Monthly Archives: April 2015

Me and My Super Freak…Acne Again

I wrote this post last year, and since I’ve had acne on my chin for two solid months, I thought it would be fun to complain about it again. Plus, now I. Am. For. Ty. Nine. Years, Old. 49. This is bullshit, just sayin’.

Last night there were two suspicious red areas on my chin. This morning I have three raised acne bumps and one hurts like hell and looks like it means business. Big deal, you say. I. Am. For. Ty. Eight. Years. Old. 48. More than two scores. Nearly a half century. Almost half a Ben Franklin. I have slowly made peace with fact that this is a time of transition. Perimenopause, life assessment, aging parents, raising a teen, facing old emotional baggage. And on a good day, I can spin much of this into an almost noble undertaking, as if I’ve chosen personal growth, rather than getting dragged to it kicking and screaming by Mother Nature. But acne? Really? There is no spinning that. It sucked when I had it as a teen and it sucks now. Do you know what’s even more mortifying? I have a bathroom cabinet full of acne products, and only one belongs to my teen-aged son.

But it’s more than that. Not only was I not told about this possibility, I was told the opposite by the dermatologist who treated my scar-inducing cystic acne when I was 20. He said I’d have beautiful skin at 50. I guess he assumed the excessive oil production causing the acne would have declined  by 1) the passage of time and 2) the drug I was taking, Accutane*, which cuts down oil gland production. His prediction meant very little to me at the time — at 20, I could hardly imagine being 25, never mind 50. But over time I came to depend on the promised beautiful skin. As I got into full-on perimenopause and my hormones were acting like drunken citizens during Prohibition, I clung to the fact that at least I wouldn’t have to deal with acne. Maybe my body was sweating randomly and plaguing me with odd aches and pains, but dammit I was going to have amazing skin!

I should have realized to not take his predictions too seriously. He also confidently and inaccurately predicted I would only need two Accutane treatments. “Hardly anyone has needed two, and no one has needed three.” To be fair, Accutane came out in 1979 and I took it first in 1984. Probably no one knew how many treatments it should take, especially for my super freak acne.

But here I am all this time later with acne that isn’t quite Accutane worthy, but is more than just a dainty “blemish” — a stupid word if ever there was one. I never thought I would actually be able to say a positive thing about having acne as a teen, but as severe as mine was, at least plenty of kids had some kind of acne, and it’s an expected teen thing. Now I get to go to work meetings and try to be professional with a bunch of angry red bumps on my chin—or on my nose or in my ear if I’m super lucky! That’s wicked fun, let me tell you. I almost envy the women who are sweating and ripping off their suit jackets. I happen to work with a lot of people in that age group, so it’s not as freakish as if you worked in say, a start-up with 20-somethings. Although, now that I think about it, they might have some acne. I should definitely check that out as a career move. At least until get my fabulous skin at 60.

*I just want to acknowledge Accutane has since become a generic drug and has had come controversy around side effects: severe birth defects and suicidal depression. I had a positive experience with it. My doctor told me flat out, “If you get pregnant on this drug, your child will have deformities and may not even have a head.” I was scared into compliance, and it did not affect my son who was born a number of years after I stopped taking it. And as far as depression, it was the really bad acne that was depressing me, and when it cleared up (after three tries), I was a new woman. Well, at least until now.

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How to Survive Spring Cleaning? Have Rockin’ Sibs Who Like to Get Their Clean On

For the past several years, my family has gotten together to do a big spring cleaning at my parents’ house. And when I say “family,” I mean my three siblings have done it. I managed to have perfectly legitimate excuses for the first years, you know, blah, blah, blah my son was having trouble in school and then I was getting a divorce. I might have milked that one for two years—pre, during and post-divorce is very time-consuming, you know.

Unfortunately, my life took a turn for the better, and I finally ran out of bad life events last year, so my Catholic guilt required me to sign up for the annual cleaning. And then I got lucky and a bad life event happened to my sister and she injured her knee. She needed more help than my parents, so we cancelled the weekend. My brother was a trooper and helped my parents out a bit and then headed to my sister’s to help her. It was a real sacrifice…for me.

