Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dating And Vegan Eggs

Tonight's cocktail is a Lady Outlaw from Teddy and the Bully Bar in DC: vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon sour, and lavender bitters.

For those keeping score at home, 6 months out from having my heart smashed, burned, and the ashes scattered to the winds, I'm slowly but surely starting to turn this fucker around. Still, I fear I may end up like Miss Havisham, because I have zero interest in the dating scene. I haven't had a real first date with a new person in 21 years. The prospect would be terrifying under any circumstances, even without the profound and serious trust issues I've developed of late. If I were to, say, meet someone for coffee, the scenario in my mind is something like this:

Perfectly Nice Man (walks up to my table): It's so nice to meet you!

Me: Pffft. Yeah, whatever, dude. You want to ruin my life and make me wish I'd never been born? NOT TODAY, ASSHOLE. (flips off Perfectly Nice Man)

Perfectly Nice Man: Well, why don't we just have coffee?

Me: Coffee. (Making universal jackoff motion) RIGHT. You just want to get me to trust you long enough for it to really hurt when you dump me on my ass. No, thank you. I SAY GOOD DAY SIR!

Suffice it to say, I'm not ready. However, after watching a fair amount of Netflix with my pets, I decided to let an old friend take me out to a nice dinner next time he was in town. He came over and fixed my sink first, as a bonus. That's not a euphemism, I swear.

Finally! A working sprayer! Also not a euphemism!

The evening was going fine - relaxed chatter, cocktails, no worries. And then. I heard her before I saw her. High-pitched, nasal voice: "We're visiting from New York. You won't be sorry for giving us a table. We eat well, and we tip well." Wondering who in God's name says that, I spotted an admittedly hot-looking 20-something blonde woman in a tight, white strapless dress and red stilettos, accompanied by a standard-issue 20-something dude-bro. They sat at the table right behind us (I could see them, but my friend's back was to them), because of course they did.

Hot Girl: (disdainfully) Well, they SAID they had vegan dishes, but I don't think they know what vegan is down here.

Dudebro: Babe, you eat eggs. You're not a vegan.

Hot Girl: (loudly) That's BULLSHIT! (slaps table!) I only eat eggs from my family's chickens!

Dudebro: But they're animal products.  So you're not vegan.

Hot Girl: Those chickens are FREE RANGE! (slap) They're raised HUMANELY! (slap) They have a GREAT LIFE! (slap slap)

Dudebro: But eggs aren't vegan.

Hot Girl: But those chickens are VEGAN! I can't BELIEVE you'd throw that in my FACE! (slap)

Dudebro: Whatever, let's order.

Hot Girl (to waiter): Where's your ladies' room?

Waiter: Past the bar, first door to your left.

Hot Girl: Can you walk me there?

Waiter: Ummmm, ok?

Hot Girl (returning, with waiter, who she'd apparently made wait for her while she was in the bathroom?): Did you at least order the food?

Dudebro: No, I didn't want to order anything without talking to you first, because of this vegan thing.

Hot Girl: This THING? (slap) These are my CONVICTIONS! (slap)

Dudebro: OK, whatever, but you clearly have opinions ...

Hot Girl: (orders food, after extensively questioning the waiter and asking for about a million exceptions)

For awhile, I'm able to focus again on my dinner companion. We order the tasting menu. It's delightful.

*Food arrives at other table*

Hot Girl: (scoffs) This "FOOD" (she actually used air quotes) is NOT vegan!

Dudebro: How do you know?

Hot Girl: I just DO! (slap) They put butter on it, I KNOW it!

Dudebro: Well, maybe they talked nicely to the cows while they were milking them?

Hot Girl: There you go AGAIN! (slap) Always minimizing! This is SERIOUS to me!

Waiter: Ma'am, I specifically instructed the chef, and he assured me...

Hot Girl: Well, I can TASTE the butter!

Waiter: Ma'am, the chef used extra-virgin avocado oil to saute the ...

Hot Girl: Yeah, whatever. I want to go now.

Dudebro: Look, I'm hungry. I'm eating. You can do what you want. (to waiter) Can you please bring her another cocktail?

Hot Girl: (glares, sulks while Dudebro eats) Can we GO and get some REAL food now?

Dudebro: Look, I'm eating. It tastes real to me. You can eat or not. After, we can stop and get you a salad or something.

Hot Girl: I'm HUNGRY! (slap) I want more than a salad!

Dudebro: Well, then eat this. It's vegan!

Hot Girl: No, it's NOT! (slap)

Dudebro: Look, I'm sorry we came here. Let me finish my food. Then we will find you something to eat that doesn't have non-vegan eggs or whatever.


