can instead sit and observe the people around me. Tonight’s crowd at the International House was young, hip and funky, very different from the people who attended “Rittenhouse Square” at the Prince on Saturday night. It was just fun.

The weight of the air in my office…

My desk has a unique gravitational force. It pulls me down, towards the floor. My eyelids droop. People walk to my door and my response time to their approaching footsteps is almost drunken. I schlump at my desk, my chest resting against the edge, all attempts at proper posture gone.

Despite all the best intentions with which I walk into the building each day, I find myself having accomplished less that I had wanted each day. I swear, it’s because in my office the air is heavier. Moving my fingers over the keyboard for more than five minutes at a time proves incredibly difficult. I find myself reading blogs and the New York Times for hours, trying to prevent my brain from getting as sluggish as my body and spirit. I MUST (i must) find a new job.

Manifest your furniture

I have poorly designed closets. An interior designed in 1966 convinced my grandmother that she should put in closets with sliding hooks for hangers instead of a bar, but the hooks can’t hold more than three hangers each and there just aren’t enough of them. There are shelves and drawers, but instead of being useful, they take up a lot of space and don’t hold much. And so, I’m always a little short on clothing store space (okay, I admit that this might also have something to do with my thrift store habit) and with my spring clothes making their seasonal debut, I’ve got clothes sprouting from every surface in my bedroom. Something must be done.

Yesterday I was talking to my mom on the phone (at the very least, a daily occurance) and I mentioned that I needed another bureau. Her helpful suggestion was that I should get rid of some clothes. Thanks Ma.

But, with that phone call, I had announced to the universe that I was in the market for a new item of furniture, and today the universe came through. I was in East Falls at Shay and Erin’s annual Spring Ahead/Spring has Sprung brunch and a group of us were walking over to McMichael Park for the game of kickball that follows the food festivities. There, in someone’s trash, was a white painted bureau. We walk past it, and I take another look and I mention to Ingrid that I had just been talking to my mom about getting a new bureau. I look again, and Carol (Annelise’s girlfriend) says, “Of course you’re supposed to take it, when else will you have five other people standing here to help you move it?” So I run the block back to my car (thanking the Universe yet again for sending me my beloved Subaru station wagon), park on Henry Ave. facing the wrong direction and two minutes later I’m the proud owner of a new, free bureau.

I’ve been in a state of genuine universal connectedness lately. I’ve been buzzed on the beauty and joy of spring. And I’ve manifested a bureau. Not bad, if you ask me.

Mr. Martino's Trattoria

I have to admit, I have a wonderful life. Take today for example.

The Dansko outlet (half off retail price) was my first stop. I don’t think that you understand the extent to which I love Danskos (“It’s not a clog, it’s a Dansko.”) When I have them on my feet, I’m a happy girl. They are comfy yet cute. Professional, but with a touch of funkiness (just like me!). Shay, Erin and Annelise join me in my love of this easy-to-wear shoe and rounded out “Team Dansko” this morning. The store (which is attached to the factory in Jennersville, PA, one short hour from Philly, 8 Federal Road, West Grove, PA, (610) 869-5765) opens at 10 am on Saturdays, and everything that is available that day is on the shelves when the doors are unlocked, so the idea is to get there as soon as the store opens to have the broadest selection (okay, I admit, it’s a little sick, but just go with me). When I was a little kid, one of my favorite books was called “New Blue Shoes.” Today it would have been more appropriate if the book had been called New Red Shoes, because that’s what I got. They are red with black leopard spots and furry. And yet ever so sensible! (My grandmother would have LOVED these shoes, the woman loved everything animal print, it must be where I got it).

What made the morning so nice was not just the actual visit to the outlet, but the total trip. The sun was shining as we zipped up Route 1 in Erin’s green Honda with the music streaming and the windows down. I’ve been craving a road trip, and this jaunt, even though it wasn’t long, did something to satisfy my taste for the open road.