But my sister’s knee is much better and here it is spring, and the cleaning weekend had once again cornered me.

It’s not that I don’t want to help my parents, it just seems I lack the proper genes. We come from half Dutch/Germanic stock—that pinnacle of orderly cleanliness, and somehow in the random genetic distribution, my three siblings got that gene that gives them satisfaction from cleaning, combined with a perfectionist streak. I seem to lack the genetic predisposition for both. When I must clean, I subscribe to my French Canadian grandmother’s method used at her little summer lake cottage. She’d “pass the vacuum,” meaning you just vacuumed in the places people can see. At the cottage the vacuuming was mostly just to pick up the very visible sand we kids tracked in from being in the water all day and running in and out of cottage for snacks and drinks. And I’m OK with that.

But my sibs…their genes make for some excellent cleaning abilities, ones I am embarrassed to admit I have benefited from and haven’t really reciprocated. Many years ago, my sibs and my mom came to the condo my then-husband and I had just bought. They cleaned it and babysat Lucas, so we could have a weekend away. They did a repeat performance just a few years ago when my son and I moved into an apartment that the landlord hadn’t had time to clean between tenants. They came and cleaned like pros for some take out and a couple of laughs. How lucky am I?

So I had to show up at my parents’ house. To make up for my less-than-perfect cleaning skills, I offered to bring food for dinner and my sunny personality. They know better, but were nice enough to accept anyway.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the familial homestead. I actually had fun. Cleaning. With my family. After pondering it for a bit, here are my top reasons why:

  1. No mandates. Unlike holidays, which can be forced marches of traditions, some you hold dear and others you would dearly love to chuck out the door, the cleaning weekend had no tradition, just a reasonable list of things my parents needed done, to be completed at your own pace. Huh, go figure.
  2. My two sisters, my brother and I all have different, non-overlapping skill sets. This seems to be key. You could imagine how the weekend would explode in a family where, say two expert bathroom cleaners would fight over whose toilet is more sparkling or two handy siblings would try to outdo each other fixing the roof, nail guns leveled at each other. We’re a pretty balance village:
    1. Julie is the Renaissance woman. She dusts and cleans and sews and looks up a new toaster oven for my parents online, takes my mother shopping for new rugs, listens when my mom says she needs a new bed, and cajoles my dad into washing the bed linen.
    2. Sharon is the bathroom cleaning queen and floor cleaner extraordinaire. With her serious arsenal of cleaning products and rubber gloves, she is a force to be reckoned with. She fearlessly laughs in the face of filth.
    3. Mark is happiest moving around, hosing down and cleaning carpets, doing yard work, fixing anything in or outside the house. He’s a one-man, lean, mean fix-it machine.
    4. Me? I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do, until my brother just suggested I pick a room and have at it. So I did. I dusted knickknacks, cleared out the cobwebs, wiped the frames of about 12 of my father’s paintings which cover most of the walls. I blew the dust off hundreds of books on three bookshelves. Then I became one with the cleaning and started moving furniture from against the walls and vacuumed behind, under, in corners. This was no “pass the vacuum” stint—this was the real deal.
    5. Together Sharon and Mark combine their powers, like the Wonder Twins from the SuperFriends cartoon in the 70s and 80s, and they tackle the kitchen floor. I gamely offered to help, but Julie shook her head silently at me in that “do what I tell you” older sister way. I knew to leave it to the experts when the Wonder Twins got into huddle and had a serious discussion about the right kind of floor wax to use and what stores carried it.
  3. You gotta have music—I played the Donna Summer radio station on Pandora, so mostly I was singing, dancing and cleaning. Best dance moment was when “Do the Hustle” came on, and barely missing a beat, my two sisters and I reached back into our gym class training from the 70s and performed a decent rendition of the dance steps. So, for the record, we did learn at least one thing useful in high school.
  4. You gotta have music part 2. I was cleaning the counter and chatting with my Dad and he started talking about how he knows all the words to Dean Martin songs, so I changed Pandora to that station and had fun listening to my dad sing along and jump up and do the rumba and Foxtrot. Forget Jagger, he’s got the moves like Astaire.
  5. Dazzle ‘em with your best foot forward and then run like hell. I gave my sibs fair warning about my lack of abilities/faulty genetic material/”passing the vacuum” ways. But I got into a grove with the living room, and then moved onto the den, dancing and humming. I got to the kitchen windows and they did me in. I’m not sure if it was because it was the end of the day or it’s too hard to dance on a step-ladder. Luckily it was dinner time and my sibs were all exclaiming how much work I’d done and I was way better than I said. Boy did I ever fool them! The next day I reverted to my old ways. I skipped vacuuming a whole section of the room between the bed and the wall that you can’t see from the door. The raised eyebrows when I confessed to “passing the vacuum” told me it was time to get a head start on the traffic and make a quick exit.
  6. My childhood cleaning muscle never went away. Just before I attempted the bedroom, I did vacuum the stairs like a pro. Why? We all had assigned areas of the house to clean as a kid and the stairs were part of mine. I started at the bottom and my body went into autopilot cleaning mode. This muscle memory does not seem transferable.

