Bittersweet Snow

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Some people think life is supposed to be more happy times than boring times; more delight than sorrow. As if there is a scale at the end of the road and if you don't end up with more amazing stories of laughter and fame and money that you somehow botched the whole thing up, did it wrong. But I know that's a lie. Life, by definition, just IS.

It's the people who are keeping score who are getting it wrong.


The Hard Part

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9599351405_c35076ed71_z.jpgI dropped my kids off today at their new school here in northern California and they were both crying. I drove to the grocery store, feeling like utter shit, and cried in the Whole Foods parking lot. Not because I am a bad parent. I know I'm not really. But because this part of relocating is hard and there is no way around the hard part.

California is great. The weather, the food, the parks, the beach, our house. It's all awesome and we know it. We have all, at different times, remarked on the relief, the pleasant changes that have taken place in our lives in the 4 weeks that we have been here. But newness that brings such excitement also brings a lot of tension and stress. 

See, if you've never been the new kid, you don't know what it's like and you don't know how to be compassionate to newbies. You have to be taught that. You have to be taught to reach out on a daily basis. That's not something other parents don't think about so much when they send their well adjusted kids to school who already have BFF's or already have a spot on the soccer team. It's not something they think about when they are standing around with other new parents waiting to pick up their kids after school either. 

I'm very shy. I always have been. But I learned to fake it long ago when I was the new kid at school. I counted it up; I was the new kid six times in my years of going to public school. SIX. That's not counting college or PI school. The anxiety of standing around by yourself while other kids talk to each other and play is excruciating. No amount of reassurance from mom or dad makes that better. The only thing that can fix it is a friend. If I had to choose today between a few million dollars and a reliable friend for each of my two kids, I'd choose the friends without hesitation.

This might explain why I can't stop thinking about my oldest friend, Stephanie, lately. We hardly talk anymore except on FB, but today, more than ever, I am so thankful for the day she told our 5th grade teacher, Mr. Pierce, that I could sit beside her in class. I am also equally thankful for every day after that she sat with me, waited for me at recess and played with me outside of school. All this time in our 33 years of friendship she has joked that I was the brave one. But I've known that I owed her big time for taking me in, for "friending" me in the truest sense of the word. A true friend really does make all the difference.

So, while moving to a great place like Marin County is absolutely wonderful, there are still really hard parts about doing it. There are very scary days, in the beginning, when we feel terribly alone hoping to meet someone who will stand beside us. Someone to have lunch with, someone who knows our name, someone who makes us feel brave.

As I said, unless you are the new kid, you may not know how important this is. Until now. But what new kids need most if for you to take the lead long enough so we can get the hang of things. Until we are no longer the new kid.



530398_4942941448361_565626313_n.jpg1) My husband's holiday party wasn't nearly the unbearable public rant of My-hatred-toward-employers-who-rob-employees-of-joy that I thought it might be. Probably because there was an open bar and I was not the one drinking heavily. That's the trick, you see. I suspect Abigail, who arranged the party, told the restaurant, "Do NOT let one glass remain empty. There better be an Office Hangover tomorrow." Because those servers were on that shit, sneaking up with a tray full of alcohol while people were in full swing of a good story, passing out cocktails like they were band flyers.

2) Also there was unlimited guacamole. UNLIMITED. The caviar of southern California, baby. I am very sorry all of you weren't there with me.

3) Nearly everyone complimented me on my kids. I knew it was wise to give birth to those buggers. Best social crutch ever.

4) A few people, namely Jonathan and Basak, loaded me up with sweet somethings about my writing. Even though I write so little. Even though Jonathan hates Facebook, he claims he is my top internet stalker. The drinks were not getting to me, but my head grew three sizes when he got specific about brilliant things I have said on the Internets.

5) I did not (purposely) insult anyone.

6) We saw Lucy Liu on our way to the car lot. She did not seem to recognize me, though. (:  We also saw vintage refrigerators. I took a photo of the latter.

7) It was probably hard for Mike to navigate the drive home because, as I said, my head was so full of self righteousness and a determination to write for the Huffington Post that it must have been difficult for him to see out the window. But we made it.

