Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

The Badass Biker Gets Taken Down a Notch

In Life Lessons, Monday Review on May 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

The idyllic scenery of these roads almost negates it's treachery. Almost

So…I will preface this blog from a remote location by saying that Scott was right. I should not have ridden to the bakery. It’s only an eight mile ride– four there and four back. After my ten mile crucible earlier this week, I thought to myself eight miles? pshaw. But I forgot that the four mile stretch in question was made out of volcanos. I had to stop four times up one hill in order to not die of cardiac arrest. Then, on the next hill, I had to get off and walk. This is not badass behavior! My spirit is crippled. But, on the plus side, I’m eating a delicious almond croissant.

The other day I came to this bakery, called the Madrid Bakery, because it was my stepdad’s birthday and I needed a cake.

Wait– let me ask you something. Have you ever read the book “Chocolat?” Its one of my favorites and its about this woman and her daughter who move to a little French town and open a chocolate shop. The woman can tell what kind of chocolate will fix what ails you as soon as you walk into her shop and her chocolate is magical. I read this book years ago while in Cancun so some of the details escape me….but I think she added something Mexican to her recipe, or maybe it was tears. Anyway, I have always wished for a chocolate shop like that to come to magical Framingham. Why not? So the other day after i purchased the chocolate and vanilla ganache cake at this little Spanish patisserie, the woman said that I needed to come back on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday and try her fresh croissants because they were the best in the world. Naturally I made the connection. A magical shop in which people can cure me with delicious food has arrived! Being pragmatic, I realized that I should ride my bike to negate the calories in the croissant.
“Not a good idea,” said Scott. “it’s all uphill and full of treacherous and windy roads.”
“Oh dear,” said my mother. “I will pray for your safety.”
“you have certainly earned your croissant,” said the little Spanish lady behind the counter when at last I arrived.
She could tell because my face was the color of a bad rash, my hair was sweaty and plastered to my cheeks and I huffed into the shop like I was going to either eat something or blow the house down. So she prescribed an almond croissant for me.
“Next time,” she said, while I handed her my cash, ” you try this.” she pointed to a mysterious, angel sprinkled cake with a name I couldn’t pronounce that looked like the name of a saint. “Its my personal favorite. And every morning before I work, I have a slice.”
I will take her up on that offer. But next time, I will drive.
Now for the ride home.


I’m a Badass. Just Saying.

In Life Lessons on May 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

SO, this morning I decided to ride my bike to the
market. I only had to get a few things. On the way, I saw my friend Shannon.

“Just riding around?” she asked.

“No.  I’m in
training,” I answered. “I got picked up by a bike team this morning.”

Then Shannon laughed and laughed. I don’t think she
was laughing at me. It’s just that she knows that I have never been on a team
in my life and it must have struck her as delightful. Also, I’m not exactly
what one would refer to as “athletic.”Shannon belongs to a soccer team AND a
hockey team and God knows what else.

“That’s fantastic,” she laughed, tears spilling over
the rims of her eyes.

Then I went on to the market, parked the bike and
headed in. I carried my helmet instead of leaving it with the bike just in case
anyone else wanted to ask me about how badass I am.

Over by the meat department, I bumped into another
friend who neglected to notice the helmet slung over my forearm. He is a small
business owner and wanted to talk about how taxes are killing him. Lots of my
friends own businesses, however, so this isn’t news to me. It’s not that I’m
not compassionate or anything, it’s just that I really wanted to get my $1.99
per pound chicken before the sale price changed. (This guy’s a talker.) As
Chris neatly segued from taxes into an oral dissertation on the meaning of “axis
of evil,” I realized I had to make a move. I dropped some of my groceries and
when he leaned over to pick them up for me, I offered my helmet, as if to say,
throw them in there.

“Did you ride your bike here?” he asked. “Like, as in your bicycle?

Then I told him how I’ve raced at the BMX track
twice now and how this morning I got picked to be on the first team I’ve ever
been on EVER and how my heart was beating out of my chest and my vision was
woozy and I thought I would die standing on top of that giant starting hill
waiting for the gate to go down. And then how, all of a sudden, I felt this
crazy calm come over me and it was like nothing existed anymore but the moment.

“You were in the zone,” he said. His eyes narrowed. “So,
you know about the monk and the strawberry then?” he asked, as if that made
sense. I shook my head.

