Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Favorite Things

Well, it's that time of year again when Oprah does her famous "Favorite Things" show; known to cause heavy breathing, bouts of fainting, mild dancing, excessive screaming and even some "OH LAWD!"-ing. She's given away everything from video cameras to phones to clothing, books, food, cars and trips. But why should Oprah have all the fun? Why are her favorite things so important? I've got some pretty awesome favorite things too and I'm gonna share them with you RIGHT NOW! (Of course, I mean sharing in a totally 'over the internet' kind of way. You will not be receiving any of these items - unless you like, steal them from my house or something.)

I now present to you, in no particular order, my 10 most favorite things:

Old El Paso Gordita Dinner Kit
Gorditas are pretty much the most delicious thing you can cook that comes out of a box. They're quick and simple. The spicy ranch sauce is unbelievably addictive. A gordita is kind of like a sexier version of a taco. Here's a personal tip: put cheese on the bottom of the gordita shell first, melt, then add your meat and toppings!

Converse All Stars
Just about the most comfortable sneakers you will ever wear in your life. They're versatile; you can dress them up, you can dress them down. Pair them with skinny jeans. They're iconic! Just remember how cool those red ones looked on Tom Hanks in the movie, BIG. I own them in three colors: black, grey and cobalt blue.

St Ives Apricot Scrub

This is one of the best exfoliator and facial cleansers around. The pain you feel from rubbing this gritty scrub that feels like wet concrete on your skin is masked by its deliciously fruity apricot scent. See how red and raw your face is afterward? That's how you know its working!

Beverly Hills, 90210: The Complete Series

If you grew up in the 90s, you've seen at least one episode of this show. You might not have watched willingly, but you got sucked into the trials and tribulations of the Walsh kids and that catchy theme song was stuck in your head for a week. BH 90210 taught me so much about life and I still, to this day, can relate real life situations to some of its episodes. Like that one where _______. And then there's the time ________. See? You try it now!

Essie Nail Polish: Marshmallow

YOU PICK COLOR!, The nail technician yells at you. You gravitate towards all the bright, shimmery, tantalizing OPI blends. Suddenly, this tiny white bottle catches your eye. It's simple, it's subtle, it's perfect. It's MARSHMALLOW! An almost sheer white polish that doesn't look like when you were going through your "alternative phase" in High School and used to paint your nails with White Out! It's also great for French Manicures.

Britney Spears: The Singles Collection

I fucking love Britney Spears. Sure, she may not sing live, but the legendary, Miss Britney Jean Spears has brought us hit after classic pop hit throughout her career. Now, you can own them all in one timeless collection. Recall all your favorites like "Hit me Baby One More Time", "Lucky", "Stronger", "Toxic" - and even those smash hits from her crazed and shaved head years like "Gimme More". Put on your tightest black v-neck, pop in one of these fierce tracks and pretend you're at the hottest Gay club in WeHo.

Olay Body Wash with Tone enriching ribbons

I am obsessed with this body wash. It is smooth and luscious and leaves a little trace of shimmer all over your skin. You feel moist (not in an awkward way) and sexy all day. And did I mention the SHIMMERS!? Who doesn't want be be sparkly?

Pretzel M&Ms
Let's say you love pretzels, and you love M&Ms, and you love chocolate covered pretzels. Well, guess what? M&M just did you one better and put a pretzel inside an M&M! They're horribly addictive and delicious - a perfectly blend of sweet and salty. Once you pop, you can't stop! (Oh, wait, that's that other snack food...)

The iPod
Remember when you used to make mix tapes back in the day? You'd wait by the radio for your favorite song and quickly press play - then repeat on both sides of a blank Memorex? Then, remember when you were in college and used to download music illegally from Napster and burn it onto a mix CD? Gone are those days. The ipod takes stolen music to a whole other level. I have 120 GBs on my ipod. What do I have on it? Everything. Anything I want. It's full of 60 GB of nonsense right now. And to me, that's pretty fuckin awesome.

Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Cleaning Gel
 If you're like me, you hate cleaning. You hate cleaning the toilet even more. You hated have to choose between the lil Toilet duck that you have to pull your whole toilet tank apart to get to function, or sticking that gross little clip on to the side of your tank & removing it when the blue disc is gone and the plastic hanger is all covered in piss.Gone are those days. You load up the Toilet gel plunger and stamp a lil flowery disc of scented cleaning amazingness right onto the side of your bowl. It lasts at least two weeks (depending on if it makes it through Chili night or not) and then BAM! you just stamp on a new one. Just sit back and let those cute little bubbles do all the hard work for you.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my favorite things. If not, then I don't really care because I'm sure the first thing on the minds of people in Oprah's audience was "How much can I sell this for on eBay?" when they saw half the shit she was giving away. You can't win em all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Si e’ spento serenamente oggi

"She has serenely gone out today." 

When I was a little girl, I remember telling my mother one day when we stopped at the bank that I never wanted her to die It was a time when life should have been so simple. When the scariest thing in a naive 8 year old's world was breaking a toy or not getting dessert. But as soon as I became cognizant of what death really meant at that young age, I remember being incredibly afraid of it. Of dying, and of people close to me dying; that seemed like the worst thing I could ever imagine.

People had died around me for years - parent's aunts and cousins, friend's relatives, boyfriend's grandmothers, but no one close to me had ever died before. Until I was 23 years old. My grandma had been battling Emphysema for years, had various breathing problems and was in the hospital on occasion, but soon fine and back to her adorable, short little Irish self. Until March 22, 2008.

God saw you were getting tired
And a cure was not to be, so He put
His arms around you and whispered
"Come to Me." With tearful eyes we
watched you, and saw you pass
away. Although we loved you
dearly, we could not make you
stay. A golden heart stopped 
beating, hard working hands at rest.
It broke our hearts but proved to us,
God only takes the best.

She had been in the hospital for almost two weeks. She had called me and sounded fine. I thought everything was going to be ok, just like always. But then, there were complications, possibly an infection. I was still the baby in my family's eyes so no one wanted to be straight with me and talk to me about it like an adult, so I'm still not 100% sure what happened. I remember things were looking very grim. My father and I drove to pick my uncle & grandpa up and bring them to the hospital; we were going to go to the funeral home afterwards to talk about making arrangements. When we got to the hospital, I asked if I could go up and see her. They wouldn't let me. My grandpa told me that she had all these tubes in her and was totally out of it and that's not how he wanted me to remember her. I remembering being upset about it at first, but I could understand.

My father and my aunt and I sat in the meeting room of the funeral home that I had passed hundreds of times walking the neighborhood when I stayed with my aunt and now, here we were, looking at prayer cards - my father read through the suggested messages and psalms and started crying when he'd finally found the right one - and coffins. The funeral director asked what we wanted in the obituary and my father said he didn't want one; it didn't need to be in the "Irish Comics." When we had finished and my father put down a deposit, we told the funeral director we would let him know when we "got the call". That was a Saturday night. I remember I came home from work and my dad was up and he told me the news. We hugged and he rubbed my back. The wake was going to be held Monday and Tuesday and the funeral on Wednesday so I would have to tell my job that I wasn't going to be in. I pulled black clothes from my closet in preparation, curled up in bed, and cried.

My girlfriend and I went to the wake together. I was so nervous. I wasn't sure what my grandma would look like or what to do. My ex-boyfriend's grandmother had died about a year ago and I remember going to the wakes and the funeral with him. He didn't cry until the pallbearers were carrying her coffin out of the church. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. When I walked into the room, my aunt and uncles were there, my grandpa, and some other relatives and friends of my grandma's. She was 100% B.I.C. - Bronx Irish Catholic, as my Grandpa would say. . She went to church every weekend and sometimes even during the week.(My dad told me when they were growing up, even if they didn't have enough money for groceries, my grandma always  made sure they each had a dollar for the collection plate on Sundays.) She helped out at the soup kitchen as well and was very active in her church community, so she had a lot of visitors

I walked to the front where the casket was with my dad, and I just started hysterical crying. She was all bloated and they put her in this horrible dress that she never would have worn but it was apparently the only thing that fit because of the condition of the body. I had written her a letter and drew a picture of us holding hands, my grandmother with angel wings and a halo. I folded it up and stuck it in the coffin with her. I hated it. I hated this whole situation. My grandma was the one person who mattered most in my entire life. She had always been there for me and supported me and loved me unconditionally. And now, here she was, lying before me. I would never get to hear her soft little whisper or feel her hug me or see her smile. She was gone.

