Sunday, April 13, 2014

If You Want Trouble, Find Yourself a Redhead

I haven't blogged enough this year. Not sure why, it just hasn't happened. So, I really wanted to do something but wasn't sure on what topic I should expand. In the past, I have put out feelers and have gotten back suggestions such as creepy clowns and an explanation of my disdain for birds. Other times, I have just scanned other people's blogs looking for a title (not the content) and then just expanded on it. In fact, that's how I ended up doing my 11 Lessons Learned in 2011 and the like.

This afternoon, I figured I'd try that tactic again and about 6 blogs in, I came across the above title "If you want trouble, find yourself a redhead". It ended up being a blog about dogs of all things and I have no idea how that even relates because none of the dogs were redheaded. But, I thought to myself, "Eh, why not?"

We redheads get a bad wrap. We really do. I mean, apparently, the blonds have all the fun, the brunettes make all the money and the redheads, well, we are just angry. It feels a little bit like a conspiracy against the gingers of the world. And it's not fair.

Yes, it is true, I have, over time, developed a fiery disposition. But, I wasn't always like that. As a little kid, I was as meek and shy as they get. I mean...look at me.

In a family of 6 kids, I was embedded between 2 girls; one nicknamed Patti Perfect, the other one sporting the name Gunk-a-berti. I'll be honest. They kinda scared the shit out of me. Patti Perfect, was, well, perfect. She was blond, petite, naturally brilliant and used to just break out into a full run in the front yard and do a back flip. Gunk, on the other hand, was hell on wheels. She cussed like a truck driver, screamed "Cookie Monster" because she could, and called the Catholic priest who came to bless the house "Dad" when my mother attempted to hurry him out of the house with "Goodbye Father" for fear Gunk would drop the F-bomb at any moment. I just tried to stay out of the cross fire by talking to my imaginary friend "Peter D. Ciliberti". (What kid with 5 siblings has an imaginary friend???)

I guess, it is true that I showed hints of fire as a young child. But only when provoked. I was forced to pull Gunk's hair out when I was 4 because it was the only way to get her to stop harassing me. And I do remember a full on brawl with my brother Michael in the early years that included a broom (Although I can't remember why or how. I just remember we were in the hall near the bathroom. It could have been a full on rumble between the four youngest of the group).
The above picture is right around the time I ripped Gunk's hair out

Maybe it was the hormones of adolescence that truly exposed my fiery disposition. Although I can't say that it is correlated with my red hair, since I was born all docile and shit. I will say, when I think about it, I did start acting a little bitchy around 14. But who doesn't? Yes, I headed up a crew that threw disappearing ink on a 23 year old Algebra teacher's white sweater and then admonished her for leaving the classroom to cry about it. Yes, I attempted to cut my favorite shirt off my sister because, as I told her, "I'd rather not have it at all then for you to wear it." And yes, I actually pushed a guy who was bullying said sister (that would be Gunk) into a locker and threatened him even though it was well documented that he was on steroids. Maybe, I was just crazy. Maybe, the red hair had nothing to do with it.

But people like to blame my red hair. I don't even think they use it as an excuse. An excuse would be "Well, if only she wasn't redheaded she wouldn't have told that girl in her Group Processes Grad class that she "didn't want or need to be her friend because not everybody ends up friends"". Instead, it's more like, "Did you hear what that bitch redhead just said to the HR rep?"

As an adult, I have earned the reputation of the bitchy, fiery redhead. And there are times, I can totally own that shit. I'm much less filtered than I ever have been and I don't have much trouble standing up for what I believe in. But when think about who I really am, I see an overly empathetic person who never wants to see someone make a mistake. And maybe that means I think I'm always right. But I think everyone thinks they are always right. If you have an opinion, whether informed or not, you believe yourself to be right. I don't have to agree with your opinion. And I probably won't unless I have the same one or you have a compelling reason why I should change my mind. I also see myself as someone who has developed a great sense of humor in light of a lot of shitty stuff that has happened in my life. I can out-laugh most people, even when I am having a really bad day. And I give my family full credit on that one. It's in the genes. We are a very funny bunch.

So, maybe you should find yourself a redhead if you want trouble. In the meantime, I'm going to figure out what that has to do with a blog about dogs.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Three Years Later: Max and his Mombo

Coming up on the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I wondered if there was anything left to say on the subject. I’ve spent most of the last 5 years assessing and reassessing my life, making changes (for the better, at least in my eyes) and putting things to bed. I’ve always used this blog as a way to reflect and clarify and about a month before this date, I felt like, maybe I had said everything I’ve need to say on the subject and didn’t have anything new to offer.