“This monk,” he began, “Was running from some
hyenas. He ran and ran and came to this tree. He climbed up and saw that at the
top of the tree was a hungry lion. So he jumped off the tree and ran some more.
Meanwhile, the hyenas and the lion are chasing him. He comes to this cliff
overlooking a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine is a river full of
alligators. So he has the lion and the hyenas coming up behind him and down
below are the alligators snapping their teeth. The monk backs to the edge of the
cliff and he slips. He’s falling down into the ravine and all of a sudden, his
robe catches on a branch that’s sticking out. He looks up at the branch and
sees that his robe is ripping. He shuts his eyes and starts to meditate and
when he opens them again, he sees this perfect, juicy strawberry growing out of
the side of the ravine. It’s perfectly red, perfectly round. Time stops. All that
exists is this strawberry. So he reaches out to grab it and pops it into his
mouth. It’s the most delicious strawberry that ever existed. The monk achieves
enlightenment. Nirvana.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“And then he fell to his death, of course. The point
is the strawberry. He was in the zone. That’s what it’s all about. The zone.”

I thought about zones on the ride home, backpack heavy
with chicken and bananas and oranges. There’s lots of “zones.” There’s the
combat zone, The Zone diet and Auto Zone for starters. I’ve also heard my
athletic friends make references to this mythical “place” in which they enter
from time to time but I’d assumed it could only be reached with the aid of gross
motor skills (which I lack) and endorphins.

I thought about how I felt on the starting hill. How
that supernatural calm overtook me. How, even though I lost both races, I
glowed for the rest of the day. I thought about the monk and the strawberry. Like
the monk, time stopped for me on that hill, alligators besides. For me and the
monk, there was a little eye of calm in the middle of a terror storm. Was that
nirvana? Probably more like an adrenaline rush. But whatever. I’ll buy it.

Just Sittin Here Watchin the Wheels

In Life Lessons on April 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I have two friends who are, right now, this instant, fighting for their lives. Well, one is technically not a friend of mine but the friend of a friend. But we do wave in carpool and occasionally say hi. We have several past get-togethers in common too.

She has cancer. You can read about her here. She’s a brilliant writer.

The other is an old friend from high school who I lost touch with only to be re-connected on Facebook. I remember about a year ago I saw her in Starbucks. She was wearing tiny shorts and a tank top and looked like what a fitness model would aspire to be. I was wearing sweatpants, a sweatshirt, a ball cap, hadn’t showered yet and was trying to hide behind the unidentifiable stains on the front of my shirt.

Right now she is unconscious on life support. She has been for a while. She has some infection that no one can fix. She’s only 34.

God – I feel for them and their families.

Though I write for a Jewish newspaper and look like a Muslim in my FB profile pic, I’m generally Catholic.  Its Easter season. I can’t help but think about life. I spent this past weekend thinking about life and how much of my allotted sentence has already gone by.

I don’t want to let it go. I LIKE it. I want more of it. I want to slow it down and hoard it like I’m on A&E.

One of my favorite bloggers ever likes to make exhaustive lists about things. Following his lead, I’ve made an exhaustive list of how I can slow down my own life a little bit. If you think of any other ways, please let me know.

1)      Get more rest. I know this seems counterintuitive since sleep takes up the precious time in which I could be LIVING. But getting enough sleep helps concentration and concentration helps awareness and therefore it’s imperative.

2)      Limit the amount of to-do’s in a day. I’m really considering hiring an India based company so I can outsource the things I don’t want to do. I already outsource chores like emptying the dishwasher and putting away the laundry and taking out the trash to the people I gave birth to. But I think I could get some more to-do’s knocked off if somebody in India would order my groceries, make my appointments, keep track of my tax deductions and so on. Until then, I’m going to cut things out.

 Scott says that he puts three big-ticket items on his to do list each day. That way they all get done and he can take the time to do his best. I like that idea. Unresolved lists stress me out.

However, lists also clear up my mind so I don’t have to think about what to do. It’s a careful balance. Three things it shall be, in addition to the many other things the house requires. Today, for me, it’s this blog, a chapter in my novel and my homework that is due tonight. I am almost done.

3)      Make walking a mediation. My poor dog can walk and pee at the same time. I think I should leave my iPod at home and be fully engaged in my walks with her. At least I should let her squat to pee. I’m always in such a hurry when I get out and walk.

4)      Spend more time listening. Especially to the people who empty the dishwasher, take out the trash and put away the laundry. I think that listening without thinking about what I need to do or what to say next is probably a Jedi mind trick. Therefore, it’s worthwhile.

5)      Play Board Games. Instead of computer games or Wii games. They are slower and more interactive.

