Down the Rabbit Hole

It takes me over three hours to watch a two hour movie because of all the Googling. I know I know that actor from something…now what was it? That actor was in that thing with that other actor, you know, the one from that show we watched four years ago? I’m telling you, that guy is married to the woman who was in a movie I saw ten years ago and her mother was a famous classic Hollywood actress from back in the day and you know what, they look amazingly alike. And then I have to prove what the hell I’m talking about so… yep, more Googling. Or, doesn’t that character remind you of that completely different character from that entirely different t.v. show that isn’t on anymore… and here we go down the rabbit hole of Google searches.

Let’s Get This Over With

To be clear, I am in no way ready or willing to try the spike-laden hamster wheel that is a long-term relationship again anytime soon.  Having removed myself from a toxic vat of goo, I have no desire to wade back in. Besides, the whole friends with benefits thing isn’t a bad gig and I like having my own space.  Hanging out with someone and then saying you can go home now is just my cup of tea. And I enjoy that cup of tea in my fortress of solitude, thank you very much. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to share my space on a full-time basis again. It would have to be a true fellow weirdo and soulmate extraordinaire for me to give up my peace and quiet.

Now and then, though, I get an itch, a feeling like I’m missing something. My monkey brain decides that perhaps a round of “dating with purpose” would do the trick. Then I have another go at Bumble or Match. A quick foray into this world is all I need to remember that I’m not missing a damn thing. Putting pen to paper, I’ve come up with some quick mostly sorta accurate stats to share with you, my dear readers… in case, you ever feel the need to venture into the online dating world hell yourselves.

95% of male profiles have some version of “no drama please!” or “no baggage!” What the hell is no baggage? How am I supposed to take those weekend trips to the wine country you’re touting as your fave thing to do if I don’t have luggage? But seriously, what is baggage? Kids? An ex? A dog? A broken washing machine? WTF? We’re in our 40s and 50s and maybe 60s. We ALL have baggage at this point in our lives. If you’ve made it this far into life without baggage… well, I don’t think we have much to talk about anyway.

And no drama? That’s a vague request. What does that even mean? Is that a Gaslighting 101 way to say they don’t want women who know their own minds? I have clear boundaries and am not afraid to use them. Does that count as drama? Opinions, passionate political views, an ability and desire to speak up for myself, is this drama? What are we talking about here? I kinda get the idea they mean more than just no As the World Turns viewers allowed.

99% of men mention their height. In their profile blurb. Right alongside their favorite holidays and unexplained dislike of baggage and drama.  They would have you think that it’s because women are interested in that particular statistic, but I’m not convinced. Admittedly, I’m still working this one out.

And the pictures they post! Okay, so this one isn’t a stat per se, but seriously, what are they trying to prove? Men are holding dead fish while wearing a ghoulish grin, kayaking, running (which makes me wonder, is something chasing them?), biking, hiking, mountain climbing, or the less-impressive alternative, indoor climbing. And, of course, the obligatory “hey, I clean up well” shot (wearing a tux or spiffy outfit). Their pictures look like stills from a Viagra commercial. I mean, I get it. They want people to know they’re active and whatnot. But, where is the photo of them bingeing Netflix or Hulu and stuffing a pizza in their face? You know, like real life? And if the Viagra-esque stills ARE their real life, then good grief. Who has that kind of energy? It’s exhausting just perusing their photos. Don’t even get me started on the dead fish. Oh, hey, here’s a stat I just made up calculated!  92% of men have a photo holding some kind of a dead fish somewhere in their online dating portfolio.

90% claim to be young at heart, but they look older than I am (I mean, we can see their photo, it’s right there). Or the poetic, old soul, young heart. Who are they trying to impress with this line? Do they think it makes them seem hip? A bit more palatable to the twenty-something age range they are secretly or not-so-secretly trying to entice? Quick question… we do still say hip, right?