8) When we got home, I checked out my lottery scratch-off's that were the evening's party favors. I won $1. Thankfully, I was too tired to be angry about this.

Norman Miller

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An incredibly wonderful person whom I once had the honor of working with died this week. From cancer. I learned about it through online social networking. I had to re-read the post over again. I checked Twitter. It didn't seem possible. Norman Miller? Proper Management? Well, he seemed immune to... anything that could take a man down.

"He carried a silver briefcase."

It's the first detail that comes to my mind when I remember Norman Miller and 1996. And though it probably pales in comparison to the myriad of other things he did, for me, it sort of is a symbol for who he was then and what I learned from him. 

I showed up at Caffe Milano in February of that year looking for a job as a server. I was newly divorced, newly relocated to Nashville and quite desperate to survive in the music industry. Word of mouth led me to the downtown venue, not yet open, construction in full swing. The original founder/creator of Caffe Milano, Pino Squillace, along with Restaurant Manager, Lori Bowman, hired me as an Assistant Restaurant Manager, a title unearned, that boggles my mind today. I worked with Lori for only a short time before being moved to the position of Assistant to the Board of Governors. Norman was a chief investor along with other Nashville notables in the music industry. 

I spent most my days with Steve Lorenz, Secretary to the Board of Governors. That is to say that I spent most of my time worrying if anyone was ever going to make money, how much money our investors could stand to lose, wether or not paycheck money was in the proper accounts and how long we could all keep working our unbelievable hours. No one from those early days of Caffe Milano had it easy.

To make matters more uncomfortable, the club shared offices with Proper Management, Norman's company. I knew nothing of the magnitude of influence and respect that Norman had within the Christian music scene, but over the course of my time there, it became apparent to me that I was well out of my league. On that same thread, Norman had no desire to run a restaurant/music venue. Protecting his interests, as well as his artists, he simply wanted the problems fixed, the customers and staff happy. But there he was, at our staff meetings, pen in hand, perfectly dressed, slacks just pressed, not a hair out of place, an edge in his voice as he tried to move us to the point of our stories, to the beginning of any solution. 

Back then, Norman had a glass desk. His office was always pristine. When he packed his briefcase up for the day to go home to his wife and son, he left the area magazine perfect. If Norman was coming down for lunch in the restaurant, we scrambled. At staff meetings we listened to his blatantly honest reviews with all the fear of todays reality TV show contestants. He did not mince words. He did not get personal. He delivered the news calmly, in his slight British accent, with a leaders presence I have yet seen duplicated. 

For the most part, Norman and his team did their thing while those involved in Caffe Milano hobbled on. But sometimes our worlds mixed and the stark contrast of our successes were laid out for us to see. One such incident that I cannot forget was an afternoon when James Hodgin and I went into the VIP room that overlooked the club to discuss the nights schedule. Norman had used the room before us and someone had left a Kinko copied booklet on the coffee table. On the cover was the name Avalon. James and I knew this was a new singing group that Proper Management was in the process of getting off the ground. Inside was a 5-10 year plan for the group. Basic details, right up to when they were projected to go Gold, go Platinum and win Artist of the Year. You see Norman was good at what he did and he could make that kind of plan and be right. Which of course, he was, as Avalon went on to become even more successful than was eluded to in the booklet we found that day. 

The confidence, the intelligence, the efficiency this man possessed!  I guess we were all a bit intimidated by him. That being said, if you know me, you know how I admired him. He was brilliant. Everything I ever wanted to be.  
I remember him so well and with such fondness because he was all that and human too. HIs humanity and compassion were in his conversations with his friend Steve, when he spoke of his wife, when he chatted one on one with any of us at any given time. He was polite, charming and encouraging. Power ruins even the gentlest person, but Norman kept his reality in tact. 

