Saturday, September 29, 2012

Volume IX: The Village

In Southeast Nigeria, there is a group of indigenous African people called the Igbo.  The Igbo are mostly farmers, living in small towns and villages.  Long before Hillary Clinton adopted the phrase and wrote a book by the same title, the Igbo have used a proverb that says "Ora na azu nwa," the translation of which is that it takes a community and village to raise a child. 

Before I had children, the phrase meant nothing to me - but not because I didn't yet have children, but because no one in my immediate circle did either.  I didn't grow up with younger siblings that I helped raise.  My brothers didn't have children of their own before I had mine.  All of my close friends were childless.  And I didn't grow up babysitting other people's kids.  Essentially, when I had my first child, I knew exactly nothing about them or how to raise them.  I was completely clueless, and so was my husband.  We went into parenthood as the blind leading the blind. 

The day I found out I was pregnant, I was both overjoyed and scared shitless.  I was a 28 year-old woman with a husband, a house, and a career.   I was responsible, not a partier, but yet I nevertheless felt like a kid having a kid.   The pregnancy was rough - I almost miscarried in the first trimester, and despite the fact that I didn't experience any morning sickness until I was pregnant with my second child, I was miserable.  I gained an atrocious amount of weight and never once had that glow I'd read pregnant women were supposed to have.  For all intents and purposes, I was (or at least felt like) a disgusting beast of a woman.   

The last few weeks were particularly horrific.  I was absolutely enormous and a day didn't go by at work that some moron would see me in the break room and say something like "Whoa!  Look at YOU!  You're about to POP."   As the days progressed, I found myself going from responding with, "Yeah, I know," to "Gee, thanks for the tip" to (on a couple of occasions I'm not proud of), "Thanks. Fuck you very much."   I was  seriously unpleasant to be around. Three days before my maternity leave was to begin, I showed up to work in my pajamas.  Literally.   I showed up to work wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an extra large sweatshirt.   No one, not one person said a word to me.  Good thing, too.  I very likely would've stabbed them in the throat with a letter opener.  

Needless to say, I wasn't the picture of grace and dignity.  Two days before going into labor, I developed a rash all over my body.  ALL OVER MY BODY.  My OB/GYN told me I had The PUPPP, and that it sometimes happens to women in the days before giving birth.  He suggested a calamine lotion, so I sent Jess out for calamine lotion.  It did nothing for me other than turn my already disgusting skin pink.  I sent Jess out for something stronger.  He came back with Benadryl cream.  That did absolutely nothing for me.  For the next two days, Jess made a dozen trips to the pharmacy, each time coming back with something new, something supposedly stronger.   But nothing worked.  Without a doubt, it was the worst part of the pregnancy.  I literally cried nonstop for two days straight from the agony of the itching.

And then I went into labor.  

You'd think after the 9 months of the aforementioned pregnancy, giving birth for me would've been the horrific, blood-curdling cherry on top of an already dreadful sundae.  But much to my absolute joy, it was not.  In fact, it was glorious.   My initial labor pains were not nearly as bad as the pain when I almost miscarried, and they took a very distant second to the pain of having a root canal.   Not having the slightest desire to rest on my laurels, I nevertheless elected to get an epidural almost immediately.   I slept soundly for hours as the contractions got stronger and stronger, with me blissfully unaware of any of them.  And then, when it came time to push, I did so for exactly 23 painless minutes and out came by beloved, beautiful Vivian, with ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. 

Enter The Village.

The day after Vivian was born, I got my first visitor (outside my in-laws, of course).  My assistant from work, Jaynee, showed up with a stuffed bear.   I was sitting in my hospital bed frustratingly trying to figure out how to breast feed.  Vivian was crying inconsolably.  She was not latching on and I was convinced (as all new mothers are) that I was starving my child.  Jaynee, who had a child of her own,  told me that I might want to try changing Vivian's diaper first.  I looked up at her and with a panicked look on my face said, "I don't know how."  The nurses had been taking care of doing that for me for the last day and I had absolutely NO IDEA how to change a diaper.  I remember feeling embarrassed in front of this woman, who was 8 years younger than me and who reported to me within the confines of the office, that I did not know how to change a simple diaper.  Jaynee kindly and gently said, "Here, I'll show you."  And she did.  That one small, seemingly insignificant gesture was my first indication that I needed a village - and that I was developing one.

The day I was released from the hospital, I panicked again.   Vivian was still not latching on very well and I was exhausted.  When the nurse came in to tell me that I was being discharged, Jess and I looked at her like she'd lost her mind.  What, just like that?  This woman had no indication whatsoever that either one of us was qualified to care for a baby.  And she was going to just send us home?  With a child?   Alone?  What the hell was wrong with her?  We'd had to go through a series of interviews and home visits just to adopt  our dog from the pound, and this woman was just going to let us just waltz of the hospital out with a human child and a pat on the back?  Are you insane?  Who’s in charge here?  Is there a supervisor we can talk to?

"You'll be fine," the kind nurse said. ”Just don't forget to ask for help when you need it.  You'll. Be. Just. Fine."

And of course, we were.  Thanks to The Village. 

The Mayor, President, and CEO of The Village (aka my best friend in the whole entire world, Cristina), moved to California when Vivian was two months old.  By then, I'd mastered breast feeding (thanks to another member of The Village) and Jess and I had the diaper-changing thing down to a science.  Still, Vivian was not sleeping well and I was dog-ass tired.   Cristina swooped in and, despite the fact that she too had little experience with babies, helped me by holding Vivian when I needed to take a shower, rocking her when I didn't have the strength to do it myslef, and giving me the cold hard truth that Vivian was not going to die from letting her cry every now and then. 

By this time, The Village was growing rapidly.  My parents, neither of whom lived in California, had visited to help out in the first few weeks.  My mother and sister in law were ever present and helpful.   Neighbors brought food, and friends visited.  Even PiƱata, our beloved basset hound, became a member, despite being usurped from her role as Number One, demanding less walks, cuddling next to me when I was feeling down.  By the time we celebrated Vivian's first birthday, Jess and I had a handle on things - in huge part, thanks to The Village.