Silly, silly me. First of all, I rarely have nothing left to say. Secondly, I really do believe that life is an evolutionary process and if you aren’t evaluating it, you probably aren’t living it fully. So, on the day I said out loud, “I just don’t think I have anything left to add to the subject”, Max and I went out to dinner. Out of the blue, my very, thoughtful, introspective son offhandedly said to me, “You know, most kids my age haven’t been through what I’ve been through.” And he’s right. Max has been subject to, not only the break up with of me and Stephen (which is not uncommon), but having to go through the process of losing two of the “most important people in my life” (his words). In fact, during the same dinner conversation, Max announced, “No offense, Mom, but I’ve lost the most important woman in my life.” That woman was my mother, otherwise known as “Mombo”.

Now, I really couldn’t take offense to that statement. Yes, I was a little taken back at his frankness but, actually, I was more interested in why he felt this way. When I asked him why she was the most important woman in his life, he gave me 3 reasons. First, she always made special time for him. Second, she could simultaneously take care of him and spoil him. And third, she put up with his crap.
My first thought was, I do all of those things. What makes my mother more important than me? And then I thought about what it means to be a grandparent.

I’ll admit I was not very close to my grandparents. My mother’s parents died long before I was born and my father’s parents were not involved closely in my day to day life. My mother, on the other hand, was fully integrated into her grandchildren’s lives. I’ve said before, my mother was a mother’s mother. It was her mission and it was easy for her. That didn’t make her perfect; it just made her a mother.

When it came to Max (and the rest), my mother was the soft place to fall. After a day of being subject to the demands of his parents or school, Max thought there was nothing greater than walking through the door to my mother’s house and letting it all hang out. Special time was nothing extraordinary. It was very ordinary moments spent with someone whose job was to make him feel like he was the only person in the world. It was reading a book, throwing a ball, or singing a song.

Spoiling was not expensive gifts. It was a guaranteed soft pretzel on the planned afternoons they spent together. It was a secret stash of York Peppermint Patties that were passed behind my back. It was getting a gift, just from Mombo, on someone else’s birthday.

Putting up with his crap did not mean he didn’t get yelled at by my mother. It meant her fuse was longer than mine and fundamentally, she understood what a little boy needs because she had been doing this way longer than I had. And she got to send him home at the end of the day.

Max misses that. He misses the special, yet ordinary things about my mother that had, at the time, seemed very routine. The grief Max experienced after losing my mother was a tangible one and very different than what he experienced after my brother died. At 6, Max really didn’t understand what it meant to die. He learned that lesson by watching me fall apart and then by putting myself back together. On the other hand, losing my mother when he was 8 years old was a grief he owned fully. He spoke about it in the first person. He asked me the same questions I had asked my mother after my brother died: When am I going to stop crying? How am I going to stop crying? How can you not be crying?

Three years later, while I’m thinking there may be nothing left to say, Max said it all. He has lost the most important woman in his life. There is always something left to say.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I Feel Great Disdain For Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz

I've threatened to write this blog for several years but after days of snow, ice, downed trees, no school, and polar vortex invasions, I've come to realize that I just need to get it out. Not to mention, my friend Jen brought it to another level last night when she asked, "But why is it that you hate Hurricane with such passion (or something to that effect. I was tired)?"

I've been really formulating this for a few weeks. I even did research. Because, when you lay out a controversial argument as to why you will never, ever "trust the bowtie", you better have your facts straight. But, let's not start with the facts. Let's start with my feelings. Because I have alot of them.

1. Hurricane just gets on my nerves. At one point I even had a group on Facebook named "Hurricane Schwartz gets on my nerves". And it had members. I was not the only one. People posted stories on it. People posted their own feelings about why Hurricane got on their nerves too. Unfortunately, I got caught up in actual real world problems for a period of time and Facebook deactivated my group due to inactivity. But I know you are out there and I feel your pain too.

2. Hurricane is like a train wreck. You want to look away but you can't. It's almost as if I cover my eyes partially as I anxiously look to see if the background in the weather center is orange (signifying a weather "watch") or a full on red (signifying a weather "warning"). Hurricane actually took what started out as security level threats related to international air travel and September 11th and applied it to the weather. His weather center has become a colorful representation of apocalyptic weather related doom.

3. Hurricane is a narcissist. Or maybe he's just brilliant. How one man can convince an entire network that naturally occuring events such as rain, snow and even sun should trump all other news stories is mind boggling. Maybe he is just brilliant.