So there you have it. After years of dreading it, I finally showed up and had a decent time. I got a very strong reminder of how lucky I am to have parents who are still able to have a house we can clean and to have genetically enhanced cleaning siblings. See ya next year guys!

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Goodbye Hamphrey

Just a short post this week. We salute and say goodbye to our little furry friend Hamphrey. He appeared in a number of my posts last year—he braved and survived surgery as described in the meddling hamster, he saved me when I flat-out had no blog ideas, and he began snoring in the cutest way ever,  and then he wished everyone happy holidays.

We noticed he was slowing down as he approached his second birthday, so we had a little party for him a few weeks ago. The picture above is him enjoying (or at least tolerating) our human shenanigans around his birthday. He was sweet and a homebody, had a beautiful coat, and preferred carrots and peas over fruit. Goodbye Hamphrey, we will miss you.

Hamphrey after his surgery last year.



Hamphey getting his holiday cheer on.

hamprhey santa

Guardian of Harlan Ellison’s Coat

I had one of those weeks at work where everyone was stressed and tasks that should have been easy were impossible. Here’s a helpful tip: if you are looking for an engraving company that will put a nice looking plaque on a block of metal of a specific size and only have a few weeks to do it, choose another kind of label. Just sayin’. As my coworkers and I were working frantically on the alternate labeling option, I was transported back to another task that should have been easy and wasn’t. (Cue the “Wayne’s World” wavy hand thing that indicates a trip to the past.)

In the 90s I worked at the Boston Center for Adult Education and we had an annual writing festival. It was always a difficult task trying to find a headliner big name writer who we could afford. One year we totally lucked out with John Irving, and had been having a hard time matching that success. Trying to think outside the box, we decided on Harlan Ellison. Some of you will know his name—if you’re a hard core fan of science fiction or of the original Star Trek. Harlan wrote one of Star Trek’s best episodes, “City on the Edge of Forever.” Non sci fi fans may know that episode because a gorgeous young Joan Collins was the guest star.

Writers, like rock stars, can come in all kinds of temperaments, and so we weren’t sure what to expect. The year before I started working there, they had landed Kurt Vonnegut and I was still traumatized by the stories of how difficult he was. John Irving was much nicer, and just as detail oriented in person as he is in his fiction. We had a discussion about the very old, defunct alarms on the windows of the room he was waiting in before his talk. The center was housed in a former mansion built in the early 1900s. “Must have been one of the first home alarm systems,” he mused, eyeing it intently.

Harlan Ellison was no household name, so I expected a humble, nerdy, sci fi guy. What we got was a big ego who blew into the center unannounced on the afternoon of his talk and started issuing orders to us about what he wanted, where, and when. The phrase, “You’re not famous enough to be this bossy” came to mind. Then he thrust his jacket at me and told me to get it pressed for the talk at 7pm. He instructed me to make sure the sleeves were “rolled,” not pressed, and before I could even scrape together my feminist dignity and regally refuse, he blew back out the door.

