The Strength of a Man

Dan texted me Tuesday: “Do you have a minute.”

My reply: “Yes.”

Dan and I touch base at least once a day via text or phone call. Most of the time, it’s a quick check in: How are you? How’s your day going? Some of the time, it’s a question that needs an answer: Can you stop at the store/bank/beer distributor? And very occasionally, it’s urgent.

A few moments later, he called. His tone was very intent. “How is your day?”

I know my husband well enough by now to know that with that kind of opening, there was a purpose behind the call.

“It’s okay. Getting stuff done.”

“How’s the tension level?”

“Well,” I said, tensely, “it’s starting to ratchet up now!”

Dan sighed. “I just got some very bad news, and I’m trying to figure out where you are mentally before I dump it on you.”

Me: “I’m fine. Shoot.”

A friend of Dan’s called him. Her sister, who was past her due date with her first baby, had just discovered that the baby had no heartbeat.

And just like that, it was June of 2003 again.

My husband said, “What should I tell them? What do you think they need?”

I listed a few things:

1. A photographer if they can find one. This may sound morbid to some people. But having this experience recorded and having images of the baby — it’s important. It’s vital to grieving. Or it was for Dan and me, and I’ve heard from other baby loss parents that it helped them too.

2. A support community. My go-to for these situations is usually Glow in the Woods. Compassionate Friends is helpful as well, especially when parents are ready for real-life interactions.

3. “A Fr. Ray,” I said.

Father Ray is the priest who married us. He was a good friend to Dan while they were both at Duquesne, and he’s become a friend to both of us since the wedding. He was there when we were in the hospital with Gabriel, and he has baptized our subsequent children. Everyone should have a Fr. Ray — if not a religious person, a therapist, a counselor, a sounding board, a shoulder to hang onto to.

Dan became their Fr. Ray.


It was hard to know that my husband was carrying this for the couple. I honestly don’t know how he did it. That phone call from him brought back a lot of memories. Not bad memories, exactly. Hard memories. Painful.

Knowing that I was going to have to go through labor with nothing to show for it. (For awhile, denial and shock protected me from that. My brain knew it, but my heart didn’t accept it. Shock and denial are very useful tools for a body.)

I couldn’t help thinking about what this first-time mother was facing. A labor that could be long, possibly painful. My epidural wore off, and I was finally put on a morphine drip. It took four days to deliver Gabriel. I barely remember the last two because of the pain and drugs.

The parents were probably discussing a name. I wonder if the one they picked was one they had already decided on. They didn’t know if they were having a boy or girl. Dan and I hadn’t known if Gabriel was a girl or boy at the time either (although, my mother’s heart thought “boy”). We had had a girl’s name picked, but I didn’t want to use it on our still baby. We discussed a lot of names. We finally decided on Angela or Dolores for a girl. And Gabriel for a boy.

While we were at the hospital, we had a lot of support. My parents, his parents, siblings, and friends. I don’t know about Dan, but after a while, I felt like *I* was responsible for comforting *them*. Telling them that it was okay, that I was okay, that — all evidence to the contrary — it was going to be okay.

The pain. The frustration. The waiting. It really is not okay, any of it, but what are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to say?

I just waited it out. I remember asking Ray if Gabriel (well, “the baby” at the time) needed to be baptized. Ray said no, that he had gone from one world of love into another, of love and light.

That helped.


The baby came. Dan held him. The parents named him.

Dan came home, spent. Utterly drained. I made him a cup of chamomile tea.

We sat on our respective couches to pick a show to watch. We couldn’t face Breaking Bad, nor could we deal with most of the Netflix documentaries. “None of these are happy,” Dan pointed out.

We came across the listing for the updated Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch (whom I insist on calling Bernard for some reason) and the ever-affable Martin Freeman. “Look,” I said. “It’s Khan and Bilbo! Let’s watch this!”

Partway in, Dan griped, “I wish we had a TV in our room.” I expressed my dislike of that idea.

“Yeah,” he said. “But if we had a TV in our room, I could lay down next to you and be warm.”

I made room on the couch. He fell asleep before Sherlock was over.

Memory Lane: 1994

So, SPIN Magazine released its list of the 100 Best Alt-Rock Songs of 1994, and I basically fell down a rabbit hole. This is the soundtrack to my 23rd year.

I was a hot mess, but damn, the music was fantastic.

A few of these songs remind me of a short-lived abusive relationship I was in with a drug addict (short-lived because he was an abusive drug addict, der). See: Suede; Smashing Pumpkins.