Enough with my opinions, although you'll hear more as I review the facts.

1. Hurricane did not come to town bowtie in hand. This was news to me. The story goes (and my research backs it up) is that way back in the 90's when uber sexy weatherman John Bolaris was making the rounds all over town, creating sexual tension among various female news reporters, Hurricane was actually styled by the network with a bowtie and greased back hair to be the "anti-Bolaris".
****Now I ask you, what grown man agrees to be styled as a Pee Wee Herman look alike and embraces that image?****

2. Hurricane was the number #2 behind Bolaris at NBC until the Great "Storm of the Century" Debacle of 2001. Remember Bolaris and his insistance that the world was ending because snow was coming, long after all the other networks had backed off this prediction? Bolaris got his ass handed to him and was sent packing shortly after.
****Come to think of it, maybe Hurricane was part of that plan. Maybe older, wiser, unassuming bowtie wearing Hurricane said, "John, trust me. It's going to be huge. Trust the bowtie, John." And then he walked out and laughed maniacally, rubbing his tiny hands together.****

3. In 2002, Hurricane took over as Chief Meterologist and, in essence, President of NBC10 News. Trust the Bowtie became a part of the Urban Dictionary (I have not checked that actual fact but I believe it to be true). He began to amass his weather minions and sent them out to remote locations to cover waves crashing, snow falling and sun shining. Life was good.

4. Disclaimer****The following facts are why I have come to hate Hurricane. This was the turning point.**** On December 13, 2003, Operation Red Dawn was launched and the US military hunted down and captured Saddam Hussien, hiding in some hole in the ground. On that same day in Philadelphia, it snowed. It was a Saturday. There was no one on the roads rushing to work, no schools that may or may not be closed. It was just snowing. That's all. Now, I ask you, which event may of be more historical importance? Saddam in a hole in the ground or snow in the Tri-State Area? That, my friends, depends on what station you watch. You see, while ABC and CBS covered Saddam laying in a hole in the ground and had a small picture in picture in the left hand bottom corner of the screen covering the snow, NBC did the opposite. Hurricane took center stage while I struggled to figure out who the dude laying on his back covered in dirt and looking a little distressed was.****This is when I lost my shit with Hurricane.****

5. There are other facts, all weather as the top story, main story and possible story that add to my disdain. But that gets a little old. My final straw with Hurricane happened last year when he had his heart attack. Now, please all of my dislike of Hurricane, I have NEVER wished death on the man. In fact, it's terrible that he had a heart attack. Both my father and brother died young of heart attacks so I would never want that for anyone. But here's the problem. He turned it into a news story. He actually let cameras into his hospital room and let them interview him. And it wasn't pretty. In fact, it looked sad and pathetic. All it did was look like he was a man who can't not be part of the news. So, he was. It was gross.

After re-reading, Jen may be right. I may be a little too obsessed with my intense dislike for Hurricane. But I can't help it. He gets on my nerves.

Monday, December 30, 2013

13 Lessons Learned in 2013

I have to say, since first doing this two years ago, I actually look forward to this end of the year post. I think about it for about a month; various things that I have learned, relearned or continued to learn over the last year. I usually do this while I'm driving, so, of course, I ultimately forget most of them. Last week, I got smart and wrote them into the memo app on my phone. I'm pretty sure this is an accurate assessment of the last 12 months in terms of lessons learned. Enjoy or's up to you.

13. Saying no is hard, yet necessary.

While my family may whole heartedly disagree, I have an incredibly hard time saying no to people. Part of it is the belief that I can, in fact, do it all. The other part is feeling like I have to do it all. But I can't. And I don't have to. I think you grow into the understanding that all of that "yessing" is ultimately saying no to yourself. And I am sick of saying no to myself. So, I'm working on this one.

12. There is a generation gap. And sometimes, I don't get it.

There is a point in your early 30's that you begin to see glimpses of a new world that lives in younger people that you know absolutely nothing about. And by the time you hit your early 40's, it becomes a full-on generation gap. And it's shocking. I've actually done quite a bit of studying and lecturing on this phenomenon because it explains so many of the psychological concepts that I teach. While many things that the younger folks do is part naiveté, part lack of frontal lobe development, a great deal of what they do is influenced by the world they grew up in. Today's people under 30 have never lived without the instant gratification of the internet. And it bleeds into everything they do and colors their entire world view. I start every semester reviewing my "technology free zone" policy in the classroom by telling my class, "I lived for 31 years without a cell phone. You can live for an hour and a half. I promise." And 15 weeks later, I'm still saying the same thing. Because, their world view says that they can't. It also tells them they are special because they were born. And that information should be offered, not earned. And it's annoying as shit. And I don't get it.

