Monday, September 29, 2014

10 Tips for an International Coffee Day Crawl

Happy International Coffee Day! If you are planning a Coffee Shop Crawl, here are some suggestions:
  • Have a group of at least 8 people. That way they will “have to make a new pot” and it will be fresh every time. Cone party hats are a nice touch (on your heads--at least for the first couple of stops!)
  • For the first stop, all 8 or more of you take your own cars and use the drive-thru. Order free coffee only.*
  • All of you then pile into two cars, making sure the amateurs who can’t handle their caffeine aren’t driving.*
  • Wave to all the police officers and construction workers; they will all be in a good mood. Give them the “Obama Coffee Cup Salute”—today it will be appreciated.
  • At some point make sure your coffee amateurs order a bagel or something to soak up the caffeine.
  •  Late in the crawl, find a busy intersection and have a Chinese Fire Drill—y’all are sure to be fast about it.*
  • Take pictures with all of the people who serve you coffee. One at a time. Post on Facebook.
  • For one of your last stops, go to the coffee place that always screws up your order (you know exactly which one that is). At that time of day, the employees will be so pissy about Free Coffee Day, and waiting for it to be over. Loiter there a while. Use the bathroom—take many selfies there. Post on Facebook. Have some fun. Dance to the Muzak.
  • Stand outside that one en masse, waving your cups to people driving by, letting everyone know it’s Free Coffee Day. Go inside and tell the employees, “You’re welcome!”
  • Go to Dunkin’ Donuts and every place that will actually prepare your coffee first; hit snobby Starbucks near the end. Your friends with low caffeine tolerance are sure to be so jittery they will make a mess at the creamer/sugar stand. That’ll show Starbucks! $18 dollars for a cup of coffee and they won’t fix it for you?
*If you live in a busy city and all the coffee shops are within walking distance, these options are out. But have some fun. Don’t order your coffees all together; all of you wait in line and order one at a time. Play “telephone” in line. See if the cashier will play while standing there waiting for the other employee to make your coffee. If “Hot Stuff” plays over their music system, reenact “The Full Monty.”

N.B. Plan accordingly: make sure the 4th or 5th place you hit has a big bathroom.

The main thing is to HAVE FUN! Let all of the employees know that you appreciate them appreciating     you!

If you live in Massachusetts, all of this should take about 15 minutes.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's the Big Deal, Anyway?

I was talking to a friend about my birthday the other day. Why? Well…because it’s coming up (Four days!)! I wrote about it last year, because everyone always wonders why I make such a big deal about it. Basically, it’s because it's mine.

Anyway, I realized something during that conversation: I have never had a ‘spectacular’ birthday. Not one to write about, anyway. 

I have to mention this: in 2010 my then-17 year old daughter surprised me two months in advance with tickets to see Tears for Fears. The best gift ever for three reasons:
  • That she thought of it, knowing they were my favorite band (and it was cool to see them 25 years after the first time I’d seen them--ON my 18th birthday as a gift from my sisters!)
  • She planned it perfectly. I was surprised—I thought I was going out with my family.
  •  She was even able to arrange to have my best friend Donna there (at the moment of surprise) to go with me—and Donna’s schedule is not easy to arrange! And Donna would have been my first choice if I’d been able to choose.

But it’s not about the gifts. I had to mention that because I was and am so happy and proud (and humbled) that she went out of her way like that for me (she and I had been struggling for a few years). And I know she’s very proud of herself for surprising me.

After some thought, I realized that I’ve had some spectacularly bad birthdays. More than good, in fact. One year my first ex planned a beautiful night “for me” which was really a “look what a great boyfriend I am” to everyone else, and I spent the evening dealing with him white-knuckling the edge of the table because he “couldn’t be normal and drink alcohol like everyone else.” (He’s sober now, thank God). Another birthday was particularly memorable a number of years ago, when my then-husband and mother and sisters planned a surprise party for me—and this one affected my birthday every year for the next eight. The party was being held north of Boston, an hour’s drive from my house, and on the way we had a little almost-fender bender that resulted in having to take my daughter Deren (by ambulance) to the hospital (extreme whiplash). My sister, daughter and I were four hours late for the party; basically we got there when the time was almost up for the room. On the way home, Deren’s father called me and I was talking to him about how Deren was doing, and about the party that “my family” planned for me. Now, I didn’t even know my husband had a hand in any of the planning; it wasn’t evident when I got there (my sisters and mother did all the work), or even mentioned. Well, he heard me say “my family” and assumed jealously that I deliberately omitted mentioning him in an effort to protect my first ex’s feelings (yeah, everyone wants me). For the rest of my marriage to him he downplayed my birthday, and would pick a fight with me first thing the morning of. In spite of my happy pictures in my tiaras, those days I inevitably started my day crying.