You know how people will say “looking for a unicorn”? Some men call THEMSELVES a unicorn because they’re a “nice guy.” Haven’t we outgrown the tired motif that nice guys are rare? I’m not sure niceness qualifies one as a unicorn. This same unicorn is most likely a member of the 86% who are in open marriages that are doing just fine, thank you very much, looking for a side piece with no strings attached. While we’re on that topic, what about men who make a point of saying that they want a woman who gives and wants a lot of affection? Maybe it’s just me, but that just sounds like someone looking to get laid (someone should point them in the direction of Tinder).  And I swear, 93% of men say their love language is touch. Go figure. Maybe I’m cynical, but… No, you know what? I am cynical. I’m not sure they created the world of dating apps with women like me in mind.

How about an app called “let’s get this over with” designed for people who occasionally need a reminder of why they are single? A place for people who’d rather binge Netflix with their animals on the couch than have to sift through a ridiculous montage of phony, celebratory bios that don’t mention how they chew with their mouth open or smoke menthol cigarettes like it’s the mid-90s.

This app would allow only photos of people in their pajamas, the rusty bike in the bushes that they never ride, or the sketchy spaghetti dish they make every Monday. Required for the bio would be a list of recently binged shows, favorite reads, and a multiple-choice question on how well they tip servers. Then, those of us who occasionally feel like we’re missing out on the dating world could scroll through and (without having to weed through ridiculously curated dating profiles) remind ourselves of why it’s better to avoid the apps in the first place.

Although now that I think about it, I could really get on board with that kind of a dating app. Those are my kind of people. Called it! My idea. No stealing. Okay… so how do you create an app?  Anybody?

Better Late Than Never …

On this lovely Mother’s Day evening, I want to send my yearly shout-out to my own Mother — I will never be able to thank you enough for everything you have done and continue to do for me.  I love you.

Oh, and as always I want to express my sincere admiration for the curse you flung at me so many years ago… the one condemning me to have children who act just like me. Bang up job there, thanks.

 

What’s Socks Got to Do With It?

How did humans get so lucky as to evolve next to dogs? Did our hominin ancestors see wolves on the horizon and know that someday we would exist co-dependently? We might have still been on each other’s menus back then, but did they recognize the possibilities? As wolves crept closer to our campfires to feed off the scraps we threw, did we realize then what a critical role we would play in each other’s lives, for time immemorial?

Owning a dog can actually lower your stress, so they say. I’m not sure I believe that, but we’ll just go with it for argument’s sake.  Ultimately, pets encourage our body to release oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) and decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Touching or talking to a dog can actually lower a person’s blood pressure. Unless they throw up in your lap. Which happens. Oh yes, it happens.

Dogs are so loyal and protective even the smallest one will stand up to the guy carrying the big scary boxes to your porch. They encourage a more active lifestyle… hey, don’t roll your eyes at me! It can happen!  Not in my house, because my dogs are consummate couch potatoes like me, but it happens!  Or so I’ve heard anyway.  With the right parents at the helm, dogs can help teach children empathy and responsibility.

Of course, dogs help ease feelings of grief and loneliness. I mean, you just can’t be lonely with a dog. Or alone. With a dog, there’s always someone there, watching you. Have you ever tried to sit down with a plate of food in front of a dog? Or open a chip bag in a building where a dog resides? You find out very quickly how not-alone you really are.

There are countless incredible service dogs. Dogs who can alert their human to an oncoming seizure and then comfort them as they are recovering. Some individuals with autism have dogs who help calm them when the world around them becomes too much. There are dogs trained to retrieve things for those with mobility issues, walk next to their person and help provide stability. Be the eyes for someone with blindness and ears for someone with hearing loss. Some are trained to seek help from another person when necessary. (Quick PSA: when you see a service dog without its person, that person is most likely in trouble, so follow the dog.)

I haven’t even touched on search and rescue dogs who find people buried in avalanches or detection dogs finding firearms and drugs. There are therapy dogs who provide comfort and affection to a range of people in institutionalized settings like hospitals, group homes, and prisons. The list goes on!

What can’t dogs do? Well, okay, they can’t make me dinner after a long day of work, but they can keep me company while I cook. And they do clean up the floor when I make a mess, so that works out well.

As pets, dogs bring us simple joy and lots of laughs. A trainer once told me that everything a dog does is to benefit the dog… down to playing fetch or being affectionate. She claims that dogs only do things to better their own lot in life, so to speak. I don’t believe that. I believe that they want to make their owners happy, and I swear they smile with us.