I know most people will think about Norman and speak of all the amazing things he did within his industry. The roster of artists he elevated and the productions he created are, indeed, incredible. But I love my memories of tired Norman looking at me and Steve saying "I don't care how it gets fixed, just fix it." I love that he listed to us, that for all his accomplishments he was still a man with a family, a job to do and integrity that never wavered. As crazy as it is, I learned so much from him in the every day stuff. I am better for having known him.

Norman, thank you. May your journey go on.




Reacquainting

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I've been feeling very down lately. Probably because summer has ended. Probably because I cannot find my mojo. Probably because every time I turn around someone is getting divorced, going to the hospital or losing faith in... everything. I wish I were making that up, but it truly has been a rough couple of months. Times like this, I contemplate getting on meds, getting off meds, training for another marathon, moving or writing a book. If you know me, you know that all those things in that list are directly related to my happiness but that none of them have provided long term relief. 

I also think about the past when Fall hits. This causes me to miss lots of people that I see via social networking sites but rarely get to "see" in the real sense. I long for detailed conversations on comfy couches with coffee or wine. Or both. I need those conversations of review, laughter and relief that I simply do not get here.  I need to talk to friends who can look past what I am saying and see what I mean. Hopefully, that day will come sooner than later. 

Meanwhile, I have been looking through some of my VERY old works that I realize some of you whom I've gotten reacquainted with in the last three years may not have seen. While you may not care about poetry, you may care that once upon a time, I made you famous. At least among my readers back then.  If you knew me as a kid, you may find yourself in these words:

Kitty-Kitty

Honey suckle, Leon's leg, fireflies, school uniforms and nuns
World of Disney, airport waiting, Speed Racer and cap guns
Sitting by the speakers, sleeping in the station wagon
Detailed Christmas wish lists; think of all the fun we're havin'
Lunch boxes, a game of jacks, Keri Cox and Hubba Bubba
Elvis and the Cassidys, sweet Chuck Miller and the others

Hey kitty, kitty come out and play
with the girls from Willowbrook Drive
It's Alicat girl and her Half Pint sissy
Let's make up for lost time

Skateland, sweet tarts, Funguns and tight jeans
The Flippo brothers, lip gloss, feathered hair into the teens
Best friend cheerleaders, brother on the prowl
Moving to the suburb school; though we appreciate it now
Rainbow dances, Jesus Christ, a pastor's son
summer camp romances, we couldn't be outdone

Hey kitty, kitty come out and play
with the girls from Willowbrook Drive
It's Alicat girl and her Half Pint sissy
Let's make up for lost time

Career tracks and auntie hats, parental wedding and some funerals
Stupid husband bag of tricks, but hope would spring eternal
Sassy-classy photo shoot, a leap to Music City
a nip, a tuck, a wink, wink to keep you looking pretty
A Con-man birth, a mother's worth, Romania, a bomb
Apology, a friendship forged; has it been that long?

Oh kitty, kitty, come out and play
with the girls from Willowbrook Drive
It's Ali Cat girl and her Half Pint Sissy
We got lots of time
We got lots of time

(originally published in April 2000 on pennyrene.com)


That Was The Real You

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Got some news in the last couple of days that brought up a lot of memories. Lots of reflection happening about times of complete disillusionment, anger and worse, apathy. Times when I was so blinded by my own pain that I failed to see ahead. Couldn't see what I destroyed in my path to find myself. While I want to assure everyone that Mike and I are fine, I had to get out some thoughts that I may not have shared before. Bear with me.

Those times that I have taken a turn onto a different course, wether it be leaving my religion, getting divorced or leaving the country, I've found that the hardest part is reconciling the good with the bad of those experiences. Admitting that I did love someone I left behind. Is love real love if it changes, if the person hurts you? What if you hurt them? Does that mean what you shared was false all along? Was I lying to myself? 

I have this vivid memory of myself from 1997. I am standing on a hill in Switzerland with a person I loved with a hope so strong it disorients me. I look out at the field before me, willing the moment to last forever.

But it didn't. It didn't last, at least not like that. For a long time when I looked back on that moment, I hated myself. I hated that I believed everything I said to the lover who was there and all the people around me. I questioned my ability to ever trust myself again.