At this point, a lot happened. Hot Girl stormed out of the restaurant, or tried to, but got in a fight with the doors, which won. Dudebro followed, there was yelling, which I sadly couldn't hear. Dudebro came back in to pay, went out to try to reason with crazy, then came back to sign the charge slip. By this point, my friend and I left the restaurant. I tried to persuade him to let me hide in the bushes and spy, but he said that was tacky. Killjoy. Hot Girl was standing on the corner, looking like she might hurl into the gutter. My friend asked her if she needed us to put her in a cab to wherever she was staying. Hot Girl suddenly drew herself up and icily stated that she didn't need ANYTHING, thank you. So we left.

Here's what sticks with me. That guy had to have known his date was 10 pounds of crazy in a 5 pound sack when he agreed to accompany her on a trip to D.C. Obviously, she was drunk at dinner, but nobody morphs from normal to batshit crazy pseudo-vegan no matter how much they've been drinking. He got in an enclosed space - plane, train, or car - with all that crazy, voluntarily. I don't care how hot she was, or how flexible, or what things she could do with her tongue; there's no way a reasonably sane person of any gender or sexual orientation could spend more than an hour in an enclosed space with her without wanting to poke his or her own ears out with a ballpoint pen. I don't get it.

I'm definitely not ready.

Parenthood: Now With Science!

Tonight's cocktail can be with or without booze (I recommend bourbon), as the spirit moves you, or doesn't. Chanukah is already over for me and mine, but the wonders of Jewish Christmas (Chinese food and movies - yes, we really do that) await. Also, we still have another 2 weeks to drink eggnog. I'd like to be fancy and say I used Alton Brown's recipe, but I think we all know that I poured it straight from the carton. At least I used a glass.

This time.
"Eggnog2" by Dinner Series - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -

If you're a procrastinator like me and still have gifts to buy, and if you have any parents on your list, I'm here to solve a problem for you. Buy them all copies of Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler. Trust me on this. In the midst of the chaotic, sometimes-isolated, sleep-deprived blur that parenting can create, this book is a much-needed reality check because it illustrates the univeral whatthefuckness of it all. You're not the only one whose child invariably needs to poop for 30 minutes when you're about to be on time somewhere for once. You're not the only one whose child decides without notice to stop eating her favorite go-to meal, which you've just put in front of her. You're not the only one who does not get the point of travel sports. We are all dealing with the same crap from our beloved munchkins, and, when we're able to see how funny it all is, life becomes more manageable.

For example, while playdates with kids you and your kid both like, and whose parents you like, are awesome, the book excerpt below shows that it doesn't always work out that way:

Play dates. They should really be things of beauty and harmony. Or at the very least, simple convenience. After all, the idea is that Someone Else is entertaining your child so that you get a few hours of peace to do things like scroll through Facebook. Or read a book  (hint! hint!) Or enjoy the pure pleasure of holding a complete, coherent thought in your head.

But, to crib a bit from poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans for play dates often go awry. As I discovered one Saturday afternoon when I invited a girl from my son's class — a sweet, blonde girl I knew he had a crush on — to come rollerskating with us.

I'll admit, while I liked the classmate, I was kinda meh about Blonde Girl's Mom ever since my kid reported that while he'd been at her house for a play date, he'd spent the entire afternoon shooting virtual deer with a rifle while playing Big Buck Hunter. I wasn't familiar with that particular video game, but seeing my babysitter's eyes go wide when he described it was enough to let me know it was hardly an all-ages game. Still, he adored Blonde Girl, so I was willing to give the play date thing another go. I figured the kids could skate; Blonde Girl's Mom and I could spend a little Mom-To-Mom time getting to know each other. Who knew? Maybe we'd bond over a shared love of '70s and '80s roller rink muzak.

And well, not even close.

"My toddler's having a melt-down, so could you keep an eye on these kids while I take him home?" was how Blonde Girl's Mom greeted me at the skating rink door. No Hi. No Great to see you. Glad you made it. Just a string of words that came out so fast, it sounded like one really long word: Mytoddlershavingameltdownsocouldyoukeepaneyeonthesekidswhileittakehimhome?

Wait. What?

My eyes hadn’t even adjusted to the darkness of the skating rink. But I quickly saw what was going on. I'd invited her daughter to go skating with my son. And Blonde Girl's Mom had shown up with an entourage that included her daughter, her daughter's younger sister and the girls' two besties. And, oh yes, the toddler who was flailing around on the floor screaming like he was being filleted with long knives. And she wanted me to keep track of all of them in a dark rink?  On wheels? So she could go HOME? Oh, hell no!

