Monday, February 20, 2012

Lent Me a Hand

It's raining and I have the coffee pot brewing.   The smell of the hot brown liquid wafts through the air warming an otherwise cold kitchen with it's Brazilian perfume.  It's a combination of two grocery store bagged Starbucks - a medium house blend with a dark cafe Verona.  I like to experiment to find the right combination and frankly one of these bags on sale at Publix is cheaper then one low-fat salted caramel cappuccino Venti.   I add my Splenda, carmel toffee creamer, call my name and pretend to be my own barresta.    If it's mid-day and I have a nice small piece of dark chocolate, then I'm in heaven.   Seriously, St. Peter had better greet me with both to convince me that this is really it before I go through the pearly gates.  

I don't drink coffee for the caffeine - I stopped drinking the full octane stuff when I was trying to become pregnant with Amber over 16 years ago and never went back.  It turns out that full out caffeinated beverages give me terrible headaches.   I just really enjoy the taste and the ritual of starting your day with a steaming cup of Joe, even if it's neutered.  So it's in these last few days before Lent starts that I fully appreciate every taste of that savory broth.   Because once Ash Wednesday hits, I'm off coffee for 40 days until Easter.  Not only coffee but I push it one step further - I give up chocolate too.   Lent represents for Christians the time that Jesus spent in the desert, fasting, praying and avoiding temptation from the devil before he was crucified and rose from the dead on Easter.  At this point in my life, I only occasionally go to Mass and actually teach Religious Education to teens at our local Unitarian church - but for some reason, giving up that which I love the most (my husband and kids excluded) gives me a sense of comfort.  It makes me appreciate the other things around me and allows me to try things I wouldn't ordinarily because I don't have my coffee and chocolate crutches to fall back on.  Lent is a time to repent and reflect and I try to do both - but I also look at it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge beyond what I already know and push myself outside of my comfort zone. 

I was raised Roman Catholic and Lent was always an interesting time in my house.    All five of the kids had to give something up and usually it was candy.   Cussing for me would have been better but then if we had to report to our mother what we had given up, I'd have to admit to having a filthy vocabulary and face the possibility of getting my mouth washed out with soap - so candy seemed to be the safest option.   For Catholics on Fridays, you couldn't have traditional meat like pork, beef or chicken but fish was fine.   Friday nights were generally Mrs. Paul's Fish sticks or crab cakes and corn or corn pudding.   The tartar sauce made it somewhat more palatable if twice the calories.   I soon began to dread these dinners and the mere mention of Mrs. Paul's would make me shutter.  It wasn't until I was in my teens that someone noted that you didn't have to eat fish on Fridays, you just couldn't eat meat.   Suddenly a whole new vegetarian world opened up that included cheese pizza, eggplant parmesan and spaghetti without meat.  It was a revelation and suddenly Friday night dinners during Lent were fun - hey we could eat cheese pizza!   It was always interesting to me that I never wanted bacon cheese burgers at any other time of year, but when you know you can't have them you wanted them more during those Lenten Fridays. 

Chocolate is another hard one to give up and I have for decades now during Lent.   I'll freely admit that I'm a chocoholic - that the minute I'm stressed and I get a taste of the chemically altered cocoa bean mixed with butter and sugar, I instantly calm down.  It's a scientific fact that the way to a woman's heart is through chocolate.   According to a recent Harvard study, eating a little dark chocolate one to three times a month can help lower the risk of a heart attack but three times a week can increase it.  It lifts our mood and makes us more receptive to our male partners.   So why on earth would I give out something that makes me so happy?   Because when you have constant access to something anytime you want, you take it for granted.   You assume it will always be there for you and when it's not, you miss it.   You miss it badly.   So when midnight on Easter morning hits - I hit the Cadbury Eggs, the malted robin's eggs and the dark chocolate Hershey kisses in pastel foils.   Being back with my good confectionary friend feels great and for the next few months I will not take them for granted.   As for my coffee amigo, the pot is fired up on Easter morning and the Starbuck special blends flow. 

Then a realization hits me - I'd made friends with Chai Latte's, decaf green teas, White Bean iced drinks, caramels, pralines and other non-chocolate, non-coffee concoctions.  My taste sensations were expanded but now I was back to what I know best.  Those other flavors were there for me and now that I'm back with my old friends, I'll probably call on them less and less.  Oh hell, who am I kidding - I'll drop them like a rock until I need them again in the late winter/spring when Lent rolls around again.    Does that make me shallow?  Yeah it pretty much does.   

