connection, Encouragement, Friends, Uncategorized

Mean Girls

I met my son for lunch yesterday. He’s now a fulltime worker with a direct deposit and a lunch hour, and we agreed tacos on the westside would taste good. It’s both strange and wonderful to see him midday in khakis and wearing the new J.Crew golf shirt I bought him. He’s starting to show a little fatigue from the grind, but thankfully is challenged and using his brain far more than he would hanging around the house. And a paycheck sure feels good.

Afterward I decided to pop into Serena & Lily, an overpriced home furnishings store which sends me their catalog I’ve occasionally flipped through. Its expensive beachy vibe and pillows with playful pom-poms both attract me and put me off – much like the Williams-Sonoma catalog does with similarly overt overpricing. Having never seen a store in person, I was curious. I’ve tried before but there was an “appointment only” sign on the door – in italic tasteful script of course – and so I left. This time, that tasteful off-putting sign was still there, but I thought I’m already here and besides, I don’t see any customers inside. A woman on the sidewalk nearby beamed at me, surprised at my gall; she’d wanted to browse too but admitted she didn’t dare bother with such an unfriendly, exclusive vibe.

Through the door as I was peering inside, I saw three women, one wearing that anxious look you get right before a party you’re hosting is to begin. We locked eyes and I stood at the door and waited it out. She walked toward me, a head shaking no look on her face, as if I were a rat scratching to get in, and she’d once again need to remind me the answer is still, “No you can’t come in here.” My persistence paid off however and she unlocked the almighty door, poked her head out feigning ignorance as to what I might possibly want. There was a rushed exchange: HER: “We are appointment only.” ME: “I just wanted to browse quickly.” HER: grudgingly looking at her watch, “I have a 3 o’clock appointment.” Seeing as I wasn’t going away, and it was barely 2:00pm, and disgruntled by the few choices left her, she let me slink in past her and promptly locked the door behind us. 

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

One friendly looking woman was fluffing pillows and positioning an expensive throw diagonally over the sofa’s arm.  As I looped through the store leaning in to turn over price tags – ouch! – the main woman was back at her post at the large white desk in the center of the space. She was the queen bee and it was clear behind her tortoise shell low sitting readers that she called the shots. I made my way to fabrics – one of the reasons I wanted in in the first place – but the grey windowpane Sunbrella swatch advertised online wasn’t instore. The woman working fabrics offered me a sample of a different brand performance fabric – perhaps my consolation prize if I would just leave already ?- and encouraged me to go home and dirty it up, even pull out a Sharpie, because this linen-like square was indestructible, and could even tolerate a Clorox soak if it came to that. It was beautiful but unfortunately my cats would shred it to pieces.

Looping back around to the queen’s desk, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to discuss our unfortunate greeting at her door. I asked if this appointment-only situation was due to Covid, and she nodded yes before I could even finish my sentence, happy I gave her a response to offer me before she’d have to rustle one up, using up precious energy reserved for her 3 o’clock. I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door. All I got next was, “We’re California-based” – as if that helps explain the unfriendly vibe? – and smiling, enthusiastically adding, “… actually, we’ve done really well.” (with the implied: … by being picky about just who we let in). Pleased with her rapid recovery from and command of our exchange, she went back to the desk and her busy downward glance mode, eyes ever watching but with readers now slid lower.

I told her she might find she’ll lose customers turning them away at the door.

I finished my two-minute sweep through the store returning to the fluffing pillows woman who seemed flustered when I asked her a product question. She revealed it was her first day and I warmly congratulated her. What I really wanted to tell her was to run now, because I can’t imagine the queen would tolerate such product illiteracy or ease her career path in any way. I considered sitting on the couch because it was gorgeous and I sort of wanted to fall in love with it, but with the puffed perfect pillows in place and three sets of side-eying eyes, I thought better of it. The price for the soft linen sofa, like most things in there, was ridiculous, untouchable and untestable, so I cut my losses and headed for the door. The queen rushed behind me as if unsure I might change my mind and stay or if I could work the lock. I surprised her with my lock turning skills and she seemed newly energized with the prospect of my leaving. I left, heard the lock turn and never looked back.

Sorry folks – I’m sure this is a great store and if you shop there and can afford the cute pillows and such and the ladies take you in and manage to find smiles for their faces, then good for you. I, however, don’t fall in that group and this experience reminded me why I don’t want to. There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that, and it’s mostly with women I’ve found. You know the sinking feeling. Like after you’ve gotten a haircut you’re unsure about and an acquaintance (or good friend even) will do the long stare, cock her head and with a knowing naivete inquire, “Did you get your haircut?” which is usually followed by a smirk, another stare taking in the atrocities and then silence. And there you are, naked AND with a questionable haircut. 

There’s a certain feeling you get around people like that.