In her defense, I could see that request being made in a moment of pure temporary insanity. We've all had that unnerving three-year-old-tantrum-in-a-public-place experience. (And if you haven't yet, don't worry, you will.) But the horrified look on my face and my flat refusal to be responsible for five kids in a dark rink, on wheels should have snapped her right back to reality. I mean, in your head that might sound like a plausible, even good, idea. But once the words are out of your mouth and you actually hear them, you gotta think, Of course not. That's just crazy talk.

As I proceeded to rent my kid skates, I wondered why my darling child didn't want to go skating with any of the kids whose parents I like to hang out with ... who'd never think of saddling a fellow mom with an unruly, unfamiliar brood so they could make a quick getaway.

Still, the afternoon could have been a lot worse. And there was a silver lining: It was unlikely that Blonde Girl’s Mom and I would be getting together again. Ever.  

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel is co-author with illustrator Jessica Ziegler of the new book Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, published in November by She Writes Press. Follow Science of Parenthood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Is Science of Parenthood coming to your town? Check out our tour schedule. Want Science of Parenthood to come to your town? Message us

*Note: I did receive a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, which was easy to give because I snort-laughed through the whole thing. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this post.*

Sunday, November 1, 2015

When the Kids Are Away, Mom Gets to Play

Tonight's cocktail is a Sailor Boy martini that I recently had at Teddy and the Bully Bar in DC. Ingredients: The Bay seasoned vodka (vodka infused with Old Bay seasoning) and dill vermouth with an olive and a cornichon. The name should have prepared me for disappointment - the vodka would have been great in a Bloody Mary, but as a sipping liquor, I don't think it works. Your mileage may vary. It was a great dinner, though, and there were tons of amazing-sounding specialty cocktails on the menu, so I'm looking forward to branching out.

As a divorced mom, people somehow feel compelled to tell me how horrible it must be not to see my kids every day, and that they can't imagine how I stand it. I have no idea how to respond - should I burst into tears? Should I announce, "You're right! I'll call my ex husband and see if he wants to get back together!" (which would be awkward, because I don't think his new wife would like it). Usually I just shrug and smile and change the subject, because I figure the comment is more about them than me. The truth is, it's actually nice to have some time to myself.

Of course, it was difficult at first, in part because they were still so little (3 and 5), and because at the time I didn't completely trust their father to make sure they were properly fed, washed, dressed, and rested. I had always been the one responsible for those things, and his initial efforts in that regard were not impressive. We had to have conversations about things like Tights Are Not Pants, Make Sure They Really Wipe After They Poop, and If I Have to Pick Them Up Sick From School Again Because You Won't Make Them Go To Bed I Will End You. He did, thankfully, improve greatly (and I was able to relax a bit), and we have a 50/50 custody split. We put a lot of time and effort into making it work, and we communicate well about parenting issues. The kids don't feel pulled between us, and we're able to be flexible when one of us has work travel or other circumstances.

I get two nights per week and every other weekend "off duty." Granted, most of that time is spent doing errands, cleaning, laundry, and other household tasks. But, if I wanted, I could take a lover and have crazy sex on my dining room table. It's nice to have options. As an introvert, I need more down time than most people, and as I go through the process of truly knowing and loving myself, I am learning to honor my own needs. Of course, I build in social activities with friends during my child-free time, but sometimes my need is to play 80s and 90s hip hop and shake my booty while making spaghetti sauce, and that's good, too.

The best part is that when the kids come back to my house, they're happy to be here, and I love re-connecting with them. We catch up on the past few days' happenings, they show me their papers and projects, and they settle back into the household routine. Of course, it's usually a matter of hours - sometimes minutes - before they start fighting like rabid weasels, but it's nice while it lasts.

For them, being the child of divorced parents isn't a tragedy, because the adults in their lives love them and want the best for them, which includes getting along with each other. My children are thriving, and so am I. There's no need to feel sorry for them or for me. However, if you're still curious about how I manage when the kids are away, you're welcome to come over for dinner. I'll be happy to pour you a drink and put on the MC Hammer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Won't Someone Please Think of the Candy?

Tonight's cocktail is a pumpkin martini, because it's almost Halloween, y'all! You can get the recipe here.

Although I have been Jewish for almost 20 years, I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church that can be best described by saying that although there weren't snakes involved in Sunday services, there were probably at least a few people who wouldn't have dismissed the idea out of hand. They did just about everything else: speaking in tongues, falling down to the ground "slain in the spirit," and a signature dance move that my friend Ashley at Big Top Family, who survived a similar but even weirder upbringing, calls "grapevining for Jesus."

As a result, you can add Halloween to the long list of strange things about my childhood. I remember a few typical Halloweens collecting candy as Wonder Woman or Dorothy before my parents started attending their church, but after that, the hammer came down. Around late September of my second grade year, I started chattering at the breakfast table about what I might want to be for Halloween, when my father announced without fanfare that I would not be going trick or treating. He told me that he and my mom had learned at church that Halloween was a throwback to pagan festivals that glorified the devil and featured human sacrifice, so we would not be celebrating it ever again. I clearly recall completely losing my tiny mind at that point, because WHAT ABOUT THE CANDY? WON'T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CANDY?????

