Monthly Archives: May 2013

Mary Grace

In the summer of 2011, my friend Carol, a nurse, joined a mercy mission to Haiti to treat people still suffering from the January 2010 earthquake.  A last minute volunteer, she hadn’t had time to fundraise, but was expected to buy and bring all kinds of medical supplies – bandages, Tylenol, alcohol wipes, rubber gloves.  Everything.

To help defray the cost, Carol sent emails to some friends, and we donated to help defray her costs.

A week after she got back, Carol invited me and three women I had never met over for a glass of wine to thank us, celebrate her return and hear about her trip.

One of the women, Mary Grace, rubbed me wrong immediately.  The middle-aged bleached blond wore a tight sparkly dress that screamed “I’m still 20!” with gold glitter-encrusted flip flops.

Before we were even introduced, I heard her say,

“Now they’re going after Michelle Bachmann because she has migraines!”  I had just the day before posted this blog piece about Michelle’s migraines.  Mary Grace and I were clearly not destined to be BFFs.

Me and Mary Grace are BFFs.  (Newsweek cover photo)

(Newsweek cover photo)

A minute later, she continued her political commentary:

“I’d push Nancy Pelosi under a truck.  I just wish I could keep her clothes …”

“Carol,” I said, looking at the enormous glass of Pinot Grigio she gave me and trying to lighten the mood Mary Grace had struck, “shouldn’t you just pass out the bottles and save hand-washing these glasses?”

Everybody chuckled and we made some small talk.  Drinks became dinner; Carol told us all about her trip.

Everybody but me had a few large glasses of wine, I was driving.

“Even after all the attention following the earthquake,” explained Carol, over grilled shrimp salad, “not much has been rebuilt.  People still live in tents, with cholera, typhoid, other nasty diseases that poverty and no clean water bring.”

Mary Grace didn’t seem to be at all interested; she kept trying to change the subject.  I was getting irritated because we were there, after all, to hear Carol’s story.  I certainly was.

Carol described the terrible plight of the Haitians, especially children, and how difficult it is for them.  Then Carol said the thing that set Mary Grace — and at least three large glasses of wine — off.

The most wonderful thing about my trip,” said Carol, “was Sean Penn.  He’s my new hero.”

“Ugh!” said Mary Grace with disgust.  “No!”

(Thanks, Google)

(Thanks, Google)

Carol continued.  “Right after the earthquake, he raised millions of dollars to build a hospital.  A few months later, though, his money was still in the US.  They couldn’t get it to Haiti.”

“Didn’t he have some crap Hollywood movie to make?”  slurred Mary Grace.  The rest of us rolled our eyes.

“Well,” Carol continued. “Sean managed to get the money, architects and skilled workmen there – he brought them over.  They designed a hospital, hired a whole lot of previously unskilled unemployed Haitians, and taught them the skills to build it.  They did it!  They built the hospital! It’s not done, but I treated patients there!”

Mary Grace rudely burst out “Sean Penn is scum,” she said.  “What good’s he ever done?  He just trades on his Hollywood connections.  Hero, my ass.”

Now I am not a huge Sean Penn fan.  But we weren’t talking about that; we were talking about Haiti.  We were talking about someone who’d helped over there.  We were talking about Carol and her incredible experience.  And we were doing it in Carol’s house.

“He’s an alcoholic, drug abuser,” she said, holding up her enormous glass for a fourth refill.

“Drink up,” I said to her to stifled laughter from everybody else at the table.

I couldn’t believe her rudeness.  Still, I was thinking I am a guest here,  so I clenched my teeth, bit my tongue.  But my heart raced and my blood pressure skyrocketed.  I didn’t want to offend Carol, but I did want to throttle Mary Grace.  Clearly, she didn’t care about offending Carol.

Kelly, one of the other women, said “Ooh, Carol, where did you get that sculpture?” in a transparent effort to change the subject.

But Mary Grace wouldn’t drop it.

“He just trades on his celebrity.  Those liberals in Hollywood, they just trade on their names.  What does he really do?  People like Carol do the real work.”

“Carol did a great job.  As a nurse, she has a skill that she can use to help people.  It is great.” I said with more reserve than I felt.  “But other people have different skills, abilities.  If Sean Penn can manage to build a hospital, why are you putting him down?  What’s wrong with using what you can to help people?

“He does nothing good.  Sean Penn hasn’t done anything good.  Other people do good things.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a person.  What good things have you done lately?”

Without hesitation she told me:

She held up one finger.  “I am a nice person.  I don’t flip people off in traffic.  I am always polite when I drive.”

She had me there.  I have been known to raise a finger now and then.