Three years later, I got pregnant with my second child.  This pregnancy was much easier, despite the morning sickness I suffered through for 6 months.   I'd lost all the weight from my first pregnancy and was hell bent on this one not turning me into a blob.  I bought really cute maternity clothes, allowed myself to visit my hair stylist every 6 weeks, and glory of all glories, did not get The PUPPP.

At the time my son Jesse was born, our very close friend Kevin was living in the apartment on the side of our house.  Over the prior year, he and Vivian had become very close.  He adored her and was a supremely important member of The Village.   The morning I went into labor, I was awakened by the telltale signs of early labor.  I got up and went into Vivian's room, where she was sound asleep on her queen-sized bed.   I lay down next to her, knowing that this was it, that our family was about to increase by 1/4th.  Just then, my water broke and I knew it was time to go.  It was still very early, about 6:00 AM.  I woke Jess up and knocked on Kevin's door.  Our game plan was that if I went into labor before our nanny showed up, Kevin would stay with Vivian until she did.   Kevin emerged from his apartment, groggy, barley awake and stumbled into Vivian's room.  He plopped down on the bed, asleep again before his head hit the pillow (and yes, right smack on top of my amniotic fluid).    I called the CEO and told her it was show time. 

Several once again joyful and painless hours later (God bless the inventors of the epidural), with Jess holding up my left leg, and Cristina holding up my right, our beautiful Jesse was born. 

This time, my first visitor was Jess's business partner, Ken.  God love him for being the first, but Ken showed up not the next day, but within hours of me giving birth.  I was lying in my bed, not feeling too great down there despite the fact that the epidural had not entirely worn off.  I desperately needed to pee.  At that point, after having given birth in a teaching hospital where half a dozen people come and go and see you in all your glory, all modesty was gone and I let Ken help me to the bathroom.  As I stood up and started walking, my legs collapsed underneath me, but Ken was there.  He held me up and helped me all the way to the potty.  I'm sure it was quite a sight - a 60+ year old man practically carrying this bleeding, unstable 32 year old woman to the bathroom.   And while in hindsight I cringe at the image (it's embarrassing now, but wasn't at the time), I realize that members of The Village come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes help you with things that under different circumstances, would seem absolutely inconceivable.

Present Day

Vivian is now 10 and Jesse is 7.  The Village is abundantly full with people who love our children deeply.  Cristina, John, Vanessa, Maureen, Gerber, Tony, Greg, Dad are just a handful of people whom we could not have done this without.   Cristina has helped Vivian with her math homework and has shown up to every one of her horse shows to coach her and lend support.    John has shown Jesse how to drum and has taught Vivian everything he knows about the constellations.  Gerber and Tony have helped Jess build, take apart and rebuild Jesse's quarter midget car.   Vanessa and Maureen have showered the kids with love and affection, and have made themselves available time after time to babysit. Greg will undoubtedly be the one to teach our kids urban disaster survival skills.  Dad has stayed with Vivian and Jesse for 10 days so Jess and I could go to Honduras, and he taught them how to make the perfect omelet.  I could go on and on and on for days on end about everything these wonderful people- and so many more - have done for us - for our kids.   Thank you, Village.

Paying it Forward

Last week, the CEO went into labor at 11:30 at night.  Jess was out of town, so I called John (who for all intents and purposes is Second in Command of The Village) and repeated to him the same words I said to Cristina years ago:   “It’s show time.”

Within 20 minutes, John was at my house to stay with the kids so I could go to the hospital.  12 hours later, my godson, Jack was born and Cristina began building her own Village.  And I fully intend to become her Mayor, President and CEO. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Volume VIII: Freddy Mercury is King

(Disclaimer:  This post has videos that you absolutley must watch.  So make the time.  Turn up your sound or switch over to a device that allows you to watch.  Because watch you must if you want to come along with me on this long, strange trip down memory lane) 

"Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

I love that line.  I love the movie it came from.   I love the decade it was made in.  I love that decade's music, the movies, the television shows, the memories... 

I. Love. The. 80's.

And here is why:


Every generation has movies that define it.   70's movies were campy, cheesy, and often low-budget.   90's movies were crass, vulgar, and often scary.  80's movies were funny, and innocent, and often totally and completely unrealistic.  Ask anyone to name an 80's movie and 8 times out of 10, they will say Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club or Weird Science.  They might also mention Top Gun (ladies, remember that stirring in your loins the first time you saw the beach volleyball scene?).  They might quote Inigo Montoya's famous "You killed my father.  Prepare to die" line.  Or Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd's "looking good, Billy Ray.  Feeling good, Louis."    And they will definitely tell you to turn it up to 11.

The 80's gave us "The Karate Kid" and "The Terminator."  It gave us "Stand By Me" and "Wall Street."  It introduced us to the Brat Pack (Rob Lowe, you rocked my world), and Gordon Gekko ("Greed is good") and blessed funny man, John Candy (taken far too soon).    John Hughes defined a generation of angst-ridden, but remarkably mature and  quasi-functional teenagers.  James Cameron scared the shit out of us with the terrifying notion of thermonuclear war brought on by hostile cyborgs, and big-budget movie guru John Landis directed a 13-minute music video phenomenon called "Thriller."  

Admittedly, many of my favorite movies were not made in the 80's.   But the thing that is so unique about 80's movies is that when you watch one, you immediately not just identify it as one, but will often flash back to vivid memories of having watched it when it first came out.  80's movies are so uniquely, well, 80's.  Watch the following and tell me I'm wrong.  You won't. You can't.   Because you know it's true.


Alex P. Keaton and Dr. Cliff Huxtable.  No other explanation needed. If you don't know who they are, leave immediately.  Your kind is not welcome here. 