6)      Don’t go to Chain Stores on the Weekend. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but living in the suburbs creeps me the hell out a lot of the time. Especially on Saturday. It’s like “Night of the Living Dead” and Target is calling us all to the Mothership. Kids sports games creep me out too. What a strange beast, this culture of the suburbs. Oh, I just noticed that the root word of “culture” is “cult.” Being out and about in the suburbs on the weekend makes me want to:  a. rush back home and b. rush to beat everybody else to the parking spot. I just don’t want to rush anymore. I want to BE with the people I love.

7)      Learn how to sit with myself. I want to learn how to be present in the moment. Everyone always says that. I want to learn how to encapsulate my days so I don’t have to worry about all the other days. I want to calm my monkey mind. When I’m walking, I want to walk. When I’m cooking, I want to cook. When I’m writing, I want to write. I want to use all my senses and be fully engaged in the world as its happening.

8)      Spend more time in nature. Of course, this gets easier as the weather gets better. This past weekend I was raking acorns. It’s a hopeless task. But it made me feel so peaceful.  I Felt like I had tapped into the speed of the world and it was right. Sometimes I go too fast and give myself anxiety and other times I go to slow and lie on the couch eating popcorn. But being outside makes me feel like Goldilocks. In other words, it’s just right.

9)      Speaking of Acorns…I think it’s helpful to have a long project that you know you won’t finish. That way, you aren’t in a rush to do so. The good thing about raking acorns is that by the time I get them all raked, the oak trees will drop more.

Maybe these are shallow thoughts in light of the opening paragraph of this post.  Fighting for your life is no joke at all. But, you know, I don’t think fighting life is too funny either. I think about that old John Lennon song, the one about the watching the wheels go round and round.  I don’t want to be on the wheel anymore.  


My Mother Kills It

In Life Lessons on March 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Peppermint is a delicious thing. I love peppermint. Peppermint tea, peppermint white stuff in a chocolate shell, peppermint ice cream, peppermint gum, peppermint jelly. Well, I don’t really like peppermint jelly. But I do like peppermint schnapps. It’s like getting drunk and brushing your teeth at the same time. But peppermint in the garden can be too much of a good thing.

This is a lesson my mother taught me. Too much of anything good becomes a pain in the ass. (Especially the schnapps.)

If you don’t know, peppermint takes over the garden by spreading its roots. Mint can escape from big pots and separate beds as well. As the story goes, one year my mother planted a few pots of mint in her perennial bed. She knew that mint’s a thug, but she thought she’d be able to keep on top of it by edging and whatnot. She was wrong. Before she knew it, the mint had taken over. Whole perennials were covered with mint graffiti. Birds were taken hostage. My mother had to start carrying a handgun when she walked to her car because the mint kept trying to shake her down.

She was forced to go in and rip the plants out by their roots. And then it got her thinking.

“This is what my mind looks like right now,” she said to herself. “A mess.”

She was, at that point, shipwrecked in a particularly thick mess of mint and probably woozy. Mint had wound around all her limbs and was trying to ingest her and it’s possible that there was some sort of “fragrant nectar” being used to intoxicate her senses. But she found a sort of Zen in the experience and by the power of her mind and her machete,  she fought her way out and survived to pass on her wisdom.

“Dawn,” she said, with the calm, battle-scarred demeanor of the true sages. “Your garden is a reflection of what is going on in your mind. If it’s a mess, you are a mess and you must go out and make it better. My mint was like my thoughts. At first, in small controlled bits, it was nice. I had mint for tea. Mint for juleps. Mint for lamb. But then it became like an obsessive boyfriend stalker. I couldn’t even see anything else because of all the mint.” *

For the last few years, my perennial bed has been behaving like the Mums, Black-Eyed Susan’s and wild rose bushes are acting in a summer long production of Animal House. It’s embarrassing. People used to love my garden. They would stop and put their chins in their hands and talk in soft voices to each other while contemplating. They would hold up their thumbs and forefingers and then make sketches in their notebooks. Now they just walk by and shake their heads. The poor Lavender bushes and Bleeding Hearts have become ashamed to even send up their new shoots.

My mother is right. My mind and my garden are a mess. I’ve been having a hard time, lately,  working through the fact that a long-term friendship has ended. The thoughts have consumed me.

Last weekend I decided to try my mother’s advice. I went out and had a “conversation” with the John Belushi of the bunch. He’s a big wild rose that is almost as thick in stalk girth as the ornamental Japanese Maple that lives next to him. I brought my machete and some heavy-duty bolt cutters from Scott’s toolbox. I knew that I had to cut him down to size in order to set an example for the others. He was easily three feet taller than me and four times my size around. Once he figured out what I was going to do, he wrapped his arms around me and clawed at my shoulders. But I was armed. We battled for an hour or more.