Maybe this year for Lent, I need to look at how I treat that which I love (which includes Max and the kids) and appreciate it as well as the new flavors and opportunities that come into my life.   I'll work at finding a balance and trying not to let things bother me so much.   I'll push myself outside of my comfort zone.   I'm still looking for a job and trying not to take the rejection as a personal sign of my shortcomings but a way to improve what I do and to see myself outside a narrow range of career opportunities.   I need to look at Lent as a way to cast my net out and see what comes back.   It sounds like something Jesus would do.   And Mrs. Paul, I might just give you a call one of these Friday nights for just old times sake. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Back in 2010 I did a video called MYLF vs. Miley Cyrus because I was really outraged at the way Miley had changed from the squeaky clean Hanna Montana to the slutty girl in a corset with her boobs falling out and rolling around in the bottom of a bird cage singing Can't Be Tamed.   Click here to see it. It wouldn't have been so bad if she had waited until after Hanna Montana was off the Disney Channel but the fact that she was doing nasty videos like that and still hawking t-shirts, sheets and toys to little girls seemed very unseemly.   It frankly pissed me off.   I had bought my daughter Amber all sorts of Hanna Montana t-shirts, CDs, dolls and DVDs and now just looking at them made me mad.  It was different from the end of Amber's days with her Bratz dolls or My Little Ponies - she had outgrown those and they weren't real people.   She would have outgrown Hannah Montana if Miley hadn't pushed it to the point that I vowed never to purchase anymore Miley Cyrus merchandise or songs from her new CD.   But while most people would have thought the backlash would have come from the moms, it was her core audience of 13 to 17 year olds that abandoned the more mature Miley.  In fact the CD "Can't Be Tamed" opened to a third of the sales of her previous CDs.  But now, two years later, I think that Miley is finally beginning to see the light - that's it's very bad business to piss off moms because the purse is mightier then the sword.  

Just an FYI for the 97% of the males who are creative directors at ad agencies, women make 85% of the buying decisions and are the CEOs of purchasing in their households.   Females are probably the best consumers you could ever ask for.  They research items before they purchase them and once they find something they like, they stick with it.  This is especially true when it comes to mother's who find positive role models for their daughters.   Girls like Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly and Selena Gomez of the Wizards of Waverly Place  - they play strong characters who are loyal to their family and friends.   Moms will gladly shell out money for the DVDs, sheets, dolls, t-shirts, games, etc to reinforce positive role models.    Overall in the US economy, female consumers are responsible for $7 trillion in spending.  In fact, in the next decade women around the world will have more financial influence than China and India combined. Yet, it's interesting that only 3% of creative directors at ad agencies are women - makes you wonder what the guys are thinking - because they are not thinking like women.  Who was advising Miley about her new image because it sure as hell wasn't a mom with spending power.  Okay, maybe moms with spending power aren't sexy, but by God they are powerful.    

Just how powerful you ask?  Women can definitely drive movie trends.   For instance, Bella in the New Moon Series has two hot guys after her and she’s in flannel shirts, henleys and jeans most of the time.   She's smart if brooding (you think with two hunks after her, she could smile break a smile every now and then, but then angst is very appealing to vampires).  Who do you think drove those 15 year olds to see the midnight shows for the record opening weekends of those movies?  Moms who also enjoy a hunky vampire or werewolf every now and then.  We help our daughters decide who the next Bella will be and trust me it won't be a teenage girl in a low cut corset.  

Just a few other stats that the business world needs to take note of: women are buying at record levels in the markets traditionally reserved for men.  For instance, the ladies love their gadgets to the tune of nearly half of the $200 billion consumer-electronics business in 2007.  We also love those DIY channels and spend $105 billion of the $256 billion home-improvement market. Some guys were wondering why they had Madonna do the half time show at the Superbowl - the answer - women make-up 44% of the NFL fan base.
Here's another news flash, in the U.S., women hold sway over 51.3% of the nation's private wealth, as Maddy Dychtwald observes in Influence -  one of the many books about how female economic power is changing the world.   "We're on the brink of a massive power shift, a grinding of the gears of history into a new human condition," she writes. "It's a world where women can, if they choose, seize the reins of economic control."   In 35% of homes where both spouses work - the women make more than their husbands which is up 7% from just five years ago.  We're also graduating college at a ratio of 60% for women versus 40% for men.   It's estimated that by the year 2024, women will close the income gap and will actually be making more then men.  So in just 12 short years, women will be holding more of the purse strings then they ever have in world history.  The economic world needs to be ready.   By that time, let's hope they are sitting at the head of more Fortune 500 companies rather than the 12 women that are already there.  

