Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

Of Rescue Dogs and… Squirrel!

The adage that people and their dogs look alike is debatable in our house.  However, as Christmas day approaches, I find that I am ACTING like our dog Keisha in many ways.  Here are a few:

Treats:   Keisha gets a biscuit after her walks. She has a habit of going in the kitchen and staring up at the glass jar on the counter we keep them in, and then at us in clear communication she’d very much like another please. I am behaving the same way with the almond paste* I made this week. I keep going to the refrigerator and looking at it. Being an adult human with an opposable thumb, I also reach in, take it out, and “taste” it to make sure it’s just as good now as it was 15 minutes ago. This is proving to be not a good thing. 

Sleeping:  The holiday bustle and keeping up my swim schedule in the attempt to keep weight-gain carbon-neutral this year makes me need a nap every day at 4pm precisely.  Just like our dog, I lay down anywhere and within seconds I’m out — perhaps snoring and woofing in a muffled way as I dream of all the things I can make with almond paste. If I don’t get the nap, I am apt to become growly.

Over-excited reaction to the doorbell:  I’ve shifted to pushing “submit order” for most of my holiday shopping this year.  The UPS delivery gal knows my gate code.  We’ve been seeing a lot of each other recently.  Perhaps should get her a gift.  When the doorbell rings I don’t leap up and bark, but do bounce to the door and get that little “whoo” feeling on seeing the boxes and prance about excitedly.

Wearing odd clothes: Yes, the photo is our dog tolerating her reindeer hat.  She shakes it loose after about 20 minutes – which in dog years is about the same amount of time that I will deign to wear my ugly Christmas sweater.

Heavy dog:  Keisha’s super power is making herself weigh more than ten times her actual weight when she doesn’t want to move. I’ve adopted this strategy at the end of a busy day.  Don’t try and get me off the couch if “The Crown” or “The Great British Baking Show” is on – or “Peaky Blinders” soon. I shall simply deploy “heavy dog” with Ghandi-esque calm. I plan on keeping this behavior past the holiday season.

The …Squirrel! effect is the final and most pertinent way I’m like Keisha in this holiday season.  She loves going for a walk, politely sniffing at the pee mail and enjoying the stretch of her legs, and then… squirrel!  You can see her spin out and lose any mandate except to Chase That Squirrel!  That’s me these past few days. I’m usually organized and on-point, but this week I’m permanently distracted.  Even with a list, my brain scatters at the slightest thing:  I dart to and fro, sure I can catch the …Squirrel!  Ooooo, Pretty wrapping paper. Ooooo Almond Croissants in the window of the bakery. Oh! Pop-up Ads from Amazon with MORE gift ideas. UPS is here, must say hi to my delivery gal and then hide or wrap the new arrivals…. Oh, the laundry… what did I come in this room for?

I need a biscuit.

 *recipe in last week’s blog. It’s very good, but perhaps I should go taste it one more time to be sure….

On the Elusive Christmas Spirit and Marzipan

On the Elusive Christmas Spirit and Marzipan

I’m going out on a limb today. Telling the truth can feel terrifying sometimes, but then later its better, and you don’t have to remember the lie you told.  My truth is that the Christmas spirit is proving to be an elusive sprite this year.  I think it has to do with how bare our Christmas tree is.  I know the holiday ornaments that were burned in The Fire were just things, but I miss the popsicle-stick ornaments my little boys made. I miss my Star Trek ornaments. I miss the clay leaves that Sarah made in Kindergarten. All their “my first Christmas” baby photo ornaments. And the angel and candy-cane ones my husband brought into our marriage 23 years ago. The missing them is like darts popping my happy feeling balloons. Our Red Cross case worker warned us about this way back in March.  The current fires out in California are adding to my sadness, some of our friends out there have just gone through what we did, losing everything, and I hate knowing how that feels. 

I know of only one way to find my Christmas spirit, and that is to be grateful for what we do have, so with your kind permission, I have some gratitude to share. I am grateful they just put new windows in my apartment, its much quieter and less drafty in here now.  I am especially grateful for my husband and kids.  And my friends, old and new.  I’ve enjoyed several fun parties with my Masters swimming buddies and with my Mom’s Garden club this past week.  I got to see some cool art by a grad student at SMU. Coffees and walks with new friends. Swim workouts. My company sent me Tiffany. I’m grateful for Amazon Prime and boxes that come to my door. And Netflix.  It’s sweater and fuzzy sock weather, my favorite things to wear. I’m grateful that soon all our kids will be with us here, even though it will be super squishy (borrowing an air mattress today).  I’m grateful to be coaching my Arbonne team and that I learned how to do Facebook Live technology.  I’m grateful for the way Alabama voted this week.

