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Kitchen Sink


PROMPTuesday #238: I Survived…

June 8th, 2015

Upon looking back on one’s life, one might marvel at how he (or she) survived certain events. For instance, one’s 46-year-old self may wonder why his (or her) 18-year-old version got into a Tijuana stranger’s car at 2AM in a drunken bid to get back to the U.S. before curfew. Or a person may rethink walking down a dead-end alley near Chicago’s Cabrini Green in 1996’s pitch black, heading straight toward the voices of ne’er-do-well youth wielding baseball bats.


That same person could possibly NOW be baffled at his (or her) extreme willingness to stay platonically in a Baja California hotel room with a shifty someone he (or she) just met because his (or her) best friend asked him (or her) to occupy him (or her) self for a few hours while his (or her) best friend entertained a certain young man (non-platonically). Could be one, now a capable and sane adult, now questions why he (or she) spent so much damn time in Tijuana.


“One” may (or may not be) me. I mean him (or her).


Which begs the question and this week’s PROMPTuesday creative writing prompt:


What have you done that you can’t believe you actually survived?


You can be serious or funny with your response. I’m pretty confident that if you’re over the age of 20, you’ve got an answer or two that applies.


Here are the PROMPTuesday rules:

  • Respond to the prompt by midnight Tuesday
  • Post your response in the comments section.
  • Write your response in 10 minutes of less – don’t stylize it or agonize over it or overthink it.

I’m already imaginating my response. And guess what? It didn’t happen in Tijuana!


How to Get Your Child Interested in Netflix, I Mean History

June 5th, 2015



Booger composes her outfits like a symphony. Each element fuses to the whole and results in a perfectly constructed blend of beauty. Somehow, in her hands, stripes go with plaid, and scarves go with summer. Her masterpieces take time and plenty of brainstorming, but she approaches each wardrobe arrangement with a positive attitude and heaping doses of imagination.


The same cannot be said of her homework.


Instead, she rushes through math, mopes into social studies, and postpones reading.


No amount of coaxing or threatening motivates her. She’d just as soon eat 20 worms with a spider-leg chaser than practice multiplication. For a parent such as myself who approaches Tiger Mom status with schoolwork prioritization, this lack of interest in anything studious on Booger’s part is disconcerting and aggravating.


Until something amazing happened.


A few weeks ago, one book captured her attention – the Ripley’s “Believe it Or Not” series – and one story in particular – the Titanic.


She couldn’t get enough. “Who found the Titanic shipwreck?” “How did the iceberg get there?” “Did anyone survive?” “Did you know it set sail on my birthday?” “Why did the band play while the ship sank?”


We nurtured her curiosity. I purchased Kindle book after Kindle book to feed her interest. We Googled Titanic facts. We talked about intrepid shipwreck enthusiasts, ice formations, and metallurgy. We downloaded Titanic on Netflix.



 (I’m a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam)


THAT turned out to be a roaring success. She viewed the three-hour epic again and again. Each time, Celine Dion’s voice nearly drained my earholes of all life, but this was for my kid’s education, dammit.


The first time she watched the drama unfold, she ran to me after, excited and completely out of breath.


“Mom? I’m going to put Titanic facts in my journal and write a book!”


Next I saw, she was running down the stairs two at a time, arms filled with pencils, notepaper, a desk lamp, paper clips, and Harry Potter glasses. Apparently, writers wear glasses. (I’ve found that to be true.)


She set up shop at the dining room table, and after five minutes, decided she needed to wear more studious clothes.


You can take the outfit off the girl, but you can’t take the girl off the outfit.




I’m just thankful she felt moved by history for a brief moment. At least enough to delve into actually reading and wanting to know more about something. All it takes is happening upon an interesting fact or picture or book or movie that strikes a chord with your child. And if you’re raising a fashionista, flash her a pic or two of the Titanic necklace. That ought to do it.


And if you really want to get your kid’s head wrapped around the Titanic for learning purposes, here’s some non-snarky ideas:


Read the Titanic story in Ripley’s.

If facts are packaged funly (made-up word alert), it can make all the difference in how kids receive them.


Buy or download “I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic.”