Leaving the best for last.  Whether or not you agree with my statement that the 80's was the best decade (there, I said it), and even if you were still wearing diapers in the 90's, you have to agree that what defined the 80's more than anything was, in fact, the music.  When I was in boarding school (1987-1990), my roommate and I used to take turns choosing which music to fall asleep to.  Samantha was a pop kinda gal (Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, etc), while I leaned more toward the stuff coming from the other side of the pond (The Cure, Depeche Mode, etc.).  Sure, there was plenty of crossover - Samantha would (rightfully) call bullshit on me if I claimed never to have  lip-synched to The Hooters - and my greatest prep school victory was turning Sam into a bonified lover of Pink Floyd's "The Wall"  (which by the way, is the greatest album ever made.  Period.  End of Discussion).  And we both  LOVED Erasure (who the hell didn't?).  But the point is that while we both had somewhat different tastes in music, there was very little I loved that she hated, and very little that she loved that I hated (with one very strong exception:  Rick Astley.  God, that guy SUCKED).   

The 80's was all about the music. And with the music came The Look. Whether you (girls) wore crucifixes and bustiers, or you (men) grew your short hair long and started wearing eyeliner, chances are you adopted some sort of look based upon on the music you loved. I suppose the argument could be made that adapting your look to go along with the musicians you admire is not a phenomenon belonging solely to the 80's, but I would say that music in the 80's changed people's looks more so than any other decade.  Why?  Because musicians defined their music with their look.   And there were SO many different looks to go along with SO many different kinds of music.  And the truly remarkable thing was that you rarely just identified with one look.  You couldn't.  There was just too much good stuff out there.  There is a reason there are more cover bands out there playing 80's music today than any other kind.  Because it was simply that good.

I can't end this without paying tribute to Live Aid.  For those of you too young to know, Live Aid was a concert put on July 13,1985 simultaneously in stadiums in the UK and in Philadelphia to help raise money to feed the millions of Ethiopians that were quite  literally starving to death before the world's eyes.  British musician and humanitarian, Bob Geldoff masterminded  the concert and pulled together an extraordinarily impressive list of musicians to play in both venues. When all was said and done, Live Aid became one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time, with an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations.  I was one of those 1.9 billion viewers, watching the entire concert live on a TV in my living room in Mexico City.  I remember, being 13 at the time, thinking "NO WAY, they've got Madonna AND Wham! AND Phil Collins!   And  Holy shit, U2 is there, too, and so is Duran Duran!!"  It was so cool.    But then Queen came out on stage at Wembley Stadium.   Freddy Mercury, in a white tank top  and tight light blue jeans,  sat down at his piano and starting playing "Bohemian Rhapsody."  He then stood up, grabbed a floor mike, and began singing Radio Gaga.  And suddenly, in a moment that can only be described as absolutely freaking  mind-blowing, I watched Freddy, live, get 100,000 people to simultaneously, and in perfect synchronicity, sing and clap along to his song.  It then, and to this day, absolutely blew me away.  A description of his performance cannot be described.   Do yourself a favor, and whether or not you liked Queen, whether or not you liked, loved or hated the 80's, watch this video.  And turn it up.  Turn it way up.  Turn it up to 11.  Therein lies the reason the 80's rocked my world.  Therein lies the reason Freddy Mercury was King.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


When I decided to write about badasses, I thought long and hard about the people I would classify as the best of the bad. I realized, after coming up with an all too random list, that I needed clarity on what I thought made someone not just a badass, but a great one. I started by writing down qualities that I thought all great badasses should have - courage, strength, fortitude, confidence, and a whole lot of martial arts training. The problem was that all of these attributes, though admirable and certainly necessary, were not enough. Something, or some things, were missing...

During further research, I encountered a Facebook quiz titled, "Which Historical Badass Are You?" "How apropos", I thought to myself, as I logged on to my Facebook account to take the quiz. A few minutes (and several rather ridiculous questions) later, I was informed that my super secret badass historical persona is...

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni.

"Well this sucks. I was hoping for Ellen Ripley or Joan of Ark. Who the hell is Boudica, Queen of the Iceni?" I thought to myself. As it turns out, Boudica was indeed quite an historical badass, having led a violent uprising against the Roman empire in 60 AD. Unfortunately for her, she and her gaggle of followers were later slaughtered by the Roman army, after having fallen into a trap. Facebook, warns that, "like Boudica you are a strong warrior who doesn't back down from a fight. You would be wise to be careful, though; you don't want to get too cocky." (Right. Roger that.)

I mention the Facebook quiz and the subsequent revelation of my alter-ego not because I have added Boudica to my list of greatest badasses, but to illustrate one very important fact about them: they need not always win. In fact (like William Wallace of Braveheart fame), sometimes they die tragic, painful deaths at the hands of the bad guys. It is the battle, the warrior within, and not necessarily the outcome, that makes them great. That said, winning sure does help.

But I digress... Back to the great badass attributes.

After developing several drafts, adding some people and scratching many more off, I finalized my list. Although all have some of the qualities I listed initially (courage, strength and fortitude), a few have other attributes (honor, loyalty and dignity) that, when added together, sum up what it really means to be a truly great badass - essentially, the kind of person that, when all hell is breaking loose, I would choose to take with me into battle.

In no particular order:

For those living under a rock, Mr. Miyagi was one of two main characters in 1984's "The Karate Kid." A humble Japanese immigrant living in Los Angeles as a handyman, Mr. Miyagi single-handedly karate chopped half a dozen black belts who were trying to beat the living crap out of Daniel Russo, the teen aged, skinny New Jersey transplant. Mr. Miyagi goes on to become Daniel's sensei, teaching him karate (from scratch) and training him for the karate championships, where he goes head to head against Johnny Lawrence of the mega evil Kobra Kai Dojo.

So what makes Mr. Miyagi such a badass? What makes this seemingly innocuous little old man someone that I would choose to take into battle? Is it his wax on/wax off, sand the floor teaching technique? Is it his ability to do the crane kick while balancing on an upright log? Is it his refusal to back down in the face of bigger, seemingly tougher opponents? Yes, it is all of these things, but most importantly, it is the fact that he has honor and he possesses the Element of Surprise. No one sees him coming. No one suspects that this soft spoken man can open a can of karate whoop ass on half a dozen people half his age, twice his size without breaking a sweat. And he does it with simple, dignified honor. And, yes, the proud, almost undetectable smile on Mr. Miyagi's face in the last scene in the movie, when Daniel-san holds up the trophy, pumping his fist in the air yelling, "We did it Mr. Miyagi. We did it!" gets me right here (thump chest). Every time.

