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Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

Log Jamming for Idiots

 

It’s a lovely day in Santa Cruz and my husband, daughter, her boyfriend John, and I decide to take Thor from the RV to the ‘dog beach’ where he can run around, trouble is, it’s high tide, which we don’t yet know means we may also get to rescue dogs, people, and ourselves if we’re not careful. Mama Ocean looks hungry today. When we arrive there is maybe fifteen feet of sand exposed where at low tide there is a hundred. The surf is filled with logs, some as small as firewood and some as large as a phone pole and several times the girth. Every time the waves wash in and out, these projectiles are tossed back and forth as lightly as ping pong balls in a blender, but with less stability or direction. The beach here is wrapped with cliffs, and only a concrete stairwell gives us access to the small cove. The surf, the concave cliffs faces, and the shifting tide all conspire to make predicting the strength or direction of these weapons impossible. Caution!

We take off our shoes, our jackets, the dog leash, and put them up on the steps, a couple of dry steps up. The first larger wave washes up hurling projectiles that would make log-jammers nervous, so we stay to one side and have to dodge the water soaked clubs that are bobbing like bomb-shaped apples during a halloween hurricane in a barrel.

They have something here called rogue waves, and thats’s the perfect word. Like some Navy Seal gone psycho with all the fire power but none of the discipline, they come from unexpected directions, are far more lethal than their uniform counterparts, they are bigger, higher, and strike when your back is turned. I’ve heard of them and been warned before, but I’ve never seen one.

But now I meet one up close and personal. All of sudden, I’m hit by a thigh high wall of surf from one side and turn to see that the few feet of sand we had taken refuge on has disappeared. My daughter has lifted our chow, soaking wet, up out of the surf to protect him from the logs, some of which weigh several hundred pounds water-soaked, that are tumbling around in a frenzy of constantly changing directions.

Now thigh deep in water but several yards from the cliff face, I see a huge log, fifteen feet long and at least three feet in diameter rolling back toward me as the water recedes. My brain goes to automatic and I get ready, the water recedes to my knees, my calves, and then my ankles as the steam roller spins crazily toward me, I get ready, then jump it when it flies past, gratefully under me. I struggle back toward the steps dodging smaller flotsam, but take a couple of good shin hits.

As I’m helping my daughter with the dog, I hear my husband and John both shouting. Then I see John running toward the surf. The rogue wave was so high, that it hit over the concrete steps and washed all of our stuff out to sea. Including my husband’s jacket which had his wallet in one pocket and his keys in the other. John snabs three shoes from the ocean’s maw, two of which are are my expensive new hiking boots, which he throws to me, and then he turns back to search for more, as does my husband.

Meanwhile, back on semi-dry land. My daughter and I tie the dog up higher on the steps and run back to help. But this is dangerous. Every time a wave, though thankfully no more rogue waves, washes up, it catapults its’ projectiles in unpredictable directions. John take a hard hit on his thigh, we’re still searching.

Now, new people start arriving, the tide is going out but we’re still having some high waves and precarious conditions. My daughter and I start warning people. The first lady down has two small yappy-type dogs. She ignores us, lets them go, and within seconds they are running for their lives back up onto the steps. She wisely takes them somewhere less like a battlefield to romp.

Then comes the family with five kids. My daughter tells them what’s happening, points out the concussion possibilities and they nod and move a little ways away.

The tide continues to recede with the occasional high wave, and now, soaking wet, I’m walking the shore trying to see if anything will wash up within a few hundred feet of where we are. Mind you, all of this beach is surrounded by cliffs, there are very few ways out, and no high ground if you are caught in the wrong place.

Looking over, I see a man take off his hat, quickly kick off his shoes and start for the water. I’m about to say that he should not leave his stuff there because it will be washed away when I see the intensity on his face. Following his gaze, I realize that one of the kids has gone under and his dad is trying to find him in the churning surf.