After he was chopped and cremated, I went on to the Butterfly Bush and the weird giant weeds I had let grow last year because I was too busy with work and other things and plus I wanted to see what they would end up looking like. I burned them all in the fire pit. My driveway and yard had a definite post –apocalyptic vibe. There was the little rose bush. The little butterfly bush. The sparse, early spring, smoke drift covered bare beds. The bonfire. And me, in flannel, with a machete and bolt cutters and the dirty, bloody look of the victor. Splattered mashed potatoes from the rose bush’s last stand covered my vehicle.

And guess how I felt? Better.


*The conversation went something like that. That’s the gist of it. My mother probably used different examples because, as far as I know, she doesn’t drink julep or eat lamb. And she probably used sage-ier wording. I’m just an ordinary schmuck. I know not what the Yoda would say.


Ten Important Lessons I Learned at the Laundromat:

In Life Lessons on March 18, 2011 at 2:15 am

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I’ve decided to try Logotherapy to help myself through this tough time. Logotherapy, in a nutshell, is the practice of finding meaning in the random things that happen to you in order to make sense of it all. The idea isn’t new and it isn’t mine. Viktor Frankl came up with logotherapy and somebody tweeted about it this morning. Sounded like a good idea so I thought to myself, Dawn, find some personal meaning in the broken washing machine. So here it is.

  1. Don’t act like a know it all. It’s better to ask for help than act all cool with your roll of quarters and then pour your soap in the wrong hole. And fabric softener. Just let the Russian lady who runs the Laundromat help you. I act like a know it all a lot. I think life would be easier if I didn’t bear the burden of having to act like I know everything. Also, more interesting conversations could happen if I let somebody else know something from time to time.
  2. Don’t pay in quarters. Or dimes or nickels or pennies for that matter. They don’t call it nickel and diming because it’s cool. Laundromats, toll booths and arcades used to operate on coins. Now the toll booth is operated by a white box glued to the inside of my windshield. The arcade is operated by make-believe quarters that have pictures of a giant talking mouse stamped on them. And the Laundromat is operated by a special Laundromat debit card into which you must put cash. And cash only. No coins. I feel bad for coins in a way. I wonder why people don’t like them. I can only assume it’s because they are rigid, they rattle, they stink, and it takes too many of them to buy anything. Which leads me to lessons #3 – 6:
  3. Don’t be rigid.
  4. Don’t rattle.
  5. Don’t stink.
  6. Don’t be cheap.
  7. If you want to accuse the Russian Lady of being both a spy AND a thief, accuse yourself first of being an idiot My grandfather used to say that if you want to criticize, don’t. If you still want to criticize, don’t. And if you STILL want to criticize, criticize yourself. I don’t think he made that up any more than I made up logotherapy but I heard it a million times throughout the course of my childhood. Clearly I still haven’t learned the lesson. When I couldn’t find the debit card for the Laundromat, I had a little conversation with the Russian Lady that went a something like  this:


Me: Should I use the same card next time I do laundry?

RL: Yes of course the card is yours!

Me: Well, can I have it back then?

RL: I don’t have your card.

Me: Neither do I!

RL: What do I want with your card?

Me: How should I know?

RL: Darling, I think your card is on top of the washing machine.

It was. After I thought about it, I realized that since I already fed my fifteen dollars into the machine, she already had my cash. The card was just a meaningless piece of plastic. Then I realized that ALL MY CASH is represented by meaningless pieces of plastic. Then I dug a hole in my yard in which to place my entire coin collection. Those aren’t plastic. No one can take them from me. Not that anyone wants them.

8.       Don’t carry your crap around in a black plastic trash bag and expect to get any respect. It just looks bad. And believe me, people judge you by the bag you carry.

9.       Don’t fight with your spouse in public. Exact same reason as for lesson #8. Exact. Also, don’t try to get all dramatic and grab your spouse’s arm and sigh and roll your eyes and genuflect either. While it’s entertaining for the rest of us, you just make yourself look melodramatic. I was accused of being melodramatic this week. I’m not. I’m plain old dramatic. If you have to overdo it, overdo in authentic drama. Not melodrama.

10.   If your car stinks, try keeping open bottles of Downy and Gain in the backseat. This was a lucky bonus lesson I learned after I lost the caps to the Downy and Gain bottles.