My 12-year-old Yorkie, Rufus, is my “heart dog.”  He’s had some pretty rough medical issues through the years, but it has not stopped his instigation of our favorite game: ‘Give me those socks!’ which takes place every day. He could stay in bed or lounge around on any one of his many strategically placed pillows and no-one, least of all me, would say word one to him. But no. Even on days where he’s not 100%, he drags himself into the hall to lurk oh-so-obviously when he knows his chance at a rousing game of ‘Give me those socks!’ is on the horizon.

Here’s the gist of the game. Every time I take off my socks and toss them into the laundry pile, he grabs one and leaves. He then prances back, instigating a chase by stuffing the other sock in his mouth along with the first one he has already stolen. Then, I say, “Give me those socks, Rufus!” and he takes off happy as can be. He then trots back into the room to show me the socks, with a smug look on his face, and we do it all over again. “Give me those socks!” I say, and off he goes. It’s never been an out and out chase so much as keep-away – sort of like trying to take a cookie away from a two-year old while said two-year old is sitting in a high chair.

We have played this game ever since he was a puppy. Twelve years of playful sock stealing, and I still don’t know who enjoys the game more. Me or him? I’ve been wondering lately what his intentions really are with this game. Does he play because he loves the reaction? The thrill of the thievery? Or is he stealing my socks because he sees the enjoyment I get from the game? That in his mind, I’M the one who loves the game, and he’s just going along with it to make me happy.

I’ll be honest, as much as I love to see Rufus enjoying himself as a sock thief, he’s not alone. We’re both reaping the happiness reward. Maybe Rufus has the same thought.

No Time for Beauty Routines

We all see them, those people so well put together we know they must have a team of beauty professionals tucked away in a closet somewhere, ready to spring into action any moment they need to leave the house. Flawless skin, perfect hair, and make-up that looks like it was done for a photoshoot. I’ll admit, I’m envious. But I do question their methods. How do they find the time, the energy, or the motivation?

I am in awe of these individuals. I often wonder what led them down the path of an involved beauty routine. And how can I join them? Every night I drag myself to the bathroom sink to brush my teeth for the required two minutes. Even that seems like an annoying, time-consuming chore at times. I can’t imagine finding the will to scrub my face and apply an array of creams and moisturizers before crawling into bed.

Sure, I could try it. Test out my discipline and start with a bottle of moisturizing night cream. I could spend a lot of money on it too. But you know what would happen? Every night, after slogging through brushing my teeth, I would look at the bottle of cream and argue briefly with myself. Then I would hang my head in defeat, abandoning the cream and the potential benefits of its magic, before crawling into bed, dry skin and all. Don’t even ask me how I know this.

I recently learned about face rolling, the act of literally rolling a specialized jade, rose quartz, other types of stone, or metal across your face. Some of the rollers even have little pins on them—Ack! Who the hell decided that this medieval torture device was a beauty tool?  The idea of the roller is to help spread skincare products, increase blood flow, soothe your skin, clear sinuses, and activate lymphatic drainage. This is all with the intended result of reducing puffiness, contouring your face, possibly decreasing anxiety, and inspiring a tightening of the skin. Right.

Could I use all of these things in my life? Yes, absolutely! I’d rather not watch the lines deepen on my forehead or stare into the mirror at eyes that look like they’re embedded in pillows. I do love the idea of a facial massage to help relax and tighten my skin. But am I going to spend the recommended five minutes rolling a stone across my face? Every damn day? No.

How do they keep it all straight? Is one supposed to exfoliate before bed or when they wake up in the morning? How do they choose which face mask to use and how often is too often? What happens if I use my neck cream under my eyes or exfoliate something meant to stay smooth? I often find myself exhausted just taking a shower. These people find the time to apply toner, moisturizer, under-eye moisturizer, neck moisturizer, primer, etc. They know the difference between cream, serum, and face oil and are not afraid to use that knowledge.