Holding up her middle finger, she went on, “When somebody asks me how they look, I always tell them that they look nice.  Even if they don’t.” 

The rest of us sat in stunned silence, mouths gaping.

She held up a third finger:  “And I was in Chipotle yesterday.  Behind me in line were three soldiers.  And I said to the cashier ‘their dinner is on me.‘”

For a minute, I expected her to continue.  But she didn’t.

“Let me see,” I said, holding out my hands.  I held up my right hand, palm up, weighing things:  “On the right:  Lunch at Chipotle.”  I held up my left:  “On the left:  building a hospital for the poor people of Haiti.  Yes, Mary Grace, you’re by far the better person.”

The table was silent.  Everybody, including me, was watching Mary Grace to see what she would say.

She said nothing.

“Carol,” I said, rising from the table and fearing I’d just lost a friend, “I think it’s time for me to leave.”  I grabbed my purse and headed for the door.   Carol was mortified.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her as she walked me out to my car.  “I tried to not be rude, but it was your trip and your hero!”

“You know,” Carol said in her lovely British accent, “Mary Grace wasn’t even invited tonight.  She’s always crashing along with Kelly and Kate.”  She grabbed my arm to make sure I heard the next part.  “When I sent that email asking for donations? I got an email back from Mary Grace telling me ‘no’ and saying ‘Charity begins at home.’

I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one to think Mary Grace a rude bore.

“Mary Grace has been rude to me every time I’ve seen her.  She’s not my friend, yet she always just shows up.” she said, laughing.  “But until tonight, nobody has ever managed to shut her up.”

Carol told me the next day that Mary Grace was insulting Bono along with Penn when she got back in.

“Apparently,” Mary Grace sneered as Carol sat back down, “your friend just couldn’t take it.”-.

Carol closed her eyes.  “Mary Grace, please leave.  You’re no longer welcome here.”

*     *     *

This piece is from my memoir class.  I had to recount a memorable argument.  I thought I’d post it tonight to celebrate two things:

  1. Michelle Bachmann’s Retirement!
  2. My 2nd Blogging Anniversary!  Thanks, everybody.  It’s been a blast!

This is long but it is taken from just about the view I have from my office!


Filed under Bloggin' Buddies, Humor, Hypocrisy, Stupidity

Memorial Day

I was just watching the Memorial Day Concert on the West Grounds of the Capitol, when they replayed this video, recorded a few years ago by Charles Durning, a WWII Veteran. Durning survived the first wave of D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate one of the concentration camps.  He won the Silver Star.

In case you didn’t see it, I thought I’d share it with you.

John and I visited Normandy twice, once with my Dad and with a very young Jacob.  It’s a beautiful, terrifying, moving place.  But it isn’t the only place where soldiers and sailors and airmen (and women) have fought and died.  There are many of them around the world.

To veterans and soldiers everywhere, thanks.


Filed under History, Mental Health

Modern Conveniences

Modern marketing really scares me.  And I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse.

A few years ago John and I needed to replace broken toilet that had a built-in shelf above the tank top.  (Not the kind of tank top you wear, but the kind with all the parts of a toilet that break.)

We needed a special size and type.

Toilet with shelf 2

Naturally, I looked online to find the best price.  Then off-to Home Depot John and I went expecting to flush away a wad of money.

As we were trying to choose between two models, the salesman tried to help us make the decision:

“You can flush an entire bucket of golf balls down this American Standard toilet and it won’t clog,” he said.

John tilted his head, dog like, and looked at the salesman trying to figure out if he was joking.  He wasn’t.

I looked at John and then at the salesman.  Somehow I maintained an interested customer demeanor.  “Why would we want to do that?” I asked.  “We don’t golf.”

“I’m just sayin’ that you could,” said the salesman.  “I mean, if you did golf.”

“We probably wouldn’t be golfing in the bathroom,” John said, thoughtfully.  “I mean, if we did golf, we wouldn’t golf there.  We’d probably do it outside.

“And if we take up golf, I think I’d rather keep the golf balls in the garage,” I added.

“Plus we have a septic system.  I don’t know if it is designed for golf balls.”

“It might be hard to explain to the guys when they pump it out.”

We had to leave or we would have wet our pants in the toilet aisle of Home Depot.  In spite of the fact that it would be expensive, we opted to replace the innards of our own non-golfing toilet instead of spending – I kid you not – more than $1,000 on a toilet that would fit the spot and accept golf balls.

Since then, though, I have been getting ads for toilets.  But not just any old toilet.  Strangely shaped toilets.  Apparently, to the marketers of America, I not only like to flush strange hard things down my toilets, but I like my toilets to look like anything but.  Or butt.