I might follow-up with meaning found in all the other things that broke this week: a long-term friendship, the dishwasher, a cup one of the kids made, the 4-in-1 printer, the sand dollar I found on the beach in Charleston, the furnace, the thermostat that runs the furnace and a bowl that Scott made in his pottery class. I’m not sure. For now, I’ve got to catch up on the laundry.

Winter Morning

In Life Lessons on February 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm

The other morning, as I waved goodbye to my offspring all bundled up and tucked neatly away in the carpool minivan, I thought about how smooth the morning had gone. First I woke up at a quarter to six– an anomaly fueled by the fever breathing husband panting his illness all over me in his sleep. The extra time allowed for the peaceful observation of the sun rise and the snow fall. Lunches got made, mouths got fed, mittens got secured all before carpool. And nobody got hurt in the process. The morning eased and stretched into my workday and thoughts about what makes the whole thing work tinkered around in my brain. I made a list:

  1. 1. Coffee on a timer. I don’t care if it is Pavlovian. The best part of wakin’ up is [Dunkin Donuts Brand Coffee] in your cup. I don’t exist until that first, curling tendril of coffee in the air.
  2. 2. Oranges simmering in pot. A few things happened for this discovery to occur. A) the cool mist humidifier mysteriously cracked its tank. When I say mysteriously, I should also mention that I found the cool mist humidifier disemboweled in the play room. I’m not blaming anyone, just saying. B) Scott became sick and congested. C) An arctic blast met my furnace and produced enough dry, static electricity in this house to launch it into orbit. D) the oranges I wanted to put in the lunch boxes looked like they’d sucked on their neighbors, the lemons. So I put the oranges, a cinnamon stick and a few cloves into my grandmother’s big soup pot, put it on the stove, brought it to a boil then lowered it to steaminess.  The result was warm and Christmassy-cozy on a January morning. And Scott got that nose a- going again.
  3. 3. I’m all about keeping it simple. Not really. I’m actually all about over complicating. But sometimes I can’t help but be a powerhouse of simple efficiency. Like when I get the crock pot full of oats, apples, cinnamon and water before bed and we wake up to breakfast. It’s like having Alice in the house without having to see her or pay her or listen to her go on and on about the butcher and his meat. Also, the aroma of “baking” mixed with the aroma of coffee mixed with the aroma of simmering oranges is so precious that the offspring can’t help but spring from their beds with joy.
  4. 4. And since they are happy, I am happy and I brew them a pot of chai, which they love.
  5. 5. Speaking of Alice, I like to get all my appliances going in the morning. At least the washer and dryer. I think it sounds productive — like the house is busy and participating in the world. Since I work from home, I get thrill from feeling like part of the team. Even if that team comes from Sears and breaks every third month. (In the spring and summer I hang laundry on the line. Please don’t judge me. I care about the planet as much as the next guy. Woman. Many wet clothes grace my banister too because I’m all about the green living. )
  6. 6. And here I slide into…affirmations. No, I’m serious. I don’t care who laughs at me. If I tell myself I’m going to have a good day then I AM GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY. AND SO WILL YOU. But, really, there are so many thoughts happening in that bucket of gray jello. They roil and surge and sizzle without any…well…thought. Heart thoughts like “Altogether now, on the count of three, BEAT!” and breathing thoughts like, “breathe in, breathe out.” And bad habit thoughts like, “Eat that. C’mon do it. You aren’t getting any younger. EAT THE CHOCOLATE! What if we die this afternoon and never get to eat again?” And so on. I feel like at some point I oughta take back my thoughts. At least for a few minutes. And you know what? Science agrees. Just for a few minutes, at least, I think good thoughts.
  7. 7. And while I make the lunches, I think good thoughts about the people who will soon sink their milk teeth into them.  With each smear of peanut butter I think, “I love you.” I know. It sounds SO RIDICULOUS on-screen. I do the same thing when I’m pulling the daily batches of jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts right side out. I try not to think, “why in the hell do you people not put your clothes right side out before you throw them on the floor? And why do you ALWAYS leave your chapstick in your pocket?” Instead I think, “I love the little arms and legs that go here. And I love the little lips that will now be chapped because the waxy crap that would have protected them is instead heat-fixed in all the laundry.”

One could argue that I rely too heavily on my feelings. Ask the fire breather.  But when I use my powers for good instead of evil, synergy results. Feel makes a great barometer. In the autumn and winter, I like the morning to feel cozy. In the spring and summer, I like it to feel fresh.  In all seasons, I like to feel a little bit of love in my heart, no matter what the day throws my way. And now I feel corny. Peace out.

PS….Feel free to click on my links up there!!! Fun stuff. It’s like looking into my brain without needing to wash your scalpel.