I turn and start running too, but before we get there, the dad locates the kid underwater and drags him up by the back of his shirt. We help him struggle out of the sucking surf, where his mother tries to calm the boy as he hacks up saline solution. The kid, maybe ten, is moaning, “I’m never…” pukes up a portion of sea, “going in the ocean…” hack, hack, sob, “again!” He looks accusingly out at the lovely sea as though she did it on purpose, perhaps she did. It’s not nice to ignore mother nature.

I smile at the mom and mouth, “At least not until tomorrow.” And she represses a laugh and nods, doing a great job of staying calm and reassuring.

The family gathers their stuff and leaves the beach. I high five the dad, “Good job!” He smiles at me as though it’s all in any father-with-five-boys’-day-job, and he’s probably right.

Though we search for another hour, we never find the jacket, keys, wallet, or leash, but we all have shoes!

So we head out, every step a salty, slurpy squish, to start calling credit card companies and making appointments at the DMV.

John’s right thigh is twice the size of his left, we all have bruises on our calves and shins and feet, but I always say it’s a good day when nobody dies.

And ah, how beautiful the sunlight on the water.

Gotta go. I have some keys to make at ACE hardware.

I expect I’ll be there a lot.

Be careful out there.

 

Shari, March 30th, 2017

 

Why I Need to Get My Head Examined

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the cliffs of insanity, or just a bad headache

You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”

I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.

Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.

By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?

Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.

“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”

“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)

“Oh.”

“Shawna is on her way there now.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”

“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”

“Shawna will be there soon.”

And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.

This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…

“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”

Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.

But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.

But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I just might, possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.

I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.

So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.

And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.

Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe, possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.

She would do it too.

I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.

But I still feel guilty.

Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.

But first, get a prescription.

Stay healthy.

Shari, March 15th, 2017

 

 

 

 

But What I Really Want To Do Is Write.

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                    In between laundry loads.                                                                Gussied up.

So here we go, a new novel out tomorrow in stores and on line everywhere!! So I’ve spent many hours on FB and twitter, or addressing postcards or arranging speaking engagements. Of course on Saturday I’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena at 4 for the book signing, so, it’s been distracting from my usual routine.

I generally spend about 40 hours a week working, not in a row, of course. I break it up and try to spread it over time that I haven’t reserved for my family. Sometimes I can actually get in 6-8 straight hours, but other times it’s two hours before I go to bed, three hours before everyone else gets up, or, like now, forty-five minutes over a quickly snagged burrito while I’m out buying detergent and other important things for family, like…oh, I don’t know…food.

Meanwhile, my next book, isn’t receiving the necessary time and concentration and is therefore resisting my efforts to keep it progressing steadily.

But writers, let’s be honest. Unless you are a super freak or an automaton, you don’t sit down everyday and write forward 4 to 12 pages. You squiggle around a bit, start a character but aren’t totally sure who they are or what they’ll say yet. You have a basic story line idea, or plot layout, but in truth you’re not working from a blueprint or IKEA instructions, (which to be fair require special tools and a keen understanding of fourth dimensional math.) Writing requires time just thinking, doodling concepts and character traits on napkins, watching people behave badly at the grocery store, talking to the homeless guy reading novels on a bus bench, (to be fair, my homeless reader-friend prefers, ‘domestically challenged’) even screaming at the moon to inspire you.

The book, the idea, and your thoughts about it are incomplete. And no amount of forcing words into the computer will congeal it into one of those pretty molds with sliced fruit suspended in a cake-shaped gelatinous mass.

That’s why I love editing, especially with a great editor. The basic form is already there and all you have to do is fluff, like a designer backstage at a fashion show. The main work is done, just a tug at the hem, a twist of a scarf, and you can shove that creation out onto the stage.

As much as I love writing and the books I’ve produced, I have a major problem with promoting them, and here’s why—besides making me feel vaguely braggadocios, (Mom, mom, mom, watch me, watch me!) getting myself out there involves makeup and an attempt at coordinated clothing, even possibly, god-forbid—high heals. Three things I’m able to avoid on a daily basis for months while I’m writing.

One of the big problems with being a writer is that people assume you are available at the drop of a hat, you are not ‘working’ at a job, so you must be able to go to lunch, answer their emails within seconds, take care of their kids when they are busy, and chat for hours on the phone.