It looks so lonely.
Of course, the church had an answer to that, because even they realized that you couldn't take away kids' candy and still expect them to love your religion. God is powerful, but not THAT powerful. As an alternative to Halloween, the church had an "All Hallows Eve" party where kids could go to play games and get candy, and I'm sure there was some kind of praying involved. You could wear costumes, but they had to be Bible characters.

In retrospect, I wish I'd insisted on going as Jezebel, or maybe the Whore of Babylon from the book of Revelation. Hindsight is 20/20.

Meanwhile, all my friends were running around the neighborhood after dark in packs, dressed as devils and vampires, collecting full size Snickers and having a great time. My Halloweens sucked by comparison, though not as much as the more recent iteration of crazy-church Halloween co-opting ideas, like the "hell houses" where churches scare kids to Jesus by showing them people pretending to be dead from some combination of premarital sex, abortion, drugs, devil worship, secular humanism, and gayness (never, mind you, from starvation, tainted water, or suicide after being bullied for being gay, but potato, potahto). So it could have been worse.

Now, as a mom, I love doing Halloween with my kids. Tweak is being Darth Vader this year, and Tink will be Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. They will go around the neighborhood and collect way too much candy, return, sort their loot, and chalk it up as a good time. Interestingly, my parents think the kids are cute in their costumes and don't have a word to say about whether I should let them trick or treat. I'm baffled that they ever saw evil in innocent childhood fun, and maybe they are, too.

It's part of our nature to wonder about the things that go bump in the night, and making fun of those things by dressing up as them is a pretty healthy way to deal with that fear. For me, while I wouldn't say I'm haunted by my religious upbringing, it definitely gave me some baggage. So this Friday, while I'm helping my kids put the finishing touches on their costumes and dressing my dog as an ice cream sundae, I'll be sticking a thumb in the eye of a mindset I've rejected. I may need to eat extra candy, too. You know, just to make sure I get my point across. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Boxes and Baggage

Tonight's cocktail is a Cucumber Basil Smash from Seasons 52 - Cucumber Vodka, White Cranberry Juice, Agave, Fresh Lime, Cucumber, and Basil. Lots of stuff, crushed flat and shaken with vodka, sweetened and served on the rocks. Like me.

One of the things that made my recent breakup truly special is the fact that it happened just days before my ex-husband remarried. I don't carry a torch for my ex, and I like his new wife, who is good to my kids, so I'm happy for them. However, it was strange to watch her move into the house my ex and I had purchased together 15 years ago (I moved out in 2009). There's now different furniture and paint, and the kitchen has been remodeled. It's not bad, just disorienting. Truth is, that house hasn't been my home for a long time, but now it's someone else's home, and that's an adjustment. I still have a key (for emergencies), but I always knock now.

McDreamy (who my daughter now calls Mr. Poopyhead, not at my suggestion or urging) had a drawer at my house for some of his clothes, plus there were were various accoutrements of his around the house - razors, special eyedrops, dude-scented bodywash, and the like. The kids and I kept stumbling across these things and tossing them in a box. Once I set aside all his T-shirts, I had hardly anything to work out or sleep in, but I couldn't stand to wear or even look at them.

I took the box to my office, where it sat for weeks while I tried to decide whether to send a note and, if so, what it should say. I wrote a letter telling him how angry I am about having been compartmentalized into increasingly smaller pieces of his life and how, when I asked to spend time with him and be there for the people and events he cared about, he would gaslight me into believing I was a needy mess who was keeping him from being his best self, usually also pointing out that I'd gained weight. I wanted him to be honest - the only person ever in his way was himself, and my presence or lack thereof had no bearing on whether he was able to be the person he wanted to be. The simplest, and most likely, explanation was that he just wasn't that into me anymore, and it was disrespectful and cruel to edge me out by degrees because he didn't want to take responsibility for ending the relationship.

Then, I wrote a few banal sentences on a card - here's your stuff, let me know if you're still missing anything, you don't have anything of mine that I want back, hope you're well. That's what I put in the box when I mailed it (it actually took 2 boxes). Because it doesn't matter. I can't change his mind, and I wouldn't want him back anyway, not now, possibly not ever. I don't know how I could ever trust him. He broke something inside of me that I'm not sure will ever be the same again.