The funeral came and went and my father had collected some of her things from my grandparent's house. She had written out a will back in 1995 after she was hit by a car with her aunt and went to the hospital; her aunt had died. That had been the first wake I'd ever been to. I was 11. I wasn't really sure back then how the whole thing worked, the grieving process. I didn't cry because I hadn't been close to Aunt Marge. I went up to the coffin and made the sign of the cross and said some things about how I would miss her and memories I had of her. She had always been old and senile and a little crazy though, so I'm not really sure what I remembered. I can't even recall anything now. She didn't have much, but my grandma left me a small ceramic music box shaped like a piano that played "Memory" from CATS when you wound it up. She also wrote a note telling me to "always be a good girl, Angelface". That was her nickname for me. She always called me Angelface.

I am still trying to figure out what the whole grieving process is and if it ever really ends. I'm not sure if I ever grieved or not. I know that I cried and I got angry that my grandma, who had devoted herself to God her entire life, had been let down by the "man" she had put all of her prayers and trust and faith in. As I write these memories, tears are falling from my eyes. I remember recalling the times we shared together growing up and getting emotional. Seeing pictures of me and her together. Her birthday was a month after she died and I got her a birthday card, one of those silly ones about Grandmas, and I wrote in it telling her that I missed her and hoped that she was happy in Heaven. I sealed it and stuck it in the bottom of my drawer. Mother's Day was a month after that and I had gotten my other grandmother a card, so I got one for my Grandma too. We used to joke that she was my "Real" Grandma because I always spent so much time with her. (My Mom's mother lived in Las Vegas for most of the time when I was growing up and I only saw her when she would come to stay with us at Christmas.)

That fall, I asked my dad if he had visited Grandma's grave. He told me that he hadn't. One October afternoon, I was in the Bronx doing the Breast Cancer walk with my friends and a guy I was dating at the time and on the way home I told him I needed to make a detour. Absentmindedly navigating using the GPS on my Blackberry, we made our way to the cemetery; through the roads of graves and to the top of hillside where my grandma was buried. She didn't have a gravestone yet - just a small plaque in the ground with her name on it. I started hysterical crying and my date rubbed my back. He left me alone and I talked to her. I was glad that I had come, to let her know that I cared, that someone cared. Then we left and went home. I never told my dad that I went to her grave that day and he still doesn't know.

Christmas that year was going to be my first Christmas without her and my first time going to the house since she died. My dad kind of threw me under the bus and left me to go by myself. It just felt so different, so empty. It had always been Grandma's house and now, Grandma didn't live here anymore. I tried to make awkward conversation with my uncles and grandpa. We exchanged presents and watched some TV. I stayed for maybe an hour and a half, the whole time I was fidgeting and trying not to cry. I told them I had to get going since I had a long drive home. As soon as I got into my car, I began crying again and cried half of the ride home. I knew at that moment I would never be able to set foot in that house again. I just couldn't do it - it was too hard. Everything about even going inside that building reminded me of her. I still to this day can't even call the house either because she would always answer phone and I know that if I call now, she won't be on the other end.

My Uncle Michael died earlier this year too. We half joked that its a good thing my grandma died first because she wouldn't have been able to handle losing him, but it was true. He was the other closest person in my life; He was Mushy and I was Squishy and we were partners in crime. He was always like a big bear. We would play and watch cartoons and he would draw for me. He was a really good artist but he never finished high school or went to college; he was really talented. He loved Lord of the Rings and Native American culture. He would take me to the park or McDonald's or the movies; even to see crappy little girl movies like "The Babysitters Club". At his funeral, my dad and I went up to his coffin and my dad told me that he'd never met two people who were so alike; that we had been cut from the same mold. Michael was his oldest brother and they were always very close. They'd talk on the phone once a week and call each other names and get each other gag gifts for the holidays. When I was little and stayed at my grandparents, as soon as my uncle would come home, I would run to the door. MUSHY!!!!!! and give him a big hug. He was 6'5" so I only came up about half away on him. Once I even wrote a poem entitled, "I am Mushy" to the rhythm of "I am Woman" by Helen Reddy; it was all about him and his loud snoring. He was my favorite uncle.