Whew that feels better already. If you too are also having a rough Holiday season, I recommend a quick blast of gratitude.  I promise as you replace the “bleh” files with happier ones, you’ll feel better.  Now I’m off to go get what I need to make marzipan for my Christmas Stollen.  Stollen is a German coffee cake studded with dried fruit and in the center is a roll of delicious marzipan – you may call it almond paste, but by any name it’s delicious.  I’ve never made marzipan before, but its got to cost less than buying it. Goodness gracious, you’d have to take out a loan. Here’s the recipe. Marzipan makes everything more delicious, truly… and I am grateful for that too.

Almond Paste/Marzipan Recipe

From Kimberly at “The Daring Gourmet”, this makes about 12 oz.

1.5 cups finely ground blanched Almond Flour

1.5 cups confectioners sugar

2 teaspoons almond extract

1 teaspoon food-grade rose water (if you don’t want to buy this, just add an extra teaspoon of the almond extract)

1 egg white (vegan = 2 teaspoons corn syrup)

By hand or pulsing in a mixer, combine the flour and sugar until no lumps. Then add your almond extract and rose water until mixed, and finally the egg white.  The dough will be wet and sticky, and at this point you may need to add a little more almond flour and sugar, but it does firm up in the fridge.  Turn out the dough and knead a few times and then form a log, wrap in plastic and put in fridge for at least 24 hours.  Bring to room temperature before using it.  This will keep in fridge for a month, or in freezer for 6 months, but it won’t last that long, trust me.  It has a zillion calories, and is worth every one.





On Being a Boy Mom and Trifle

On Being a Boy Mom and Trifle

On my walk this morning I saw a little boy in a stocking cap holding his sippy cup and blanket. He was being loaded one-armed into his car seat by his mom, and my heart stabbed me. I miss my little boys.  Having them grown isn’t shabby, mind you.  My 21-year-old son made prosciutto-wrapped marinated pork loin for dinner this week. In his sojourn with us, we’ve been served lovely sauces and dressings, home-made empanadas and had only one catastrophe with the iron skillet.  His brother makes fettucine chicken alfredo, and some fancy fish thing and hot breakfasts. They do their own laundry too. They don’t iron, but then neither do I.  Mustn’t put the Dry Cleaner out of business. All our kids have turned out great, but I miss them being little some days

When they were young they helped me bake.  I’d always wanted to be a cookie-and-bread-baking mom.  The extent of my own Mother’s baking was one thing — a yearly “Christmas Cake” which in our family is a very large fruit cake wrapped in an almond paste crust and white icing.  The almond paste makes it worth eating.  My dad’s baking consisted of “sugar sandwiches” which (as you may have inferred) is two pieces of white bread buttered and sprinkled with white sugar.  Depression cake is what he calls it.  It is.  Depressing.  

My guys were very boy-y growing up. I helped raise a daughter too, and the two species were quite different. As a boy mom, like it or not, I was the recipient of “cool” bugs and crawly things dumped in my lap without warning.  The reptile house at the zoo was a regular stop. I would have preferred spending my time viewing animals with fur, but there you are, not happening as a Boy Mom.  Starting at the age of 2 and forever afterwards, everything became a gun for the boys. Toast was chewed into gun shapes, sticks were guns, bananas were guns.  This seems to be a universal Boy Mom experience.  I tried gun deflection via multiple versions of light sabers and enrolling them in fencing class, but alas no.  They still like guns.  Craig made sure they learned how to shoot properly and take care of their weapons and how not to be an idiot with them.  I just sigh and try not to be judgmental.  

They were often dirty and grubby when little and had their share of accidents that involved bleeding.  Normally I am woozy at the thought of a cut, but for my boys I was able to mop up and bandage with the best of them.  Or take them to the ER when needed.  Spencer slid down a hillside and smacked his head open on an iron bar when he was 4.  It was clear that a band-aid was not going to fix the gaping wound, so off we went to the ER.  Spencer looked tiny laying on the gurney, which was parked in the hall of the busy hospital while we waited for the CAT scan machine to free up.  My main job was trying to keep the boys from seeing the gunshot victim next door.  The doctor pinned up the X-rays of the kid in the hall and you could see the multiple bullets in the little guy.  About an hour after we were there, I heard horrific Mom weeping from his room, and knew he hadn’t made it.  I kept my equanimity through that and my wiggly 4-year-old son bravely lying still getting a CAT scan, but I’ve never forgotten the sound of that Mother grieving her child.

