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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Irish Entourage

Here I am,  just an American girl exploring Ireland's Dingle Peninsula and I walk into Foxy John's, a combination hardware store, bike rental and pub - too interesting to miss.

I sit down next to two friendly, attractive young guys who promptly introduce themselves as Gary and Sean and we begin chatting.
"When did you guys get here?" I ask.
"Fifteen minutes ago," they chime in unison.
"No, I mean when did you get to Dingle?"
"Fifteen minutes ago!" they repeat.
We become fast friends (which happens in any pub in Ireland, which I love!) and I discover they're headed to some pub owned by a legendary footballer (rugby) great who's passed away. 
"He was like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning," Gary explains. "It's just up the road. Do you want to come with us?" Why not? The taxi arrives and we're off!

As we get into the cab, I'm delighted to find myself sitting in the back with dashing Sean.  I've barely shut my door when Sean is beckoned back out of the car. Oh no, he's not coming after all, I think, as he appears to be meeting up with friends. A few young couples snap selfies with him and he gets back in the car. I'm re-delighted!

"Are those your friends?" I ask. "Are they coming with us?"  
"Not exactly," he answers with an amused smile. For reasons I still can't explain, it does not occur to me to ask what that scene was just about. Instead he asks me about how it is traveling alone. I tell him a few of the countries I've been. He says he'd love to take a solo trip also but lacks the time and he's not sure he's the free spirit he thinks I am. 
"He's useless on his own," Gary confirms from the front seat. "I'm his minder. What do you?" I tell him I'm a teacher and it turns out so is he, though he's just been appointed Vice Principal so clearly not a psychopath or anything. 
"What do you do?" I turn and ask Sean.
"I play professional rugby," he says.
"Get outta here!" I say. But it's true. Then the people taking the selfies suddenly clicks. He reintroduces himself as Sean O' Brien, a name I will soon learn everyone knows.
Tabloid headline: Who is mystery woman seen getting into a cab with footballer Sean O'Brien?

We arrive at the pub and the son of the famous owner comes out, greeting Sean like an old friend though they're meeting for the first time. We go inside and Gary points out the famous people in all the photos covering the walls. The bartender does a  double-take at Sean as we belly-up to the bar, but there's none of that quiet buzz of famous-person-in-the-room-but-let's-all-play-it-cool as we do in New York. Instead, patrons walk right up and greet him like he's their old friend. This vibe of "we're all old friends" is what I love about Ireland because, famous or not, I'm greeted the same way wherever I go. And, by the way, why shouldn't I be?

Drinks are poured, fans are approaching Sean and there's a lot of:
"The game where you...That injury had us worried...That time that you...Couldn't believe when..." You get the idea. As Sean is chatting away, Gary is posting on Twitter and including me in all the introductions when folks come over to us, waiting their turn to chat with Sean.

I am fully part of the entourage. If Sean is Vince, Gary is a cross between E and Turtle, but with none of E's uptight qualities. In fact he's quite hilarious and I'm having one of the best nights ever.

After a bunch of the almighty craic (my favorite Irish word!), a couple who've been chatting up Sean offers to drive us back to Dingle so we hop in their car. This video will give you a sense of the frivolity that ensued. Good times!
Dingle mayhem

Once back in town we go to another fun pub, Dick Mack's. This photo shows the bartender giving Sean a shirt. The patrons there are equally excited to see Sean.


From Dick Mack's they take me to a club where there is much dancing and I am learning lots of colorful expressions that the Irish have perfected and which keep me laughing.

All in all, you can never go wrong in an Irish pub! If you're ever in Dingle, check out Foxy John's. 

Tip: Rent the bike first...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

If you give a girl a chopstick: A messy food parody

If you give a girl a chopstick, the first thing she'll do is panic as there are no other cutlery options. After all, this is Hong Kong.

Panic will remind her that she came in panicking over hunger, which will turn her attention back to the savory, steaming food in front of her. 