These skincare routines seem like a science to me. I would need a chart or a diagram, laminated and hung on my bathroom wall, to remind me what order to use my products. Each one would need a little blurb reminding me what they are used for.

These beauty routine folks are capable of incredible feats of organization and determination when it comes to caring for their skin. Add to this the precision and patience of make-up application, foundation, concealer, bronzer, then the 1500 things needed for the eyes to “pop,” and we’re talking Olympic athlete type dedication.

There are those who exist in a state of beauty and vibrant skin. Then there are others, like me, who struggle to convince themselves that conditioning their hair is a worthwhile endeavor. I’m lucky if I wake up with enough time to brush my teeth (again?) before heading out the door. If I can throw a quick hair combing into the mix and look partly presentable, then I feel I can say I’ve accomplished something for the day.

A Day in the Life…

I went into the office again today. I can’t say it was much different than yesterday or the day before that. I thought I’d share with you all a little glimpse of the dream, just to cheer myself up… you know how it goes.

At the usual time, I made my way to my office, thankful for the door between my desk and the rest of humanity. Before I could make it to my sanctuary, I ran into my colleague, whom I privately refer to as the “Over-Sharer.” She wanted to apologize for being 5 minutes late (I hadn’t noticed) and proceeded to give me a rundown on her medical history and the most current ailment (the reason for her lateness). Next thing I know, I’m offering solicited, unprofessional advice (I’m not a doctor, I just play one on … never mind) on whether or not she should take those antibiotics now or wait to see if she feels better in a few days. Despite any appearance of paying attention on my part, not only do I not know what her ultimate decision ended up being, I have no idea what ailment we were even discussing. I zoned out after she mentioned milky discharge. Anyway, I delicately peeled myself away from that conversation and hid in my office for an hour.

At 10am, I had a zoom meeting with out-of-state clients. While in the middle of my meeting with out-of-state clients, “Clueless” found his way into my office.  He burst through the closed door without knocking, loudly finishing a complaint he had apparently started while still outside my door. The “Passive-Aggressive Note Writer” had struck again, posting a typed letter on the printer that stated, “We can ALL work more efficiently if we do OUR part. Loading the printer with paper HELPS! Thank you for being a good office mate!”  I tried to shush him with my eyes while holding a smile for the meeting. Unfortunately, he didn’t see and continued, “Can you believe these stupid &@!%#* notes?” I spoke to him discreetly, pointing out the meeting I was in, and silently cursed him and his firstborn as he dramatically crept out the door.

I recovered quickly, finished my meeting, and spent a solid five minutes at my desk pondering the many creative ways I could quit this job. I thought longingly of that scene in Jerry Maguire until I remembered that I’m not a Tom Cruise fan.

More accounts to look through, more steering my straying thoughts to the work at hand and counting down the minutes until lunch. Finally, the hour arrived. I made my way to the communal kitchen with lunch in hand, my food needing a brief foray in the microwave. I walked through the door but was impeded by none other than “Cooks a 3-Course Meal in a Kitchenette” chopping vegetables on the counter. And yeah, I’m trying to come up with a shorter name. I excused myself, leaning across shards of broccoli and carrots and what looked like homemade seitan (and no, I wasn’t jealous, why do you even ask me that!?). My co-worker chef also happens to be “Close Talker.”  Hey, multitasking, amirite? I suffered through 2 minutes of chit-chat (the time it took for my lunch to finish getting radiated) trying desperately to avoid looking at the lunch sample in his front teeth as he effervesced over the deliciousness of his homemade seitan. If you ask me, I think he did the whole seitan thing on purpose. The beep of the microwave saved me, and I retreated thankfully back to my office.

The post-lunch hours were spent busy with work, punctuated by random thoughts of “Kill me, please,” “Am I too old for a career change?” and a simple “Fuck this,” while I waited for an impending staff meeting. At least I could go home afterward.

We all shuffled into the conference room, offering each other bored smiles and conspiratorial eye rolls for the task at hand. These meetings were often quintessential “this could have been an email” scenarios. It did allow me to peruse the faces at the table and come up with some fun nicknames for colleagues who had – as yet – remained nicknameless.  Did I mention, I hate staff meetings?