My advice to young women everywhere is to become as financially savvy as possible.   You're going to be taking on the reins that have taken centuries for women around the world to build.   Don't pretend to be stupid just to get a boy to notice you -  because in the new economic world order, you can stand along side him at very least as his equal.  In a touch of irony - Miley was recently spotted wearing "Mom jeans" - high waisted, acid washed and tapered at the ankles.   Maybe she's working on trying to get back into our good graces.  It's worth a try but it's going to be a climb.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Birth of a Notion - Part 1

When Max and I got married we knew we wanted children.  I had come from a big Irish Catholic family with five kids and he was an only child.   He knew the stories about me about growing up:  seven people in a 22 foot Holiday Rambler trailer parked on Fort Myers Beach managing not to kill each other during the hot Florida summers.  The time my mom and sisters took a cruise to the Bahamas.  The image of my sister Sharon and I sitting my Dad's lap and saying at the same time - "Aren't you glad we married you?"  For the both of us, it seemed like having a family was part and parcel of saying "I do."   When we decided to get engaged and did our pre-martial surveys (which you had to do before you got married at St. Louis Catholic Church) our compatibility was 90% which was very high.   When we did our conference with Father Fetcher, Max mentioned that that he wanted to have six children which was news to me.  I was thinking more around three - but the good news was that we both wanted kids - the number was negotiable. 

We had been married for about three years and had dealt with Hurricane Andrew and the death of both of Max's parents when we decided to get pregnant.   Our marriage had been tested any number of times and yet there was no doubt in my mind that this was the man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.   We were ready to welcome a third person into our family - someone who would bring light  to two people who already knew how to keep love alive even under the most trying circumstances.   I never really worried about whether I would get pregnant.  My mother was pregnant seven times and had five kids and both of my sisters got pregnant without a problem.    Interestingly enough, our favorite show "Mad About You" had Jamie Buckmann trying to get pregnant at the same time.   I bore a pretty good resemblance to Helen Hunt and seeing her struggle each week trying to get to pregnant made me wonder if it would go the same way for me.  

The first month we tried it seemed like it would be pretty easy.  Fertility seemed to run in my family.  In addition to the two children each of my sisters had, my brothers both had four kids.   My period was late that month and I was sure I was pregnant.   I brought two pregnancy kits just to be sure.   I peed with a certain resolve in the morning hoping that the strength of my urine would give me the result I wanted.   The pregnancy tests were negative that month and the next month.    Jamie Buckmann was having the same problem and I began to worry that getting pregnant might not be the slam dunk I hoped it would be (no pun intended).    I had been taking pre-natal vitamins for six months and had given up caffeine which I heard could interfere with fertility -  so there I was all full of extra vitamins and without a Diet coke or a colada of Cuban coffee in sight which just made me grumpy.  

When it was coming up on my third cycle and two months of trying - I couldn't take it any longer.  I didn't want to have another month of disappointment so I told Max we could go to the drug store and get a pregnancy test and a Diet Coke.    That way it was a win/win - if I was pregnant, we'd celebrate and if I wasn't I'd have the caffinated diet soda I'd been jonsing for.   We walked to the mall from our apartment.    Max decided to wait outside while I got the tests.    A little toddler came up to Max, put his hand on his knee, pointed and hummed while shaking his head.    He said nothing else and his mother called him back over to him.   Max knew at that point I was pregnant - but let me pee into a cup anyway just to get that second opinion and probably to see if I could do it.   That night we knew that Amber was on her way. 

My pregnancy rolled along nicely.   No complications - no need to call the doctor.   I had my pregnancy books and "What to Expect When You're Expecting" at my bedside and another copy at the office.    I used to watch "ER" around that time but after the episode when a pregnant women died of very high blood pressure I decided to stop watching right then and there (it didn't matter how hot George Clooney was).   My doctor marveled that I was only one of a few of his patients who didn't call him hysterical after that episode.  

