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Lemonade

May 20, 2017

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Right? That’s what we’re told. And yet, turning something bad into something good inevitably pisses someone off. I’ve been working diligently on being more positive and trying really hard to not wallow in the crap. That’s a difficult thing for me to do – not wallow. I let things get to me when they shouldn’t. 

Lately my life has been a series of tsunamis. It’s been wave after wave of crap coming at me and I’m letting it all get to me. Which means I have puffy eyes and there are dust bunnies all over the house. I’ve managed to stay on top of work, but it’s taken a Herculean effort to stay focused. I’ve made all kinds of mistakes in my work because I am so distracted.

I’m not sure how to make lemonade. Each morning I wake up and try to psych myself up for the day.

“I’m not going to let all these assholes get me down!” I tell myself. 

I start pretending I’m Rocky in the first Rocky and I’m jumping rope to Eye of the Tiger.

I’ve got this, even if I am out of breath before the first chorus.

And then something else happens. Today my basement is flooded. It’s no surprise, it rained two inches last night and my basement leaks like a sieve. I was just hoping to have a dry year this year.

My plan for today was to launch a GoFundMe campaign to presell my book so I can finally get it published. I need to have it professionally edited, I need to get a cover designed and I need a kick ass marketing campaign. I have an agency who rocks, just not enough cheddah in the budget. I’ve been putting it off because I don’t want to ask for help. I hate asking for help because it makes me feel weak and vulnerable and then I start telling myself that I am not worthy of help and the next thing you know I’ve gone down that rabbit hole I’ve spent years trying to climb out of. 

That was my plan, and then the same shit that happens over and over happened again. It seems every spring the basement floods and my ex threatens to drag me to court. Inevitably the dog will pee on the couch which will send me over the edge for a few minutes. Of course the dog pees on the couch because he is afraid of the rain, and because I forgot to put his diaper on.

Every year it is the same. 

I can’t seem to get out of this rut no matter how hard I try. It was my plan to launch my GoFundMe campaign 15 days ago. It’s been ready to go, but I’ve been too afraid to launch it. Actually, turns out I did launch it, I just didn’t know it (shut up! I’ve been a little distracted). What I am afraid to do is promote it. 

Thing is, nothing will change if I don’t start taking some risks. This is scary. I can’t even begin to tell you how scary this is. What if no one wants my book? I’m trying to presell it because that seems less like begging, but if no one wants it then what am I going to do? 

I’m not going to worry about that. Just like I’m not going to keep giving those negative thoughts anymore space in my head. 

If you’d like to pre – purchase my book – Minnesota Nice – you can do so here. If you’d like to learn more continue reading….

About Minnesota Nice

I’m wrote a book about my family.

It doesn’t sound all that intriguing does it? Wait, it gets better. You see my mom had a stroke when I was four years old, leaving her severely mentally and physically handicapped.  A few years later my father revealed that he was gay. A few years after that my brother came out as a Republican. You can’t make this stuff up.

Statistics from the Straight Spouse Network assert that up to two million gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the United States are or have been heterosexually married. Another demographics study showed that of the 27 million American men currently married, 1.6 percent, or 436,000 men, identifies themselves as gay or bisexual. Countless children have come of age in what is commonly referred to as a “mixed-orientation marriage,” most simply try to move on, too ashamed to admit that their family was any different from the norm. Even as adults they keep their skeleton in the closet, afraid to appear anything but like the wholesome Brady Bunch. Guess what? Mr. Brady was gay.

We were different and I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.

This is not anti LGBT. While I am sure fewer mixed orientation marriages take place in 2017, they still happen. The shame of growing up in one of these families is not due to a gay parent, it is due to the deception and lying that the parent must maintain to keep the secret. 

This is not some dry memoir. It is filled with humorous stories of a family trying to figure out how they all fit together. There are heartbreaking moments as well, but all told with the love and clarity that can only come with years of distance and a few dead family members.

Minnesota Nice has been compared to Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Fault in our Stars by John Green and most recently to 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. 

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Let’s Talk about 13 Reasons Why

April 28, 2017
Let's talk about 13 reasons why

By now you’ve heard all the hype about the Netflix series, so let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why, shall we? This is about my 5th attempt at writing about the show, and it probably won’t be my last. 

Before we go any further **** Major Spoiler Alert**** don’t read anymore if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens.

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series based on the Jay Asher book of the same name. It covers the themes most high schoolers, and many middle schoolers face every day – including bullying, rape and suicide. It’s graphic and the internet is losing its collective shit over it. Schools are sending notes home about it, every single newscast has covered it and you can’t surf the web without finding blog posts just like this one defending it or criticizing it. Paris Jackson is one of many people telling people not to watch it. I’m here to tell you, if you have kids, you should definitely watch it if for no other reason to understand what kids go through on a regular basis. 

While I have some issues with the series, I think it is always a good thing to talk about the stuff that scares us. Bullying, rape and suicide as well as teen drug and alcohol use, is scary stuff, but if we want to help kids navigate these complicated thing we’re going to need to have a dialog. 13 Reasons Why gets that dialog started.