Our marriage officially ended—we finally split up one month before my birthday in 2010. Anyone who’s ever gone through that knows the many directions “special days” can take. That one took all of them.

In 2011, I was struggling to find (read: afford) a home for my daughter and I, who were living at my sister’s place. I did what I could.

By 2012, I’d just found a place and met a special person. Don had cancer; the last day I saw him was my birthday, and he died 11 days later.

Last year I felt I was getting back into the swing of things. My friends and I got together for a nice combined party at a bar. Nothing over the top, but very nice. And four days later a very close friend of mine, Maria, had a sudden heart attack and died.

This year is particularly bittersweet. Maria will have been gone a year, I will forever think of Don on my birthday, and it's not going to be what I thought earlier that it would be. So, there has been nothing surrounding my birthday that should generate the excitement I feel every single year before it gets here. But I still feel it. Still.

It’s not even about the attention, although I must confess to getting a little tingle every time someone wishes me a Happy Birthday.

I’m not downplaying my good birthdays. I’m constantly talking about how wonderful my family and friends are, and I’m so very lucky to spend any days (not just birthdays) with them. The year Don died, Donna showed up to see me the night of my birthday because she knew how upset I was—that I knew that day would be the last day I would see him. My friends have always made time for me—and I hope when all is said and done that they feel the same about me.  I’m just pointing out that by comparison to how many bad birthdays I’ve had, I should have no reason to be looking forward to them. But I do.

I am also not complaining about my life. I've been very lucky and have experienced many wonderful things. But I'll be honest, too; it sometimes amazes even me how excited I get before my birthday. I get more excited than any ten children on Christmas Eve. Still. Now.

So, what’s the big deal?

Like I’d written last year, it IS about reflection, and celebrating myself and being happy with myself. During this year’s reflection I realize it is about more than that.

I realize that for me my birthday is also about hope. Not hope for gifts, not hope for parties or anything tangible; it is hope for each new day of the coming year. Maybe it’s even more than hope. I realize that I do believe things will always be better, and apparently I believe that they always are with each new moment. I can feel it. I love every new year that comes. And even if I feel I’ve had a bad year (or two, or three…) I am still looking forward with a smile.

And I’ll take that wherever I can get it.

Happy Birthday to me.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Roads Not Taken

Every day is an adventure, right? I took a road trip yesterday with no real destination in mind. I spend a lot of time driving, both personally and for work and I always see so many things that I want to stop and look at or take a picture of. That’s what yesterday was. I got in my car and drove; if I saw something I wanted to take a picture of I would do a quick U-turn and go back. (I made many U-turns yesterday!)

There appears to be a lot of serendipity involved in doing things like that, in the spontaneity—or maybe it’s just a lesson in taking things as they come.

My first U-turn happened when I passed an old tiki statue that was overgrown with weeds. It was in front of an old abandoned Chinese restaurant, and I pulled into the parking lot to take pictures. I love and hate abandoned buildings. There’s a certain beauty to them, yet the visible “what was” is sad. There was a large parking lot next to it with two other buildings on the same property. One of them was a house with a few cars in front and there were two guys working on a truck outside at the far end. Outside of making sure they weren’t going to come over and yell at me for trespassing, I didn’t pay much attention to them until a few minutes later when they drove up to me. The one driving (he never gave me his name) said his father (or father-in-law), Ed, wanted me to take a picture of him. I laughed, because I had misunderstood, thinking they were worried about him being in one of my pictures. So I took a picture of them. This is them (first, the tiki statue):

Poor Ed; immortalized in a girly blog.

I told them what I was doing, and while I was talking to them I had a thought that this was wonderful, this random conversation. Ed offered to take me inside the abandoned building so I could take pictures—I’ve always wanted to do that. At first, I actually almost said no, because I didn’t want to feel like I was bothering anyone. But I thought about it; he offered, it was something I’ve always wanted to do and the opportunity was handed to me! So Ed brought me inside to explore for little while, while the other gentleman went to get the bolt that they had both initially been leaving to get.

Ed pointed out a few suggestions for pictures and he gave me a little bit of the history of the place as we walked through. I honestly could have spent all day there, exploring. But I was still aware that he was busy. Before I left, we exchanged emails so I could send him the pictures that I took and the link here, and then I left. But as I was driving away I realized that that little experience was exactly what the day was supposed to be about; doing different things, having new experiences. Even meeting new people. I was so happy that I was lucky enough to show up at an abandoned building to take pictures, on a random day, at the same time that somebody else was there in a way that gave me a fuller experience.