If true stories of history are packaged excitingly (what? no underline inferring this is also a made-up word?), then kids are triply interested.


Watch a documentary.

I believe the last Titanic survivor recently passed away, but to watch a documentary where you see the survivors’ faces and hear their words, is a powerful curiosity-piquer (yep, made-up) indeed.


Read a bit on the Robert Ballard discovery.

There’s something about this man. His passion for historical significance and exploration is infectious.


See the exhibition if you can.

The Titanic “The Artifact” Exhibition was in San Diego a few years ago and I missed it. Now that Booger’s mind pump is primed, I think it’s time to go.


Watch the movie as a treat for vibe and mood and sense of history.

And for the necklace-ness. (Had to end on a made-up word).


PROMPTuesday #237: Regretful

June 2nd, 2015

Smashing fears - PROMPTuesday


In 2008 I “launched” PROMPTuesday, a series of weekly creative writing prompts designed to stoke the writing fire. The whole idea was to get me – and whoever read my blog – writing without the mind weight of perfection, judgment, or inner criticism.


As I wrote back then, my intention was to encourage all current writers, wannabe writers, and writers-for-the-day to respond to the prompt by “free-writing” for 10 minutes, and posting their submission in the below comments section for self-expression, encouragement, or just because why not.


And many of us did write, and shared their words here. Some of my favorite prompts remain the ones that got us to dig deep, or just throw a little dirt at the evil internal editor:


Like this one.




This one.


After several years of continuing to post PROMPTuesdays, I abandoned the prospect a few months ago in favor of going crazy at work and attending to life’s details. BUT, I keenly felt the loss and the existential pounding in my gut brought me back.

And so it is Tuesday and I once again return with a writing prompt.


As always, here the rules:


  • Respond to this prompt by midnight Tuesday:
    What would be your greatest regret if you didn’t accomplish it before you die?
  • Post your response in the comments section.
  • Write your response in 10 minutes of less – don’t stylize it or agonize over it or overthink it.


Like is my norm, maudlin and melancholy marks the prompts. Because I’m pretty sure that’s what drives me to write.


I’ll be back tonight with my answer.


My Korean Day Spa Experience

May 30th, 2015

Korean Day Spa


It was time for a girl date. After very minimal back and forth, my friend and I decided a lounge-around-the-pool day was the perfect thing. So we began our Saturday at the Rancho Bernardo Inn with high hopes and prodigious amounts of Us Weeklys. Soon enough, we learned our day passes wouldn’t grant us access to the sauna and relaxation room, so the more proactive among us (not I) demanded refunds and suggested we go to a Korean day spa instead.


I’d heard of the day spa before, in epic retellings that involved tales of nudity and pressure-point probing that rivaled the most handsy deep-tissue massagers, but until girl-date-day, I wasn’t sure I could handle it.


I’m pretty conservative (Midwest upbringing) and fairly prone to embarrassed giggling when I see friends naked, but in keeping with my “SEIZE THE DAY!” mentality generated by an ongoing midlife crisis, I agreed to the Korean day spa experience.


And it was indeed epic.


Within about three minutes of entering the spa facilities, I decided to just be naked and forget about it. I did briefly rethink that strategy after glimpsing the tight butt and amazing supple build of a more youthful spa visitor, but recommitted to my boobs on the floor and butt trailing behind soon after.


My friend and I traipsed between dry spa and wet spa, hot tub, and cool-pool dip. The wet spa housed an exceptionally impolite visitor who spread herself across the floor flanked by a cup and a towel and about 40,000 other accoutrements tossed about her person, but she left in a huff when she realized other people existed in the world and those people wanted to use the wet spa.


Pretty soon, I was all in. Going from thing to thing, happily flouncing all my pieces and letting them flap in the wind. The red clay immersion room saw me letting it all hang out on a bamboo mat, and you could barely get me to put on a robe even in the locker room.


Then, the spa-treatment-administrator called my number, and scooted me out to a table next to about four other tables located in the common area. My clinician instructed me to lie down and without fanfare, began to scrub me head to toe with much robustness.