A number of these songs remind me of The Ex, a man I would spend the next four years with, give or take a few months in the middle there. (We were on a break!) See: Liz Phair, “Supernova”; Guided by Voices, “I am a Scientist”; Pearl Jam, “Better Man”.

But most of these songs remind me of being single and feeling fierce, which is how I spent most of 1994. I had a pierced lip and a tattoo, and I was Gen X to a T — a pot-smoking, aimless slacker living on my own. I had a job and was freelance writing, and spent most of my money on rent and beer at Dee’s Cafe on the South Side.

I don’t remember “Possum Kingdom” being so rapey. I do remember Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” being *exactly* that creepy, though.

The most nostalgic songs for me: “Something’s Always Wrong”, Toad the Wet Sprocket; “Gee Angel”, Sugar.

And talk about women in music: L7, Lisa Loeb, Hole, Breeders, the aforementioned Liz Phair, Bjork, Luscious Jackson. LUSCIOUS JACKSON! Lots more. And I remember every single word to “Seether” by Veruca Salt.

And now for a video.

I thought about posting the video for “Gentleman” by Afghan Whigs, but, two things: 1. I didn’t listen to the Afghan Whigs in 1994. They are a new obsession. 2. If I watch a 28-year-old Greg Dulli in this video one more fucking time, I’m going to turn into a puddle of quivering jelly.

I limited myself to the Top 10 songs, and I still have to post two. Point and counter point as it were.

1994 was the year Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain. “No Apologies” from Nirvana, from MTV Unplugged Nirvana, is a fitting elegy.

On the flip side, we have Courtney Love of Hole howling into the void with “Miss World”.

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slideshow at SPIN, here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

What were you listening to in 1994?

Premature Worry

Michael talks all the time.

In the evenings, M will not sit. He wanders — bounces — around the kitchen until everyone else is sitting at the table. During nighttime show, he plays with cars. Sometimes very loudly. Or jumps off the arm of the couch. Or just hurls himself into a pile of pillows. Over and over. And over again.

In other words, he is, as far as activity goes, All Boy.

I admit, the talking thing took me off guard. I thought: boy + 2 older sisters = talking by the time he was 3, maybe. Plus, with the ear infections, I figured a speech delay was a given.

Not so much.

I am starting to wonder how we are going to get through evenings. M will not go outside when I ask him to.

He really needs to run around outside.

I’m starting to worry about how we’re going to do when the cold sets in.

I’m starting to wonder how he is going to do in preschool.

What’s really a problem, I’m starting to wonder how he will do beyond preschool. Which makes no sense. There’s no way of telling. He may do fine in a group of kids who are sitting still. He does okay at dinner when we all sit at the same time.


I’m sure I’m just spinning in my own head. I wish the children had their own space, but finishing the basement is in indefinite limbo.

I’m just looking for problems for some reason. I just think of me, and three children, in not very many rooms, for nine months.

I’m just worrying.

What are you worried about?

What, me worry?
What, me worry?


Twitter-ish: #Saturday

I’m having one of those Saturday’s that you hit the ground running. I haven’t sat down for a meal yet.


As a matter of fact, except for cereal this morning, my food and drink have all been in disposable containers. Coffee and muffin at the farmers market; a protein shake after my workout.


I love the way my muscles feel after a good workout. Makes me feel that I’m doing it right.


To-do list:
Farmers Market
Brow wax
Birthday party drop-off
Birthday party pick-up
Clean bathrooms
Cut basil and parsley
Write this post
Cook dinner
Clean kitchen
Put on dress and makeup
Go to Fiona’s bon voyage party


Tel me about part of your weekend in 140 characters.

First Day, and Jitters

Here’s the obligatory First Day of School shot, 2014 version.

The girls' first day of school, 2014

Flora was excited; Kate was apprehensive.


I have been out-of-sorts for some time now. I think part of it is that school is starting, with its attendant stresses on time and money. No more nanny to help keep the children on top of chores or run to the store for me. I need to menu plan, create a chart for being on time, and get the children into the school routine. We’ve been practicing, and Flora especially has been fantastic. But I’m wondering how long it can last.

The other part of being out-of-sorts is the steady stream of Bad News in my social media timelines. The news in general is Not Good. Ebola ravaging Africa — and religious leaders there declaring it’s God’s punishment. The shitstorm that is Ferguson, Missouri, and the resultant (justifiable) anger from that. James Foley’s death. Robin Williams’ suicide. Israel and Gaza. (Am I missing anything?) And, of course, the rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia, plus science denial for extra giggles, that continue to flourish in American in the 21st century.

And of course, everyone’s got an opinion on everything.

Mama needs a break. I’m taking a short social media hiatus to regroup. My plan is to return to Twitter and Facebook in a week or so.