Suicide is Never Painless

You can read a much better synopsis here, but in a nutshell the story is about a Clay Jensen, a shy high schooler who is given a shoebox of numbered cassette tapes created by Hannah Baker, a friend of Clay’s who recently killed herself. Each tape details one of the 13 reasons why she killed herself and those responsible have listened to the tapes and have been instructed to pass them along to the next person on the tape, which is why Clay has them. According to Hannah, he is partly responsible for her suicide.

Clay is responsible for her death in that he didn’t come out and tell her how he felt about her. His is one of the lesser reasons why she killed herself, though it torments Clay that he didn’t do more. Other people on the tape have teased her, bullied her, humiliated her, stabbed her in the back, and finally raped her. She even includes her guidance counselor who suggests she move on after she tells him about the rape, instead of going to the authorities and having the little snot arrested. 

It is then – when the counselor lets her down – that she comes up with the plan to create the tapes and then kill herself by getting into the bathtub and slitting her wrists – depicted rather graphically in the show.

I should mention, I have not read the book. I understand it has a different flavor to it, and I suspect it doesn’t come off as flippantly as it does in the series. I loved them, but the series felt like a too long After School Special. 

Aside from how it ends – with Hannah killing herself – there is nothing in this series that I, and many of my friends, didn’t experience at that age. What happened to Jessica – raped while passed out drunk, and Hannah – overpowered and raped, is actually quite common. Now we call it date rape, but when I was growing up it was called being in the wrong place at the wrong time or asking for it. We’ve come a long way, because we’ve been willing to talk about it. So let’s keep talking about it because clearly it’s still happening.

Teenage Wasteland

I thought the depiction of teenage life was incredibly accurate. Kids drink, they take drugs, they have sex, and they do a lot of stupid things – all while parents and teachers look the other way because they don’t want to dig too deep. My book, Minnesota Nice, is about all of these issues (I’m working on publishing soon, stay tuned for more info about that).

I also thought the depiction of the aftermath of her death – how her parents react and how the kids deal with it – was pretty well done. I didn’t see any glorifying of suicide. 

My issue is with Hannah’s storyline. She’s depressed and yet she is still motivated enough to create these 13 tapes. I get that they’re a device to move the plot along, it just seemed heavy handed to me. Plenty of teenagers kill themselves each day, most do so quietly because they already feel as though they don’t matter and that no one cares. Hannah obviously thought enough people would care to listen to the tapes. Hers was the sort of suicide most teens have fantasized about – getting even, even if it means getting dead. 

Trigger Warning

Since the show has come out, many teens, teachers and parents are worried that the show is triggering and therefore shouldn’t have been made. I can’t even begin to understand that kind of reasoning. If something is triggering then it absolutely needs to be discussed. Possibly with a professional, but certainly with a parent or trusted teacher. 

I lost three friends to suicide when I was a teenager. It’s an absolutely horrible thing to experience. And yes, cluster suicides are a thing, which is why we need to bring suicide out into the light. Thinking about suicide shouldn’t be taboo – because I promise you every single teenager (and more and more middle schoolers) have thought about their own suicide. I would hazard a guess that every human that lives and breathes has at one time or another contemplated taking their own life. And yet, we make the thought of it something to be ashamed of. 

When asked on most pediatrician questionnaires if they’ve considered suicide before, most teens will lie because they fear being pushed into therapy or the psych ward for thinking about something that is actually pretty normal. I know I have. 

It Gets Better, Promise

Life is scary, people are mean, and bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get better. It usually always gets better. And that’s the point of the series, to show how wasteful suicide is. Hannah was a smart, funny, caring, and loving young woman. She had everything to look forward to in her future, she just couldn’t see past what she was experiencing to believe it would ever get better. We need to impress upon our kids that the pressure cooker that is middle school and high school gets better. If they can just hang in there (with professional help) they will be okay. Life is always a struggle, and for some it is much worse than for others. Life is not fair, but it does get better. The more we talk about these things the less damage they can do. 

I grew up reading books like The Bell Jar, Go Ask Alice and other rather dark tales about teens descent into the abyss. Teenage years can suck for a lot of people, they did for me and many of my friends. Having those books, seeing the After School Specials, helped me feel less alone. Because if people are writing about these topics and they’re making movies and TV shows about these heavy subjects, it means someone else has experienced these shitty things and managed to not only survive, but somehow thrive.

Let’s keep talking about Thirteen Reasons Why.

 

 

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Compliment Freely

April 25, 2017
compliment freely

Do you compliment freely? Which do you do more often – compliment or criticize? The consensus seems to be that we are in a hand basket on our way to hell. It doesn’t matter where you look, people jump on each other for saying or doing anything, even with the best of intentions. 

Here are just a few recent examples of companies and people that were taken to task for doing or saying the wrong thing:

  • Shea Moisture – For including white women in their latest ad campaign.
  • Pepsi – For suggesting that Kendall Jenner and Pepsi can end racism, among other issues.
  • Anything Sean Spicer says.
  • Everything President Trump says or does including breathing.

I’m not passing judgment on any of these examples or their respective backlash, but I do think we’d all do ourselves a huge favor if instead of jumping on the outrage bandwagon, we used our energy to compliment rather than criticize.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

My grandmother always said – “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. She didn’t always follow her own advice, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Have you ever received a compliment from a stranger and it seemed to instantly change your mood for the better? Not only does a compliment instantly make the receiver happy, but it also greatly boosts that person’s confidence.