Another universal Boy Mom issue is that you GET NO INFORMATION.  I solved this in grade school by being the room mom.  In later years, I relied on my mom friends who had girls to find out important info.  Things like when Graduation was, that there was an Awards ceremony to attend, that we need to get the school photo done by tomorrow.  Those things.  This was especially necessary for Swim Team – the boys often had to be places incredibly early, or with massive amounts of food and gear and it was nice to have my Girl Mom network. I loved that swim team.  It gave my boys a real lesson in how to be friends with women and respect them. The girls were just as fast and strong and dedicated as the boys, and after multiple years of everyone being in swim suits, objectifying anyone’s body simply isn’t an issue.

My adult son and I stumbled onto the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix.  Now we want to make pastry all the time.  I get to make a Trifle (a tiered very British dessert featuring layers of cake, jam, cream, fruit and whipped cream) for a “The Crown” viewing party this Friday. I can’t wait to make a sponge and whip up a custard just like on the baking show.  I’m hoping Steven gets to help me, or at the very least lick the spoon.  I miss the days past of having my little boys rattling around the kitchen.

There are two ways to make Trifle. The easy way:  Buy a pound cake and cut it lengthwise into 3 or four strips.  Mix up a large box of Jello-brand vanilla or banana custard and let it cool. Get some berries and cut them up, and a container of Kool Whip.  Layer the dessert starting with the pound cake, and alternate layers of custard, fruit, and cake and top with a whipped cream layer.  Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.  It takes about 20 minutes to make and will make many people happy.

If on the other hand, you have been binge-watching the “Great British Baking Show”, you will want to make this scratch recipe, courtesy of Anna Olsen. I fell in love with it because of the line: “Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter”.

Directions for: Classic English Trifle by Anna Olsen


Sponge Cake

6 large eggs

2 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream

2 cups 2% milk

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla bean paste

6 large egg yolks

6 Tbsp granulated sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Fruit and Assembly

1 ½ cups whipping (35%) cream, divided

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups assorted fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries)

⅔ cup berry jam

⅓ cup cream sherry

¼ cup toasted sliced almonds


Sponge Cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Line a baking tray (11-x-17-inches/28-x-43-cm) with parchment paper, but do not grease the pan.

2. Warm the eggs in their shells in hot tap water for about 5 minutes (change the water once halfway through warming). Place the whole eggs and 2 yolks in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add the sugar and whip on high speed until the mixture is pale and holds a ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. You can’t overwhip whole eggs, so if in doubt, keep whipping!

3. While the eggs are whipping, sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl. Add the flour to the eggs gradually while whipping on medium low speed. Spoon a generous dollop of the batter into the melted butter, add the vanilla and stir this together (don’t worry if it deflates a little). Add this buttered batter to the bigger batter and fold in by hand. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for about 25 minutes until it is an even golden brown on top and springs back when gently pressed. Cool the cake completely in its pan.

Pastry Cream

1. For the pastry cream, heat the milk with the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean or the vanilla bean paste until just below a simmer.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Ready a bowl with the butter, placing a strainer on top of it.

3. Gradually whisk the hot milk into egg mixture and then return it all to the pot. Whisk this constantly (switching to a spatula now and again, to get into the corners) over medium heat until thickened and glossy, about 2 minutes. Pour this immediately through the strainer, whisking it through if needed, and stir in the butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard, cool to room temperature and then chill completely until ready to use.

Fruit and Assembly

1. To get ready to assemble, find a glass vessel that can hold 10 cups (2.5 L). Whip the cream and fold a third of this into the pastry cream. Add the sugar and vanilla to the remaining two thirds of the whipped cream. In a separate bowl, toss the berries gently with the jam.

2. To assemble, turn the sponge cake out onto a cutting board and peel away the parchment. Cut out 3-4 layers (number depends on the size of your trifle dish) of the cake so that the fit into the dish snugly. Place a layer of cake in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle or brush generously with the cream sherry. Top this with dollops of the pastry cream and spread. Spoon the berries overtop and cover this with a second layer of the cake. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, until the cake layers, cream and fruit have been used. Top the trifle with the reserved whipped cream and sprinkle the top with toasted almonds. Chill the trifle until ready to serve.