I couldn’t believe how much of everything she exfoliated. The attention to my nooks and crannies was impressive. At one point, lying face up, I did try to at least close my naked legs because what was staring up at the masseuese’s face seemed…excessive… but she promptly re-opened my thighs and resumed her tactical assault on all things my skin.


That went on for awhile.


After about 25 minutes, she shouted, “get up!” and squirted some pink liquid in my open palms. “Now go shower!”


I met my friend at the showers.


“Abledeedabbleydoo?” I whispered.


She rubbed the pink liquid all over her face like a pro. “Wash your face. Next, you get a massage…”


My gasp of pleased surprise interrupted her.


…”and a cucumber facial…”


I gasped again.


“…And then they wash your hair…”


What was this pleasure palace of bodily treats and militant spa technicians?


I glided back to my treatment table just sitting there in the middle of everyone, everywhere and attempted a smile at my treatment-giver.


She seemed…ready to massage.


“Lie down!”


I did, and the most deep-tissue massage in the history of deep tissues followed. There was oil, and buckets of warm water, and hot towels, and I don’t even know what else used in the administration of this massage.


Then, I heard chopping. For a brief second, I thought maybe this was an elaborate snuff film set-up? I don’t know – naked, do-this-do-that, weird lighting, and obvious hatchet sounds?


But soon enough, the origin of the chopping was placed brusquely upon my face: cucumbers. FRESH CUCUMBERS WERE GRATED AND PUT ON MY FACE.


What is this place of wonders?


Then, more pails. More towels. More oils. More rough-touching that felt amazing.


And finally, shampoo worked into my hair like if Stalin himself were to do it.


Rub, rub, rub, knead, knead, knead, pound, pound, pound, who-needs-a-skull-anyway.


And conditioner.


And a warm water rinse.


And: “GET UP!”


So of course, I did. Because cucumber hatchet.


Once again, liquid was poured into my open palms.


“Put it on your face!”


I splashed it onto my skin. Milk.




I did.


She seemed pleased and so poured a pitcher of warm milk all over my person. Then, it was over.




Like last time, I met my friend at the showers.


And this time, my gobbledygook made it out of my mouth in a whole sentence.


“What just happened?”


Best girl date ever.


Are You There, Midlife Crisis? It’s Me, NutBag.

May 13th, 2015

“He’s having a midlife crisis,” my mom whispered as we watched my dad’s boss dismount his new Harley and saunter up our driveway clad in full-body leather. A handsome man with silver hair, light blue eyes, and a cleft chin, his existential crisis was as cliche as his physical description. It fell off him, shedding angst cells, and spreading its insecurities like a virus. I was only 20, but I understood perfectly that this man was not at ease with this new persona, and probably didn’t like the one he was trying to escape, either.


He was experimenting with identities.


Classic midlife crisis.


I didn’t comprehend it then, and up until about two years ago, I still laughed at midlife crisis manifestations: fifty-something men buying sports cars, married women having affairs with masseuses, people chucking it all and moving to the Isle of Wight. How could an idea, a feeling, a vagueity grab mad hold of a person and make them do things like purchase chaps and install hair plugs? Does the peacock male strutting around the bar not know his iron hold on a woman half his age looks too…earnest? Does the woman wearing a tube top her teenager owns not know that underwire bras are standard-issue garments when you’re over 35?


Are these poor, lost, garishly-dressed people unaware that their midlife crisis is a big arrow pointing at their face?


Probably not, although I have my own dim sense that I’m losing control of my youth, I have a similarly dim conviction that it’s still OK to get a Chinese symbol tattoo.


Because I’m having a midlife crisis.


Everyone’s mid-point freakout shows itself differently. I have no desire to step out on my husband or pilot a yellow Maserati, but I’m reallocating the balances on my 401(k) plan like there’s no tomorrow. Because there might not be.


That’s how my midlife crisis presents itself:









And don’t even get me started on how I’m re-reading my old journal entries to revisit my youth.


May 12, 1996

Life Plan:

-Write a book

-Do yoga

-Be happy with what you have

-Buy a house


May 12, 2015

Life Plan:

-Write a book

-Do yoga

-Be happy with what you have

-Buy a house

-Possibly kill husband


Nearly twenty years gone by, and I read like the same exact person with the same exact goals. When do I reach those goals? I HAVE TO DO IT NOW.