Imagine a child trying to learn how to play a piece on the piano and a member of the family yells at them to stop making that racket. Will the child look forward to piano practice or will they dread it and eventually give up? 

Learning anything new is difficult, in fact to master something it is suggested it takes at least 10k hours. That’s a lot of sucking at something until you “get” it.

And in those 10k hours of sucking at something, there’s an abundance of people willing to tell you how much you suck.

We Become what we Believe

When I was around 18 years old I picked up my brother from the University of Minnesota. It was late in the afternoon and I had my parents new beagle puppy in the car with me. I think I had taken the puppy to get shots. I only remember the puppy being in the car because it was then that we discovered he had motion sickness. Anyway, I rarely drove with my brother. If we were going somewhere together he was going to drive. However, it was late in the afternoon, the campus was busy and I didn’t want to park so pretty much I agreed to arrive at a specific place at a specific time and he jumped in the car while it was basically still moving. There wasn’t time to switch drivers.

As we were crossing the bridge another car swerved over, obviously I was in his blind spot, and would have hit us if I hadn’t reacted quickly and swerved out of his way. 

I executed the move flawlessly. I know this because my brother actually said I did some great driving. 

He was impressed.

It was luck. Thankfully, there was just enough room on the other side of me to swerve – there was no one in the other lane. 

I don’t mean to minimize my skills behind the wheel, but I had several accidents under my belt. It was luck combined with keeping a cool head – something I was not known for.

Because my brother, about the only person in my life who I looked up to, said I was a good driver, I believed it. In fact, since that time I have only been in two other accidents. Neither of which were my fault. 

I am confident when I drive and consider myself a very good driver. Of course, I’ve probably done 10k hours worth of driving since that moment on the bridge with the sick puppy in the back seat.  Make no mistake, there is no doubt in my mind that being told by someone I thought highly of that I was a good driver helped to make me a good driver. 

We Believe what we Become

On the other hand, my brother used to call me “Post Toasties”. To this day I don’t know why he nick named me after a breakfast cereal. I only know it wasn’t a good nick name. It was not a term of endearment. I know this because he and his friends all laughed whenever he called me “Post Toasties”. They may have been laughing because that’s what big brothers and their friends do when teasing little sisters. However, I was a child and didn’t understand that sometimes kids do things without thinking too much about why they are doing them.

In my mind it was simply another way for him to call me “fat”, without my parents finding out. I jumped to that conclusion all by myself. It fit perfectly with what I had been told my grandmother, children at school and was seeing in the teen magazines I was devouring along with the Twinkies and PopTarts. I take full responsibility for the eating disorder I cultivated during those years, and I doubt a compliment would have been enough to prevent it from taking root, but it might have given me pause if someone had given me one.

Compliment Freely

Words we choose carry so much power. We can either uplift or we can tear down. Lately it seems, all we do is tear each other down.

Instead of criticizing try to compliment. If that isn’t possible – and let’s face it, it isn’t always possible – just remember you don’t have to say anything. 

Compliment freely. You could be the difference between someone’s success or failure. A few small words can make all the difference in the world. So choose them wisely. 

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Tater Tot Hot Dish with Mushroom Risotto

January 10, 2017
Tater Tot Hot Dish with Mushroom Risotto

This recipe, Tater Tot Hot Dish with Mushroom Risotto, is a variation of the Authentic Minnesota Tater Tot Hot Dish. Like all great flukes it happened because I didn’t read the recipe carefully and ended up with way too much liquid so I had to find a way to make it less soggy. I had a bag of Alessi Risotto with Mushrooms so I quickly cooked it up and added it to the mixture. 

You’ll notice I said mixture. Oops. Another mistake. I mixed all of the ingredients instead of layering them. 

Even though I am an authentic Minnesotan, I did not grow up on Tater Tot Hot Dish. I did date a guy whose mom made it (and he raved about) but that was as close to it as I got until I made it last year.

OMG it is delicious! And it’s perfect for cold weather. I have not tried it in the InstantPot because I just don’t think the Tater Tots would do well in it. They really need to get crisped up in the oven.

You can see the original recipe here.

Tater Tot Hot Dish with Mushroom Risotto

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 lb ground beef, browned

2 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup

2 can vegetables (I used corn and peas because I didn’t have two cans of either one of them)

1 packaged prepared Alessi risotto with mushrooms, or any packaged rice with mushrooms

While the oven is preheating, brown the ground beef (seasoning to taste as you cook) and drain off the grease.

In a mixing bowl combine soup, ground beef, drained vegetables and risotto. Mix well. Place mixture in baking dish or casserole.

Arrange tater tots on top of mixture.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Top with your favorite variety of shredded cheese as you serve.

That’s it! This is a great hot dish for a winter day when you have to go out and shovel snow. Goes well with any boxed white wine.

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No Mom, You Didn’t Cause My Eating Disorder

January 5, 2017
No Mom, you didn't cause my eating disorder

I actually said this to my mother today: “No Mom, you didn’t cause my eating disorder”, really, she didn’t. Last week, I made the mistake of telling my mother I was bulimic when I was younger. I didn’t mean to tell her. I knew if I did, it would turn out just like it did. And yet, when it happened, I was unable to stop myself.