The truth is, I feel relieved not to be under that shadow anymore. I hadn't realized what it was taking out of me to know that he thought so little of me and to constantly dread the next disappointment. My anxiety levels are lower than they've been in years, and I'm eating better, sleeping better, and exercising more, and I'm more productive at work and more patient with my kids. I can't say I'm dancing in the streets, but I do feel strong and grounded. It has nothing to do with no longer being in a long distance relationship and everything to do with respecting myself again.

I'm going to get a tattoo soon. I've never had one, and I never thought I would get one, but as I've tried to think of a way to get closure, it seems like the right way for me to mark the occasion. I'm going to get a small Scottish thistle on the back of my shoulder. My family background is Scottish, and I took my name back when I got divorced. A thistle flower is beautiful and hardy, it grows in rocky places, and you don't want to handle it the wrong way. Like me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My New Mantra

Tonight's cocktail is a Tequila Sazerac, also from High Street on Market in Philadelphia. A classic sazerac is made with rye, Peychaud's bitters, and sugar, shaken with ice into an absinthe-coated glass and served neat with a twist of lemon. This one was on the rocks, and they sprayed Pernod from a mister over the ice and lemon before pouring in the other ingredients from the shaker. Using aƱejo tequila instead of rye whiskey was an interesting change and added a nice, smoky flavor. I was a fan, but I might have preferred it neat.

Midlife heartbreak is no joke, y'all. Still, I'm on my feet and have yet to acquire any more cats, to the great relief of Magnus the Cat and Lego the Poodle. Sometimes I'm feeling vastly better than I should, and other times I'm not sure how I'm even breathing. On the theory of "fake it 'til you make it," I'm seeing friends, doing things I enjoy, reading novels, and relaxing with my kids. When Tweak asked me the other day if I was still sad, I said yes, very, but I couldn't do anything about it, and if this is the worst thing that ever happened to me, I've had a good life. I keep finding little ways to feel better. One of those is my new bracelet.

When McDreamy and I started dating (more than 5 years ago, the past 3 of that long distance thanks to the Navy), he gave me a silver hook bracelet that he'd gotten after doing a semester Marine Biology study in St. Croix while in college (we met in college). He'd ridden out a direct hit from Hurricane Hugo while there, and the time was meaningful to him. When he gave it to me, he intimated that he wanted to trade it for an engagement ring eventually. I wore that bracelet every day for five years, only taking it off to shower and exercise. If I mistakenly put it in a different place and couldn't find it for a moment, I felt unsettled.

The morning after the breakup, I had the urge to put on the bracelet. My wrist felt naked without it. I even tried putting it on to see how it would feel, and I was hit by a wave of nauseating grief. The bracelet is in the bottom section of my jewelry box, and I don't know when I'll be able to look at it again. I can't bring myself to give it back, though.

Last week, I bought myself a new bracelet in a very different design, featuring a blue topaz (which, I've since learned, is sometimes called "the writer's stone"). It's making me feel better to look at my wrist and see evidence of my commitment to myself. I'm determined to pull myself free from this, even if I have to do it by my fingernails. I know that I'm worth it, that my good life is worth it.

I've come to realize that when I love people, I love the everloving daylights out of them. I open my heart without reservations, and I'll give my beloved whatever I have. To a point, that's good, but it has a downside when I find myself changing and adapting to be the person I've realized the other wants me to be because I'm hooked on the love heroin and am afraid it will be taken away. I settle for less than I need and deserve. I squeeze myself into a paradigm where I don't belong. I apologize when I'm not sorry. I don't say when I'm hurt. So, I have a new mantra: Fuck All That.

If I ever do have another intimate relationship (something I can't even imagine right now), I am not going to ignore red flags that something is not right. I'm not going to settle for emotional scraps instead of getting what I need. I will be given respect and prioritized, or I will be gone. There's nothing, including the prospect of becoming a crazy cat lady, more horrible than becoming a person you don't like. I happen to like myself. I'm a smartass. I weigh a little more than I should. I say "fuck" a lot. I'm vibrant and strong. I'm physically passionate. I geek out on books and think words are sexy. I am worth the time and trouble to be loved the way I love others. Otherwise, don't waste my time. Because Fuck All That.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's All Fun And Games Until Someone Rips Your Heart Out

Tonight's cocktail is a weird one, people. I had it at High Street on Market in Philadelphia during a girl's weekend with my friend Monica. The cocktail is called a Beetnik Martini, and I can't find a recipe that replicates what I think I drank, but this one from Bon Appetit is close. It seems like a lot less trouble just to go to Philadelphia and order one. It was very earthy and herby - not at all sweet like the Beet Mojito I made awhile back, but very pleasant. I got to feel virtuous about all the antioxidants from the beet juice, but at the same time, vodka. It included a chow-chow stuffed olive as garnish. I only wish there had been a few more of them.