So, why bring up something as depressing as death? Well, I am in the middle of working on my novel right now. It's about a woman who loses her husband and she spends the rest of the year dealing with the pain of her loss and trying to grieve and struggling and remembering everything about her relationship with her husband. But I'm having some problems - I've never lost someone who I loved in that romantic kind of way. Even though I have lost people I loved, there's something completely different about losing someone who you are emotionally, physically, intimately connected with. Even in the case of my grandmother, I probably don't even feel half the pain that my father feels or have experienced the same type of grief that he has because that was his mom. I am still not sure if I know that I can portray this properly but I am trying. I have been Googling support forums and other questions I have like "When should I take my wedding ring off after my husband dies?" so that I can make my character's experience believable and her situation relatable. I know that grief is a long process and everyone has to find their own way through things, so I am trying to use that in relation to my character's personality. I just hope I can do this justice.

Because this is for my Grandma - because she always believed in me.

If you have any input or stories about your own loss, or advice you'd like to give that you think will help me write my store, please comment. I would greatly appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Truth or Fiction

For as long as I can remember I have always been a writer. That's just what I've always known how to do; put words together on paper or on a computer screen to form sentences that mean something. They have been known to draw people in, make them think and laugh and cry and feel. Works of fiction that have been bred from real life experience or from fantasy. I have started a lot of stories and never finished. I have finished a lot of stories before they even began. I have written poems that have taken pieces of my soul and put them on sorted display for all the world to see. But every day I live my life, it always feels like my biggest story yet; every day is a new page, a new chapter, a new storyline. My life might just turn out to be one giant work of fiction.

Recently, I became involved with working on a piece for National Novel Writing Month. (www.nanowrimo.org, for those that are unfamiliar.) The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and November 30th. As of today, November 17, I am currently hovering around 22,107 words. This is probably the most I have ever written in my entire life of one consistent piece. Now, they tell you as part of the "contest" that it's only the word count that matters, but to me, it's so much more than that. It's proving to myself once and for all that I really do have what it takes to be a writer. All the years of criticizing myself, of worrying, of losing faith and giving up on story lines because I don't know how to flesh out my characters or come up with decent plots or structure; of self-loathing because everyone else's work I read is so much better than mine; of thinking that everyone write's so much better, thinks so much better, is such a better writer - that I'm not good enough to compete with them. All that is banished this month.

I am treading water and keeping my head above the surface with this story. I am confident that it is meaningful and readable and likable. It is from my heart and the depths of my soul. I am putting little pieces of myself and my life throughout these pages. My real experiences and my fantasies, just as before, and I am making them work. I am seeing things come to life. I find myself stopping and going back and adding more and figuring out how I can make things better, more interesting, more exciting, more fleshed out. I wake up in the middle of the night and jot story ideas into my phone. I sneak in chances to write between things I am doing at work. I am finding my footing and finding my voice - finally. And it feels absolutely liberating.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

America, the (Big and) Beautiful

Obesity in America has become a growing problem over the past several decades. And while no one is expected to be a size 6 or have a 32 inch waist, the fact remains that our country is just plain fat. We are constantly bombarded with commercials from fast food restaurants on one hand and then, images of hard bodied hotties on the other. So what is Joe or Jane Average to do? There's no denying that body image obsession and striving for perfection has sent the number of eating disorders and plastic surgery procedure statistics through the roof, but what about a different kind of eating disorder - one where people can't or won't stop eating? What about procedures like gastric bypass or lapband? These instances are greatly on the rise as well. But is there a happy and healthy medium to be found?

The invention of the drive thru and microwaveable dinners and take out pizza has made our society, already pressured that every second of our time is valuable and equated to a dollar amount, undeniably lazy. Take for example, a mother of three in Middle America, already stressed from a long day of work, chores and playing carpool for her kids afterschool activities. She doesn't want to have to think about preparing a meal from scratch for her family and so she stops to pick up something quick and pre-made on her way home. She isn't thinking about the calories or the carbs or sodium or preservatives or the fat content; All she cares about is getting her family fed fast and getting on to the next task on her list. Some people depend too highly on this convenience and fail to realize that, over time, eating these meals on the go eventually catches up with you.

Now, I'm not saying you have to eat all organic, low fat, lean protein and steamed vegetables all the time, but you should have a balanced diet. French fries and pizza five times a week provides no real nutritional value. Growing up, our neighbors almost never cooked dinner. We would see pizza boxes outside with their trash on a weekly basis. In my house, pizza was a treat when it was someone's birthday or we came home late. My mom always cooked, no matter how stressed she was. And it never had to be something complicated - she usually always had dinner ready in 30 minutes or less. But the point is that she actually took the time to cook a meal that didn't contain 1100 calories and 32 grams of sodium.