Mother Nature cooperated nicely, as well. I had the top down (on my car!) until about 6 PM. And of course, the music playing was awesome. I really do love driving.

And I kept driving. And I stopped and took pictures of whatever struck my fancy. There was another serendipitous moment when I passed a sign on a tree in front of a house. The sign said, “This tree is pretty neat!” As soon as I passed and I realized I needed a picture, and made another U-turn to go back to it. As I was pulling up a 20 something year old boy was just coming out to check the mail, and I asked him if I could take a picture of the sign. I also asked him if there was a story behind it. His answer killed me, because it was so… me, and worded almost exactly the way I would have spoken. He said, “There’s no story. We are just ridiculous like that. We love that tree and it’s fun to climb on.” I don’t know how many times I have used the word ‘ridiculous’ to describe myself-- I felt like I met a long-lost family member! I laughed and told him that I was ridiculous, too, and that was why I wanted a picture.

Those little moments made my day. And they wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stopped.

I stopped in the town of Monson, MA (and if you are like me and had no clue, Monson is pronounced “Munsen”—I never made that connection!). I had half a plan to go through there anyway on the recommendation of a friend (Thanks, Jonathan!), and Ed spurred that decision on further when he mentioned that I may find a few interesting things to take pictures of, not just because it was a beautiful town but because of the tornado that had gone through the town a few years ago.

It is beautiful town. The majority of the tornado damage has since been fixed, but there are still traces of it in the trees, and one building that is well into its renovations.

The restaurant I had planned to lunch in was closed, and the only place open in Monson was a local pizza place. It was already late in the day, well after lunchtime, so it was empty. Of course, I ended up talking to the guy behind the counter, in between his phone calls for takeout orders. I was looking around the small restaurant, and it struck me that you could go to any local pizza place on any main street in any town and they would all look the same. Even the signboards on the wall with the menu. When you walk into any pizza place and walk up to the counter, there are always two or three signboards over your head with the menu; they are white, with a black frame, and the interchangeable letters which are always black for the food description, and red for the prices. And there is always going to be one or two random letters out alone in whatever empty space is on the sign. And I started scanning the restaurant, looking for every similarity it had with every other pizza place and began to mentally write about it. As I’m forming it in my mind, I come up with a line about “… and Tony is working behind the counter—of course his name would be Tony; it’s a pizza place.” And then I reminded myself to make sure to ask the guy behind the counter his name before I left. A few people came into the shop and picked up their order and left. The guy behind the counter starts talking to me about the tornado, and the damage that had been done, and gave me of a lot of information about one house in particular (the one that was undergoing renovation) and directed me to a side street that would lead up a hill behind that house where I should be able to get some nice pictures of the entire town and maybe even of the path the tornado had taken. He gave me directions, and pointed out a few other areas of interest. Before I left I introduced myself and asked him his name. He said his name was Tony. Of course.

The day was spent driving through places I’ve never been before, and talking to people. Robert Frost was right when he said, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” It’s not just about making your own path and not following the flock; it’s also about stretching your vision by seeing new things, and talking to new people. This is not the same thing as taking a vacation, especially since most vacations can sometimes tend to be be planned even more tightly than a daily life schedule. What a difference it makes in a day when it is not governed by plans and boundaries. We are all advised to “stop and smell the roses,” to notice and appreciate what we have and what’s around us. Sometimes, it’s even better to go outside your own little world and look for roses to smell along roads you have not traveled before.


After today, I realized two things:
1. I need to do this more often.
2. I need a dashboard camera.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Hope My Daughters Never "Come Out"

It’s time for me to add my two cents.

Many celebrities have been somewhat forced by the general public to “come out of the closet” and tell us their sexual orientation. Society has decided that this is necessary. I don’t know why. We seem to think we own them in some way and that they ‘owe’ us that. I don’t get it. Does it really matter? Will they sing better, act better, or be funnier if we know?

Anyway, some people have recorded their own ‘coming out’ to their families. I watched two of these videos. They were young kids, maybe between the ages of 17 and 22, telling their parents they were gay. In one video, the parents were very supportive; in the other…

I can’t even begin to describe (or understand) the angry, hateful and hurtful response of the parents in that second video. It is never easy to witness hate on any level, but to see a parent direct that emotion (any degree of it) to their own child is… vile. I cried when I saw that. And to them I say,

Shame on you.

I can’t say that enough. Shame on you.