But I’m so tired.


More Dr.-Oz-recommended vitamins from Sprouts!


Do I have cancer?


Will Starbucks hire me when I’m 70?


Should I travel more?


What kind of example am I to my kids? I haven’t spread my own wings yet!


Will my kids come visit me in the nursing home?




Let me stop myself there, because the thing is, 46 is not that old. Only 10 years ago, I was still considered a little young still. But 10 years from now, I’ll be almost 60. How are the years so wily? How do just a few back-to-back 10-year-spans mean the difference between a newly-issued driver’s license and a recently procured AARP card?


I feel bad for flies.


After that afternoon chatting up my dad’s boss and ignoring him pulling at his Levi’s uncomfortably bunched between his crotch and chaps, I kept a wary eye on what midlife crises can do to a person. Over the years, I watched seemingly normal contributors to society leave spouses, careers, and homes. And some of the time, those transitions made sense; were a sort of leap to something they’ve always wanted to do and felt compelled to do NOW BEFORE THE NURSING HOME; and other times, those moves were knee-jerk reactions to life traipsing on; a sort of rock thrown at the status quo just because the rock could still be thrown.


I don’t know what rock I’m going to throw, and at what, but I dearly hope I retain some sense of self in my mid-crisis interim that even the most body-covering chaps can’t conceal.


It’s a shaky time of self-doubt, insecurity, and downright fear, yes, but no different than all the other times I’ve felt that way, which is always, judging from every journal I’ve ever kept.


So I’m getting a Chinese-symbol tattoo that means “Get over it” with another that says, “I let my husband live.”


And for the record, my dad’s boss is a happy man in his 70s with his wife and college-age son happily forgetful of his motorcycle phase.


I will forget my own crisis someday. Probably when I’m in the nursing home.


Sick with Netflix

April 29th, 2015

(Apparently I’ve branded my blog with Netflix. That’s because they give me something to write about, which is more than I can say about my brain.)


Before the last seven days happened, I can’t remember the last time I watched back-to-back movies, much less thirty-minute shows. My crazed lifestyle of working, parenting, and escorting kids to everything, everywhere (oh, your next softballl practice is on the moon? And we need 20 lightyears travel time to get there by 4? Get in the Honda Odyssey!)  usually means there’s little to no time for frivolous activities like sitting still for five seconds or talking to my husband ever. Watching TV falls into that no-time category and even when I’m sick and bedridden, my mind races with the things I’m supposed to be doing instead of battling infectious disease and internal gastrointestinal strife. There comes a time though, when the Netflix “Gotta Watch” list grows and the body weakens to the point where all you can do is sit there and give in to marathon viewing.


Such was the case last week.


I’d grown so brain dead by the time I spent two days home sick that it was all I could do to prop my laptop on sweat-drenched bedcovers and focus my eyes somewhere in the vicinity of the computer screen. Here’s what I watched in case you ever end up fever-addled and fancy-free:




1) Absentia: I’m an enormous scary movie fan. Give me a moody atmosphere and palpable dread, and I’m in heaven. But as many spooky movie lovers know, there’s a big difference between psychological terror and bloody gore. I’m forever on the lookout for the former. Think The Others versus Saw. I no sooner want to watch body parts hung on rusted chains than I do a Porta-Potty from the inside. I’ve found it’s difficult to locate spooky movies that don’t venture into strangers-wearing-a-mask-and-invading-homes territory, so I’m always thrilled when I happen upon something that fits the bill.


Absentia qualified for the most part (despite the image above). Much of the movie focused on the reaction of a woman to declaring her husband legally dead after seven years missing under mysterious circumstances, and Absentia sustained viewer tension nicely. The lingering shots on a tunnel located close to the main character’s house evoked the right amount of what’s going to happen next? without getting too obvious. Although at the end of the movie, you’re like “that was obvious.” Still, good movie vibes were had by all (my brain cells).