Great. After a quick huddle with my coworkers about my best shot at getting this done, I set off to find a dry cleaners. There were easily half a dozen within walking distance of the center, so I wasn’t too worried. I was more annoyed than anything and wished he could have asked for a bowl of M&Ms with the green ones picked out. However, it soon became clear that I wasn’t getting that jacket pressed. One after another the dry cleaners looked at me blankly and said the presses were all shut down. Apparently it was common knowledge to all but me and my coworkers that one doesn’t get clothes pressed after 12 noon. How awkward and uncivilized of us to ask! Each dry cleaner sent me to the next: “Well, we don’t do it, but Charlie’s down the street might still have his press on.” They knew damn well Charlie was sitting there, presses off, scarfing up coffee and cookies, but they had some sort of code, and I was obliged to cover a six block square area with a crumpled jacket for naught.

Then I tried his hotel. Of course they use the same dry cleaners, so the answer was the same, with the additional tease of, “Well, one of the maids might be able to iron it by hand…” Briefly raised hopes “….but we couldn’t take responsibility if anything happened to the jacket…” were dramatically smashed. And what a jacket it was. Vintage cream linen with a psychedelic lining of brilliant swirling colors. I didn’t want to think what Harlan might do to me if that jacket came to harm.

But the hotel did give me one final option. Being an adult ed center, we had all manner of household items at our disposal, including an ironing board and an iron. So there I was at 5 pm, appropriately enough on the upper floors of the center which would have housed the servants, sweating over Harlan’s damn jacket. The sweat was due to both the unusual June heat and nervousness of accidentally marring the jacket—I mean there must be a fact-based reason why so many cartoons and comedies feature clothes with a burned hole in the shape of an iron. And did I mention I avoid buying clothes that need ironing? I ascertained that “rolled” sleeves meant no crease down the length, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Then at one point, the iron steam sputtered and made a small mark on the one of the sleeves. I panicked and tried to get it up with a wet cloth, but it stayed fast. Luckily, it was more on the bottom of the sleeve than the top. And then the clock struck the appointed hour and it was time to go.

I carried it as carefully as I could to avoid any additional wrinkles, which you know is impossible because linen wrinkles when you sneeze on it, but I managed to get it there and hand it to him. I waited for him to ask me who the hell had done such a shitty job pressing the thing and/or rip me a new one for the mark. He whipped it on without so much as a thank you or a fuck you and got ready for his talk.

So far, so good.

Honestly I can’t tell you what the hell he talked about. All my concentration was on that mark on the jacket and replaying the ghastly afternoon in my head. I was also trying to come up with smart retorts if he called me out.  And then it was time for Q & A, and after a few questions about I don’t know what, he called on a guy, who simply said, “I like your jacket.” The world stopped.

“This old thing?” Harlan answered nonchalantly. I was having trouble taking in breath. He rattled off something about getting it in the 70s and my life started passing before my eyes, much like the Guardian in the episode Harlan wrote that shows the passage of time. And then he slipped off the jacket in one fluid motion: “Here take it.”

Time stopped. I felt like it would have been the perfect time to jump into the Guardian so I could go back to that afternoon. When Harlan tried to hand me his coat, I could tell him to take his jacket and stuff it up his Jeffries tube. Actually I was more like McCoy who had just injected himself with cordrazine and was going crazy. My coworkers had to hold me back from lunging at both Harlan and new coat owner. But what was the point? Harlan left the stage with his big ego intact, perhaps even bigger for being so generous to a fan. The fan was happy to have landed the fabulous jacket. I had to be like the Guardian at the end of the episode. (Spoiler alert my ass, that episode is 48 years old, get a grip for god’s sake.) Kirk wrenchingly lets his lover die so that Hitler won’t win in World War II, and the Guardian says, “Time has resumed, all is as it was” (or some such, I’m a fan, not a mechanical recording device). But Kirk isn’t as he was and never would be. And neither was I.