FACT: Jack Bauer can kill you with a butter knife.FACT: Jack Bauer doesn't miss; if he didn't hit you it's because he was shooting at another terrorist 12 miles away.FACT: Jack Bauer claims the entire world as dependants on his tax return.FACT: If Jack Bauer and MacGyver were in a room, Jack would make a bomb out of MacGyver.

Jack Bauer, the main character in the Fox series, "24," is the greatest, most dangerous, most patriotically righteous character television has ever had the guts to create. A former Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent, Jack is the guy people call on when all hell is breaking loose. He is the guy that puts life and limb on the line to defend his country, even when his own government screws him over time and time again. He is the first line of defense against all that is evil and unholy. And although supremely tough and fearless, he is not impervious to pain and suffering. In fact, Jack suffers more (emotionally and physically) than everyone else in the world combined (including the bad guy in the last season that he gutted alive to retrieve a cell phone chip that said bad guy had swallowed in a futile attempt to keep Jack from finding it. Silly rabbit...). Jack has been tortured to the brink of death by the Chinese, the Russians, the Colombians, the fundamentalist Islamics and yes, even the Americans. But he manages to come back, every time, screaming bloody murder and always with an out-of breathe please and thank you. So on top of everything else, the guy's got manners.

So for all of you out there who have never seen 24, I encourage you to put Season 1 at the top of your Netflix queue immediately, if not sooner. I guarantee you that before the end of the weekend, you'll be riding on the Jack Train, with Season 2 ordered, wearing a "Superman wears Jack Bauer pyjamas" t-shirt (just like mine).

"If Hitler were to invade Hell, I should find occasion to make a favorable reference to the Devil." - Sir Winston Churchill, upon signing a treaty with Stalin that allied Britain with Russia (which had been previously [and stupidly] allied with Hitler before getting stabbed in the back and subsequently invaded).

Winston Churchill is my pick for the most righteous historical badass of all time. He was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain after his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, was unceremoniously thrown out of power for cow tailing to the bastard Nazi's. A short, somewhat funny-looking man who appeared about as menacing as a basset hound, Churchill took on the most evil of evil men when no one else was willing or able to. Not only had Hitler already taken over half of Europe, but his evil wrath was barreling directly and ruthlessly down on the British when Churchill took the reigns. Looking dapper as hell in a cool pinstriped suit, Churchill's "I'll see you in hell, Adolf" leadership rallied the Brits and eventually got the US and Russia to join the fight. As everyone knows, the Allies eventually prevailed, Hilter got his ass handed to him, and The Third Reich ceased to exist.

Sadly, not before they took 6 million lives.

Sarah Connor, the heroine in The Terminator movies, is an obvious pick for a female bad ass. She's tough, she's determined, she's slightly nuts, and she's pissed off. But so are so many other badasses. So why Sarah?

Simply, because she's also really, really scared.

As you surely know (and if you don't, stop wasting your time reading this and go rent the movie - you've been living under a rock long enough), Sarah fights the Terminator in order to save the world from it's own future destruction. The Sarah we know in the first Terminator movie is timid, soft spoken and scared of her own shadow. The Sarah we see in T2 is tough, angry, has triceps that would make most men quiver with fear and, above all, is absolutely scared to death. But unlike the fear that makes her run in T1, her fear in T2 is her driving force. She is the badass that she is because she is scared - but she doesn't run from it - she thrives off of it. It is her fear, not her lack thereof, that brings her insatiable determination, making her tough, and dangerous, and ultimately, a hero.

Han Solo (for those who need to be hit in the head for not knowing this already) is a space smuggler with a price on his head for screwing with the wrong gangster slug (Jabba the Hut). His first appearance in Star Wars is in a bar, hustling Luke Skywalker and Obiwan for more money in return for a ride on the Millennium Falcon, his decrepit (but super fast) space ship. Han agrees to help Luke out solely for the purpose of saving his own skin, but he soon joins the Rebellion and, three movies later, helps Leia, Luke and the rest of the Jedi's bring ultimate peace to the galaxy.

So why Han? Why not Luke, a bonafide Jedi (albeit an initially whiny one) or Yoda (a kick-ass little guy who can raise a space ship out of a swamp with his pinky), or even Darth Vader (who, although admittedly a bad guy, can kill you with a mere thought)?

The thing that makes Han Solo such a badass, is that he holds his own - way more than his own - simply as an ordinary guy. He's not a Jedi. He's not a scary-looking space creature with weird powers. He's just a guy who flies a run down space ship, knows how to wield a blaster, and always, always saves his friend's ass. Han is arrogant, tough but not infallible, and undoubtedly and unfailingly loyal.

Three years ago, my friend Rachael was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Originally misdiagnosed, Rachael was about one month away from death when her condition was finally identified. I will never forget hearing the news. To say I was shocked doesn't even begin to describe it. I knew Rachael to be a beautiful, larger-than-life woman with a rapier sense of humor and a "victory is sweet" mentality. A born litigator about to embark on her career as a trial attorney, cancer crawled its ugly way into this lovely woman's body and tried to take her down.

But Rachael fought it. She shaved her head, took leave from her job, embraced (not hid from) her friends and family, endured six brutal months of chemotherapy, and, with unspeakable grace and dignity, emerged victorious and stronger than ever. What a warrior. I'll take her into battle with me any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

Rachael has returned to the practice of law, litigating and eating opposing counsel for breakfast. She has found the love of her life in her partner, Ali, and lives in a fabulous loft in San Francisco. She is tougher than she was before the cancer, her sense of humor is equally, if not sharper than it was when we first met, she'll still stop everything she is doing to help someone in need, and, most importantly, she appears to really and truly be at peace.