I guess part of getting older is accepting that all those parts of my life are valid. The good is no less good because of the bad. I am still very much that young woman on that hill. I'm that moment, with all the ones after, perfectly evolving. I was there. I lived it. I own it. I went forward from that moment and made my way here where I am today.


"Well, I guess we're supposed to have a baby together."


That's what I said to Mike when I walked out of the doctor's office in San Diego seven years ago. He was 24. I was 33. We had been dating less than six months and we weren't married. He was from NJ. I was from Oklahoma. We didn't know each other's families. I'm not sure we knew each other's middle names.


My mind was spinning. I felt like I just said "Ta da! I've wrecked your future plans! I hope you don't mind! Ha ha ha!!!!!!!"  Maybe I would throw up.


And then he said this:


"Well... OK!"  And he sounded almost optimistic. 


"I guess we are!", he continued. "So, what's next?"

"There's a strong heartbeat. I saw it. "


But let me back up here and explain something. This wasn't the first time I told Mike I was pregnant.


In January of that year, 2005, Mike began working at a design firm where I was employed as what I will reluctantly call an office manager. He was a new designer, replacing my friend Michelle Prescott who was moving to another agency. After about two months of trying to convince myself to stay away from him because of the age difference, we finally started dating. It was a small office with grueling hours, so we were together more than apart. We hid our relationship from everyone at work except our friend Shannon. In April, Mike went home to NJ for Passover and I made my own 1st seder with my housemate Kelly. The night that he returned back to San Diego, I remember us laying in bed and saying "I'm happy". For the first time in ages, I was happy. We agreed that what we had was good.


Possibly not even a week later, I took a home pregnancy test that was positive. Because I had never been pregnant before, had been successfully following the rhythm method of birth control for YEARS and was apparently delusional, I actually misread the test to be negative and threw it away. It was only when Kelly pointed out how late I was in my cycle that I got the test out of the trash to look at again. I still remember staring at that stick with Kelly standing there and saying, "I'M PREGNANT!" There was no hint of optimism in my voice. My legs got weak and I plopped on the couch to keep from falling. I cried. 


Of all the trouble I had ever created, all the risks I had taken, the opinions I had ignored, the independence I had exercised - this one knocked the wind out of me. All I could think about was the awful task of telling my 24 year old boyfriend. 


So, that's what I did. That night I went to Mike's apartment and sat down on his couch and told him. He did a lot of pacing. Nobody was excited. We were scared. We discussed all our options and agreed on two things: Our relationship was still good and we would be OK.


As the days passed, we began to warm up to the idea of being parents. At 33, I knew I was in no position to say I couldn't handle being a mom. As luck would have it, Mike was the only person I had dated that I could see raising a child with. Circumstance could be better, sure. But we could do this.


Then, the baby died. I started cramping. We went to ER and saw that the pregnancy wasn't strong from the beginning and it just didn't work. No reason. Just one of those things. I have really clear, horrible memories from that day. I remember that the waiting room was cold and that we waited a long time. The nurses were cold and they left me on a hospital bed in the hall alone. But I also remember Mike being there for me. He was kind and gentle. 


After that, you might think we were relieved. But I wasn't. I was more sad. It's amazing how attached you can get to an embryo. I also thought for sure that Mike would take his exit then. I even encouraged him to do so. But he stayed. 


You also might think were extra careful from then on. And if you call saying to ourselves two weeks later "Oh, there's no WAY it could happen again that quick" careful, then yes, we were totally cautious. 


So when I went back to the doctor for my post-miscarriage check-up six weeks after, and I told the doctor that I still felt pregnant, he assured me it was practically impossible. But he sent me for an ultrasound to ease my mind. That's when I saw that strong heartbeat of my future baby girl. That's when I tried to think of a gentle way to tell my young boyfriend waiting in the other room that he really was going to be a dad. Because the universe was sneaky.


The doctors couldn't believe it either. Two of them checked me and said it was one of those crazy things. 


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Almost a Dad 2006

"Well, OK!" 