A Little Backstory

For those of you who are new here, my mother is in a nursing home, she has been for 10 years. She experienced cerebral hypoxia when I was 4 years old, due to pneumonia. It resulted in severe brain damage with memory loss and physical disabilities. She has a horrible short term memory – think Dory in Finding Nemo, except not as funny. It actually can be funny at times, but mostly it’s just aggravating. Growing up my mother asked what time it was every five minutes, or she’d ask if I had done a chore that I’d completed when I got home from school, over and over again. In addition to the memory issues she also had physical disabilities – mainly difficulty walking, grasping things and anything having to do with coordination. You can read more about my mother’s disabilities here – My Mother has Dementia and it Sucks, and I Made My Mother Cry…Again

I Am Not Carrie Fisher

Every since Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died, my mother has been obsessing on my book. Again for those of you who are new here, I wrote a book, a memoir actually, called Minnesota Nice. I have not published it yet, for a variety of reasons. The main one being that my mother asked me to wait until she had passed away before I publish. My father asked me the same thing except when he asked me I hadn’t written it yet. Anyway, my mother now confabulates our mother/daughter relationship with Carrie and Debbie’s. There are surprisingly many similarities between the two. Regardless, she has decided that I must publish my book so I can capitalize on the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Mom would have been an awesome blogger if she could type faster than two words a minute. 

It is Confusing

I know, it’s confusing. What does my book have to do with my eating disorder? My memoir is about growing up in a fucked up home. My mom had her disabilities and my dad was gay, but shoved so far back in the closet only the family knew about it and we weren’t talking about it. Well, except my mother was, to me, when I was way to0 young to understand any of it. She mostly drank Manhattans, smoked Benson and Hedges cigarettes and cried to me how my father was out banging all the cabana boys at the gay bar. In addition to those concerns, I was a below average student in a school for above average children. Oh, and I was fat. 

Dementia Sucks

Even though my mother says she wants me to publish the book now, I don’t believe her. She has changed her mind about this for the last five years, or as long as she has known it existed. For the longest time she was convinced she wrote it and that Merv Griffin was going to turn it into a movie. According to my mother, Merv was a resident in her nursing home. For the record, he was not, he died in 2007, and as far as I know, never lived in Minnesota. Wow, this all sounds crazy! Anyway, she goes back and forth about me publishing it so I figure since I won’t be able to put the genie back in the bottle I’ll wait. 

More Backstory

The reason I want to wait, is because there are a few things about my younger years that she doesn’t know about. The eating disorder was one of them, the very least troubling of them. She thinks I want to protect her from sharing the story of my parent’s marriage so publicly. I don’t, it was messed up, but there was a deep connection between them. And besides, it turns out everyone knew about my dad. Turns out he wasn’t very good at hiding things.

I was. I was very good at hiding my bulimia. So when my mother challenged me the other week – when she said she knew everything there was to know about me – I threw out my eating disorder to test the waters, so to speak.

I knew it was a mistake right away. I could see the words hanging there in front of me, practically, and yet I couldn’t pull them back.

Of course, her first response was that yes, she did know about it. 

And suddenly I was 14 years old again and ready to go to battle with my mother.

“What do you mean you knew about it?” I asked, “why didn’t you do anything?”

She didn’t know, I know she didn’t know, but there I was ready to fight. My blood pressure rising and my fists clenching at my sides.

My mother would often cop to knowing something she did not know. Partly because of her memory loss. She couldn’t remember what she couldn’t remember so she often confabulated or just outright lied. It was about pride more than anything. She hated to admit she had any disability and she was needed to be in control of things. 

That was last week. The visit ended and I didn’t think much of it, I just hoped she’d forget about it in a few minutes like most things.

Of course the big things she shoves into her long term memory as quickly as possible. 

When I arrived this week all she wanted to do was talk about it.

Sigh.

It’s really old history to me. I haven’t been bulimic since the mid 90s. I don’t want to go down that memory lane. And yet, I opened this can of worms – so there I was.

No Mom, You Didn’t Cause My Eating Disorder

Mom had decided that she was the cause of my bulimia. She wasn’t, I don’t know how she made that leap, but she was sure it was her fault because she “ruined my life”, her words, not mine. I tried to convince my mother that she hadn’t caused my eating disorder and that she had in fact, not ruined my life. We have a very complicated mother/daughter relationship and a difficult history, but, I tried to explain, it was character building. 

“If we didn’t have such a screwed up home, I wouldn’t have a book” I told her. “If you want to blame anyone for my eating disorder blame the school I went to, it was a pressure cooker and I wasn’t the only one there with an eating disorder, in fact it was quite common.”

She laughed at that, at first, and then she started crying again because she sent me to that “god awful” school, her words, not mine. 

I didn’t want to tell my mother about my eating disorder because I didn’t want her to feel responsible – she wasn’t, but also because as a mother myself, I know how difficult it is to hear about your child’s pain and be unable to do anything about it. I’ve changed history for her in a really shitty way. She’s helpless to help because it isn’t an issue anymore. 

As I left, she was smiling. 