Toilet 2Toilet 1Toilet 3

So imagine my dismay when I read this article that explains where modern advertising is heading.

They’re going to mine our DNA

to figure out how to market stuff to us.

The article gives the example of someone who is lactose intolerant getting special coupons for lactose-free stuff.

Oh joy.

I wonder if my DNA will tell folks that I’m not interested in what they’re selling.

Which gene says "NO SOLICITING"?

Which gene says


All the pictures are from Google Images.  I can’t wait to see what they try to sell me next!


Filed under Conspicuous consumption, Gizmos, Health and Medicine, Humor, Technology


Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending.


The Web is a wonderful tool to help people. Please reblog this and spread Nichole’s face around WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

She could be anybody’s sister, daughter, friend.


Filed under Uncategorized, Word Press

It’s What’s For Dinner

As someone who once worked for a United Nations organization (The World Health Organization), I’ve often been frustrated at the lack of respect that the U.N. receives, especially here in the U.S.  I mean the U.N.’s mission, as stated in the organization’s Preamble is truly inspiring:



  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

*     *     *

Now in spite of its noble mission, there are whole swaths of folks in America who have a phobia about the U.N.  Really!  They are stockpiling weapons because they fear the black helicopters of the U.N. that will invade the U.S. any minute now.  They are sure that they will need to fight those nasty aggressors who might force Peace on them.  Or Love.  Or Brotherhood.  These are not considered the sanest people in the U.S. of A., I might add.

So you will understand my concern when I read that the U.N. has figured out how to fight obesity.  I’m sure that the folks who are currently stockpiling guns and ammo will soon be hoarding bacon, Spam and scraple, too.  And I’m not sure I can blame them.

Because I just read in Reuters that on Monday the U.N. released a report that says that “the health benefits of consuming nutritious insects could help fight obesity.”


To match Reuters Life! FOOD-INSECTS/

Dinner! Who’s Hungry?
Reuters – Photograph by Catherine Hornby

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be at the grocery store.  Buying Spam.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Conspicuous consumption, Humor, Stupidity

Can You Have Some Privacy, Please?

You’ll have to forgive the ironic setting of this story, given the topic.  But it happened just this way.  Really.  Would I lie to you?  I mean if no money was involved?

*     *     *

Today I was by myself in the Ladies Room, minding my own business in my little gray stall.  OK, so I was doing my own business in my little gray stall, when the door opened and another woman walked in.  I couldn’t see her.  In fact, thankfully, I never saw her.

Ladies Room 1

She hadn’t taken two steps into the bathroom when her cell phone rang.

Sometimes, you really should just let it go to voice mail.

This is what I heard from my, ummm, perch.



“What were the results?”

Now I’ve had enough calls like this to know that she was talking with someone from her doctor’s office.  I cleared my throat to let her know that someone else was in the house.  Loudly.  I tapped my feet.  (I did not, however, cop a wide stance as I wasn’t in Minneapolis.)

…   …  …

“Oh, do I have to take anything for that?”

….  …   …  …

“You mean I have to go back and tell my partners?”

I coughed.  Loudly.  I thought about starting to sing.

…  …   …  …

“How many do you think I need to tell?”

“Can you figure out who I got it from?”

At this point, I DID start to sing, loudly:

And with that sound, finally, the tone-deaf woman realized that there was someone else in the bathroom, and perhaps this wasn’t the best place to discuss her newly diagnosed Sexually Transmitted Disease.

But you know this whole thing made me realize that folks just don’t understand true cell phone etiquette:

If you let me listen to the start of the call, I get to hear the finale.

Ladies Room 2


Filed under Conspicuous consumption, Health and Medicine, Humor, Stupidity


No matter how old we are, when we’re sick we want Mom.  When we hurt physically, that’s who we call out for.  When we have been wounded emotionally, we want her more than anything.

Several of my bloggin’ buddies asked me to repost this piece for Mother’s Day.  I am delighted to grant those requests.  Because one of the best things about writing is that it lets you bring back folks you miss, hold them again, and let them know that you love them.

I love you, Mom.  And thanks for being such a nut.

*     *     *

My Silver Lining

Thursday, November 22, is Thanksgiving in the U.S.  It is also the 30th anniversary of the surgery I had for what was then thought to be severe ulcerative colitis.  It was a difficult time for me, but one for which I will be thankful for on Thanksgiving and really every day.  Yes, I got my health back as a result of the surgery, but that wasn’t the best part.

The most important part, the silver lining, was that I got to know my Mom, and it started a close relationship that lasted for the rest of her life and that I will feel grateful for for the rest of mine.