Across from me was “Slink,” the person who could never be found when something needed to be done. Next to him was “Passive Aggressive Note Writer,” though she would never admit it. Oh, we all know it’s her!  On my left sat “The Gossip,” perhaps the most compelling character in the show, though I make sure to never divulge too much of my own life lest I become fodder for her water cooler trysts. Now, I have made up some stories though, and believe you me, it’s fun when those come full circle.  In front of us all, the executive manager… the not-so-heroic captain of a damaged ship limping to port. It was a struggle to stay focused. 

Finally, the meeting wrapped up, providing no more clarity about expectations than when we had begun. Back in my office, I stuffed files, notepads, and laptop into my bag to head home for the weekend.

There was no catchy closing-credits song à la The Office to accompany me as I trudged past offices and through the lobby. So, I hummed my own little tune as I exited the building out into the promising light of a setting sun. 

Get Thee Behind Me, Seitan

Just so you know, it did not end as I had hoped. I envisioned myself sitting peacefully at my kitchen table, sunlight streaming through the window to gaze upon the masterpiece gracing my plate. Instead, the way it ended was with a kitchen that looked like the setting for a flour-bomb testing site and a tragic case of mistaken identity. 

Seitan, (with the unfortunate pronunciation of say-TAN), referenced as far back as 535 C.E. in China, is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. Basically, rinse the heck out of some flour, rinse again, stretch, braid, and cook. Voila, seitan. Simple, right?

There I was, nine cups of flour in a bowl, three cups water, and hands ready for a marathon of mixing. Have you ever noticed how rebellious flour can be? How sometimes when mixing, a little renegade cloud puffs out of the bowl? That’s okay, maybe a little annoying, but when it’s two cups of flour, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Try nine cups of flour and notice the level of containment possible. Right away, my counter and hair were covered. 

I began to mix. More tiny puffs of flour escaped, getting onto the floor, the stove, even up on the cabinets. So. Much. Flour. Everywhere. Finally, I had my shaggy ball of dough and began the relentless fifteen minutes of kneading. So. Much. Kneading. My fingers felt like uncooked seitan strands by the end. But I finally did my time, covered my doughball with cold water, and let it sit.

I wish I could say I had done the hard part. I went outside, shook out my clothes, and readied myself for round two. Pour out the water, cover the doughball with fresh water, and knead… again.

I’m not sure if there is a graceful way to knead dough in a bowl of water. If there is, I’m not aware of it. Puddles of milky water now joined the flour patches on the counter. Streams managed to squirt up into my hair and onto my forehead so that I then had streaks running down my cheeks. I was almost as messy as the kitchen.

Once you’ve kneaded the dough a ridiculous number of times and changed the water almost as much, you then squeeze out the liquid and let the dough rest in a colander. Here’s where I should have been sitting on the patio enjoying a cup of tea and the warmth of near success. Instead, I popped the cork on a bottle of wine, reminding myself it was 5pm somewhere and wiped the now sticky streaks from my face. My hands were cramping and shriveled like rotting berries, and I still had more steps to get through.

The next step was to stretch out the seitan 12-15 inches, cut it into three strands, and braid. Simple enough. I managed, surprisingly, to pull this part off with only minor cursing and fumbling. It wasn’t the prettiest braid (if that’s what you could call it). I was to let it rest. Again? So. Much. Resting. More wine.

Here’s where things went decidedly worse. After letting the seitan rest, it now needed to be stretched and tied into a knot. Now, I’ve done difficult things in my life. I’ve managed to raise children into adulthood, after all. But tying knots into the supposedly braided dough with shriveled, aching fingers is not on my list of skills. My braid kept unraveling at the ends, and I just couldn’t quite get all the strands through the same loop. This may seem like an irrelevant step in the directions but trust me it’s not. They asked for at least three knots, and I couldn’t even get one good one.

I looked around my kitchen, the flour splattered across the cabinets like a piece of modern art, the splotches of dough drying to my counters, the empty wine glass, and the patches of stickiness beneath my feet. Like any mature woman in extreme duress, I decided to throw a tantrum. Right there in my kitchen.