Wrong. I’m not a chatter, I turn off my wifi when I work, I love your kids and will take them to the space center when I can take an afternoon off, and if I eat, it will be on the run. My family has learned that they may interrupt me when I’m writing, but I reserve the right to say “Not now.” (One major exception was when my 8 year old daughter put on her Sailor Moon costume, complete with star-wand and stood next to me saying, “But mommy, I want you to come help me save the world.” I mean, come on, I had to go. The future of the planet was at stake.) My friends—who aren’t writers—don’t get it.

And then a book comes out and everyone says, “Oh, you’re so busy, you have so much going on!” Not really. I’m busier when I’m home trying to focus on my story plot in my torn T-shirt with unwashed hair while simultaneously trying to keep a decent house, do the gardening, prepare delicious meals, and spend time with my husband and my daughters.

So when you think of my recent ‘success’ remember this mental picture of me at home, moving cats off my keyboard, jumping up to check the laundry, the crock pot, the sprinklers. It might not seem as glamorous as speaking in front of a group of people wearing a nice skirt and blouse holding my shiny new hardcover, but it’s the bulk of my life, and frankly I prefer it.

Because, while I appreciate and am eternally grateful for the friends and readers who say lovely things on line, re-tweet my good reviews, and actually take the time to come out and support me… what I really want to do is write.

What will you do today?

Shari, August 10th, 2015

Her, Them, Me, Us.

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The gang is back in town. Two of my three siblings live here in LA, so we get to see a good bit of each other and help out with kids, holidays, etc. My mom also lives here, so I’m used the the dynamics between us all, interesting to watch, experience, and sometimes learn from.

But one of my sisters stayed back east. She lives in Charleston, SC, a city with history and charm which I love to visit, so that’s good, but when we all get together, with kids, old patterns jump up and if you’re not careful they bite, leaving a welt that frankly itches.

Now that we are all past mid-forty, there’s a lot more consciousness than there was when we were kids or young adults. It is fascinating to me how four kids raised by the same parents in basically the same environment can all be so different. It’s the same in pretty much every family, and now I get a chance to see that same dynamic unfolding in our children.

We each have two kids, totaling four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 21 to 5. it’s almost impossible to get them all together at the same time, especially with one at college, but we almost managed it. The cousins all adore each other, every one is unique and very special in their own way. The IQ’s, the height, and the humor runs into the ninetieth percentile, so it’s entertaining to say the least.

Like when my golden haired nephew, who is 11 walked into my kitchen and said with his cherubic little mouth, “Kennedy jacked our Maserati and threw it in the pool,” it took me a minute to figure out he meant the scooter, which she confiscated and did in fact submerge, because he had refused to pay the toll she was demanding, (cracking his knuckles).

I have girls, so having young boys around is very cool for me. I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘butt,’ (from the five year old Cayden) or the words ‘penis’ and ‘boner’ (from the 11 year old,) as many times in my life put together as I have in the last few days. We’ve had tears, and tickling, and the scrape or two, but overall, it’s a big pile of fun.

And yet, old habits die hard. Almost anyone woman will tell you that no one pushes her buttons like her mother. I’ve had a good look at that in two generations this week. My mom, who is one terrific lady, is the source of our ADA trickle down tendencies. From her to me, from me to my oldest daughter. Attention deficit can lead to narcissistic behavior, not out of selfishness, but stemming from the inability to stay focused on a group. My mom can change subjects so many times in a conversation that we often end up saying, “What is she talking about?” My mom is super smart, and she knows for sure, it’s just us that get left in the verbal dust.

Here’s an example. “So remember the Wilsons who lived down the street on Knob Hill? You were friends with the daughter, Terri, and Dwayne was in school with John, and they had that cute dog, Spunk. Well, she started drinking, and he got a job out of state, and then when she graduated from college, she married this guy from France, and they lived in Paris for two years, and her brother couldn’t have kids and the daughter had some mental issues, then the brother sold his house and moved to the old house, and…”

At which point I stop her and ask her to clarify what she is talking about.