2) Oculus: This one featured some gore, but it qualified as mainly spooky because of the premise. It almost harkened back to the great scary movies of the ’70s like Burnt Offerings (THE BEST). The plot revolved around 20-something siblings trying to discover what happened 10 years prior when their parents went nuts after an antique mirror purchase. It sounds contrived, I know, and it was, but in the best way possible. Oculus ended up a cross between Paranormal Activity and American Horror Story: Murder House in that most of the action revolved around hallucinations, surreptitious video camera coverage, and sinister presences.




3) The Babadook: Another good tension-builder where you’re not sure what’s happening in the innocent family’s home, but it can’t be good. The Babadook focuses on a young widow with a precocious and slightly unbalanced son who senses an evil entity is stalking them. Much of the action hints at the boogeyman presence and shows very little blood and guts, which is just fine by me. This is a finely done piece that does away with the cheap thrills and goes to state of mind and character development.


4) The Way Back: Epic journey movies rank as my next favorite genre. I’d never heard of this film until a Netflix search turned it up, but it went right to the heart of what I love: World War II themes, desert treks, and Buddhist monks. The plot revolves around Siberian gulag escapees who vow to walk from Russia to freedom, no matter how far they must go. Most of the film follows the motley crew of usual suspects and their reactions to the war and each other against some stunning landscapes. The Way Back qualifies as pretty slow, and in some parts, meditative with bits of action here and there, which was perfect for my state of sick.


5) Perfect Sisters: The cheesiest watch of the lot, but I thoroughly enjoyed this Lifetime-esque film and its tawdry costumes and canned dialogue. Also, Mira Sorvino! I didn’t even know I’d missed her!


I watched 100 more movies in bed last week than I want to admit here right now. So stay tuned for my next weak moment, when I reveal all.

How to Be Sick*

March 30th, 2015

The first barf of March happened last week when I was asleep. It was around midnight, and I’d woken up groggy after detecting rustling and low voices outside the bedroom door. To avoid waking all the way, I shut my eyes again hoping the burglar would more quietly load the flat screens in his truck, but it quickly became clear the sounds were coming from people I knew, namely Booger and The Rock. (Why I didn’t notice my husband wasn’t sleeping next to me when I imagined a burglar downstairs, I have no idea. I just wanted them both to shut up so I could sleep.)


Even after I eventually recognized my daughter and husband’s voices, I tried to ignore them. I’m no good at midnight and certainly in no state to traipse around the house to see if everything is in order. The sounds continued however, and now lights were being turned on and holy crap, family, I’m off duty.


I stayed in bed another ten minutes or so and finally tossed the covers off to see what the hell.


I walked to the kids’ bathroom where the noise originated to find my beleaguered husband sitting on the edge of the tub with his head in his hands and a wet towel on his lap. Booger lay slumped nearby. “She puked everywhere,” my husband mumbled. “All over the bathroom.” Booger could only whimper in reply.


I surveyed the bathroom floor, the towel, and my daughter. “OK,” I said. And returned to bed.


I’m truly no good with barf or bodily fluid cleanup. (My home contributions largely come from coordinating taco night and Target birthday runs.)


But in all seriousity, no thank you to midnight pukes all over the place.


And I knew what it meant: we all were going down with the same virus and I better rest up. My time to clean up all the barf would come, it would come.


Sure enough, Booger needed to stay home for the next several days. I took off work Wednesday and Thursday to watch her, and came down with a mutant variety of her illness that settled in my head and felt like my brain was having a heart attack.


I once thought being sick meant staying in bed, taking Cosmo quizzes, watching dumb TV, and sucking on popsicles. Now, I don’t even know how to be sick. These days staying home to recover means compulsively checking my corporate email account so I don’t appear to be slacking, catching up on busy work like 18 loads of laundry soiled by stomach-acid-encased spaghetti noodles, and shopping for clear Pedialyte.


Eventually, I reached some sort of trying-to-do-everything-while-I’m-sick event horizon and plopped into bed to do nothing stuff like watch Brandi Glanville avoid responsibility for everything.


What I’m trying to say is I have some great Netflix recommendations because Booger eventually recovered and I could be sick properly. Stay tuned until tomorrow!