The city of San Francisco banned "happy meals" in fast food restaurants recently, citing the concern for the growing trends in childhood obesity. They said that having toys in these calorie-riddled meals encouraged kids to eat unhealthily, despite McDonald's and other fast food establishments recent incorporation of healthy alternative choices with their happy meals such as chocolate milk and apple slices instead of french fries and Coca-Cola. In my opinion, having a toy or not having a toy in a meal isn't going to make a child eat any healthier if you're already taking them to McDonalds! And no one is forcing a parent to take their child there, so why cut out the toy option? The problem is obviously starting at home when a parent gets it into their mind that taking their kid out for a burger and fries makes for a well-balanced meal.

Apart from society's obsession with thinness, there has been a growing obsession with obesity. Shows like "Celebrity Fit Club" and "The Biggest Loser" have millions of people tuning in to watch people who are anywhere from extremely overweight to morbidly obese turn their lives around in an effort to get healthy. And more people should be getting healthy. Obesity is one of the leading killers in America these days. Obesity leads to extreme health problems like Type 2 Diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol and organ failure, just to name a few. Losing weight shouldn't have anything to do with wanting to fit a particular body image - and continuing to live an unhealthy lifestyle shouldn't be excused by a person saying that they are comfortable in their 350 lb body, because no one is comfortable when they are 350 lbs.

I have seen people who are morbidly obese using canes to walk or power scooters to get around, simply because they are too fat to stand on their own two feet. They cannot walk or support themselves under their own weight. 700 lb adults are bed ridden and have to be forklifted out of their homes after a SWAT team comes and knocks down a wall, just to get out and get medical attention. The truth is abundantly clear: We are too damn fat for our own good.When did this country just settle and become complacent about our growing weight problems? When did it become acceptable to be so fat that you can't even fit into a normal pair of pants or an airline chair or your own car? Does the level of laziness that has increased in this country - from the quick, fast food, drive thru lifestyles and self-checkout lines, internet shopping and On Demand movies and automated everything - does that go hand in hand with our growing obesity? Perhaps.

Recently, a Marie Claire blogger, Maura Kelly, was criticized when she wrote an article about becoming disgusted over watching a reality show where two fat people were in love. People tore her apart all over the internet and in other media outlets, basically condemning her as a "Fatty Hatter". She then issued an apology for making anyone feel bullied or ashamed for being fat in the article. To be honest, her opinion is her opinion, and I don't think she should have been bullied or ashamed for what she said because most of it was true.

Obesity has gotten to such an extreme point that now it is becoming fetishized. Sure, fat people want to feel acceptable, to feel like they belong and to not be judged by their size. They want to see people on TV and in magazines who look like them too, but at what cost? A show on ABC family called "Huge" revolves around teen drama at a weight loss summer camp, which is supposedly meant to empower obese children and teens and make them feel like they have characters on TV that they can relate to. The fact that weight loss camps even exist in the first place should be a big red flag in this country. Your child should be out being active on a regular basis and not forced to exercise once their doctor finally informs you that your child is dangerously overweight for their age and corralled off to some special institute for other fat kids. And more times than not, fat children are the product of fat parents because that is where their get their eating and diet habits from.

So where does the change begin? How do we as a country, as a whole, get on the right track and start to get to normal, healthy weights? Again, I'm not saying that every woman has to be a size 6 or an 8 or even a size 12, but you should be able to walk up a flight of stairs and not get winded (especially if you are a non-smoker) and to not worry about having a heart attack before you're 35. It doesn't have to be entirely about exercise; you don't have to hit the treadmill five times a week. It doesn't have to be about starving yourself on ridiculous diets or using weight loss pills or getting stomach stapling surgery. (Which, by the way, many doctors will not perform certain gastric surgeries if a person is extremely overweight because of the extreme risk of heart attack involved.) It starts with changing your mindset and your eating habits. Change the way you view food and its portions and its nutritional value. Don't lose weight because you feel forced by society or have a negative image about your body - do it because you want to be healthy and feel better! Do it because you want to live!

Below are some statistics and informational links about obesity and what you can do if you or someone you know want to change your life and start getting healthy: (Of course, you should also consult a physician first if you are thinking of making any kind of major change in your dietary habits and exercise plan.)