I really needed the vodka, because McDreamy broke up with me. I didn't see it coming, and the best word to describe me at this point is "poleaxed." I don't want to get too deep into his business, but suffice it to say that he is working through some issues, long distance relationships are stressful, and my presence and love were no longer desired. I'm heartbroken that more than five years of my life and such high hopes came down to this. It hurts far worse than my divorce. The other day, I had the joy of telling my children, because they were pestering me about when they might see McDreamy next. We all had a good cry, and then we ate tacos while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seemed as good a coping method as any.

When McDreamy suddenly told me not to buy a plane ticket to come visit him for July 4th as we'd planned, I decided to spend the money to visit Monica in Philly, and it wouldn't be a real "fuck you" vacation without a stay at the Ritz Carlton (that should totally be their new slogan). At the Ritz, if you're not familiar (I wasn't), you can get "club level," which means for extra money, you have access to a lounge with an open bar, plus all kinds of food. I was born for club level. We had originally thought of visiting museums and being all cultural, but it was hard to leave the hotel. Also, Monica has little kids and hasn't had a good night's sleep in about 7 years, so we ended up sleeping until noon and then spending the rest of the day in the spa.

A bit of background: when I was going to get a massage a few years ago, McDreamy told me that he didn't like the thought of another man touching my body, even in a strictly professional setting. It was such an easy request to grant that I switched to female massage therapists from then on. But at the Ritz, my massage person was a tall, attractive man who brought me champagne and let me pick my essential oils. He gave me an amazing massage, and his voice when he asked if I wanted more pressure or would I mind turning over was as gentle as a lover's. If he noticed I cried, he was gracious enough not say so. It wasn't at all sexual; it felt ... cathartic. I don't know how else to describe it. It felt like I was getting a small bit of myself back from the void of despair I've been trying to scramble away from these past few weeks.

I emerged from that weekend with the conviction that I'm actually going to be OK. I'm as surprised as anyone else, but I hang onto that belief, even when I cry so hard I start dry heaving (which is not even every day anymore, so I have that going for me). I have a sense of big-picture optimism about my life, and I have no idea where it's coming from, because I fully expect to die alone surrounded by cats. Still, I'm strangely hopeful, and I refuse to give this the power to knock me down. I'm worth more than that.

As much as possible, I'm trying to focus on being kind to myself, body, mind, and soul. Grief has to happen, so I might as well let it. I'm pulling out of a phase of incandescent, mind-numbing anger, which had the liberating benefit of burning away my tolerance for any degree of anyone's bullshit. I'm making plans with friends, whereas before I often held off until the last minute in case McDreamy might be available to spend time with me. I'm finding glimmers of relief each time I realize that the worst has happened, and I'm still breathing in and out. My kids still hug me. My garden still grows. My pets still think I'm super.

I hesitated to blog about this because it's so personal, and the hurt is so incredibly raw despite my efforts to joke about it. In fact, I started this blog at McDreamy's urging, in a blush of excitement about how my life had turned out to be happy, notwithstanding a substantial detour through the shitter and back. Part of that happiness was finding the man who I thought was the eternal love of my life, and who I still love with all of my shattered heart. The reason I started Middletini, though, was to reach out to people whose lives had gone off the safe path they'd expected and who had to start over, to show them it doesn't have to be the end of the world, that the new path can be even better than the one you previously couldn't imagine life without. Now, apparently, it's my unfortunate duty to tell you that this is not necessarily a one-time experience. Dammit.

I've been trying to come up with an image that summarizes where I am now, and the best I can do is the montage scene from Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant has been dumped on his ass by Julia Roberts, and he has no choice but to keep moving forward. Despite the sun and being able to lounge by the pool and wear flip flops, my heart has plunged from summer to winter. I live in faith that spring will come eventually.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Alaska Tourism Board Will Never Hire Me Now

Tonight's cocktail is something I like to call Moscow Froze My Mule, because I made it on the eleventy billionth snow day this winter.

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 0.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Jamaican ginger beer

Shake first 3 ingredients with ice into a snow-filled martini glass. Top with ginger beer. Enjoy while cursing the cold. Note that the cocktail is pictured on top of (1) an invoice to repair my furnace, and (2) an invoice to cap a pipe that burst about half an hour after the furnace repair guy left because it was colder than bejaysus.