Ingrid (the twin sister I always wished I had) called me this morning to excitedly report that she had a “movie-style” first (7 hours!) date last night and is deep in the throes of a delicious and timely infatuation.

I went for a longish run on Kelly Drive in the brilliant sunlight and ran (actually I jogged in front of her and then stopped, I like to get attention in dramatic fashion) into my friend Malika.

Being out on Kelly on gorgeous days (especially after the long winter we’ve had) is like jumping into a pool of communal joy. There are families having picnics on the grass by the river. Runners steadily covering ground. Couples holding and hands and strolling under the trees. Rollerbladers zipping by, completely entranced by the speed with which they cover ground. Kids on bikes with training wheels determined to be masters of the two-wheeler by May. Everyone is content to pursue their own activity, in the company of friends, family and strangers.

I was hungry and had a salad with grilled chicken. It’s awfully nice to eat when you’re burnt up all your food energy running.

I saw “Rittenhouse Square” at the Prince Music Theater and governor was there (I have pictures to prove it). After the movie I walked to South Philly (Passyunk and Tasker) in my New Red Shoes, all the way down Broad Street. I was a little early and so I got to sit on a bench on Passyunk and people watch for half an hour. I rarely have the opportunity to just sit around and kill time, I’m not sure if I articulate how nice it was to just sit and watch people wander past. (actually, I probably could, but it’s getting late and I need to go to bed). I had dinner with Georgia, Ingrid, Cindy and two of Cindy’s cousins at Mr. Martino’s Trattoria (thus the title of this post). The food was really yummy, abundant and not expensive. All evening I kept wishing I had a tape recorder with me, our table was racous with laughter, and I’d love to know what was so darn funny. (Actually, I think it was me, because I’m SO funny).

Ingrid drove me home (walking one way was more than enough and my mother would kill me if I walked up Broad Street after dark) and now I get to go to bed.

Pretty nice life, huh?

I've been a bad blogger

I haven’t posted in days. And sadly, I don’t have anything good to write now, so I’m going to offer up something my mommy wrote, because it encapsulates my family and cracked me up. I’ll write something good, hopefully later today.

Stove Top Miracle
A True Story

I stood there, soapy sponge in hand,
ready to scrub, when I saw it.
There spelled out in burnt yam
or maybe drips from the soy
sauce bottle was the word “GOD”.
I called my husband in. “Look,
on the stove top, it says “GOD”.
He peered at it from a distance and
then close up. “It looks like “GAD”
to me. “What kind of a sign is
“GAD”? It says “GOD”, I insisted.
“Maybe we can get something
for it. on E-Bay. I could print up a
certificate of authenticity,” he said.
I called my daughter in.
She said, “It looks like “GOD” to me
but it would be better if it was a
likeness of Jesus or Mary.
We three stood there cocking our
heads from side to side. My husband
took the sponge and wiped it up.


Throughout my childhood, I longed to possess exceptional gifts. I wished ferociously to be a prodigy, at something, anything. It didn’t matter to me, I would have happily taken on the burden of child math egghead, piano maestro or art whiz, just so I would have had something that made me stand out from the crowd. I vividly remember leaning against my mom’s shoulder, weeping and despairing the fact that I didn’t have one easily distilled gift. For me this longing was compounded by the fact that in my parents’ eyes, I was special/amazing/talented. When I started existing in a world outside of their praise, I was shaken by the realization that not everyone saw me illuminated by love as my parents did.

We all wish to be special and stand out from the crowd, but sometimes those defining skills need time to develop and mature. If I had had one singular gift as a child, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to act, sing, play the flute, read books, debate the Constitution, edit newsletters, plan overnights for my high school youth group and generally act the like the kid and young person that I was.