“Say hi to Carrie for me,” she said.

 

 

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Movies You’ll Want To See: 20th Century Women

January 4, 2017
Movies You'll Want To See: 20th Century Women

File this under Movies You’ll Want To See: 20th Century Women. As a Minnesota blogger and influencer (yeah, I cringed just a little when I typed that last word) I get advance screening tickets to some pretty great movies including Moana, that last Star Wars movie and now 20th Century Women.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of this movie before I got the invite and I was hesitant pass on the info because the title doesn’t really do much for me. It doesn’t give me enough info about the movie which makes me suspect it’s trying to hide something.

That’s silly on my part because it has Annette Bening in it. 20th Century Women also has Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann and Billy Crudup in it. Also, it takes place in 1979 which is when my story, Minnesota Nice, begins. 

As a single mom to a son, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to relate to this story. The few minutes I saw of the trailer made it clear this is one of those movies that gets under your skin and stays with you for a while. I’m looking forward to seeing it next week.

If you’re in the Twin Cities and would like to attend an advance screening of 20TH CENTURY WOMEN  starring Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig & Elle Fanning  on Thursday, January 12 at 7pm at Landmark Lagoon, then download a FREE pair of passes by clicking on the link below (while supplies last). Please be advised that this screening is overbooked to ensure a full house. Seating is first come, first served, so arrive early to guarantee a seat!

Link to download passes: http://www.gofobo.com/qbVrn81486

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Redhead Ranting 2016 Roundup

December 31, 2016
Redhead Ranting 2016 Roundup

For your reading pleasure I’ve put together my sometimes annual Redhead Ranting 2016 Roundup. Every other media outlet does a roundup so I thought, what the heck, I’ll do one too!

I’m actually surprised I wrote enough this year for a roundup. In fact, I actually wrote and published 60 posts this year, which is my third time high since I started blogging in 2007. It’s twice as much as I wrote last year.

There were basically 4 categories this year, the election, my mother, recipes, and Prince, and an outlier about Dini the cat. It’s a long post, and most didn’t bother to read it, but it’s one that harkens back to my early days of blogging, when I just told a story and enjoyed the journey.

No One Ever Said There Would Be This Much Cat Vomit

Blog Posts about the Election

I really didn’t think he’d win, and I might watch too much Walking Dead.

How to Survive the Trumpacolypse

How to Prepare for the Post Election Apocalypse

OMG Stop Unfriending Each Other!

Blog Posts about my Relationship with My Mother

My relationship with my mother is difficult at best, but it isn’t unique. I also posted a story from my book, Minnesota Nice. 

Life Isn’t Fair

I Made my Mother Cry… Again

Do You Know your ACE Score?

Recipes

I cook a lot this year, mostly because I got an Instant Pot – the most awesome thing ever!

Shrimp Alfredo in 7 Minutes

Cheesy Smoked Sausage Hot Dish Instant Pot Recipe

Authentic Minnesota Tater Tot Hot Dish Recipe – Seriously, if you try a new dish in 2017, make it the MN Tater Tot Hotdish, you won’t be sorry. 

Best and Worst in Books and Movies and Blogs

I saw and reviewed several movies this year, they aren’t worth sharing here except for one exceptionally horrible movie I really hoped would be awesome. It wasn’t.

Independence Day Resurgence Review

Life Changing Books

Bloggers who Blog

Prince and Jacob

2016 was a year of loss, but these two are still difficult for me to reckon with. 

Summer in Minnesota 2016: We Lost Prince and Found Jacob

On the Passing of Prince, from a Minnesotan

Minnesota Nice People Things that piss me off WTF?

Life isn’t Fair

December 2, 2016
life isn't fair

My mother had been telling me that life isn’t fair since as far back as I could remember. She’d married a gay man and had a debilitating stroke before she reached the age of 30, so I figured she knew what she was talking about. It didn’t really hit home for me until I was in middle school.

The Back Story

When I was 10 or 11, I was on the University Club swimming team. Today the University Club is a private club for the well-to-do of St. Paul. 100 years ago it was a private club for the well-to-do, including F. Scott Fitzgerald who got his drink on there most days and nights. In the 70s it was still a private club and it was still a haven for the well-to-do of the town, but the swimming team was the worst in the league. The club was run down and not nearly as nice as some of the other clubs in the area.

I was not athletic by any stretch of the imagination. I was “chunky” as my brother liked to point out at every occasion. I played softball in the triangle park, and kick-the-can and ditch and all those other neighborhood games that kids play, but I wasn’t very good. I did not volunteer for the team. My parents signed me up for the team because it kept my brother and me somewhat occupied during the summer.

Growing up around 10k plus lakes I knew how to swim. I was a strong swimmer – I could, and still can, swim two lengths of the pool under water without taking a breath – but races aren’t swum underwater. The only practical use for that skill, that I have ever seen, was in the 1972 movie The Poseidon Adventure when Shelly Winters (someone who would also be labeled chunky) swam a great distance underwater to get the guide rope to the other side of the chasm. **** Spoiler – she died after succeeding****

I’m a Loser Baby

I was probably the worst swimmer on the team. I came in dead last every time I raced. I wasn’t proud of it, but I was accustomed to it. There were only two other girls in my age division. The other two were very fast swimmers, probably some of the best in the league. Betsy, not her real name, always came in first place. It wasn’t even a question, we all knew she would win.