Those two words are what created my kids dad. He met that challenge head on the same way he has met every challenge with our family since. I could easily list all the ways in which he has become a wonderful father over the last seven years, but I think you see that every day through what he says and does and how much our children and I love him. 


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Every time I think of those early days in California when we were just trying to figure it all out, falling in love, watching my belly grow and the countless sleepless nights since, I marvel at the dad and husband he has become. I am in awe of the fears we have faced and the way he has led by example. While we, by no standard, can be held up as “Parents of the Year”, I humbly suggest that the “Well, OK!” approach be incorporated into the thought process of any new dad or dads who are having a hard time.

We knew nothing of the future back then. He could have ran. Many men do. He could have given up when things got harder after our move to NJ. He didn’t. There was no guarantee of anything that day at the doctor’s office and there still isn’t. But my husband gives our family the confidence to move forward each time he takes a deep breath and address the moment with even just a hint of optimism.  


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Like my own father and his father, Mike has earned his title as Daddy. Long live the Daddies.



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Watch It Kid

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Sifting through old poetry and journals. From....2002?


Private Summer


You feel like the lawn sprinkler

that summer of 1978

when the sun brought out Cherokee fantasies 

by the color of my

skin.

Not lily white; 

not lined with the straps of my

bikini.

But an electric spray

straight up.

A shocking hit

right there.


The sun is flaming above me;

all the neighbors say

“Watch it kid; you’re gonna fry”.

I pace

back to you,

away,

back;

darting into 

the chilling refreshment

of your

embrace.



Penny René

A Good Day

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  • Today is the day after my dad's latest major surgery since he won his battle with colon cancer 10 years ago. He is alive, cranky and still cancer free.
  • My daughter had her kindergarten celebration today. She was fantastic.
  • The laundry is mostly done.
  • There is a cool breeze coming through our windows. No one is cold. No one is hot.
  • I caught both my children sitting in front of the stereo singing along to FM radio just as I did in front of that same exact stereo 35 years ago. (It's a vintage floor model Panasonic)
  • The house is practically clean.
  • There is plenty of food in the fridge.
  • I'm feeling no pain.
  • I have taken no medication to be pain free.
  • Summer is just around the corner.
  • A bird just pooped on my neighbors car that he insists on parking directly in front of my house.
  • I could make this list longer, but I know better.
It's a good day. A very good day.



My Big Fat Head

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As I shut the bathroom door behind me, I turned to my reflection in the full length mirror. Up, down, turn around for a view of my backside. How nice. They have the kind of mirrors that made people look thinner. It's not the kind of thing you expect from a medical imaging office. But, hey, we're already stressed. Best to look here and say, "My arse looks kinda small" before you go off to have your brain scanned or your boobs squeezed.

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So, that's what I was thinking on Wednesday. I was thinking my butt looked good and I hope I don't have brain cancer. And I don't, in case you are worried. No brain cancer. No signs of unusually high intelligence either. But you probably already knew that. What I do have is a pretty gruesome deviated septum (Sweet!) and narcolepsy - which I have known about since 1992. But not the fun narcolepsy where I get to sleep at inappropriate times. Just the kind where I have to get enough sleep at night or I have lucid dreams and sleep paralyzation. Which I guess could be fun if you are into that. 

I'm sure that THINKING you might have a brain tumor or lesion or whatnot is not nearly the same as having one. But the not knowing - the 2 weeks before it's all revealed - that's probably similar for lots of us. You do your general review of your life, panic sets in, and then you figure you will fight to the end because anything else is just stupid and a waste of trauma. If there is going to be trauma, you have to face it. You just have to.

Of course the non-diagnosis has it's drawbacks. I mean, what the hell was with my whole stuttering thing in 2008? Why have I lost some hearing in my right ear? What is that whooshing sound that keeps time with my heart? Why am I getting more clumsy? Why do I think crocs are cute?  As my 3 year old son used to say "It's a mithtery." The investigation will continue.

All I know for sure is, I'm scheduling my next mammogram at Holmdel Imaging right before swimsuit season.  I'm bringing a few bikini's with me to that bathroom so I can make a decision in front of that mirror.