There was that time I hosted a dinner party for good friends and another couple they’re close with joined in. We know this couple, but haven’t hung out with them socially, but because our friends made the suggestion, we happily included them. As I do with most gatherings I host, I busted my ass marinating beautiful meats and seafood for grilling, making delicious sides and getting the house picked up and (mostly) cleaned up for the event. The guests brought wine and the wife of this other couple, a salad. It was delightful yet simple, and there was something about it that drew me in, but I wasn’t sure what. When the time was right, I complimented her and then asked what was in it. Gatekeeper of salad secrets, she looked my way, smiled and offered up a paltry, “a little this, a little that.” I’ll stop here and admit there was a time I wasn’t as generous with giving out my recipes, and there are still a few for cookies and cakes I occasionally sell that I won’t give out. But mostly, if you liked what I made you, I’m thrilled because c’mon, folks, isn’t that the point? And if you bother to put yourself out there and ask me for the recipe, I will gladly give it to you. Thinking perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, later in the evening as we’d all further loosened up with more wine, I asked directly, “Your salad is great. I’d love to make it some time. Could you share your recipe?” And then the smile returned to her face and then… nothing. Again, I’m standing there naked before her and she won’t even throw me a towel. 

Be warned: Mr. Longlegs loves swings

Flashback to Trinity School, 6th grade and I’m eleven and enjoying time on the playground in that relaxed dappled autumn sun September brings. I noticed a Daddy Longlegs at the base of the slide and shrieked, quickly moving toward the swings. My friends noticed and snickered, but now on the swings, I was safe. After several minutes pumping my legs and climbing high into the sky, I felt something. There it was, another one climbing up the chain of my swing. Heart racing, I slowed down and jumped off, unable to silence my shriek or this terror, running inside to the bathroom where I’d stay until recess was over. Sitting on the toilet in my stall, I gradually calmed down and let the horrific events fade, when all of a sudden, the bathroom door opened, and a few giggly girls came bounding in. I stayed quiet but I knew they knew I was in there, and then they flung handfuls of Daddy Longlegs over the stall door. It was then that I endured a slow-motion horror flick, Daddy Longlegs raining down onto my head, their bent quivering legs scurrying around my scalp and neck. Of course, I had to run my hand through my hair to get them off and, thanks to the adrenaline kicking in, I stayed at it until it seemed they were literally out of my hair. 

We’re all vulnerable but often try not to look the part. Each time, the hurt that seeps in when you share your heart or fears with a friend and instantly regret it because you’re now exposed or when you ask for help when you’re feeling awkward or ashamed revealing your weaknesses, feels awful and trains you to retract back into your shell. Those times when you let your guard down and complain about a relationship you’re struggling with, suddenly you aren’t interesting any more. Your mystique has melted and faced with the real you – or the real you on that particular day – some people don’t want to look anymore, don’t want their image of you to become too real, too human, because maybe it makes them all too real as well, and feel less special, especially now hanging out with you. They need things fluffed up and crisp, like the Serena & Lily showroom promises and delivers.

Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people. – Fred Rogers

If we’re being honest, I suspect we’d each agree that it’s our weak spots that make us interesting and real, make us special, and help us grow. If only we could stop judging each other and ourselves, maybe we’d learn more about one other and really see each other just as we are. I’d like to think that there are far more women out there who are supportive, loyal, and unconditionally generous, and thankfully I know many who are. 

Maybe we could be a little less picky about who we let in, give everyone a chance, and put bullying, elitism and shaming aside, or even better, away for good. Women can be a source of great support, information and joy for one another. We can lift each other up, share our delicious secrets and do away with making the other girl undress while we quizzically stare at her. We’re all naked and imperfect and just doing our best, so please girls, let’s give each other a break and a chance to grow and learn and let go; let’s give each other some love. Ourselves too.

Nothing’s perfect, not even this gorgeous magnolia.
breast cancer, connection, Food, Friends, hope

Hearts Wide Open

Maybe it’s this pandemic or the end of my cancer treatment, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to improve things — my outlook, my sense of hope, tapping into more curiosity and creativity and connection, and not wasting any more of this precious time we get. When I started this blog a few years ago, I titled it Hindsight because I realized it captured so much of what I’ve been doing, thinking about the past and noticing patterns so I can learn more about myself. I hope to collect the best parts of the past and reuse and refashion them for these times, because those bits are the ones I want and need more of.

I’ve been thinking about not wasting any more of this precious time we get.

There are plenty of traditions I’d like to resurrect. For instance, I’ve been wanting to go on picnics again, remember those? Growing up, we had a red checkered tablecloth and four of us would grab the corners and lay it down flat, smoothing out the wrinkles. Then the real fun began, unpacking the basket full of delicious things our mom had packed. Usually we were by a creek or a lake, so along with great food, there was a beautiful backdrop.