Photo courtesy of dishmaps.com



On the Journey to Becoming a Writer

On the Journey to Becoming a Writer

Being a writer was not my childhood dream.  Reading was my passion when I was young. I never saw myself having the gift of creating worlds with words.  As a chubby, cat’s-eye-glasses-wearing lonely child, books were dependable companions. I came to love epic fantasy and science fiction – Jules Verne, HG Wells, and JRR Tolkien were my go-to pals. I’d read 3 or 4 books at the same time, and my childhood defiance (aside from sneaking drinks from my parent’s Crème de Menthe bottle, but that’s a whole different post) was staying up past my bedtime reading under the covers with a flashlight.

High school didn’t uncover a yen to write either. While English was one of my favorite classes, I detested grammar. I couldn’t tell you what a noun was or why we would have to diagram it. I tiptoed through grammar tests, guessing at most of the answers.  Then came along one of THOSE teachers, the ones that change your life forever.  June Dirks stood maybe 5 feet tall and always wore heels.  She had helmet hair that needed a full container of Aqua Net to build every morning.  She was my AP English teacher in High School.  Eagle-eyed Mrs. Dirks noticed my grammar shortcomings after I failed a “review” grammar test.  She handed me her worn copy of Strunk’s “Elements of Style”, and gave me one weekend to learn it and retake the test.  I crammed grammar for 48 hours. It didn’t make me like it, but I learned about nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositional phrases.*  I passed the test.  Mrs. Dirks was also the one who submitted, unknown to me, one of my short stories to a contest.  I ended up winning it and a nice sum of money.  That was the first time I got paid for writing.  Extra perk from learning that grammar: I got a nearly perfect Verbal score on the SAT (it balanced out my abysmal Math score) and didn’t have to take English classes in college.  In college, the extent of my writing was what I needed to do in classes.  

Despite evidence that writing might be an ideal path, I insisted on being an actor and ignored writing unless it was a thank you note or a complex explanation to the landlord as to why rent was a wee bit tardy.  I worked with an Improv Comedy group in Los Angeles that was heavy on “boy” humor, leaving nothing interesting for me to do except be an adjunct pair of legs for a sketch. So, I started writing sketch comedy to give myself good lines and fun roles.  People laughed, it felt great. I wrote some one-act plays that got good reviews and attention from the industry –  not for my acting, but for the writing.  A few director friends asked if I had any screenplays. I didn’t, but I took a class and got cracking.  Writer’s Boot Camp was a fantastic 6-week course taught in an apartment living room.  In 6 weeks, I learned structure and a system that helped me not waste time.  With a raft of story ideas in my head, I wrote a bunch of screenplays. They kept getting optioned but not made, but as a side effect, I became known as a female action writer who could write fast, and got “ghost writing” gigs that paid well.  I was valuable because there are laws in Hollywood that require inclusivity of minorities on projects.  I covered two minority bases – I was “old” as in over 30, and I was a woman. To my knowledge both those categories are still considered minorities in Hollywood.

One of my movies was made, and I got a real paycheck and the opportunity to see my writing ripped to shreds by poor directing and worse editing.  Upside: one night I was allowed on set.  It happened to be a night shoot action sequence with explosions, and people on wires doing flips and fighting.  There had to be 200 people present from precautionary firemen to stunt people and actors and all the riggers, grips, etc. gathered together to make my 4-sentence description in the script a reality.  I sat on the periphery of the set, and thought, “I made this up”.  What had been little black words typed on an IBM Seletric typewriter in my apartment off Laurel Canyon in Hollywood had metamorphosed into reality.  The explosions went off, the actors acted and fought, the firemen hosed down the set after the pyrotechnics went off and the cameras captured it. You can still find this movie if you look hard, its called “Lord Protector”.  I can’t recommend it, but Charleton Heston did the voiceover work.  That was cool too, having Ben-Hur say my words.  He’s a fellow Northwestern alum. Rawr.  