Mom was the sweetest woman on the planet.  My friends adored her.  Our house was always open to hoards of kids.  We lived near the beach, and it was convenient for everybody to just hang at our house.  But it was more than that. For years dozens of teens used our house as their home away from home.  There was always room, always plenty to eat, always a welcome.  No one was ever turned away, and the answer to “can So-And-So stay the night” (or “the weekend” or in some cases “the summer”) was always “sure.”

But we weren’t close, Mom and I.  I was Daddy’s girl from the start.  Mom, well, I loved her.  I even liked her, mostly.  It’s just that there wasn’t a whole lot about Mom to make me respect her.  She was completely helpless, you see.  Hopelessly so.  I can’t stand that and never have been able to deal with dependent people.  And “helpless”?  That was Mom in a nutshell.

She didn’t drive.  She didn’t shop without Dad.  She didn’t go for a walk alone.  She didn’t try to take control of family problems and help figure out how to solve them.  She waited for my dad to get home to reprimand, make a decision, to blow her nose, or so it seemed.  She was utterly and totally dependent upon my Dad.  It was incredibly annoying to this girl growing up in the late sixties and seventies during one of the strongest pushes for equal rights for women.  My friends’ mothers were out protesting the Vietnam War.  Mine didn’t even vote.  They burned their bras; Mom ironed hers.  They voiced their opinions ever more loudly.  Mom looked to Dad to indicate which way was up.

After I left home and became more self-sufficient, my irritation at Mom’s inability to do anything without Dad’s help, grew.

So when Mom announced, just weeks before I was to have radical, difficult surgery, that she was going to come to help, well, I panicked.  She was going to help me?  Yeah right.  Her announcement sent me into apoplexy.  It was the worse possible news heaped on a whole ream of really shitty news.  Who the hell was going to help her?

I lived with my roommate, Keily, and my 120 lb. alcoholic German Shepherd, Goliath, in a tiny Washington, DC, townhouse, in a not terribly safe area.  I was sure that Mom would get mugged — she’d make an easy target.  I feared that she would let the dog out and they would both die.  I drove a battered and temperamental VW Bug with a stick shift that Mom didn’t know how to use.  And of course, I wasn’t going to be able to help her because I was going to be recovering from having my guts totally ripped open and reorganized.

I couldn’t believe she would do this to me.

At the same time I couldn’t hurt her feelings and tell her that I didn’t want her.  Nope.  I could never have done that.  Not if my life depended on it.  Which of course, it might.

But once she dropped that bomb, I stopped worrying about the surgery, about the recovery, about everything except how I would take care of my caretaker.  Thankfully, my brother Fred came to help too.  He could drive my car; he could help with Mom for the week he took off from work.  My roommate, Keily, was a star, too.  (That’s a whole different story.)  But Mom came for what was a very long recovery, 2-1/2 months, so felt like I’d be pretty much on my own in taking care of her.

It wasn’t long after she arrived before I realized that Mom without Dad was a different person.  Dad loved the caretaker role, and she was happy to let him play it.  Without Dad, Mom had opinions on stuff, could make decisions and could give savvy and sage advice.  I decided quickly that maybe she and I were related after all.

And as soon as we got to the hospital, I was incredibly glad she was there.  I was admitted and headed up to my room, sending Mom and Fred to get settled in their hotel.  It was about dinnertime, which didn’t matter to me; I’d been on a clear liquid diet for about a week.  And while I was starving, I knew I couldn’t eat.  I had my instructions from my doctor:

(1) Do not eat;

(2) Continue taking your medicines just like you are now;

(3) Show up to the hospital.

Always pay attention to the details when your guts are on the line.

Now Hopkins is one of the best hospitals in the country and it was also one of only two places in the country where the operation I was to have could be performed.  The surgery was brand, spankin’ new – just a smidge beyond experimental.  It was dangerous.  It was highly specialized.   My doctors were to take out my large intestine, rearrange what was left of my plumbing so that things worked normally, and close me up.  Two surgeries were involved – they had to give me a colostomy (ewwww – a bag) in between the two surgeries while my innards healed.  Only 100 of these surgeries had been done in the world.  I was my surgeon’s 7th.  I was scared shitless which is saying a whole lot for a girl with bowel trouble.

But when I got to the hospital, everything went wrong.  They tried to insist I eat; they tried to give me the wrong medicine; they forgot about me and left me hanging out in my room where I fell asleep for several hours before someone wondered who I was.  The grand finale came when two nurses wheeled in an EKG machine, hooked me up and turned it on – and the machine started smoking.   The nurses, trying valiantly not to laugh, had to quickly unplug it and get it out of there.