She will pick up the chopsticks and spend a solid two minutes just trying to get what she hopes is the correct finger positioning. 

Once she's relatively sure she's ready to eat, she will surreptitiously glance around and sure enough, the girls next to her will be stifling giggles while the businessman across will look on with barely concealed amusement. 

She will begin her meal by splashing around the giant wonton in her soup attempting to get a firm grip with the effing chopsticks. This will lead to anxiety induced upper lip sweat. 

Once she has a good grip, she will realize she'd like a knife or some other useful utensil to cut it smaller so she doesn't have to shovel the huge, somewhat mutilated, yet somehow no smaller, wonton into her mouth. 

Not wanting to fill both cheeks with wonton, she will attempt to use the chopsticks and tiny soup ladle to cut the wonton in half. This will result in much of the filling floating around her soup and lots of broth all over her entire hand and the table. 

She will finally have smaller bit of noodle firmly grasped. She will be eagerly anticipating that first bite, but just as she's about to bring it to her already open mouth, the slippery chopsticks will suddenly slide into an X and the wonton will splash back into the soup, spilling broth all over the table. All diners but especially the staff, will no longer try to conceal their mirth. She will no longer care. 

She will scoop up what she can with the tiny soup ladle and proceed to finish the soup by stabbing one chopstick into each wonton and using the ladle to bring it to her mouth. There will be quite a bit of broth, wonton filling, and pieces of noodle around much of the table.  

She will finish what she can in this manner, thinking about all the people not raised using chopsticks who opt for them, eschewing readily available western cutlery. 

She will conclude said people are pretentious and overcompensating, or are competitive eaters never missing an opportunity to smugly prove their dexterity. She will judge said people. 

She will pay her tab and look for the nearest bar, which will remind her that she needs a drink. 

The end. 

*She will realize after taking this photo that a wider lens is necessary to capture all the detritus. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hair salons save lives

Today is not the first day a hair salon saved me. When I decide i want a hair cut,  I want it done two days ago. Today was like my first haircut after being bald from chemo. 

After nearly two years of a bald head, when my hair was finally just long enough to need some shaping, during my inaugural birthday trip to Atlanta (that instantly became annual), I had a spontaneous  cut and blowout. It was life changing because after two years of invisibility to the world at large, I was instantly fabulous. 

Today, though I've thankfully not been bald  for many years, I had a similar experience. I got a spontaneous shampoo and blow dry.

I know, I know- millions of women do this daily or at least regularly, yet not I.  I schedule my hair cuts around events for which I want "good hair". My manicures and pedicures are non-negotiable but paying $50-60 to get my hair washed and dried? Not in my teacher budget. 

During my nearly five miles crossing most of Hong Kong island through intermittent showers with an overcast glare requiring sunglasses and an umbrella, I had passed some salons and noted the cheap price of a wash and blowout- like $10 US. Since it was actually late enough to segue day into evening, I realized my crumpled, torn and soggy map resembling the Magna Carta was a metaphor for my hair. 

I began craning my neck in search of salons, peering in windows like a fat kid looking for cake. The salons on this part of town were more like Westchester prices- at least $75 US. For half a second I considered backtracking a few miles. 

Just when I'd nearly given up, I spied one within my budget- equivalent to $15 US- and it was a hair dream come true! After a solid twenty minute scalp, neck, forehead, shoulder, and temple massage during the shampoo process on a fully reclining chair, my hair got all fluffed and fancy. The workers all broke into song singing, "You're out of the dark, you're out of the woods, step into the light..." a la Dorothy in Emerald City. As I walked down the street my hair swung in slow motion like a hair commercial. 

After that and a quick stop at MAC for a little makeup reboot, I was ready for the night. I am salon fabulous! 
I'm going back tomorrow. 😊

Here's the before/after:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ugly American traveler strikes again

Traveling as a kid, getting anywhere was half the fun, especially plane trips. Despite the twenty hour journey my flight to Thailand involved, I was fully prepared and properly sedated to snooze through it, and I did sleep a solid ten of the first fourteen hours. When I stoppped to change planes in Beijing, I felt as though I was in an underwater dream sequence. In my bleary-eyed confusion, I got on the immigration line as if entering China for a visit. 