Since The Fire and starting this blog it seems that writing may be re-entering my life after a 15-year hiatus.  I’ve written a couple of full length plays which have gotten lovely productions.  Perhaps this weekly blog could turn into a book. I have a multi-volume Fantasy book growing in my head too, although truth be told, writing it scares the heck out of me.  Telling stories sure is a lot of fun, and sometimes, just sometimes you get to touch hearts and let folks know they aren’t alone.  That’s pretty cool, coming from a cat’s-eye-glasses wearing, chubby, lonely child perspective.  My younger self is quietly urging me on, saying “please, oh please… make it so.”

 *side note, I think they must have added to some grammar rules.  When my sons had to do the dreaded ‘grammar project’ in 9th grade English, Gerunds, Clictics (!) and Grawlix appeared.  I didn’t know there were things.  My son Steven takes after me.  He named his grammar project “Pain and Sorrow”, and almost passed it.

On Apple Crisp and Pie in General

On Apple Crisp and Pie in General

Its genetic.  Given the choice of pie or cake, I am picking pie every time.  I think it goes by the same inherent disposition corollary as favoring cats or dogs.  I fall on the dog side of that one. Now, I do like cats.  At one point I had three of them at once, until the earthquake of ’94 in Los Angeles, and one of them ran off to join a little kitty gang somewhere. I still envision her hanging seductively with her other cat friends smoking cigarettes on the corner.  She was always brash and tough and was happiest roaming.  I’ll have to tell you about that earthquake sometime, nothing like being woken up at 4.30am by being bounced off your bed.  Except of course being woken by your dog at 11.30 to escape a Fire, but I’m not bitter.  After all, its Thanksgiving, and the word of the day is Grateful. Well, Thankful really, but I prefer Grateful.  Thankful always looks like it is missing an L to me, so I don’t really like using it in written form. Could be a sign that I am becoming quirky.  Quick, bring me a cane and get off my lawn. 

Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. It probably goes back to being an only child, and being forced to dress up and then sit at the dining room table in uncomfortable chairs with just my parents and eat my mother’s cooking.  Bless her, Mom does lots of things very well, but she’s just not a cook.  Thanksgiving does allow me to bake, so that mitigates my ambivalence.  I love baking and can claim it as something I do very well.  My German grandmother taught me how to bake according to how things LOOKED.  We didn’t measure much, it was a handful of this, a pinch of that, mix it up, doesn’t look crumbly enough, add more butter.  When in doubt, adding more butter works for lots of things in cooking, in my opinion.  I use Earth Balance on ordinary days as I cave to aging and modify what I eat. It’s not bad, but when it comes to baking, its butter all the way. Maybe Crisco in certain recipes but I won’t tell you when I am using it – please just enjoy that warm cookie I gave you.

I bake a mean pumpkin pie, with lots of extra spice to it. I don’t care for the look of pumpkin pie that’s too yellow, so mine get extra nutmeg and cinnamon and I serve it at room temperature with freshly made whipped cream with a bit of vanilla whipped into it.  My favorite pie is Apple.  I make the crust for it with sugar, so it caramelizes a bit.  I like making the designs on top; a lattice, or dough cut out to look like leaves.  I don’t bastardize my apple pie with ice cream or cheese on it, but I recognize your right to do so if you wish. I also eat that pie at room temperature.  That could be an Iowa thing, I’ll check with my relatives and get back to you.

I decided to go a little lighter this year with my apple offering, and am making an apple crisp.  This recipe was given to me by my friend Kathy who lives in Johnson City TN.  She is one of those slender foodie chicks who always has an amazing recipe for something, and this one is no exception.  It’s super easy to make, and we like to pop it in the oven just as the turkey is coming out so the aroma of cinnamon and apples waft through the house as we eat our turkey and side dishes and try not to judge each other too hard or fall into the inevitable mine pit of long-held tongues loosened by booze. Oh well, at least there will be pie.  Happy Thanksgiving to all, and please know I am truly Grateful for each of you.


8×8 pan, buttered

4 apples, diced (any apple will do)

½ cup flour

¾ cup oatmeal (its ½ cup in original recipe, but I like oatmeal)

¾ cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup butter, room temperature

Cinnamon and Nutmeg to taste, I recommend a heavy hand with the cinnamon

Oven at 375.  Put your diced apples in the pan, mix up the rest, and dump on top. Bake about 30 minutes. You’ll know when its done. It’s great with fresh whipped cream on it or just by itself.