My mom’s response is dismissive. “Well, anyway…” she says, waving an impatient hand at my thick head, “he died.” 

Leaving us looking at each other saying, “Who died? The dad? The husband? The dog?” It’s a bit tough to follow, but we can generally keep abreast.

What amuses me now is how old things, like my mom needing to do things her way sometimes, in spite of the obvious fact that nobody else wants to do it that way, still frustrates and annoys us. You think we would know better. She’s 79, and exhausts us all with her energy and interests, and you’d think we’d focus on that now. She doesn’t do it much at all with just me, but something about the whole family dynamic being reactivated brings it back in her. You’d think we’d get that and let it go, but no, every once in a while our inner five year old jumps on our head and kidney punches us, and we’re taken off guard. We are all leaving the zoo and two people need to ride in her car, but she ‘has to stop by home and pick up some tomatoes.’ “It’s right up the street,” she insists. It isn’t right up the street and the kids are exhausted and just want to go home, and nobody needs tomatoes, but she will not relent. I’m driving, so I can’t volunteer.  My sister does, with rolling eyes and head shaking, but the kids are all refusing. Finally my sister nominates her daughter, who mutters and bitches, but goes. It’s like a comedy rerun. How many times in our lives have we let our mom upset us over such a small thing. How many times has she done small things to upset us? Why don’t we learn to take a breath and just go with it? Later, I watch my sister dealing with her own spirited seventeen year old daughter, and I can only think of all the trouble she got herself into and the word, “Payback” leaps to mind.

My siblings think I’m too easy on my kids, they are all three more conservative than I, but when I think to back to my teen years, out of the house at sixteen, married at eighteen, off to New York and drug abuse by nineteen, well, let’s say I’d be a hypocrite if I expected my daughters to dress in pressed khakis and refuse a beer after prom.

I’m blessed to have so many loving, healthy family members. We’ve been through some changes, that’s for sure, we’ve grown, regressed, noticed that the world is bigger than we once knew, that there are other opinions besides our own. Between the four siblings, we’ve had eight marriages. (Only the sister back east stuck with one, and I hold the record with three). We judge each other, have strong opinions, rush to support during tough times, drift away, and return to hug and laugh. The flotsam and jetsam off our lives is ever moving, ebbing and flowing, and I have sailed but half that sea. I’m hoping for many more adventures, discoveries, and growth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get pissed off over politics and fire the cannons.

In the meantime, I’ll whip up some dip, grab a bottle of bubbly and head out for another family dinner.

I’d ask you to join us, but we all talk at the same time, and we’re the only ones who can understand us.

Ain’t it always the way.

Hug your family.

Shari, June 18th, 2015.

Who am I NOW?

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me.

As the evil disney queen in a book video a few months ago. It suits me, fantasy and literature.

Who am I now?

I haven’t been on my website for a week or so or posted anything new, and so I was surprised to see that I had 3000 hits in a single day hits a few days ago. This was, to quote Zoolander when his message machine tells him he has 12 hundred messages, “A little above average.” and I wondered why.

Sure, I have a new book out and “Invisible Ellen” is doing pretty nicely, but that couldn’t be it. And then I remembered that my girls told me my ex had done this show called “Celebrity Wife Swap,” and I thought, “Oh, it must have aired.” I knew about the show, but only because he and his wife had wanted the girls to be on it, which caused some friction, but my daughters had the sense and the backbone to refuse. Neither of my daughters are fans of ‘reality’ TV, and—though admittedly I’ve never watched CWS—that show seems…uh, let’s just say…not exactly creme of the crop, and they didn’t want to be associated with it. Bless their classy little hearts.

Now, I didn’t see the show, don’t ever intend to, so maybe it’s a steaming pile of art and I would be sorry to have missed it, but my instinct tells me no.  I have never once looked at either my ex’s or his wife’s websites and I definitely steer away from anything involving them in social media, (I know, I know, I’m writing this, but I’m trying to make a point!) I know I won’t like what I see, so why go looking for it? To be honest, I don’t really know them, and have only the barest of contact since he announced with a smug smile that he wouldn’t be contributing to college, then drove away in his Porsche. He tells a different story, no doubt in his public version of himself and has an image of himself to maintain, as many people do, but I deal with the reality, usually damage control, and that’s plenty. I do my best to disassociate from that whole, publicist-generated, artificial world version 2.0.