Other than packing a meal to enjoy on a car trip, or dining alfresco somewhere, the last real picnic I had, the kind where you make and pack up all the food and sit outside on a blanket, was a surprise one my husband pulled off over two decades ago. It wasn’t fancy or somewhere out-of-town. Instead it was in Ansley’s Winn Park here in Atlanta, and he’d cleaned out our fridge and created a lovely spread, with salami and baguette and artichoke hearts and some sweets and nice beers too. I think he even brought a blanket to sit on. He’d stolen a few hours in the middle of his workday at Colony Square, and the two of us lying under midtown’s twinkling towers in my favorite park was perfect. I don’t know if it was the surprise, the delicious meal resulting in a cleaned-out fridge, the loving company or the magical backdrop that blew me away, but am thinking what touched me most, is how thoughtful he was to plan and prepare this.

Remember visiting with people, before the Internet and answering machines and DVRs, and when we spent an enormous amount of time outside? Times when you would walk to a neighbor’s and knock on their door unannounced and while away an afternoon just being together? My recent visit with my friend, Karen, while planned in advance, felt much like one of these. She greeted me at her door with one of those hugs you never forget: big open arms that pull you in tight and hold you there. I haven’t had one of those hugs in maybe ever, nor had I seen her since my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her hug communicated so much – such happiness and relief to see me smiling and healthy. We drove to Stone Mountain and walked the five-mile loop, and then returned to her house where she gave me a wonderful tour . She pointed out memorabilia and told stories about special items she and her family had collected. Afterward, we had tea on her deck and with lovely Lake Kenilworth in the distance, visited some more.

One of those hugs you never forget: big open arms that pull you in tight and hold you there

Recently my sister and niece came down from Chicago, their visit timed with my last chemo treatment. After the excitement of picking them up from the airport and settling them in, I remember us hanging around my kitchen table nibbling on snacks and catching up. In my usual self-conscious, self-deprecating style, I was poking fun at my various bald spots on my scalp, out of my control of course from the chemo, the ones where the cold cap didn’t fit well, a visible sign I was now different from them: I was the cancer patient. They assured me I looked fine, and after I joked some more, my sister looked up with her kind loving eyes and said, “Susie, we love who you are no matter what is going on with your hair. You’re still you and we love you like we always have.” In that moment, I saw the truth. All my jokes aside, these two wonderful women before me in my kitchen knew me and loved me all the more. My eyes well up just retelling this.

You’re still you and we love you like we always have.

I’ve always said food is love and I still believe it is. It’s my way of showing I care, that I want to nourish you and delight you with something delicious, and it’s others’ way too. This simple act of preparing food for someone is so intimate and layered and loving, and whether complicated or simple, it’s a recipe that keeps on giving. Over these last few months, I’ve had a half dozen or so friends bring me delicious things — soups, stews, seafood and chicken, all healthy and homemade with love. I’ve frozen extra servings and reheated them weeks later tasting and receiving the love all over again.

I’m finding these times are further connecting us as we isolate. With much of the background noise of our busy lives gone, it seems our conversations, Zoom cocktail hours and texts are stripped down to their essence: how are we each doing and how can we connect, how can we help one other? I’ve got a few friends who thoughtfully tell me when they’re headed to the store and can pick up an item or two I need. And these days, I surprise myself by letting them. In turn, I’m already thinking of what I can do for them, maybe something special to eat or helping to solve a problem they’re struggling with. Or maybe it’s just staying in good touch.

How can we connect, how can we help one other?

The other night our power went out, unfortunately timed precisely during our return from a particularly large grocery run. As I knelt on my front porch, flashlight strategically propped and Clorox spray in hand, wiping down the contents from endless plastic bags, a rush of gratitude spilled over me at this sweet assembly line: I wiped down the items, one son took them from me at the front door and brought them to the kitchen where, by candlelight, the other son and my husband organized them and planned how they’d refrigerate and freeze it all with 1-2 limited refrigerator door opens. These hundreds of dollar’s worth of groceries were our livelihood, our next week to ten days of preparations and conversations over nourishing meals and yes, our share of Haagen-Dazs and chips, fried chicken tenders and other empty calories, too. The candles and oil lanterns I’d rounded up lit our hall, dining room and kitchen, so for the next hour until the power came back on we mostly hung around those areas, all of us hovering near all the food we’d scored and safely stowed.

Today the lights are on, the sun is shining and it’s a new month. It’s also the start of my new and final cancer treatment, the daily ten-year pill I started today to keep this long-gone tumor forever in my rearview mirror. This medicine is known equally for its effectiveness and side-effects. When and if the joint pain or night sweats or doldrums hit, I hope I’ll remind myself that these are signs that it’s working. I hope these annoyances will actually lessen or else become something I absorb and get used to, and that they begin to seem like the helpers you’re supposed to look for in times of need.

So, here’s to more picnics and visits and helpers, and to loving each other with hearts wide open. xoxox