The sky was blue, water was wet and Betsy always took first place.

Betsy was popular, attractive, graceful, confident, athletic and not the least bit chunky. Betsy was also kind of a bitch, to me at least. Although I was not allowed to use that word back then. She had a posse, I did not.

I was none of those things. I was someone who lost every race and who had come to terms with the word “chunky”, it was certainly better than the other nick name my brother called me – Post Toasties – said with such contempt it must be horrible though to this day I still have no idea why I was nicked named for a cereal. I was sure it was a way to call me fat without alerting my parents to such a thing, but I really don’t know.

Anything is Possible

Anyway, one summer afternoon we had a meet, I was called to take my place for the race and headed over to the edge of the pool, ready to accept defeat like always. My brother stopped me when I passed by him on the way to the end of the pool.

“You swim with your fingers wide apart. That’s why you’re so slow,” he said. “See how my fingers are pressed tightly together when I push the water away? When you keep your fingers closed it’s like having a paddle; you’ll swim faster.”

He pantomimed the stroke for me while emphasizing his closed fingers.

“Give it a try” he said encouragingly.

Talk about pressure. My brother was fast, he was clever, he was smart, he was a really good swimmer and I was sure he was embarrassed by having me as a sister, especially at the pool where we had to wear Speedos. I didn’t think this simple little tip was going to change anything, but I was thrilled he was actually trying to help me. I wasn’t too concerned about other people, but I really cared what he thought of me, I wanted him to be proud of me and so far that hadn’t happened. I was just the stupid little sister who tagged around getting in his way and making life difficult for him.

I got on my mark and when the whistle blew I dove in and kept my fingers togethers. I swam as hard as I could and went into my kick turn at the same time as everyone else. I pushed off the wall and just kept going.

I repeated this mantra to myself as I swam – Keep your fingers closed, keep your fingers closed, keep your fingers closed. 

Holy Shit!

I slapped the edge of the pool and to my surprise, and everyone else’s, I won.

I didn’t come in third place, I didn’t come in second. I came in first place. It was close, very close, but I actually beat three other swimmers. I actually beat Betsy.

I climbed out of the pool grasping my first place ribbon. I fondled that blue ribbon. It was the best think I had ever felt in my entire life. It was great. I was sure I was smiling that goofy smile that you couldn’t wipe off your face no matter how hard you tried. My brother even came up to me and congratulated me.

He didn’t say much, just a quick “good job” as he punched me on the shoulder.

Which was fine because I don’t think either of us thought I would actually win. I don’t think his goal in teaching me how to hold my hands was for me to win, it was just not to lose as badly as I usually did.

Life isn’t Fair

And then the click of the PA system sounded.

“Attention, please. The first-place winner of the girls’ 50-meter breaststroke is actually Betsy. Betsy took first place; Jenny took second place. Jenny would you please come to the judges’ table to exchange your ribbon? Thank you.”

I wasn’t even surprised.

Besty was at the judges’ table when I got there. She was making a big scene about how she always won and there was no way she could lose to someone like me. They must have called the race wrong because there is just no way she could possibly lose to fat girl who had lost every single race up until this point.

Obviously the judge agreed because he took my first place ribbon and gave it to Betsy. I stood there and waited for him to give me the second place ribbon — because let’s face it, there is no way someone like me could have possibly won against someone like her.

*This is an excerpt of my yet-to-be-published memoir, Minnesota Nice, if you liked this story please like my book on Facebook.

74 Days of Positivity Dumb Shit I Do Minnesota Nice Things I Really Like Winter Writing

74 Days of Positivity

October 19, 2016
74 Days of Positivity

It’s almost Halloween which means it’s almost winter here in Minnesota so I’ve decided to have 74 days of positivity. If you’re missing the obvious connection, that’s okay. I’ll explain. When the days start to get shorter I start to get this overwhelming urge to hibernate. I don’t necessarily want to sleep, I just don’t want to do anything. I tend to get down. I won’t use the word depressed, because I don’t think that’s what it is. I tend to get negative, especially around the holidays. It seems to set in earlier and earlier each year. By the time How the Grinch Stole Christmas is on TV (usually before Thanksgiving) I’m so sick of all the heart warming bullshit I could just puke.

The holidays tend to suck.

I’m overworked, I’m tired, I’m crabby, etc… Every year I tell myself I’m not going to get all worked up about the holidays, I’m going to delegate some of the work, I’m going to chill the hell out and just enjoy everyone. I tell myself that, right around this time of year, and then as soon as Halloween is over I fall down the rabbit hole and don’t emerge until after Valentine’s Day.

I become more snarky during the holidays, and I’m sick of it.

74 Days of Positivity

I want to enjoy the holidays and all that this beautiful time of year has to offer. I love winter, but I hate the snow. The truth is, I don’t even hate the snow, I hate shoveling the snow.

I can do something about that. I have a child who is able, I can certainly teach her to use the shovel or the snow blower. Sure, I’ll have to endure all kinds of eye rolling, but I’m getting the eye rolling now. May as well make it worth her while. Or mine, as the case may be.