I slapped the dough back onto the counter, pounded it with my fist, and let a string of curses fly from my lips. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the invoking power of my words and the unfortunate pronunciation of what I was cursing. HE arrived in a burst of black smoke and, with a booming voice, threatened, “HARK MORTAL, I’M HERE FOR YOUR SOUL. IT’S TIME TO—”

 “Wait, what… what the hell is that?” he asked.

His eyes trailing from my matted starch-water hair to the sad pile of water-logged dough in front of me, he gave me a look of disappointment – and strangely, pity – and then disappeared in that same puff of black smoke, leaving my soul right where it was.

I wish I could say I did the same with the seitan, but somebody had to clean up the mess. It took a few hours, another glass or two of wine, and a pizza delivery. From now on, I’ll be buying my seitan from the store like ordinary people.

Rabbits Afoot

The Easter Bunny may or may not come to my house this year, but I’m not taking any chances… so I found my own Easter Eggs. The Cadbury Creme variety. Yum!  I love this time of year if for no other reason than creme eggs!  Well, that and the Spring weather which, quite frankly, seems to be eluding us this year. What the hell is up with that, Mother Nature?  But, hey, if I’m honest, it’s mostly the creme eggs.

So spill the beans everybody – what’s your favorite candy? Something you can just go out and pick up everyday whenever you’re in the mood, or are you like me, and it’s that one elusive confection that’s only available during certain seasons or in a specific place so you’re forced to turn into a sweets hoarder when you finally do see it in a market?

Escaping the Carousel of Life

There is a reason that as we get older, we like carousels seemingly less and less. This kid-like wonder we had at the round-about motion has dissipated, and if we’re honest, we’re more likely to throw up than we are to have a good time.

But why is that?

Obviously, I’m not talking about just a carousel. I’m talking about the repetitive wheel of doing the same thing every day, over and over. It’s just as nauseating, but unfortunately many of us don’t have the option of just getting off the ride.

What got me thinking of this, you may wonder. Well, I was given this artwork for a writing prompt, and all I found myself thinking about was how everyone is really looking for the same thing: happiness.

How beautiful is this idea? Creatures who were trapped, literally chained down, breaking away from the life they were stuck in.

I wonder how many days they spent on that ride, going around and around. Seeing the same things every day, unable to change. I wonder how many people they served, blissfully unaware that their lives could mean more. And I wonder at what point did they decide enough was enough.

It isn’t easy to break away—to leave a job, a home, or a relationship. Whether it’s a mind-numbing and stressful job or an abusive relationship, some things in life can strip away what really makes you you—what you love about life. So even though breaking free is hard, sometimes it’s essential.

And once you do break away, you might even feel lost. The world becomes new, open to all kinds of possibilities. Like a wild carousel horse, you get to decide what direction to go in. At first, it might just be away. It can be scary, but that’s what real freedom is like. The catch though… I mean, there’s always a catch, amirite? The catch is that jumping off the carousel and riding into your own future isn’t as easy as it might seem because … money.

Some people say that money can’t buy happiness, but I’m on Ariana’s side: “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems / Must not have had enough money to solve ’em.

If you don’t have money, it’s really hard to better your life by breaking free. I don’t mean to be depressing, but it’s true. Think about someone who’s stuck living somewhere that’s less than ideal—with toxic family members or an emotionally unavailable partner. If you can’t afford to move, well, then, you can’t. Want to leave that soul-sucking job? Without another one lined up or a bank account full of money, you’re trapped.

Winning the lottery or hell, even landing the right job can be life-changing. Trust me. Breaking free is a choice, but money can change what options you have to choose between.

I want to move out to the West Coast, I have for a long time. With the past four years, abroad has been a very tempting idea. But up and moving across the country isn’t cheap. And when there are pets and kids in the picture, breaking free and moving is even harder, especially when it’s tough just getting through from payday to payday.  But I’m sure those carousel horses didn’t find it easy to break free, either.

This picture reminds me that no matter how impossible it may seem, you can always jump off the carousel and break the cycle. If you’re like me, it may take a looooot more plotting, but I have to believe that it’s achievable, because I refuse to believe that we belong on an endless ride to nowhere.