Of course there were awkward pregnancy moments, like when I would misjudge my fetal girth and knock over displays in the grocery store.  It got to the point where Publix stockmen would follow me around and get me whatever I needed to keep me from pushing over  another carefully arranged display of Little Friskies.    As my stomach continued to get bigger, my coworkers would stop mid conversation watch my belly as it would shift from side to side as Amber's butt tried to find a comfortable place to rest in uteral - her once roomy mansion in the first trimester was becoming a broom closet in the final weeks.  

We went to pre-natal classes, breast feeding classes (which at that point is all theory until you have a real baby and the milk-filled boobs to really get the hang of it), baby proofing classes and delivery classes.   I had read at least four books on the subject so I should have had everything in place by the time my due date was supposed to arrive.   However, as the big day drew closer, I kept putting work before packing the all important suitcase.   The nursery was done, the baby showers had been completed (one just a few days before I delivered) but still it was surreal to think that we'd have a baby in the house.   I knew she was in there - I just couldn't really conceive of her ever coming out.   I was due on July 1st and it was June 23rd, which meant I had at least three more weeks since no woman in my family - not my mother, two sisters, aunts or cousins had ever delivered less than two weeks late.  I figured I still had time.   That night I was going to pack my bag and the bag of the little to-be but decided to work on some volunteer applications for Children's Home Society.   It was a Sunday night and I really had to get the applications processed so that I could do the volunteer orientation later that week.   At that point and time, work seemed way too important.   I was up until after midnight and then went to bed -- to our full size mattress which me with my 42 inch waist and my 6'3" husband Max all shared.    In my third trimester, I would try to spoon with Max only to have him say, "Bear, I'm getting kicked in the back."   Nighttime was the right time for a womb party as far as Amber was concerned. 

I went to bed, and woke up a few hours later feeling some wetness around my legs and nightgown.    I got up wondering if my water had broken only to see that it was blood.  Not just a few drops, but enough for a Friday the 13th movie.   I tried to stay calm and was really pissed that I had not packed.  "Max," I yelled as calmly as I could, "We have to go to the hospital - I'm bleeding!"  Max woke up and looked at my side of the bed and knew immediately that something was very wrong.   He got my OB-GYN on the phone and he told us to go to Doctor's Hospital.   I was not in pain, I was just very scared.  Max tried to help me pack and at that point I was not thinking clearly and told him to pack a hair dryer and make-up before anything else (because at a time like this - good hair was really important).  He told me to change, get in the car and he'd come back later to pack.    We got to the hospital and had tests run.  The best that anyone could figure is that I had a biopsy years before and when my cervix started to dilate, the biopsy opened over a blood vessel.  The bleeding was all external - the baby was fine.   My doctor decided to induce that night anyway-  a week early so that we could make sure that Amber was alright.    I began to panic - I was sure I had another three weeks - all the women in my family did and I still had so much to do. 

I tried to beg off painkillers as long as I could until a nurse told me that "We don't give medals for natural birth" and having something to take the would feel good.   I decided to go with an epidural and had the weird sensation of not having any feeling from the mid-back down.   At that point, I was as floppy as a rag doll and around 3:05 p.m. I started to push even though I couldn't feel anything.    At 3:26 p.m. on June 24, 1996, Amber Rose Grimm took her first breath and at the same time I felt like I had broken through the surface of the water and was taking my first breath too - as a mother.  They handed me this perfect little infant and the reality of being a mom still had not hit me yet.   How could something so amazing come out of my body?   How did Max and I manage to make something so miraculous?   Why had I not given myself a pedicure because for hours I had nothing to do but stare at my nasty chipped toenails?  

The next day, we went home as a family - this tiny stranger, Max and I.   The reality of being a mom set in which included the sleepless nights and the incredibly large lactating boobs that would make a Vegas show girl jealous (yes, there is an upside to breast feeding).  The old perception that I was only responsible for myself was gone forever when I first held my baby girl and let her wrap her little fingers around my pinky.   I had broken through the surface and began to live anew.   Motherhood was no longer a theory or concept anymore - it was real.   June 24th was the birth of that notion.