So it interests me that people would see that wife swap show and look me up. It’s a weird interconnected web out there. It feels remote to me and my everyday life. I think of how I’ve tried to focus my life away from that kind of negativity and on doing work that is worthwhile to me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work on a show for the money if i really needed it, the key to avoiding that is to keep your cost of living down so that having to prostitute yourself is kept at a minimum. From someone who once starred in “Death Spa” that may seem a bit bogus, but hey, things have changed.

You see, at first you want the things that everyone else envies, I don’t know why, but that’s often what our society teaches is desirable. You want to be sexy, and famous, and beautiful and rich, and then you grow up and want to be valued for something real. Well, some of us do anyway, others get caught in the cycle. For me, after living by my looks modeling in New York and ending up a cocaine addict, which I beat myself at 22, I had to come to terms with the fact that being valued for what is on the outside is very, very lonely and untrue. Then I wanted to be famous, because that impresses people, right? But when I got a dose of that, It just felt just strange. When many people meet someone they’ve seen on TV or film immediately there is a veil, an artificial wall, that separates you because they think you are something you are not and, falsely, feel different from you. I hated that. You give up privacy and often even the ability to spend time in public with your family comfortably. I’ve had people put their kid in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start video taping. I love meeting new people, but that was just invasive, (especially since I was eating spinach). Now I have many wonderful friends, who I first met as ‘fans’, don’t get me wrong, but there is a difference between meeting people on an equal footing, and people wanting to document meeting you as a trophy for being on a show or in a movie that you don’t even think is very good.

That didn’t feel right to me. It’s lovely to have people like and respect your work, and name recognition as a novelist is important as well as for an actor, but when you have to constantly pretend to be what you’ve created, meaning some kind of public persona, it is, for all but a few, confusing to the point of soul-crushing. Egos get all out of whack. But I did love acting, the art of it, making an audience breath together or laugh as one, and since the film and TV roles of quality weren’t coming to me, I turned to theatre where I’ve done my best work, respected the writing and myself, and felt the joy of working with an artistic community that betters the many, instead of the few.

And writing has always been my first love. Though I’m proud of all of my books, I don’t think there’s any question that “Invisible Ellen” is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. Hopefully, it’s original, funny, heartwarming, and uplifting. Those are qualities I feel good about.

So, one day soon, maybe I’ll get thirty thousand hits on my website because my new book, “Emerging Ellen” is hitting the stores. I certainly hope so, but for me, that’s a different kind of attention, one I can spread around and share. Oh, and it would go a long way toward helping me pay for private school and college, which would be lovely, and for my charity as well. Meanwhile, I’ll drive my used Ford Escape Hybrid, give what I can, and laugh and love with my girls and my family, support my friends’ many endeavors and try to create something new and worth reading or watching.

Because that’s who I am now.

Who do you want to be? Go get ’em baby.

 

Shari, July 25th, 2014

 

 

 

 

A Pickled Path.

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The Vinegar Tasters.

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My personal supply of sour, sweet and bitter. All delicious!

In the picture “The Vinegar Tasters”, Confucius, Buddha and Lau Tzu stand around a pot and taste vinegar. Confucius tastes sourness as he perceives the world is out of order, therefore the world is sour. The Buddha tastes bitterness, as he sees only people with too much desire,  so they drive themselves to a bitter life. Lau Tzu says, “The vinegar is perfect as it is. This is how it tastes, heaven is on earth, too many rules spoil it, you can’t change the taste of vinegar with a rule, this is its nature, we should not force the way, nature has her way and she follows Tao, if you understand the flow, you understand the world.” Accepting the infinite variety in life is a lovely philosophy, I think.

And so, as you probably guessed, I make pickles. Lots of them, different kinds, all family recipes. It works for me as a food, and as a metaphor, here’s how I make that work.