In my ongoing quest to embrace the person I am and exist in each moment, I’ve come to accept the fact that while I don’t have one thing that I excel at above all else, there are many things that I do very well. Here are some of them:

I’m great with food. I make a mean salad (including homemade dressing), can roast a chicken that will make you drool, and my caramel popcorn knows no bounds.
I can speak in front of large groups without a script without vomiting or making a fool of myself.
I’m really good at bringing people together and helping newcomers feel at ease.
I can read a book at breakneck speed and still remember it months later.
Whipping a cluttered desk/closet/shelf into order is as easy as breathing for me.
I drive a stick shift with ease and expertise.
I can make an entire room of people crack up, simply by laughing myself.
I can apologize and forgive.
My skills as a handbell player, while currently really rusty, were always pretty topnotch.
I can play tennis a little bit.
When I played softball (only with my dad, never on a team), I never threw like a girl and was never afraid of the ball.
My accessories are always unique and interesting.
If I actually put any effort into the guitar, I’d be pretty good at it.
I can whip through a rack at the thrift store and pull out the three best pieces in under five minutes.
Once in awhile, I’m a more than adequate writer.
I give an amazing massage.
I can retrieve Chuck Berry lyrics from my memory banks on command.
I’ve become a good runner, despite childhood signs to the contrary.
And of course I love my friends and family deeply and completely.

As I’ve grown up there are moments when I still wish for a passion, something that could define me and would enable me to say, “Yes, I’m a ___________.” Recently that desire slowly has become tempered by the realization that I’m not looking to be defined by what I do. These days I hope to be defined by how I treat and interact with the people I come into contact with. And that’s enough for me.

Dum doobie do dum dum

I’ve taken voice lession twice in my life. Once in the fifth grade and then years later towards the end of high school. The first time around my teacher was named LeAnn and she liked to teach show tunes and old 60’s medleys. For the only recital I ever did as her student I performed two songs. One was “Sweet Betsy from Pike” and the other was a 60’s medley that started out with the song “Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do” (by Neil Sedaka). As a 10 year old, always intoxicated by my most recent crush, who would do no more than steal my jacket on the school bus, I had no experience breaking up and I didn’t know that it was something that was hard to do. I sang the words, but not the meaning behind them. These days I’m a little better acquainted with just how hard breaking up really is.

Tonight my ex-boyfriend called me, and after we hung up, I started humming “dum doobie do dum dum, cumma cumma, dum doobie do dum dum” and thinking about exactly how hard breaking up with him has been. There is still a part of me that truly doesn’t understand break ups in general. When your relationship is grounded in intense love and friendship, how is it possible to stem that flow like it has an on/off switch?

It has been almost a year since our relationship ended (and before tonight almost three months since we’d talked). Every time I think I’m done with the process of grief and angry and sadness and frustration that that ending brought about, it starts over again and I find myself repeating those feelings, albeit minutely reduced. The craziest part is that these days, I don’t regret the break up. We had a lot of differences, and there are probably people out there who are better for both of us (although I don’t think that either of us have found those other people yet. At least I know I haven’t).

I have friend (almost a brother), who has known me since the day I was born. I saw him in Portland about a month after the initial break up. We were sitting in my parents’ living room, and he was trying to make me feel better. He told me that everyone has to have a bad break up, it is part of living. That I couldn’t have expected to get through life without one and that had I gone fifty years with this guy, I would have always known that I missed out on one of life’s big experiences. So that in some crazy way, I should be grateful, because this is just one of those things that I had to do, and better to have gotten it over with.

I guess he was right, because at least now, I can sing that song with feeling. Dum doobie do dum dum…

(on a side note, I just googled the lyrics for Breakin’ Up and discovered that the dum doobie do dum dums aren’t even original to the song, they must have been added by the people who wrote the medley. I’ve been singing it wrong, for all these years!).

Rainy, sneezy Saturday

It is drizzly and overcast here in Philadelphia. I came down with a nasty cold on Wednesday morning, that is still persisting. So the weather outside and the climate inside my body are well matched today.
In the last couple of days, I’ve become deeply acquainted with my bed, I haven’t gone running and I’ve made multiple mistakes. On Thursday I sent the unrevised promotional materials to the church office, and no one caught the mistake until the next day, when it was partially too late. I hate making mistakes like that, that cause other people more work and frustration.