*I hope you didn’t read this for actionable “how-to-be-sick” answers because, brain fever. But here’s a parable takeaway: She who avoids puke clean-up responsibility is doomed to repeat it.


Another Chicago Story

March 23rd, 2015

My first attempt at parallel parking sucked. Although I’d lived in Chicago until my high school graduation, I didn’t go downtown much, so parking between tightly packed cars was never an issue. But now, newly returned to the Midwest several years after high school, I needed to learn to squeeze between two cars with millimeters to spare. That is, if I were to carry my scant life belongings into my friend Lisa’s Lakeview apartment. My 32-inch Zenith might end up being a little unwieldy, but I did just survive a cross-country drive with my now ex-boyfriend and a breakdown in Vegas, so I could probably handle the TV too.


Lisa begged to differ. Not only did my park job need to be corrected ASAP, but my TV wasn’t coming anywhere near her more sophisticated model, so I could just keep it in the car forever as far as she were concerned. Either way, with Lisa’s direction, I maneuvered the car into place and only the threat of theft motivated me to manhandle the Zenith into her hall closet. It was a Friday, thank God, and I had a few days before the real world would begin, a world that involved finding a job as soon as possible before my remaining 800 dollars disappeared.


There was no time to lose, but after wrangling my stuff into Lisa’s place, I combed my hopeless hair into some approximation of a style and joined some college friends at a neighborhood bar. With my initial Miller Lite order, I immediately ensconced myself into the Midwest lifestyle I’d only just left a few years before with one thought: I was back in Chicago, and nothing would take me away again.


Except that it was so hot in the middle of August and I had no idea how to ride the el to my many temp agency appointments and I was sleeping on a scratchy futon in the middle of Lisa’s living room.


And after a weekend of partying with friends, I only had $750 in my pocket.


On Sunday night, Lisa tried to give me a crash course in riding the el. I was to walk to one of many nearby el stops, make sure I picked the right route on the map, put a token in the machine and make my way up to the platform. Once the el stopped, I needed to get on quickly, grab onto the metal bar above me (open seats would be rare), hang on, and PAY ATTENTION TO WHEN YOUR STOP IS CALLED. I listened carefully, repeated the instructions in my head before bed, and woke up the next morning ready to wow Chicago’s temp agencies with my el managerial prowess. I dressed in a black top, black blazer, chiffon skirt, black tights, and black pumps – all perfect wardrobe choices for muggy humidity that could take a camel down.


I sweated my way to an el stop, figured out which line to take, and melted into the city. Many stops were called, and many were ignored, which is how I got to know the city in those early days: getting off at the wrong station, wandering around, eventually finding my way back to Wacker or Michigan via alleyways and long-cuts and doing it all over again on the way home. Yet, nothing pumped me up more than sailing over the trees, horizontal to rooftops, than those trips on the el. Then there was the sheer noise and energy of the city. Impromptu concerts in public squares, throngs of commuters on platforms and at bus stops, store windows and doors open to the street, cars honking and heat rising and the lake wind blowing your skirt up. I absorbed every Chicago minute receptive to anything that came my way. Because so much was wonderful and new and LIFE.


The old place.

The old place.


Over a week’s time, I’d visited several temp agencies, faked my way through many Excel skills tests, and missed hundreds of el stops because I WAS NOT PAYING ATTENTION. I’d pick up a new administrative job every few days, at places like KPMG Peat Marwick, and Hyatt Hotels, and took a “night job” at Express. Lisa and I moved with a university friend to a Lincoln Park walk-up and I had a bed again. I placed the Zenith on the bedside table four feet from my face, just because I could, and my room was six feet by six feet. After three years of feeling trapped in a West Coast city I couldn’t relate to with its palm trees and too-brightness and lying boyfriends, I once again was home, with absolutely anything a possibility. Even parallel parking, which I mastered like an urban dweller.


If you’d have told me then that I’d leave less than three years later, and for good that time, I would have crushed you with my formidable Zenith…

TO BE CONTINUED. (Because parallel parking and el protocol make for fascinating stories?)

I’m going to the edge with my Chicago stories. Looking back, nothing consequential happened, but my time there was a turning point nevertheless.