“You won’t believe what Karl said today,” my husband chuckles, plunking a lone ice cube into his rocks glass.

Karl is one of the radiologists in my husband’s practice. He also happens to have a daughter about the same age as Miss D., who is a seventh grader.

“What?” I say, slicing cucumbers into thin rounds for the salad.

“This is good. Karl came into the reading room and he sat down and looked like shit. Just exhausted. He gave this big sigh and then said, ‘Has the entire climate of your household been completely upended by the demise of One Direction?'”

I crack up. “Okayyy. What did you tell him?”

“I said, ‘D. doesn’t give one single fuck about One Direction, Karl. She’s not into that kind of stuff. Now, say, if Benedict Cumberbatch had announced that he was quitting Sherlock or if they were cancelling Dr. Who or Supernatural, that would be a complete cause for hysteria. But One Direction? Nah.”

“I’m thanking the Nerd Gods that our kid inherited our Nerd Genes.” I pop a crouton into my mouth and grab the salad tongs. “D. did say that some of the girls at school were completely freaking out about it, though. I mean, crying, for Christ’s sake.”

“That’s what Karl was saying,” my husband shakes his head. “It’s complete emotional chaos. Crying and whining and despairing and constant phone activity. Talk about drama overload.”

“Zayne.” I wrinkle my nose. “Jeez, who even names their kid that?”

***

Later that night, I get a Facebook message from my friend Amy. Her daughter is also 13.

“Haley is going through some bad bullying from the group of girls she hangs out with,” she writes. “These girls are all big One Direction fans and Haley is the only one who really isn’t into them any more. She’s just kind of over it. But these girls were all broken up about that Zayne kid leaving, and Haley said something like, ‘You know, it doesn’t really matter,’ and these girls immediately turned on her. Boom, just like that. Now she’s being flooded with all of these mean texts and nasty messages on her Facebook wall.”

“That’s crazy, ” I write.  “That sucks. How is Haley doing?”

“She’s upset but okay enough about it to talk to me. Which I am grateful for. I told her that obviously, this is stupid and she should ignore them and that I was proud of her for being herself. But guess what these girls did? They went on Instagram and blurred Haley’s face out of every group picture they had.”

When I read those words, I go cold in my bones.  As fast as the times are changing, some things remain eerily the same.

The summer before I entered eighth grade, the group of “friends” I was part of decided that it was my turn to be ostracized. It didn’t come as a huge  surprise; this group of girls turned on each other on a regular basis. They had been doing it all year.

Of course, at some point, it was going to be my turn, but when my turn came, I was unprepared. The rapidity and the viciousness of it left me gasping.

One afternoon that summer, a boy from my grade called me on the phone. I was puzzled, because I knew this kid only marginally. He’d been in my gym class, but we’d never really spoken.

“Hey,” I said cautiously into the phone.

“Hey, there. Having a nice summer?”

“It’s okay, I guess.”

“Well, guess what your best girlfriends did today?” he said, in a silky voice.

I tried to choke something out but it caught in my throat. It ended up sounding like a faint and garbled “mew.”

I waited.

“They took all of the pictures of the group that had your face in it. All of them. And they burned them in Shannon’s backyard.”

I placed the telephone gently back into the receiver.

The message was clear.

We can erase you.

We can make you disappear.

Without us, you don’t exist.

Without us, you are nobody.

And sadly, part of me believed them. I was thirteen years old and didn’t really know who I was; I was still in the process of figuring it out. What girl, at the tender age of thirteen, really knows any of that stuff? I knew I was shy and that I liked to read and that math wasn’t my favorite subject and that maybe I wanted to kiss a boy somewhere down the road, but that was about it.

What did I know of the more difficult terrain of myself?

***

This weekend, my husband and I took the girls to the mall. At one point, I separated myself from the group to sneak off for some Easter gifts and all things chocolate. Later, as we were driving home, my husband broke into a grin and addressed Miss D., eyes twinkling at her in the rearview mirror.

“Hey, D. Wanna tell mom what you said at the  mall?”