A few months into her treatment, Rachael said in an email to her friends:

"Life can be random and cruel and sometimes, you just have to hang on, be gracious, and find something funny in the worst of it. But I will say that I am grateful that the one lesson (?) that seems to remain, is that none of this is very serious. If you are alive, you can fix it. And it probably doesn't need fixing anyway. So stop micro managing life (OK, I guess I do think I learned things. Don't you hate people that think they know something because they almost died? Its like a six-feet-under merit badge. Please.). And I am very happy. Isn't that worth the fight? (Hoping you are very happy too)."

In less than one month, on August 2, Rachael will officially be deemed "cured." Until then, there is a 50% chance that the cancer will return. I'm putting my money on Rachael.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Back in our parents' and grandparents' days, air travel was an adventure, a distinct and exciting part of a trip itself. Today, getting from Point A to Point B, especially by airplane, is about as enjoyable as having bamboo shoots rammed down one's nails. Granted, the events of September 11th have understandably (and, at least from me, appreciatively) dictated that travel be far more about safety than enjoyment, but with a bit of decency and common sense, we can return to those long lost days. Following are my personal rules of travel:

Don't bother arguing with the ticket agent about the airline's baggage policy. Not only does it hold up the line, but it starts your day off badly. You likely have a long day ahead of you and getting bent out of shape about something you (and quite frankly, the ticket agent who doesn't make the rules) has no control over is only going to make you unpleasant to be around. In fact, if you're arguing with the ticket agent because you've gone over the 50 pound limit, or you didn't know that you have to pay $25 for your one check in bag, you've got only yourself to blame. You're either not reading/listening to enough news or you didn't plan well enough. So pay the damn fine and move along. Next in line.

Fact #1: Security lines at airports, most airports, ALL airports, are long. Yes, some are longer than others, as evidenced by my last trip, when the line downstairs was only the line to go upstairs.

And the line to go upstairs...

...was only the line to go down the hallway.

And the line to go down the hallway...

...was only the line to turn around and go back up the other side of the hallway.

And THAT line was the line to get through the security line.

So believe me. I know. I get it. They are long. And they suck. But they are a fact of modern day travel and complaining about it incessantly to the person behind or in front of you will not make it go any faster. So rule #1 for security lines is, simply... accept. It is what it is.

Fact #2: Thanks to Richard Jackass Reid (the "Shoe Bomber"), anyone wishing to get past security must remove his or her shoes (and yes, that includes flip flops). Period. There is no negotiation. Know this now because my next rule of air travel is that everyone should be ready to go through the metal detector without more than two or three seconds of pause. An easy enough rule of thumb to follow should be the following:

5 people before you reach the front of the line: Take a mental inventory of what needs to be removed from your body (shoes, belts, jackets, etc).

4 people before you reach the front of the line: Place your ID and boarding pass in your back pocket(or some other place that will remain with you while you pass through the metal detector). Some airports don't require that you to have these documents on your person when you pass through the detector, but several still do and you likely won't know if you need them or not until it's too late. And if you've left the documents in your purse or jacket pocket that is on the conveyor belt, you will have to wait until they are returned to you and then go back through the detector with them in hand. This is an unnecessary hold up of the line and one that is easily avoidable. So err on the side of caution and keep them with you unless otherwise instructed.

3 people before you reach the front of the line: Star undressing. Take off your jacket, remove your belt, untie your shoe laces. This is also a good time to assess whether or not you placed all liquids in a plastic Ziplock bag. If you have not, mentally prepare yourself to have them unceremoniously thrown out by the FTA. Again, your fault for not having planned better in advance.

2 people before you reach the front of the line: Grab as many bins as necessary to hold all your crap (I myself require a minimum of three). If you are traveling with children and have a stroller, now is the time to remove the child from said stroller and hand him or her off to your traveling co-parent while you collapse the stroller and get it ready to go through the conveyor belt. This is also a good time to remind any walking children that they need to pass through the detector by themselves and that doing so without a scene will earn them a big fat candy bar on other side of security.

And finally, 1 person before you reach the front of the line. Place all items in your bins. Empty your pockets completely. This includes coins, cell phones, plastic combs - everything. DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING TO CHANCE. And if you have a metal plate in your head, well, you're screwed.

1. The Queue: This one is very simple and one that even the most inexperienced of travellers should not need much direction on. Do not attempt to board before your row number is called. Just don't.

2. Right Foot First: My best friend Cristina and I have this loudly spoken and non negotiable rule that, upon entering an aircraft, one must ALWAYS step onto said aircraft with his or her right foot first. NOT left. Right. We don't know where the superstition came from or when we picked it up, but given that she and I have flown countless times, both together and alone, and are still around to tell about it, means it works. So do it. Every time. And if you happen to be traveling with either one of us and, in an uncool attempt to be funny, step on with your left foot (and tell us about it), prepare to either continue on with your travels alone, or be smacked upside the head, pulled roughly back off the aircraft, and made to re-enter again - right. foot. first.

(This one is tricky but vital to proper etiquette for air travel) Rule #1: . Start looking for a place to store your overhead baggage 3 rows before you get to your assigned row. This does not necessarily mean you should automatically store your luggage 3 rows ahead of your own, mind you. It simply means that you start looking 3 rows ahead, all the time craning your neck to see if there is room above you own (which, admittedly, if you're short, can be challenging). If you see nothing available ahead of you, store your bag in the bin closest to your seat. The reason, my friends, this is so important is because nothing disrupts the otherwise peaceful and civilized boarding of an aircraft more than the person that needs to make an about face and backtrack to find overhead storage space. It creates chaos and unnecessary roughness. Don't be "that guy." Be smart. Think ahead.

Rule #2: Don't hog. There is limited overhead compartment space. If you're the first to get to an overhead bin, don't lay your nice little hanging bag flat across its entire 3-foot span and NOT expect someone to either unceremoniously push your bag to one side or lay their bag on top of yours. Because if they do, the fault is entirely your own.

Rule #3: Don't take out your fellow passengers. Be CAREFUL when lifting your bag to store, and when taking it down to disembark. If I had a dollar for every time I've either been hit on the side of the face or came close to being hit on the side of the face by someone with their carry-on bag, I'd have a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe and the killer Manolo collection to match.