My day started with me consciously letting go of some useless anger at an ex. He is as he is, and trying to make him understand our daughter’s real needs would be like asking a plant to edit my books. What’s the point? So, like so many parents who put their kids first, I take a deep breath and continue the repairs. On the way home from my school run, a friend called me in a hysterical depression about her daughter’s traumatic boyfriend breakup. This friend was micromanaging her teen’s life without realizing that her reaction had nothing to do with the daughter, the pain and fear she was experiencing were completely from and about herself, so I ‘talked her down off the ledge.’ Then I went for a walk in the rain, and stopped frequently to feel the moisture and the breeze brush like feathers across my face.

So there you go, Bitter, Sour, Sweet!!

And it’s all good. Really. Some things just are, and the best I can hope for is to step in and repair the damage done. Some things I can fix, so I do. And some things I can make wonderful, just for me. Ah, motherhood, friendship, and self.

So, in celebration of this magnificent conundrum that we call daily life, I’m offering the logical solution. Recipes for pickles. I know, I know, it’s obvious, but still. Try one. Then taste it, close your eyes and roll the flavor around in your mouth. Is it sweet? Sour? Bitter? All of them at once?

The moral of the story is, the conclusion and your reaction are not inherent, they are what you choose to make it.

So enjoy it all, if you can. Know that when the bitter comes, it too will pass. When something good in your life sours, step back and look at why—is it really the situation, someone else’s ‘fault,’ or is it your own pre-determined opinion that is making you feel badly? And if your day is sweet and you find beauty in simple things, even painful things, then most likely you have accepted events as they are and are not fighting against the world as it is. Congratulations, you are human and using your free will.

So here are two recipes, one sour, one sweet. If you like bitter, and many people do, add a teaspoon or two of citric acid for the tang that thrills.

Ella’s Dills

3 1/2 lbs small pickling cucumbers.

4 cups water

4 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup Kosher salt, (important, regular salt will make slimy pickles!)

1/2 cup pickling spice.

fresh dill, garlic cloves, and small dried red peppers.

Rinse the cucumbers, cut off ends and slice as desired. I like to quarter them lengthwise.

In a large nonreactive pot combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil.

In clean sterile jars (I collect jars all year, remove the labels, and then run them through the dishwasher on hot.) pack the cucumber slices, garlic (halved), small bunch of dill, and one or two peppers, leaving about a 1/2 inch of space at the top.

Fill the jars with the boiling vinegar mixture, wipe the top and seal. Put the jars into a large, lidded pot with water about halfway up. Bring the water to a boil and then time for 10 minutes. The jars should be slightly raised on the top when you take them out. (Carefully!) Make sure the lid is on as tight as possible, then place on a kitchen towel to cool. As they do, you will hear an occasional ‘schlup’ sound. That means you did it right! The jar is sealing. When they are cool, label them and place in a cool spot to cure. Refrigeration is not necessary. Wait at least one week, but they will last for months, and get better!!

Leora’s Pickles. Sweet and tart.

Take an 8 qt. basket of small cucumbers. Scrub them well and put them in a crock whole. Sprinkle 2/3 cup pickling salt over then cover with boiling water and let stand overnight.

To make the syrup, Boil 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water, (probably about four or five cups of vinegar, but it depends on your jars and your pickle packing ability!) 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 tablespoon of alum, (this is available at most grocery stores and is what makes pickles crisp) 1/2 cup pickling spice and 3 pounds of sugar. Yes, 3 pounds of sugar. Bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, drain your your brined cucumbers, cut into the size slices you want and pack in clean jars. Pour the boiling syrup over, and follow the procedure above. Wait at least three weeks for these, and then, yummy!!

So that’s my Taoist take on life, when you feel bitter, know that it’s one of the flavors in life, everybody gets some. When things are sour, try to enjoy the process of understanding why. When a moment is sweet, be truly grateful.

And no matter what, if you make some pickles, you will find yourself with lots of eager friends to share them with you.

What could be sweeter?

Shari, January 25, 2013.