The world will probably still suck. But maybe I’ll be able to deal with it a little better after some time off.

How is end-of-summer treating you, readers?

Random Thoughts: The Oh You, Monday, You Edition

1. Despite being home alone from about 2 p.m to 8 p.m. on Saturday, I did not finish getting through the pile of paper. I made progress, but not enough. I’m going to try to finish up this week. So much of it needs to be recycled, shredded, or trashed. Why can I not get a handle on this?

Anyone have a way of dealing with the daily mail and school paperwork that prevents piles? Do please share.

2. Here’s my tough guy at the beginning of the Tough Mudder:

You talkin' to me?

He made it. He started at 11:17 a.m. and crossed the finish line at 3:58 p.m.

Finish line

The Tough Mudder is aptly named

The Tough Mudder is aptly named. He rinsed off and donated those shoes.

I am so proud of my man!

3. Current television shows I am embroiled in: Orange is the New Black, Season 2; and Breaking Bad, Season 2. I watch television about seriously screwed up people. While I was home alone sorting paper, I managed to get three more episodes into OITNB, and two more episodes into Breaking Bad. Dan and I watch the latter together, and he just finished Season 2 without me. Stinker.

4. Our dear nanny Kim is accepting a full-time teaching job. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While I am very glad that she’s finally gotten a full-time gig, we will be sad to see her go. She’s quite sad, herself. I will have more to say about Kim and how amazing she’s been as a nanny.

5. The girls start school on Thursday, and M will be starting preschool the week after Labor Day. It has been a terrific summer all the way around. Onward and upward, I suppose!

What was your favorite thing about this summer?

Random Thoughts: The TGIF Edition

Oooph. Tough week.

1. I have All The Thoughts about Robin Williams’ death and how it’s been treated in the media, social and otherwise. However, suffice it to say this:

I, personally, have not had major clinical depression. But it has been in my life. I have seen the struggle up close. I have been the friend and family member praying to see the person on the other side of their depressed episode. I have been the one hoping that not all hope would be lost.

When you love a person with depression, you want your love — the fact of your love — to be enough. How can it not be? How can the person the you love, totally and unreservedly, not feel worthy? Don’t you love them? Doesn’t that matter?

This was the hardest article for me to read this week.

Dear Person I Love: I understand. I do. Thank you for staying.

2. My prayers and thoughts have been with the people in Ferguson, MO this week, too. I cannot imagine what it is like to be black in America and watch that shit. I hope this country gets its head screwed on right. Soon.

3. I have a weird weekend coming up.

Dan is leaving tomorrow morning to go do a Tough Mudder. Which, just… Listen, I am very, very proud of my husband. He’s worked with this guy (and hey, I wrote that!) for more than a year. He’s stronger than he’s been since I have known him. He’s lost 30 pounds, gained lots of muscle and stamina, and he’s been working on his eating habits. And his physical health has improved immensely. Two years ago, his cholesterol was sky high, his triglycerides were in the danger zone, and he was pre-diabetic. Through diet and exercise alone, he’s brought all of those numbers down.

Dan’s a rock star. He is.

So, he decided to sign up for the Tough Mudder, and I’m trying not to worry about it. He’ll be fine. He’s got a running/obstacle partner — it’s going to be fine.

And I’ll be waiting at home for the phone call that tells me he’s finished the race.

In the meantime, my brother and sister-in-law are taking the children for a sleepover. Which, does anyone else have a family member who calls out of the blue to say, “Can your three children come sleep over before school starts?” So they will have their four boys, plus my three, and my SIL is just a saint. I’m making food for Sunday when we go pick the kids up.

I will have an empty house. An empty, quiet house. At least until Dan comes home Saturday night.

My exciting plan is to go through the towering piles of paper in my house and shred everything. And binge watch Orange is the New Black, Season 2. On the big TV! (I usually watch on my Kindle Fire, alone in my room. Because holy adult content, Batman.)

I know how to live it up, people.

What would you do if you had an empty house for a day?

“O Captain, My Captain”

I’ve never cried over the death of someone not close to me, let alone a celebrity. I feel sad when someone famous dies, especially when I admired them (Nadine Gordimer, Phillip Seymour Hoffmann) or was a fan (Kurt Cobain).

But I feel like I’m actually mourning Robin Williams, a man I never met nor was ever likely to. I watched an appearance of his from 2011 on Craig Ferguson’s show, and I laughed helplessly until I cried, also helplessly. My husband — who is a bigger fan of Williams than I — offered this when I asked WHY I was so sad.

“It’s because he gave so much,” he said. “He made us laugh, and he didn’t ask for anything from us.”