I have two children. I have two very active children who do not quietly entertain themselves for hours on end. I've had to buy everyone two rows in front and in back of me drinks as a token of my sincere appreciation for not opening up the door mid-flight and throwing my screaming child out the plane. I've had to apologize to the flight attendant for the urine-soaked seat that occurred because turbulence forbade me from taking my daughter to the potty. So believe me, no one is more sympathetic to the plight of parents traveling with children than me. That said, you probably expect me to go on for paragraphs on end stating numerous (bitchy) rules for travelling with children, including putting muzzles on them and threatening them with the dismemberment of their favorite Care Bear if they don't shut the hell up. but I'm not going to do that. Because I get it. I know how hard it is to travel with little ones and I am sincerely sympathetic when sitting next to a parent with a screaming child. So I am only going to offer one tidbit of advice...

Do a test run on new meds.
The first time I travelled with my eldest child, our pediatrician told us it was perfectly okay to give her Benadryl one hour before boarding to make her drowsy. He advised us, however, to do a test run before the trip, because apparently, in a small percentage of children, Bendaryl has quite the opposite effect and turns a normal child into a Satanically hyper child. I did not heed his advice and gave Vivian Benadryl one hour before our flight. And it worked beautifully. She slept damn near the whole way from San Francisco to Mexico City. So, a couple of years later, on our first family flight after my son was born, I ignored Dr. Cisco's advice yet again. And my one-year old son, Jesse screamed bloody murder for four thousand miles, clear across the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. It was the longest five hours of my life. And, by the way, the time we bought drinks for a dozen fellow passengers.

Experienced fliers are either window people or aisle people, meaning, of course, that they either prefer to sit in the window seat or the aisle seat (no one in their right mind is a middle seat person). I myself am an aisle person. I have a notoriously small bladder and, if stuck in the window seat, will quite literally stress throughout an entire flight thinking about the next time I will have to ask the two people sitting next to me to get up. So I give up having a sturdy wall to rest my head up against (the window seat) for the freedom of being able to get up whenever the hell the need arises. That is my sacrifice. And I accept the good with the bad. Because the downside of sitting in the aisle seat is having to move when people need to get up. And therein lies the compromise:

If you are sitting in the aisle seat and someone sitting next to you says "excuse me, I need to get up," please, do not shift you legs to one side or pull them up to your chest so they can squeeze by. UNBUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELT AND STAND THE HELL UP SO THEY CAN GET OUT. Do not make the person shove either breasts or ass in your face to shimmy by an already too narrow space. It's simply not necessary, and is, quite simply, rude.

This one is for flight attendants. Two years ago, when Cristina and I were flying to Honduras, I heard a flight attendant say something that, in all my years of flying, I have never heard. She said, "Ladies and gentlemen, our captain has informed us that we are going to experience some SEVERE turbulence. We ask that you all return to your seats IMMEDIATELY and make sure your seat belts are very securely fastened around you. And if you are traveling with children, we recommend that you hold on to them. Tightly."

Cristina and I have flown together dozens of times. We've had more than our share of choppy flights, rough landings and unpleasant take offs. But never, ever has a flight attendant sounded so stern or so ominous. Never have I seen a flight attendant cause so many people to turn sheet white without an iota of reassurance or calm. As the flight attendant buckled herself into her own seat, Cristina looked at me and said "oh shit" as I looked at her and said "here we go."

And we closed our eyes and waited. And waited. And waited.

Twenty long and deathly quiet minutes later, we heard the ping over the loudspeaker. The flight attendants got up and pleasantly began serving drinks without so much as a word. The plane had not bumped once. Not once. We might as well have been sitting on the tarmac.

"What the HELL was that?" I said to Cristina? She didn't answer. She was too busy ordering a double scotch on the rocks from Chicken Little in the Little Blue Suit.

There is a very crass expression in Spanish that goes "tanto pedo para cagar aguado," which basically means "all that drama for nothing." Now don't get me wrong. I am thrilled that the severe turbulence that was ominously forecast did not come to fruition and that we landed safely and without incident in Honduras. That said (and I confirmed this with a commerical pilot friend of mine) flight attendants should not use the word "severe" or tell parents to hold on to their kids for dear life unless the plane is quite literally, on it's way down.

The ordeal is almost over. You are at baggage claim, tired, perhaps a bit grumpy, and definitely wanting to get the hell out of the airport. My last two rules for traveling are:

1. Don't crowd the baggage carousel. Have family/pick-up friends stand toward the wall and leave only one person to grab the bags. There is no need to form an iron curtain around the baggage claim carousel. Nothing makes a long and trying day seem longer and more trying than having to elbow your way through a gaggle of friends or relatives, grunting "excuse me, pardon me, I'm so sorry but if I could just squeeeeeze by..." all the while watching your bag slowly pass you by.

2. For the love of God, help the elderly. Nothing incenses me more than seeing someone casually watch an elderly person struggle to lift his or her heavy bag off the carousel without offering to help. I don't care how long your day has been, how rough you flight may have been, or how exhausted you are - we help out the elderly. Period. End of story.

I once wrote that airports are one of the few places where people of all ages, creeds, races and income brackets come together with only one absolute common goal - to get in, get out, and get on with life. The stress of modern air travel coupled with the desire to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible has made flying an unnecessarily unpleasant experience. I, myself am guilty of at least half the infractions I listed in this blog. But we are nothing if we are unwilling to learn from our mistakes, those of others, and to follow the most golden of all golden rules: Do Unto Others.

Happy (and safe) flying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Tribute to a Lady

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Please press play in the box above to listen to the music I have selected to memorialize my grandmother.

Today, the world lost a great citizen; Mexico lost a Grand Dame; and I lost my grandmother, Lady Dolores Francis Hadow.

Lola (or Lolita), as she was known to her friends and Ata, as she was known to her grandchildren, was born in New York City on March 23, 1917. Her parents (both American) were living in Mexico, where her father had a mining and lumber business. Soon after she was born, my great grandparents returned to Mexico with Lolita in tow. Aside from her days in boarding school and college, Lola never lived in the United States again.