The kind young man asked me for some sort of visa, which I of course didn't have so that was panic #1. Then he saw my boarding pass and pointed to the departure time, which had passed five minutes ago while I waited in the wrong line- panic #2 and I was instantly alert. In broken English he said something and gestured to transfer signs pointing in the opposite direction, toward which I began to race at mach two speed, hair on fire, dodging and weaving past weary travelers, waving my boarding pass and racing by. 

I paused momentarily at a monitor and noted the flight had not left (!) but was flashing final boarding call. I needed gate 57 and was only at 30! To my relief a Chinese guy driving one of those golf cart-like vehicles stopped and told me to hop on and we zoomed past several gates.My hero! I said gratefully, "Thank you so much!" to which he replied, "Twenty dollah." I explained I only had Thai bhats. We started haggling and then I was all, "Stop! Let me off!" He said, "Ten dollah." I truly didn't have any dollars and nearly jumped off the moving vehicle until he stopped and off I fled while he muttered (presumably) Chinese curses. 

There was another security line where once again I was the ugly American pushing past, my face sweaty and frantic, until I came upon some laid-back Aussie gentleman who, after glimpsing my waving boarding pass, said in that delightful accent, "That's our flight too, love. I hardly think they'll leave us all behind." As I glanced around I noticed others from my NY flight and realized he was right. I would not be stranded in China!

In my next life I want to be a laid-back Aussie. 

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cancer chic and silver linings

         True confession – one of my first thoughts upon being diagnosed with stage two invasive breast cancer was, “I’m going to get skinny from being sick from chemo – winning!” Ok so I wasn’t rejoicing at the thought of a bilateral mastectomy and aggressive chemotherapy and baldness, but weight loss was one of my first thoughts.  I mean, of course I was stressed that I could die and worried my kids would grow up motherless. After all, I’m not a monster- just an eternal optimist who looks for silver linings. But guess what else? That stress and worry magically wiped away fifteen pounds in under two weeks. While I wasn’t seriously overweight or anything, I was in my thirties and, after two kids, had fifteen pounds to spare so it wasn’t like the quick loss left me emaciated or anything. Dammit.
Anyway, upon consulting with my plastic surgeon about reconstruction options, the obvious to me being implants, he described another type of surgery known as the TRAM-flap procedure. This involves taking fat from my stomach and rerouting it to my breasts for a more natural reconstruction. Sounded overly complicated as well as a much tougher recovery, but guess what? As Dr. R patted my (now concave) stomach he declared, “I don’t think you have enough tissue for that procedure.” Don’t you mean not enough FAT? I wanted to shout with glee. Not having enough fat has never been a problem for me.  I blithely selected saline implants from a catalog, already nicknaming them my “Baywatch boobs” and looking forward to downsizing from my overflowing double D’s to a Madonna-sized C cup.
After my mastectomy and initial reconstruction was complete, I had to find an oncologist to treat my cancer since it had metastasized to my lymph nodes. I cheered myself going into these chemo consults by imagining my cancer-chic cheekbones and bony ribs a la Kate Moss.  “Don’t be jealous of these cheekbones, bitches! I had to suffer for them,” I would tell my imaginary fans. Because the chemo I was prescribed was extremely harsh and my veins always difficult to access, I needed a port catheter surgically implanted through which the poison could flow more easily into a high traffic vein. At this consult the surgeon explained where the catheter could go. Near my clavicle was one option, though it leaves a small scar and looks like the head of a stethoscope under your skin while it’s in there. He explained that the thigh is another option and less visible. As I sat on the table he began to squeeze down my thigh with his thumb and fingers, moving dangerously toward that sweet spot at the top of my knee which, regardless of circumstance, makes me chortle like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. My dad used to do that to me all the time. Before hitting the giggle point, though, he said, and I quote, “Your thigh is too thin for that procedure.” So distracted was I by hearing that I’m too thin for something that I missed the rest of the explanation and danced out to my car forgetting my copay.
I enjoyed the heck out of my fifteen minutes of thin fame, but all good things end. The concoction of poison infused into me also had steroids and – are you sitting down? – appetite stimulants to counteract the nausea! I begged the nurses to take that part out and replace it with top shelf hallucinogens but it’s all premixed into a big chemical stew and there’s no getting around it. Soon I had packed on a whopping twenty pounds despite being violently ill the first few days after each treatment. No cancer-chic cheekbones for this girl. Dammit. Now I was fat, bald, and my reconstruction was only partially complete so I didn’t even have my Baywatch boobs.
            I still found silver linings, though. Because my resistance to infection was so low, I was not able to work and got to be a stay-at-home mom for the first time other than maternity leaves. My kids were too young to be bothered by my bald head in a ball cap and enjoyed my expensive wig for dress-up. Friends with whom I’d lost touch reconnected and I discovered the immeasurable kindness of my colleagues, family and neighbors. The weight eventually came off and I save hundreds of dollars not buying bras anymore. I now wear all sorts of little tops I never could. Best of all, cancer taught me that I’m tougher and more resilient than I imagined and gave me the courage to leave an unhappy marriage and make positive changes in my life. I may not have the cheekbones of a supermodel but I continue to find silver linings every day.