Once upon a time, I was an adventure traveler. I have backpacked across five continents and camped on four, in jungles, mountains, and deserts, on glacial moraine and beaches. I have stood near gorillas in Uganda, climbed a canyon wall in Colorado by my fingernails, spied on tapirs at a salt lick in the Amazon, and gasped my way through thin air at 18,500 feet in Nepal, all in the name of fun. My point is that I am not a pussy, but Alaska nearly did me in.
In 2000, my now-ex and I (then double income, no kids) were both associates at large law firms in Washington, D.C. That meant people were shoving large wads of money down our pants, and in return, we had no lives. I routinely worked from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. most weekdays, going home to catch a few hours of sleep, shower, and go back to work. Weekends included at least one day in the office. When summer rolled around, I desperately needed a vacation, which I hoped would entail sitting on a beach somewhere with an umbrella drink and a fat novel. Unfortunately, my now-ex wanted to go to Alaska. At first, I thought it would be fine. We could take a cruise! Or, failing that, we could stay in a series of charming B&Bs in various locales while taking in the local color, viewing wildlife, and eating wild-caught salmon and seasonal fresh berries. It was just like that, except not even a little bit.
Not. Even. A. Little.
Our first stop was Katmai National Park, where we promptly completed “bear school.” I wasn’t aware bears went to school, but it turns out the point was for us to learn not to be assholes to, or get killed by, the grizzly bears who use the rivers and waterfalls in the park as their personal salmon Pez dispensers. Of course, we were camping, because despite the fact that we were making tons of money, my now-ex is cheap (he calls it frugal). This meant that after we watched people and bears catching enormous, beautiful, succulent salmon, we trudged back to the campground to boil water on our one-burner stove and reconstitute freeze-dried Beef Strogonoff. We did this behind electrified fencing, because the campsite was next to the lake, and grizzly bears strolled through on the regular, giving us the finger. We could take nothing into our tents that smelled like anything, including deodorant and lip balm. Despite all precautions, we ended up in an unexpected face to face with a grizzly bear on one of the pathways. I grabbed now-ex, stood on my toes with my arms over my head, and began singing show tunes. The bear, duly impressed, snatched a salmon out of the lake, ripped off its head, and ate it. We took advantage of the distraction and got the hell out of Dodge.
"The singing isn't so bad, but if she tries to dance, I'm totally eating her."
After Katmai, we rented a car and headed into the Kenai fjords. The trunk of the car had, I shit you not, claw marks from where a bear had tried to rip its way into the trunk during a prior rental. We got a flat tire. I changed it, because my now-ex didn’t know how. We went on a whale watching boat and saw humpbacks and glaciers. There were many cruise ship people on the boat, and I was tempted to fold myself into their daypacks so that I could get a decent meal and a shower, but we didn’t smell that great, so I couldn’t get close enough to try. Our spare was flat when we got back from the whale cruise. Thankfully there was a mechanic in town. More camping. Wolves howling. Don’t even tell me they were coyotes. Just. Don’t.
"Who's singing now, bitch?"
A few days later, we set out on the Denali Highway. Fun fact: it’s not a highway. It is a gravel 2-lane road. We got not just one, but TWO flat tires this time. I jacked up the car and took off the shredded tire, then spent the next hour trying to flag down a passing car. There aren’t many passing cars coming down a 2-lane gravel road in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. In the winter, people often freeze to death waiting for help when they have car trouble on that road. Thankfully a really nice couple from Texas stopped to help. The only thing they could do was take me to the next town (and I use the word “town” generously), about 25 miles away, with the less-damaged of our tires, in the hope that someone there could repair it enough to get us back on the road. I went with the nice couple, and now-ex stayed with the car to make sure nobody (possibly a bear or a moose) stole our stuff. Thanks be to God and all the angels, there was one mechanic in the town. He managed to straighten out our rim enough to put on a replacement tire, leaving me to choose the nicest of the available serial killers to transport me 25 miles back to where now-ex was waiting with the car. Unfortunately, even serial killers were not going back in that direction at that time of day, so the couple from Texas took a 50-mile detour to get me back to the car with the repaired tire. Not all people suck! Now-ex and I proceeded to the “town” and then purchased another tire for the rental car. I think that night we stayed in an actual hotel (motel), finally.
The next day, we packed up our camping gear and got on, I swear I am not making this up, a big yellow school bus to the Wonder Lake campground in Denali National Park. You can’t take private vehicles into Denali, and I support that. But, of course, now-ex wanted to go all the way to the end of the road (an 8-hour trip) where the park buses will take you, and camp there. The campground is called Wonder Lake because, appropriately, there is a beautiful glacier-fed lake there, which is also the ancestral home of the largest number of enormous bloodthirsty mosquitoes I have EVER seen (and I’m a Southerner!). Seriously, it was like something out of a horror movie. When it started raining, I cried. It was cold. Everything was wet. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t pretty. There’s a heated visitor’s center about halfway into the park. When I started making sounds only dogs could hear, we went there to warm up, and it started snowing. In July. A black bear, perhaps having heard of my vast playlist of show tunes from the grizzlies, loped through the parking lot ahead of us.
"Where do I audition? This could be my big break!"
For the rest of the trip, I worked on a song, because if I didn’t have something to distract me, I was probably going to commit homicide. The song is to the tune of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” from the musical Annie, and it goes like this:
There may be a
Huge grizzly bear
Just be-hind those trees,
But we’re in Alaska, and we’ll camp
Until we freeze!