In 1939, Lola married my grandfather, Joseph Turner, in Mexico City. Two years later, my dad, Michael, was born, and eight years after that, my aunt, Gay, came along. Grandad, a Mexican national by birth, had duel citizenship with England and served in the Canadian Army during World War II. My father's first international trip was in 1944, when he and Ata flew up to New York to visit my grandfather during one of his leaves. They went on a DC-3, which was a 2-engine, 21 passenger plane that had 2 wheels under the wings and a little one under the tail. The plane cruised at about 160-170 MPH and took two full days to get from Mexico City to New York.

In 1954, Lola and Joe divorced, and a couple of years later, Lola married Michael Hadow, a British diplomat, in London. During their years together, Michael served in the Foreign Office in London, was Minister in the British Embassy in Paris, and served terms as British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Israel and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1972, Michael was knighted for his services in the Foreign Office and Lola became Lady Hadow. Michael and Lola divorced a few years later, and Lola returned to Mexico to live with her daughter, Gay (whom we call "Tia").

This was when I got to know her.

I loved my grandmother deeply. Even as a child, Ata always treated me like an adult. I don't remember her ever using the grandparental "baby voice" with me, and I certainly don't remember her ever really scolding me - (which is probably why, as a kid, I loved hanging out with her so much). I don't recall there ever being many toys for us to play with at her house, but she did keep three notebooks (one for me and each of my brothers) in a drawer next to a box of coloured pencils. On Sunday afternoons, I would sit in her living room and colour, while she and Tia visited with my parents. After I'd get bored with colouring, I'd wander around the house, looking at all the black and white photographs hanging on the walls.

No, Ata was not your typical grandmother. I thought of her more as a friend, a person I loved talking to and spending time with. I was fascinated with her life in Europe, the Middle East and South America. She was my living, breathing (and equally as beautiful) Ingrid Bergman. Despite my incessant questions and fascination with her life - the places she'd lived, the things she'd seen, the people she'd met - she rarely spoke of them unless asked. And when she did, it was with an almost passive voice - as if she could not understand what all the fuss was about.

Lolita loved animals, especially dogs, and had the most beautiful smile and exquisite hands. She loved watching PBS, especially "All Creatures Great and Small" and the Agatha Christie "Poirot" series. She had a very close circle of friends in Mexico, getting together often for "Ladies' Lunches", which were never complete without the standard glass of sherry or tequila (or both). She was always impeccably dressed and accessorised, even when she was dressed down, and her beautiful, long nails were always painted a light rose. Lolita had a beauty mark above her lip, which she accented with a sharp eyeliner - something I always thought was so glamorous, and even tried out once or twice myself (with little success).

I deeply regret that in the last few years of her life, Ata and I didn't see each other very much. Living so far away, with a full time job and two children made it very hard for us to visit, especially to a place like Mexico City. And Ata's health made it difficult for her to travel long distances. I'm grateful though, that although she never met my son, she did meet my daughter (whose original due date, ironically, was March 23rd- Ata's birthday). I spoke to her often, though in hindsight, not often enough. What I wouldn't give to hear her voice again.

Ata died peacefully in her sleep at 8:40 AM on April 15 2010, having spoken to Dad over the phone a few hours earlier, and with Tia by her side. My deepest condolences to Lola's friends for their loss of a great companion, to my children for not having had the opportunity to get to know my incredible grandmother, and especially, to Dad and Gay, for the loss of their beautiful, loving and devoted mother.

Godspeed, Ata. I love you.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Not unlike most people I know, I have my share of Guilty Pleasures. Guilty Pleasures are those things that we know we should not like, but do, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly. They generally fall into at least one of the following three categories:

1. Socially Unacceptable: Socially unacceptable guilty pleasures are things (and sometimes, people) that society has decided we should not like, much less admit to liking. Socially unacceptable guilty pleasures are openly mocked and ridiculed, but ironically, in some cases, may have at one point been socially (emphasis) acceptable, but have since fallen into the cruel and unforgiving unacceptable category.

My socially unacceptable guilty pleasure are the Bee Gees. Everyone (at least everyone who was alive in the 70's) know who these chaps are (or were, as the case may be [RIP, Andy Gibb]), and most of those people probably even liked them (or knew the words to at least one of their songs). In fact, the Bee Gees record sales have totaled more than 200 million, making them one of the best selling artists of all time.

So what happened? How did the Bee Gees go from being so far on top to being a socially unacceptable guilty pleasure? The answer , I believe, lies in the deadly combination of feathered hair, revealing shiny man-pants, impossibly hairy chests, a falsetto voice that could crack a window and, the killer of all things cool, disco.

But I love them. When their music comes on, my hips start swaying, my fingers start snapping, my head starts boppin' , and if it’s “Jive Talkin’”, I’ll pull out my air synthesizer for good measure. And for the record, most of you people secretly like The Bee Gees, too. You're just too cool to admit it.

(PS- In September 2009, Robin Gibb revealed that he and Barry Gibb would reunite and perform again. And when they do, I’ll be there.)

2. Unexplainable Attraction: Guilty pleasures, by definition, are embarrassing. Otherwise, why would we be afraid, ashamed or otherwise hesitant to admit having them? But sometimes, we can't help it. Sometimes, there is something about whatever our guilty pleasure is that inexplicably draws us to it, like a gravitational pull that we cannot fight. Movies, I find, are the easiest of guilty pleasures to classify in this category of unexplainable attraction. How often have you found yourself liking a movie but not really understanding why it is that you like it so much? Or seen a movie that you know is so silly, so ridiculous, so utterly BAD, that you would rather die than to be seen owning it, but have it secretly recorded on your TiVo so you can watch it over and over again in the privacy of your own home? My two guilty pleasure movies could not be more different. One is a cheesy 80's musical (and a sequel, at that), and the second is a 70's B-rated horror movie about nature gone wild.