I called her at her hotel in a complete panic, hysterical.

“I am not going to have this surgery.  What kind of a hospital is this?  They can’t even get an EKG machine to work.  It was smoking Mom, SMOKING!!!!  I’m not.  I’m not. I’m not.”

How is it that Moms know just how to calm down the most hysterical daughter?  I was and she did.  And she didn’t need Dad one little bit.  Yup, she calmed me down, and then, I heard later, called the nurses’ desk and chewed them out royally.  I’m pretty sure that was the first time she’d ever chewed anyone out.  But she wasn’t going to let anybody or anything upset her daughter or get in the way of the surgery that her daughter desperately needed.  And whatever she said worked.  Nothing else got screwed up.  They paid attention to her daughter.

In fact, Helpless Mom became SuperMom.  She corralled doctors when they didn’t come in a timely manner, she sweet-talked most of the nurses and they seemed to come around more and more often as they laughed and joked with Mom.  She was on a first name basis with all the residents and interns, knew if they were married, where they were from.  They got a little bit of mothering whenever they came into the room, and she charmed the lot of them.

She was always full of laughter, encouragement and fun.  Except when her sixth sense told her that I was feeling sorry for myself; then she’d tell me to stop sniveling.  Sometimes I needed that.

Back at home, she was great too.  She found the grocery store and walked to and from, lugging bags of food.  She fed me and Keily, gave beer to the dog, helped me get upstairs and downstairs.  Helped me do many things that were totally disgusting.  She helped me be independent again.  We laughed our way through Christmas together and then my birthday in January.  We laughed for two months, barely coming up for air.  We talked a whole lot, too, about everything.  We became fast friends.

There is one incident though, that made me realize that I’d never really known her before.  Could this crazy woman really be my Mom?

We’d driven my VW to Baltimore for a pre-surgical checkup before the 2nd surgery, scheduled for the 9th of February.  It was late January, and there were several inches of snow on the ground.  On the way back home, the VW died in the center lane of a busy highway.  I managed to coast to the side of the road, where the bug sighed once and died.  Shit.  I was still not at my best, and the promise of a long snowy walk was not a pleasant one for either Mom or me.

But a blue Honda Civic two-door driven by a big burly guy pulled up along the roadside next to us.  He rolled down the window and asked if we needed a lift.  I was about to explain that my car had just died and would he please call a tow truck, when, well, Mom jumped into the back seat! I stood there with my mouth flapping. Because I could hear her voice from my childhood talking in the back of my head:



But there she was, the woman who taught me never, ever, to get into a car with a rapist — she was in the back seat of a stranger/potential rapist’s car.  WTF?????  What the hell was she doing?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I got into the front seat.  And there on the floor was something else that shocked me:  A  teddy bear with a green t-shirt that said “I’m Going To Steal Your Love.”

“Wonderful,” I thought, “a rapist with a sense of humor.”

As it turned out, the guy wasn’t a rapist!  He took us to a reputable garage where they agreed to tow and fix my damn car.

But the adventure wasn’t over yet — we still needed to get home.  The hotel across from the garage had a shuttle bus that went to BWI Airport.  From there, we were told, there was another shuttle bus that could get us back to DC.  It sounded perfect.

Perfect except for the fact that we had hardly any money left  The shuttle to DC only took cash.  No credit cards.  No beads.  No chickens.  Cash.  Shit.

We didn’t have enough for the fare, and couldn’t have come up with any more money.  But that didn’t stop Mom.

She walked up to the shuttle driver and chatted her up.

“Do you think you can let us both on for $16.50?”

“Sorry M’am, the adult fare is $10.”

“What’s the child’s fee?  I mean, after all, she’s my little girl.”

The driver let us both on, shaking her head and smiling at Mom.  Feeling like she’d done a good deed (she had).

Mom was there for my second operation, and then she headed home with Dad who had come up for it.  When he arrived, Mom didn’t just let Dad do everything as she always had before.  She showed him around — showed him her turf.  She had realized that she really liked feeling in charge, and doing things on her own, for herself and for me.

For the rest of Mom’s life, she and I had a whole different relationship.  I had always loved her, always liked her.  But her care for me, and her resourcefulness and sense of duty and just plain fun let me develop a respect for her I’d never had.

I’ve always felt lucky in a way to have had these health problems.  Because they gave me my Mom.  I would never have known her, never have laughed with her so very much.  I wouldn’t have heard the stories of her life, told with love and humor, the way she did everything.

*     *     *

On Mother’s Day, I will raise a special toast to Mom, my SuperMom.


Filed under Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Dogs, Family, Health and Medicine, Holidays, Humor