Truth be told, I haven’t fully examined why I hate this time of year so much. It could be that my family is severely fractured. I don’t like it, but I don’t want to fix it either. And, while I think I have let that go, it’s still bothering me so clearly I haven’t. It could be that I’m used to being broke during the holidays. While this has been true in the past, and might be this year too, the reality is I’m doing ok.

I think there are a lot of ghosts of Christmas Pasts that I just assume will make a show even though I have complete control over who shows up and who doesn’t.

It could also be that since I turned 50 I’ve been making a lot of big changes in my life and this is one I need to make.

I’m generally a pretty happy person. Sure, I have my moments and I tend to worry about things that are generally outside of my control, but for the most part I can laugh through much of it. Even if there’s a fair amount of anger underlying my laughter.

I’m tired of being angry. It hasn’t served me very well.

So, for the next 74 days, until the end of the year, I’ll be practicing more positivity.

It could take the form of yoga, going out with the girls (after I meet some girls to hang out with or wrangle the ones I used to hang out with before I isolated myself), it could mean taking time to read instead of doing the same old thing each night of watching TV and hanging out on Facebook.

I’m not really sure how this is going to work, I just know that I’m open to anything that comes along in the next 74 days and plan to look at any and all opportunities as just that – opportunities.

I’m going to actively enjoy life, dammit, instead of just letting it pass me by.

I also expect to piss a few people off while I do this. I’m not sure why, but isn’t that how it always seems? You do something good for yourself and it upsets the applecart?

Books Minnesota Nice

Do you Know your ACE Score?

October 7, 2016
Do you know your ACE score

Do you know your ACE score? Several months ago there was an article making the rounds on social media. With it was a test that determined your likelihood of specific diseases based on how much trauma you experienced as a child. The test measured your Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. Do you know your ACE score? You can click here to take the test and to learn more about it. In a nutshell, what the CDC-Kaiser study found was that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

Do you Know your ACE Score?

ACEs are common, nearly 64% of adults have at least one adverse childhood experience.

As your ACE score increases, so does the risk of disease, social and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.

I scored a 6 on the test.

I saved the article, even purchased the book by the author of the article titled Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. And then I promptly forgot about it.

Last week, in need of something to listen to while on my morning walk, I  started listening to Childhood Disrupted. On some level I absolutely knew that the traumas I endured during my childhood had everything to do with the struggles I face today, even if no one else believes me. Having a study prove it was incredibly gratifying and gave me a huge sense of relief.

I wasn’t just difficult, I didn’t just have a chip on my shoulder, I was not a loser (or if I was, it wasn’t completely my fault) and best of all, there exist ways to reverse some of the damage.

In addition to being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when I was 18, I also suffer from chronic back pain, joint pain, high cholesterol and I have struggled with my weight since I was a young child. I was bulimic by age 13. I have all kinds of inflammation, thankfully I do not have cardiovascular disease (yet), another extremely common ailment of those with high ACE scores.

Ongoing adversity in childhood leads to a chronic state of “fight, flight or freeze.” Researchers at Yale had recently shown that when inflammatory stress hormones flood a child’s body and brain, they alter the genes that oversee our stress reactivity, re-setting the stress response to “high” for life. This increases the risk of inflammation, which manifests later in cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.

I was 4 years old when my mother experienced anoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to complications from pneumonia. The doctors were surprised she survived. However, she suffered a considerable amount of brain damage which caused short term memory loss (think Dory in Finding Nemo, though not as cheerful), loss of mobility and poor reasoning and decision making skills among other things.

We’d been living in Colorado when she got sick, my dad was stationed there for his service in the army. I have few concrete memories of that time, I remember chaos and uncertainty. While my dad got the house back in St. Paul adapted for my mother (relatively speaking), he sent me to live with one of his sisters and my brother to live with his other sister. Again, I remember little except for being picked on regularly by one of my cousins and missing my brother. I was sure my mother had decided to leave us and the woman in the hospital was some replacement. For years I did not believe she was my mother.

We all moved back into the house, The Big Green House, as my mother used to call it in songs she sang to my brother and me, and life went on.

I was a mess of anxiety, I was terrified of just about everything. My brother was no help. He enjoyed scaring the crap out of me – jumping out from behind doors and corners yelling Boo! and then laughing as I jumped a few feet in the air. He also loved to give me shit about my fear of fire and tornados. He especially loved to tease me in front of the neighbor kids who joined in. He enjoyed it so much that some 40 years later at his daughter’s graduation party, surrounded by those very same neighbor kids, he started teasing me about tornados again while everyone laughed.

I wasn’t afraid of fire and tornados because I was afraid for my own safety, I was afraid because I was often left alone with my mother at night. I knew if there was a fire, tornado or some kind of event where I had to get her out of the house quickly, that we would both die. The only saving grace about dying was that I wouldn’t have to endure the shame of failing the task from my father.

I was often left alone with a physically and mentally disabled mother because my father was out at one of the few gay bars in the city. He went there every night after dinner. When he left he’d announce he was putting the car away (in the garage) and would be back shortly, usually several hours later – after homework (that rarely got completed), after getting mom ready for bed, after getting ready for bed myself. My brother and I had horrible tooth brushing habits as kids because no one was there to tell us to brush our teeth.