Addiction kills. Depression lies. Please, if you struggle with these diseases, please reach out and get help. Here’s information for a suicide hotline, or call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Or hell, I’m married to a man who can help you or refer you to someone who will help. DM me on Twitter.

I grew up watching Williams, starting with Mork & Mindy — I still can’t believe my parents let me watch that show. I loved his manic persona as Mork. I think part of his appeal to me as a child was that I didn’t understand the world in the same way as the alien from Ork didn’t understand it.

And Robin Williams on golf is still one of the funniest stand-up routines I’ve seen.

In no particular order, here are the movies I loved the best from Williams.

World According to Garp
Good Morning Vietnam
The Fisher King
Dead Poets Society

He was clearly brilliant in Good Will Hunting. But remember One Hour Photo? That was a creepy turn. My husband loves Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come.

And I watched this about 10 times last night, and I cried every damn time.

I will keep Williams’ family in my prayers. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I hope they know that their husband, friend, and father touched so many people with his joy. And that’s how we will remember him.

What’s your favorite Williams role?

Coming Soon To A Neighborhood Near Me: Fracking? What?

Sometimes, I purposefully do not educate myself on social or political issues so I can say, “I’m sorry I don’t know enough about that to offer an opinion.” Recent examples of this deliberate blind spot: the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the unaccompanied children trying to immigrate to America. My default position is that compassion should influence our policies, but I can’t go farther than that.

This willful ignorance (let’s call it what it is) has backfired on me.

I don’t know very much about fracking. I mean I had to look up what it was short-hand for. Hydraulic fracturing, in case you didn’t know either. I think environmentalists don’t like it very much — something, something about contaminating ground water? Negative effects on drinking water? Isn’t there a film out there somewhere about it, starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski? Probably documentaries, too. I imagine pro and con, but I DON’T KNOW.

I recently got an email from my CSA farm that the fracking company in Pennsylvania is seeking to build a facility less than a mile from their farm. From MY farm.

This seems like a Bad Idea. But I don’t have any kind of scientific information to support that Gut Feeling.

Now, what I have is the fact that this is going to directly affect my and my family’s lives. I’m not sure how yet. As well as this facility being built near a farm I depend on, they are going to start fracking near the airport, which is a few miles away from my house. I have two Post-Gazette articles — one where Don Kretschmann says this facility is going to be bad for his livelihood and for the people who receive food from him, and the other that reports on the division of the town’s residents. This KDKA story likewise reports on the New Sewickley meeting.

And I’m glad it’s being covered. But what I need to know is: Is the building of the compressor going to ruin the farm? The farm at which I usually get meat is right across the road from Kretschmann’s; I can only assume that their farm and livestock are threatened too.

How concerned to I need to be? Is my tap water going to become undrinkable?

And if no one knows the answers to these questions, well, that actually causes me more anxiety. What are we doing with a process whose long-term effects we haven’t even sussed out yet?

Here’s the first I heard of this issue, coming in the newsletter from my CSA one week. This was July 17:

“…we are totally preoccupied with stopping a Marcellus gas compressor station from being sited on a property adjoining our farm in the rear. We are shell shocked and beside ourselves after the surprise phone call last Wednesday from a neighbor about a meeting of the township board of supervisors at which they were to decide the issue. In eight hours we and several other neighbors came up with enough questions for the board to delay decision and continue the hearing on 7/23 at the township building. But we are told it will be an uphill battle. The small group of neighbors calling ourselves the Bulldogs for New Sewickley Health has alerted hundreds of residents, who also knew nothing about these plans.
     “We don’t like to bother our subscribers with issues outside our farmer to consumer relationship and deny many requests by outside groups to contact you. But this is about the future of your food supply — make no mistake. It’s about the future of our farm. … As citizens of Pennsylvania,  we all have ‘a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.’ (Art.27Sec1PA Constitution) The state, and thus the township is the trustee of these common resources to preserve them for all of us.  Surely the production of healthy food with the benefit of clean water and air is one of the values of the environment and the most treasured of resources.”

As of right now, I don’t know the outcome of this meeting, but I am following it on Facebook.

So what I’m asking is: Does anyone know of an un-biased source for, “What You Need to Know about Fracking”? I don’t want it to be sourced from Range Resources or the Bulldogs for New Sewickley. FWIW, I am siding with my farmer and his family.

I don’t want to be a NIMBY (not in my back yard) — or if I am a NIMBY I want some factual basis for it.

And, of course, more news stories would be nice, too.

What do you think? Fracking or no fracking, or sure, frack away, just not near where I live or get my food? As for me, food is worth more to me than fracking.

Basket of Vegetables