My girls, then ages 2 and 4, are now 15 and 17. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

College send-off: Letting your baby bird fly

Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. As parents, there is no end to the list of things for which we are nostalgic.  I’m not just referring to childhood milestones – first steps, first day of kindergarten, first lost tooth, and graduating high school.  After dropping my oldest daughter at college this weekend, I found myself nostalgic driving past the ER were only last week I had taken her for her third round of rabies shots after being exposed to a bat that had made its way into her room.  While we sat around the ER I had seized the opportunity to retell her birth story yet again since we were at the same hospital.  I’m only human. Walking through our house I’m nostalgic for the crack in the bathroom floor where tiny baby spiderlings had once hatched a la the ending to Charlotte’s Web. My daughters, very young at the time, were horrified and insisted I kill them immediately with ant spray, which I did. Seeing them die made both girls erupt into fresh tears that I had killed all the cute little baby spiderlings. Ah, motherhood.

I can’t bring myself to clean her room that she tore apart as she packed for school because she won’t be here to mess it up again for quite a while.  I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the mess, but passing by her room in its usual state makes it feel like she’ll be home any minute.  This is the room that was once a playroom where she and her sister had endless tea parties in the play house and where she had her first sleepover party in first grade. It was the room where she lost her first tooth when her best friend accidentally knocked it out while they played.  Once it became her bedroom, it also became the site of various teen dramas, many slammed doors and fights through the locked door over me being the “worst mother ever!” over some privilege I denied or other maternal transgression.  It was the room where her boyfriend staged a senior prom-posal that involved a lot of balloons and decorations and I had to do a cleaning blitz fifteen minutes prior to his arrival so it would be photo-worthy after all his efforts when she walked in.

Leaving her at college was not easy and it helped that I stayed a couple of nights in a nearby hotel so it was a gradual release. We arrived a day early and did some shopping and had a lovely family dinner. Friday was move-in day and a bustle of activity, unpacking and setting her all up.  I was in and out running errands for her then returned to the hotel and dinner with my younger daughter.  Saturday was the last day. I took her to the bookstore to buy all her books (and the lovely bracelet pictured) and then the three of us went to lunch.  Back in the dorm parking lot we said our final, tearful good-bye and group hug. The time had come.

There is not a single spot in my house or town that doesn’t spark some memory of her growing up, and it’s all the small, silly everyday moments, both happy and sad, that string together like beads on a necklace and add up to a childhood. The little ordinary moments add up to an extraordinary little life. Cheers to the next chapter of mine.