To judge your child because you believe that they are going against God? To anyone who makes that judgment in any way (for any reason) against another person I have to say: Who are you? Who are you to put yourself in the position of God? First of all, if God is the be-all and end-all, let Him be the one to judge them. Secondly, you preach that God is the ‘Creator of Everything’ and you seem to forget that that includes even your own children. You are not the Creator of them, you are merely the vessels in which they were brought forth. You were allowed the special privilege of bringing them into the world. There are so many people that wish they had that privilege. You were entrusted with their care.

And you broke that trust.
You judge your child (or anyone) on how they love or who they love? Shouldn’t you be grateful that they have the capacity to love? At all?

(Which is, in some cases apparently, no small accomplishment.)

Shouldn’t you be grateful that they are alive to experience love of a romantic kind? And to be able to share it with you? I would bet my life that the parents who’ve lost young children and babies would kill—literally kill—to be able to be in that position, to have their child alive and present to be able to share with them anything. Anything at all. If your child is alive and healthy, you should be eternally aware of that blessing. Blessing.

Shame on you.

I will include myself in that. Shame on me. And I will include every other parent. Shame on all of us. Because we all played a role in this, collectively, to some degree, in the expectations we put on our children. Whether it be to fulfill our own dreams that we didn’t or weren’t able to for whatever reason (like forcing a specific career), or to simply conform. Be like me. Be like everyone else. Don’t make waves. Perpetuate the societal norm (even if we don’t like it). Don’t color your hair like that. Don’t dress like that. Don't feel that way. Don't say those things. Don’t be like that. Shame on any parent who judges their children, forgetting that they themselves were children, too.

In any case, we are denying them the opportunity to be who they really are. What we should be doing is to encourage them to be.

I remember when my older daughter was in preschool. There was a little boy in her class that came to school every single day wearing a Batman cape and hood. I was so happy to see that. To see that his parents were allowing him to be him. I also remember when my daughter was 11, she painted a streak of green color in her hair. She loved it. But she came home from school crying because other kids made fun of her for it. Now I know that children can be cruel, and it can’t always be helped, because they are learning. But it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children to be good people. I know that I struggle daily to let both of my girls know that they should never—NEVER—have to be afraid to be who they are. And I also let them know that they should never—NEVER—attempt in any way to take that same right away from someone else.

Parents do not own their children. As parents we are given the privilege of caring for and tending to another being that is going to contribute something to the world. Every person alive contributes something, in some way. As parents, our job is to guide them. To guide them to be the best person that they can be—in whatever capacity, and to be a person that cares for people. All people. Male or female, any color, any race, any ‘difference’. It is our job to show them love and to show them how to love—not how in the specifics of who and why (and there should never have to be a reason why or why not), but to be able to love and to show love.

We should NEVER be ashamed of our children for being who they are. You are not here to take credit or discredit for them. How arrogant is that? If our children can be true to themselves, we should be proud of them. Especially if they’ve had to stand against the tide to do it. And even that pat on the back goes to them, not you. Because they did it. Not you.

We are all part of the same Whole. Every single one of us. It is our small (and they are small) differences that play a role in the contributions we have for that Whole. If everyone were the same, no one would have anything to contribute, and the world wouldn’t evolve.

In a perfect world, no one would have to explain their differences. We could just be. Nobody would have to “come out”. What bearing does that have on anything? I hate that we constantly draw lines between “them” and “us” as if there’s a difference (in any capacity). We are all human beings. We are all connected.  We should just be able to be who we are and be accepted by those around us, as people. Parents would know of their child’s sexual orientation simply by seeing who they brought home for dinner, and there would be no reaction, whoever they brought home.

For you children who are forced to come out—and I’m including all of you, celebrities, sports figures, adults—because you are all someone’s child: I’m sorry that it has to be this way for you. I’m sorry that you have to suffer in any way for being who you are. I’m sorry that it seems necessary that you have to stand up and expose yourself like that, as if you are adversely different from the rest. And I’m sorry that part of your contribution to the world is something that has the potential to hurt you.

Know that you are the pioneers. You are affecting positive change. That ideal world that I mentioned earlier? You are contributing to that, and your actions now will make that happen later. You are Rosa Parks, you are the suffragettes, you are the whistleblowers. You are every person that takes a stand against injustice (I know that is small consolation right now).

And you are my hero.

As a parent, and one of your parents in this Collective, know this, too:

I love you and I am very proud of you.

When I hug my child in my small corner, I am hugging you, too.

That being said, I hope my daughters never “come out”.

Because they shouldn’t have to.