While my father was at the bar I was expected to sit with my mother and fetch her cocktail after cocktail. By the end of the night she was either crying about my dad cheating on her or yelling at me for being such a horrible daughter. School should have provided a refuge for part of the day, but I was a bad student so it was just more shame and guilt.

I was 9 the first time my father told me he wanted to kill himself.

That’s when the anxiety really kicked into high gear. If he killed himself, I would be stuck taking care of my mother for eternity. I already knew things were different, that there was a part of me that was never going to be because of all that I had experienced. I was simply too tired to rise above any of it. I did my best to make his life as easy as possible so he didn’t kill himself.

Chronic toxic stress—living in a red alert mode for months or years—can also damage our bodies. In a red alert state, the body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol continuously. Over time, the constant presence of adrenaline and cortisol keep blood pressure high, which weakens the heart and circulatory system. They also keep glucose levels high to provide enough energy for the heart and muscles to act quickly; this can lead to type 2 diabetes. Too much adrenaline and cortisol can also increase cholesterol.

Too much cortisol can lead to osteoporosis, arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, depression, anorexia nervosa, Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism and the shrinkage of lymph nodes, leading to the inability to ward off infections.

ACE scores are not about blame. My parents probably also had relatively high ACE scores too. I know my father would have scored at least a 3 and possibly a 4. I know less about my mother’s relationships with her parents, but I bet she scored at least a 2 or 3 on the test.

The good news is that our brains can heal. If the toxic stress stops and is replaced by practices that build resilience, the brain can slowly undo much of the damage.

Writing has been shown to help heal the brain.

Do you know your ACE score?

 

 

 

Dumb Shit I Do Minnesota Nice

I Made My Mother Cry… Again

September 9, 2016
I made my mother cry again

Today I visited my mother in the nursing home. I go every week and usually it’s an okay experience for both of us. Not today. Today I made my mother cry… again. I didn’t mean to do it, but I walked into it nonetheless.

I’ve always been the one who made my mother cry. My father made her cry quite a bit, too, but he didn’t do it on purpose, I did. My brother just frustrated my mother. He made her yell.

I resented my mother when I was a child because I had to take care of her while my dad went to the gay bar each night to “get away”, as he put it. I had to listen to my mother express all the anger she felt towards my father every single night. I wasn’t old enough to drive and didn’t have anyplace to go even if I could actually leave. Because my brother didn’t want to deal with her, and he could drive, he left. There was no one left to fetch her drinks except me.

My mom had a stroke when I was 4 years old. It left her brain damaged with poor reasoning skills, no short term memory and a lot of mobility issues. It subsequently caused all kinds of addiction issues but I didn’t understand any of that at the time. I was just pissed off that I had to sit with her and fetch her drinks while everyone else seemed to be having a good time.

My father died 10 years ago and she’s been in a nursing home pretty much ever since. The nursing home is located 40 minutes away so I only get out there once a week, which is still a helluva lot more often than anyone else goes out to see her.

Which is neither here nor there because she can’t remember if I was there or not. I can’t tell you how often people have suggested to me that I don’t go out as frequently as I do.

Sorry, I can’t. I’m a glutton for punishment.

Today was pretty normal. When I walked in she complained of feeling sick to her stomach. She complains of this only to me. To the staff she feels just fine. The staff (who are wonderfully caring) and I have determined that it is me that brings on the stomach ache.

Mom is captivated by the election which is good because without it to talk about we’d just sit and stare at each other. Usually she will ask how I am doing, I will reply “fine” and then we have nothing left to discuss. Instead we talk about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And even that conversation only takes a few minutes because she thinks they are both horrible candidates, and so do I. What more is there to say?

She asked if I was still doing the same job. She isn’t really sure what I do even though I tell her just about every time I visit. She’s never used the internet and has no idea what a web page or blog is so that she can’t remember it is no big deal. She then asked what my brother was doing.

“The same thing, mom.”

And then she says this:

“What happened to you two?”

I’m not sure where this is going, I should, but I wasn’t expecting it and she’s often delusional. For the last several visits she’s been convinced my brother is in the CIA (he’s not, though I suppose if he was I might not know it) and that I have been writing all of Donald Trump’s speeches. If she still believes that, it’s a fair question.

“What do you mean?” I say.

“Why are you two such failures?” she asks, “you were given an excellent education, you have no excuse for not being successful.”

Now I have a choice. I can answer her question honestly or I can lie to her. I’m feeling like I was just sucker punched so I choose the honesty route, though I try to temper it as best I can without pointing fingers at anyone.

“Well, when you are a child in a chronic state of depression and no one addresses it, it can be difficult to get your shit together and become a success,” I say. “I can’t speak for (my brother) but I know for me it was just about surviving each day.”

And then she starts crying.

“That’s not fair,” she says, “you can’t blame it on me.”

And then I go and undo a nice chunk of what my therapist has tried to fix over the last year and a half.

“It’s not your fault mom, it was a crappy situation,” I say, thinking I should try to physically comfort her by hugging her, but I just can’t bring myself to do it so I stare at the wall behind her while she collects herself. “No one could have done anything.”