11. The universe gives you signs.

Call it a cosmic shift, a sign from God, or as my brother so eloquently referred to it as "going with the flow". You will have moments that the slightest event will tell you something about where to go next. This is how I ended up back in school, falling into working with kids with autism and in a variety of jobs in my life. Listen to those little signs. They will define your life.

10. I have finally recovered from the post traumatic stress called high school.

In 2013, I did something that I never believed I'd do. I went to my 25th high school reunion. I didn't believe I'd do it because, until 2013, I had no desire to. There are many reasons why I didn't want to revisit these awkward years but the biggest one was that it always felt like it was too soon. For 24 years, it felt like it was too early to face demons that I think haunt a lot of people. We spend our entire adolescence (and most of our 20's and 30's)trying to define who we are. Some of us try on personalities for the day and then take them off. Some of us hold on really tight to who we thought we were when we were 15. And those people are often pricks (Just sayin'). But here's the 17 or 18 years old, we all split up and go on and live completely different lives. Unfortunately, we don't get to make right all of the wrongs we did to people we barely knew. And those wrongs get written on the core of who we are trying to become. So, why in the hell would we want to go back there? Facebook changed and softened my opinions on a lot of people years later but for others, it really just confirmed what I already knew. I have made many new high school friends through Facebook. And got rid of some others. I did, in fact, thoroughly enjoyed my reunion, which was shocking in itself. And I also received a drunken apology from someone I barely knew in high school who regretted not trying to get to know me 25 years ago. It appears I'm not the only one with a touch of the "ptsd"....

9. Affordable Health Care may have its flaws, but something has to give.

This is my rare political statement. Then again, I don't consider the right to medical care a political issue. It's a human right. End of story.

8. I like to see people do well.

Distantly related to my ptsd reunion post but on a more global scale, I actually take great joy in seeing people do well in life. I love that people I grew up with have gone on to do really interesting, great things. And I am not referring to money. I am referring to finding something they love and running with it. It makes me happy.

7. Sometimes you have to close doors.

I'm not talking about the doors in your house or on your car. I'm referring to the doors that keep you from moving on in life. And I personally suck at this. I hate closing doors. I'm sure it's deep seeded in my childhood and has some Freudian explanation that I haven't thoroughly explored. I am getting better at it, though.

6. Everyone should go somewhere warm when it is cold out.

I CANNOT wait to leave this artic freeze for warmer weather. I really hate the cold. This is no secret. And I've decided that I'm not going to suffer through another, long, cold and lonely winter without jumping on a jet plane and sunning myself while wearing 50spf. Because I bust my ass. And I deserve it.

5. I am perfectly content to do nothing.

I recently heard someone say that most people stay busy because they are afraid of being with themselves. Meaning, can you tolerate the silence in your head long enough to hear what it has to say? And while I may spend a little too much time listening to what is going on in my head, I am of the opinion that most people can't even fathom the idea.

4. Watching your kid grow up can be a joy, a terror and sad all at the same time.

I have never had so many emotions simultaneously assault my soul as when I watch Max experience something for the first, last or 10,000 time. I am so incredibly proud of the person he is growing up to be and often wonder how it is even possible that he has made it this far in life relatively unscathed. A little part of me dies inside every time he gives me his forehead when I ask for a kiss or when I watch him edit himself in order to "fit in". He has taught me more in 11 years than I learned in the 31 before. I am forever grateful.

3. I am capable of having the puberty/sex talk.

This is huge. Because I did not think I would survive the talk. I painstakingly researched the best books while my child harassed me for days demanding this vital information. I truly believed I would sidetrack him with a simple book on body odor and body hair and that this possibly would buy me days. It bought me about 30 minutes. And when we hit the chapter titled "Let's talk about sex", I believed that oxygen was leaving the room. I literally could not speak. I turned to Max and said "Are you sure you are ready for this?" He appeared so unmoved by this monumental moment when he calmly said yes. I will say I prefaced the sex part by explaining that it was more than a physical act; it was a commitment. Then I just started reading and didn't stop until it was over. His only question when I was done was "How did you ever trust anyone again after Mark (my ex-husband)?" I had done my job.

2. Grief doesn't go away. It just changes.

Grief has defined much of my life, starting with the death of my father in 1982. It became overwhelming when I lost my brother 4 1/2 years ago and was complicated by the death of my mother almost 3 years ago. I live with it every day but it has become more integrated and has taken on a resiliency in my life that wasn't there 5 years ago. There is a lesson in every loss.