Grease 2: When I was 12 years old, my friends and I used to watch Grease 2 and act and sing it out. Sandy, the cute blonde in our group, always got to be Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Stephanie, which pissed me off to no end. I always got stuck being Frenchy, the funny, loyal and loving, but definitely NOT cute, Pink Lady. I should've asserted myself and demanded to be Stephanie, but I didn't. And I'm still bitter about it.

25 years later, I still love Grease 2. I know the words and dance steps to every single song. I can recite all of Michelle Pfeiffer's lines and I still have a crush on Michael Carrington (the heartthrob). The story line is similar, of course, to that of the original Grease, but it is the girl this time who is cool, and the guy who is the dork. There are numerous great song and dance sequences (including "Reproduction" and "Let's Do It For Our Country" both of which are about (wink wink) sex) and to this day I cannot go bowling without wanting to sway my hips, do a little jig at the end of the aisle and belt out "we're gonna bo-o-owl tonight." I do not own a copy of Grease 2, but I will stop whatever I'm doing when it comes on Cinemax, and I will not rest until I find myself a gen-u-ine shiny Pink Lady jacket.

(Brief Digression) Every year, I go to a very exclusive "Bad Movie Party," hosted by my husband's best friend's parents. The guest list is extremely limited, with the same 10 or so people invited every year. The premise of the party is quite simple. Every person picks his or her entry for what he or she believe is the worst movie. The only rule is that the movie must have been shown in some sort of a theatre at some point in time. Everyone presenting a film shows up in a costume representative of their film (see right). Entrants show a five minute clip of their worst movie and discuss why they believes it is worthy of "The Andre,' (see left) which is the name of the award for the best bad movie (named appropriately for the original bad movie, My Dinner with Andre). The winning movie (which is decided on by blind vote of all participants) is glued to the bottom of the stack of prior films, and the winner gets to keep The Andre, prominently displayed of course, for the entire year. I myself have won the Best Costume Award three times, and the Best Worst Movie award only once.

I mention the Bad Movie party because my next guilty pleasure would most certainly win if it were entered. But year after year, I refuse. Although The Andre is calling my name and I long to have it back on my mantle, I cannot bear to see my movie publicly ridiculed.

Frogs: I am willing to bet that at least 99% (if not 100%) of you have never heard of Frogs. It was made in 1972 and stars Ray Milland, Sam Elliot and Joan Van Ark (of Knots Landing fame). The movie is about a family of wealthy Southerners who suffer horrible, gruesome deaths at the claws and teeth of their private island's reptilian and amphibian inhabitants (salamanders, crocs, snakes, and yes, frogs). One poor guy even gets it via tarantula, a scene so horrific that even I have to turn my head. Sounds awful, right? Arguably, yes, it does. But it is so campy and so ridiculous that it has been on my list of top 10 movies since I first saw it, 20 years ago. It's not for the squeamish, especially those who cannot handle seeing snakes and the like, and it is most certainly full of terrible acting. But it is a classic B movie and one that I proudly and unapologetically own. Oh, and yes, it is available on Netflix (so go ahead - you know you want to).

3. The Gross Outs: My daughter Vivian came home the other day begging me never to pack an avocado in her lunchbox again. Avocados, especially the way I prepare them (cut in half, pitted, and swimming in a sauce made with lime juice, Maggi (a Mexican soy sauce-ish condiment), Worcestershire, pepper and salt) are among her favorite snacks. I grew up on them and was proud to have passed the taste for them down to my children. As it turns out, liking avocados, especially the way I make them, is evidently an invitation for playground ridicule.

My daughter is a normal and well-adjusted 8 year old little girl, but all the "Eeewwww, what is that?" and "Does your mother not like you or something?" comments had simply become too much for her. She asked that I pack her "normal food, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” - stuff the other kids wouldn't make fun of. Problem is, Vivian hates peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Which leads me to Guilty Pleasure Category Number 3: The Gross Outs - quite simply, the stuff (or foods) we love, but others hate. Not unlike Vivian's avocado, my gross out guilty pleasure is straight out my childhood: Corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, crumbled Mexican cheese and chili powder. I fully recognize that it sounds vile, and as a result, I usually won't ask my host or hostess to pull out a jar of mayo at a barbecue, but I have invited many a friend to try it in the comfort of my own home. Admittedly, most politely (and sometimes, not so politely) decline, opting instead for the standard melted butter and sprinkling of salt. Believe me, it is their loss.

I'm also a huge fan of tuna noodle casserole, something that doesn't seem to me should be a guilty pleasure, but apparently is. I've done some research on this and have polled several friends. With very, very few exceptions, the general consensus is that hot tuna smothered in mayo and cheese, is quite simply, vomitous. I honestly cannot see why - after all, my mother used to make it for me when I was a child and it is was then (and now) the absolute best comfort food.

Fear not though, dear friends. While I am not ashamed to share my gross out guilty pleasures with you and invite you to try them out, I promise you I will respect the unspoken rule of formal dinner parties, and never, ever put them on the menu.

(P.S. - For the record, I counseled Vivian to tell all those kids who were making fun of her avocado to take a long walk off a short pier. So she still gets avocados in her lunchbox. And she eats them every time.

In Closing: I mean no disrespect to the writers, producers, directors and actors of The English Patient and Eyes Wide Shut. I'm sure they are good movies in their own right. But damn it, I wish more people would own up to the fact that they'd rather watch The Three Amigos or Friday the 13th, Part II. Those of you who secretly love ABBA (especially "Dancing Queen" and "Super Trouper"), I guarantee you are not alone. And to those who will drive for two hours to a carnival three counties away to anonymously buy a deep fried Twinkie, remember that most people who claim to love caviar would rather choke on a chicken bone than to admit that it makes them gag.

I hope I have inspired you to admit to your Guilty Pleasures. If only one of you is willing to stand up and shout “I LOVE AIR SUPPLY!”, or invite a friend over to sing “If I Were a Rich Man” while watching Fiddler on the Roof, then I have done my job. And if not, well, I encourage you to go make yourself one of those lychee-tinis you know you love and drown your sorrows away.