I’m getting sick
And I will cough
And sniffle and sneeze,
But we’re in Alaska, and we’ll camp
Until we freeze.

Yes, we’re on vacation,
But to see us you’d never know
We haven’t showered in 2 weeks,
And we’re very wet and cold (and hungry and tired) …

Please get me the
Hell out of here
I’m begging you, please!
But we’re in Alaska and we’ll camp …
Although it’s cold and damp …
We’re here and we will camp
Until we freeze (we’re gonna camp out here until we freeze)!

*Jazz hands*

If nothing else, this story is proof that given enough time, crappy experiences make good stories. It also made me realize that I truly hate camping to the very core of my soul, and that I should have maybe mentioned that to my now-ex at some point before we were about to divorce. I have to admit, though, that it’s pretty funny. It would be funnier if it had happened to someone else, but still, it’s part of my story, for better or worse. Do I want to repeat the experience? Hell no! But I don’t regret it. Not even a little bit. OK, except for the camping. I fucking hate camping.

Seriously, fuck this shit.

(First image mine; all others from Pixabay.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Laughing Like Crazy

Tonight's cocktail is called a French Blonde. I made it in honor of a French-themed dinner party at my friend Jill's house, where I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. I am thankful for my warm, loving friends who appreciate my weird little self.

The recipe: 
  • 1/2 oz elderflower liqueur (like St. Germain, but my liquor store has a cheaper brand that seems fine to me)
  • 1 oz dry gin
  • 2 oz Lillet Blanc (in Virginia, your best bet is Total Wine)
  • 2 oz grapefruit juice
  • 1-2 dashes citrus bitters (I used grapefruit bitters)
Shake vigorously with ice until very cold, serve in a martini glass. You can pre-mix a big batch in a pitcher for a party and just keep shaking and pouring with a large-sized cocktail shaker.

French Blonde Avec French Poodle
Now, then. I'm embarrassed at how long it has been since I blogged. My friends have informed me that I have a fan base and that people miss me, but they might have just been trying to make me feel good or get me to mix them another French Blonde. I could make excuses about being busy (true), but the real reason is that every time I've sat down to write, I've felt so anxious I couldn't do it. I try to be honest in my writing, but I've been slogging through an emotional low place these past few months, and every time I tried to get the words down, I hated them, because nobody likes a Debbie Downer. There didn't seem to be much point in documenting it. When I can't use humor as a defense mechanism, you know it's bad.

On the upside, I feel like I'm pulling through to the other side. Maybe it's the returning sunshine, maybe it's that I've been making more of an effort to be physically active and take better care of myself, maybe it's because I went back to therapy; maybe it's just that I've just gotten to the end of the phase. Depression and anxiety are twin bitches, and I've been fighting them my whole life. Today, I decided to give them the finger and write no matter whether they barked at me or not.

But here's something great: my friends Jessica Azar and Alyson Herzig are publishing an anthology titled Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor. It includes an essay I wrote about my Anxiety Disorder, but the reason I love the crap out of this idea is that it includes so many bright, funny, strong people who had the courage to come forward and talk about the things they've struggled to overcome.

When Robin Williams took his own life last summer, people were shocked that someone so funny and talented and successful could do such a thing. Mental illness is supposed to be the territory of homeless people who argue with imaginary voices (people who, incidentally, deserve compassion because they are suffering). People with relatively good lives have no excuse to be depressed or anxious, right? They just need to cheer up and think about happy things! STOP THE SELF-PITY, LOSERS! It's just that simple. Except if you've been there, you know that's bullshit.

I'm not going to go into a tutorial on depression and anxiety, because others have done it better. I only hope that if you're suffering, you know you're not alone, and that you can and should reach out for help. Fuck the stigma. Medication might help, and a good therapist can help you develop better coping mechanisms. Being honest about having mental health problems does not make you any less. In fact, it can make you more insightful and empathetic, more appreciative of the people and things in your life that give you handholds in tough times, and better able to cut through the crap and focus on what really matters. For many of us, our perspective, gained through struggle, is what makes us so goddamn funny. We are able to use that humor as a lifeline, as a way to connect with others, as a way to clear our vision. If you can laugh at something, it loses its power to beat you down. It's one of the ways we fight. That's the beauty of this project - by standing up and being honest, and by being able to laugh at ourselves and the things around us, we hope to help bring people into the light.

I hope you'll check out the S.M.I.T.H. anthology - available April 7th. Don't worry, I won't let you forget.

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