1. Third list....still liking my life.

For the 3 year in a row, I can say that I really do like my life. Of course, it's not perfect but I embrace my imperfections (kinda). Liking my life doesn't mean I am completely content or that I don't want better things for myself. It just means that I realize that I am lucky to have good family, good friends, good food and an occasional good wine (or vodka) in my life.

I wish you all a Happy 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How Working in the Restaurant Business Changed My Life

The old saying goes, "We are a product of our history". Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe, I just made that up. But if it's not an old saying, it should be. Because it's true.

A big part of my history is having had the pleasure, honor and experience of working in the restaurant business. While I realize for many, the restaurant biz is a stop on a proverbial train called life, for others, this is a career choice. And for many years, I made that choice.

My life in the restaurant business was as formative as my early childhood. It was part of the path that has led me to where I am right now; propped up in my bed with the football game on and a laptop on my lap. As a 15 year old girl, I marched my ass into the Kennett Square Inn (actually, my mother drove me there but that's besides the point) and became part of a family. A family I still have today.

There is something so unique about the experience of working along side a cast of characters that would have never crossed your path had you not walked in that door. Because that's what a restaurant is...a cast of characters you'd find in a sitcom or a drama or a reality show. It is all of those things.

People who have not had this experience cannot appreciate the conditions you work under. The stress is immediate and at times, overwhelming. You will rise to the occasion or you will fall apart. I've done both.

You will be a giver, and receiver of insults unimaginable. And then you will have a drink together and forget what it was that you were fighting about. You may even dodge sharp instruments coming at you at a very high rate of speed. You may walk out. And then come back later to find that someone stepped in because the rest of the world doesn't care that you are having a nervous breakdown. Someone needs to get the Chateaubriand to Table 12.

While the majority believes that Happy Hour starts at 5pm, you know that, in fact, it actually starts at 11pm. And while the general population braves the crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, you know that Sundays are by far, the best night of the week to be out. And even if you retire from the business, you still feel lost on a Friday or Saturday night because most of your friends are working.

And for those of you who waited tables or tended bar to make some extra money or put yourself through school, you may find that the ones who choose to stay will probably work harder than you ever will again. They will hone their craft and become an expert in their field. Just like you.

While I left the Inn several times over the years, I always ended up back at home. With my friends. I made new friends every time and those friendships have defined my adult life. These were the friendships that stood the test of time. Even after we had gone our separate ways. Some of us left the business, some of us just moved on to different places. But these characters were the best characters to have.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

11 Things I Want My 11 Year Old to Know

Anyone who really truly knows me, knows that I am a total sap at heart. I believe that life is really just a collection of memories; good, bad, ugly and in between that make up the core of who we are. At 42, I can look back at my 11 year old self and see a little girl about to lose her father. There is so much I had to learn the hard way. If Max can take just one of these 11 lessons and bypass a moment of angst, confusion or pain, then I've done my job.

1. Laugh until your stomach hurts: There are few things in life that you can't figure out a way to laugh about. No matter how awful it may seem at the time, dig deep and laugh. It's ok. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Just figure out a way to laugh.

2. Believe what you see; not necessarily what you hear: People really do show you who they are. Watch them. Believe them the first time. Don't waste your time expecting them to change. Let them waste their own time figure out how to change.

3. Believe in yourself: Know that fundamentally, you are capable of anything. Because you are. Get out of your own way.

4. Understand that your parents really do know more than you do: Because they do. Teenagers know nothing. They only think they do.

5. Open your heart: Go into the world with your arms and eyes wide open. Believe that you are loveable. Because you are.

6. Have opinions: Whether it's your favorite food or who you want to be friends with, know how you feel about things. Develop a sense of self early in life. Take a stand. Become who you were meant to be, even if you are only 11 years old.

7. Don't believe what other kids say about you (unless it's nice): Kids are often mean for no other reason than they can be. Don't be that kid. And don't believe that kid either.

8. Feel things: Part of really living is really feeling. So be happy. Be sad. Be angry. Be all of those things. And let go of the things that don't serve you well.

9. Ask questions: Don't pretend you have it all figured out when you know you don't. Ask. We will tell you.

10. Read a book: Don't wait for people to bring the information to you. Open a book and figure it out for yourself.

11. Like who you are: You are standing on the edge of becoming whoever it is you choose to be. Choose to be a person you will want to get a drink with when you are 30. Those are my favorite kind of people.

Happy 11th Birthday Max at

Love in it's purest form