Of Anne Lamott and Finding Peace

Of Anne Lamott and Finding Peace

Whew.  It was an emotional week.  Resentment, surprise, determination, gratitude, #metoo-ness, and foxhole camaraderie permeated it.  I don’t do well with being upset or angry for any length of time. I’ve learned tools to center myself over the years, but this was a deeply-felt dredging of a memory that I had walled off for a long time.  The emotions ran higher than normal, and then the crying got old.  So snotty and messy and it gives me a headache.  I needed help finding my peace.  I got some relief by writing about my experience with the intention of benefitting others to either heal from their own wounding or to help current students avoid being caught in the same situation.  When all else fails, helping someone else centers me.  I love helping people.  But that didn’t quite get me back to functional.  I needed some outside help.

 It came in the diminutive form of author Anne Lamott, when she gave a lecture at SMU this week.  Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. I was introduced to her when I was gigantically pregnant with my first son.  I mean gigantic.  I grow big 9+ pound babies and by the time my baby shower rolled around I hadn’t seen my toes for months.  A lovely mentor gave me the book “Operating Instructions” by Lamott, telling me it had really helped her through her daughter’s first year.  My mentor suffered from the same brand of perfectionism that I often fall prey to, so I was eager to give it a read.

In “Operating Instructions”, Lamott unsparingly describes her first year as a single mother.  Here is an excerpt: “I wish he could take longer naps in the afternoon. He falls asleep and I feel I could die of love when I watch him, and I think to myself that he is what angels look like. Then I doze off, too, and it’s like heaven, but sometimes only twenty minutes later he wakes up and begins to make his gritchy rodent noises, scanning the room wildly. I look blearily over at him in the bassinet, and think, with great hostility, Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.” 

As you can imagine, that mix of humor and honesty made it okay that I wasn’t perfect as a mother as I navigated that first year.  I remember being so surprised they just hand you a child at the hospital and send you home, with no instructions or anything.  That I hadn’t been an adult long enough myself to be the one in charge, but it worked out.  The other book that was immensely helpful was “So That’s What They’re For”, about nursing.  I hope it’s still in print, that one made me laugh too. 

Anyway, this delightful author came to share about her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway” in front of 2400 of us in a 90-year-old auditorium Monday.  She was authentic, self-effacing, and a tonic. She talked about the absolute necessity of finding forgiveness for ourselves and others as we all blunder through this life, and that being kind may be the greatest gift we can give each other.  While the whole evening felt like bathing in a bucket of pearls, there was one thing that stood out to me, and that was the battle to stop judging, and just let people be, without the benefit of telling them my ideas for them.  Too bad really, I have lots of good ideas, especially where my children are concerned.  However, they are mostly grown now, and I can’t run next to them holding sunscreen and juice boxes any longer. 

Here was a recipe to find peace that Anne Lamott gave us all on Monday night:  Go to the bank, take out ten $5 bills and hand them out.  Give them to that annoying homeless man in the intersection, or to the homeless people on the sidewalk by CVS, even the guy suspiciously close to the liquor store. The mental catch – It’s not our business what they do with the money, what is important is that we are kind, and share a little and without reservation.  After all, when Jesus healed the blind man, he didn’t then turn around and say; “So what are you going to be looking at?”  That analogy made me laugh, and it made me think, and it made me feel better.  You don’t have to give people $5’s, you can rescue dogs or give money to organizations that do that, or donate coats, or send money to Puerto Rico.  The point is, I think, to reach out and make someone’s day a little better.  That act of kindness then fills the empty center created by sorrow or aloneness and you feel whole.  At least for a little while.  I haven’t gone and gotten those $5’s out yet, but it’s on my list.  I am also going to go buy “Hallelujah Anyway”, because I have realized one more time that on most days, I need all the help I can get.


On Predators and #MeToo

On Predators and #MeToo

Before I share things I’ve never spoken about, I want to state that I love where my life has landed me at 56 – a great marriage, kids that are growing up to be extraordinary persons, a fun job, time freedom, the ability to write and produce art, and to teach and direct plays.  My experience of being emotionally and mentally abused and “broken down” by a teacher had a part in shaping who I am today, so I accept it was part of my journey.  I fervently hope it is NOT part of yours, you don’t need it to become a wonderful performer or person.  Sexual predators harm on many levels, not just physically but emotionally as well.  With their perceived power, they create an environment that encourages ostracism and shaming and silence.  My long-silenced story comes from my time as a theatre major at Northwestern University. The happy, confident freshman who went in to the theatre program there came out a toughened pretender with large interior cracks, lots of defenses and a drinking problem.  

I still wouldn’t trade going there – I made lifelong friends, got a kick ass education in all aspects of theatre, along with a great general education and a football team I can cheer for. There were exceptional teachers who were kind and supportive. There were others who were not.  At Northwestern, there were teachers who were reputed to be “the best”, and there was a pecking order dictated by whose acting class you got into.  At the beginning of freshman year, we auditioned in front of all the acting teachers with a monologue.  We were led to believe our lifetime success depended on getting one of those “superior” acting teachers to let us into their class.  I had a friend who didn’t get into the acting teacher’s class she wanted and slept on the floor outside his office door for 3 nights in a row to prove she had “what it took” to be in his class.  I was lucky, and got in a “superior” class.

My acting class was a competitive and talented group. I’d been a big acting fish in a smallish midwestern pond prior to Northwestern, but in there I was — at best — middle of the pack.  Early on I knew that I was never going to be the best, not in acting talent (certainly not in singing or dancing), but I had hope of getting better. Within the first week, I was informed that I would never LOOK good enough to be a real success. I was told I might be “beautiful when you are old”, but that currently I was nowhere near pretty or thin enough (I was a size 6).  One of the “in-crowd” students told me that I was “sort of unconventionally, marginally attractive”, and that she thought I might do okay with character roles.  It hurt.  A lot.

“Theatre in Context” was the name of our program, which meant that not only were we taking acting class but were required to be on different construction and running crews.  I learned a lot about lighting and sewing and that I should not be allowed to use power tools or hot glue guns. Those were highlights for me.  I was in freshman performance group, “The Company”, so got to be on stage throughout my freshman year, but landed on the periphery of that talented group.  They were more adventurous than I was; freer.  My sheltered upbringing was not ready for it, so I isolated myself.  Things got worse after I rejected the sexual overtures of the female grad student in charge of the group.  I was relegated to marginal roles and given the clear message that I wasn’t daring or fun enough to make it in acting.

As we went into our Sophomore year, I was handed the kiss of death by my teacher when he gave me the play “Miss Julie” to work on – all of us were given a classic play, but that one just has two characters, Miss Julie and Jean.  Lucky for me, my acting partner Steve was a kind and gentle person. It was known that Miss Julie was the role that our teacher handed the actress in any given year that he was going to beat up on the most psychologically. And he did. I grew to dread class, and would cry at the drop of a hat.  I started having trouble memorizing lines and became self-conscious of every move I made on stage, developing a weird out-of-body critical mind that prohibited me from being spontaneous and in the moment.  My inability to get through a scene without crying got worse.  My perception was that my classmates hated me as much as I had learned to hate myself as I struggled along.  “You must be broken down”, was the rationale given to me by my revered teacher as I cried in his office about my failures.  Yes, even with the emotional abuse, or perhaps because of it, I still revered him.  I took my needing to be broken down as fact, just like I took to be fact that he was sexually involved with some of the petite blond students that were in his classes.  We all knew about it.  God help me, I didn’t think it was particularly awful, but that it just was.  Instead of being relieved I was not his “type”, and therefore never a victim of sexual abuse, I felt I was not worthy of being special to him.  I carried that feeling of not being worthy for many years afterwards.  It took me a long time to trust that I was good enough for any kind of healthy relationship. 

By the time Senior year rolled around, I was mentally and emotionally defeated.  I anaesthetized in the only nearly-legal way I knew how, and got good at holding my liquor and showing up hung over.  I shut down emotionally and just got through my senior year.  I’d completed most of my graduation requirements, and so spent my days sitting in the back of classes that interested me.  Astronomy, Art History, Myth and Symbolism. Silver lining:  I remember more from those classes than any others. I went to acting class, but my heart wasn’t in it. For years after I pursued an acting career, but never really succeeded – I had learned my lessons well — that I was not good enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I write this, brave women and men have started to come out against the predators we have all known live among us in the performance world.  I have hope that the culture is changing for the better.  Being preyed upon and broken down has NOTHING to do with developing your talent, or your passion to create art.  Nothing at all.  I wish someone had told me that when I was 18.  If that is you now, please know you are amazing and special and can do marvelous things, and that you are perfect, just the way you are.

*photo by Kallie Gay, Catch the Wind Photography.  Glass Menagerie, JCCT