My teenager rolled her eyes at him and plopped her headphones on, but she was smiling a little. “Jeez, Dad. Whatever.”

I laugh. “Okay, what? Spill.”

“Well,” he smirked, “I needed to get some shaving gel, because I’m out, and so I took the girls into Sephora. D. took two steps in there and physically recoiled. She said to me, in this horrified voice, ‘What the heck are we in here for? This store sells, like, makeup and stuff.'”

I rubberneck around to look at my daughter, who has heard but isn’t meeting my eye. “Yo, D.!” She grudgingly removes her headphones. “What’s wrong with  makeup?”

“God! Mom.” She shakes her head and puts her headphones back on. “Gross popular girls wear makeup. And all they care about is getting a boyfriend. They’re horrible. You won’t catch me dead wearing makeup.”

The day is unseasonably warm and when we get home, D. marches out to the backyard, headphones still firmly on her ears. As usual, she heads for the swings. I watch her out the kitchen window as she pumps her legs, seeking higher ground. My husband sees me watching her and smiles. He wanders over and watches her, too.

“She’s really going for it out there.”

“She always does. The girl loves to swing.”

He laughs. “She’s a funny kid.”

“She is. A great kid, but funny. I worry about her sometimes.”

“Why?” He looks puzzled. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders.”

“It’s just…this age, you know? Kids can be so cruel at this age, I mean, downright vicious, and I don’t think she has the skills to handle that kind of thing. She’s fairly immature for her age. Look at her. Five foot seven and still playing on the swings.”

“Aren’t you happy about that, though? She’s not boy-crazy or dressing like a tramp or sneaking beer out of the refrigerator.”

“Yeah, I’m grateful for that. I am. I’m glad she’s not in a rush to grow up. It’s the others I worry about.”

“Kids can be little bastards. But she’s a smart kid.”

“She calls herself a nerd. Like, that’s really how she sees herself.”

He gives a sharp little laugh. “So what? We were both nerds. Hell, we still are nerds. We say that all the time.”

“I know, but do you think she really believes that? Deep down?”

He puts his hand on the small of my back. “I think the kid is all right. You worry too much. Just…get yourself off the ledge and enjoy her, okay? Just the way she is.”

Enjoy her.

Just the way she is.

My funny, quirky, brainy, unbridled girl, with curls that run riot like wild horses.

It takes another few minutes before I can tear my eyes away from the window, away from the sight of her soaring, high as she can go.

 

 

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the-kitchwitch-recipes-shrimp-salad-with-harissa-dressing

Guess what, readers? My oven is still broken. When the appliance repairman arrived to exorcise the Home Appliance Poltergeist, he had the sad job of informing me that my big-ass double oven and 6-burner range was no longer being made. At all. Anywhere.

Awesome.

He called around and was able to find ONE existing oven/range in Dallas, Texas and could therefore get the part he needed to replace (the latch that locks the oven door for cleaning) for the tidy sum of 800 dollars.

800 bucks for a latch? What the Hell, man?

I sputtered and stewed and thought, “Seven kinds of owl shit!” Then, I told him that maybe, since the damn thing was obsolete now, maybe we’d just do better to replace it, because what’s going to happen the next time it breaks?

Then I researched the cost of replacing my big-ass oven/range.

$9,500. And that’s the cheap model.

Well, then.

800 bucks didn’t seem so bad anymore.

On Monday, appliance dude drove over with the new part and tinkered around with my oven and discovered that…it wasn’t the right part. They’d transposed a serial number when he was ordering the part, and this one wasn’t viable. So he got to call around again, searching for a different replacement part and strangely, he found one lone part in…Dallas, Texas.

Apparently, Dallas, Texas is where kitchen appliances go to die.

So, I’m operating on week three of ovenless existence.

As shitty as my luck’s been with appliances, my luck with the weather has been aces. We’ve had some unseasonably warm weather, which is good, because it means that we can exist on things like salads and paninis without feeling too grumpy about it.

I love main dish salads when the weather is warm, especially when they include things other than just lettuce and protein. I like salads with personality; why settle for lettuce when you can tuck in some other little goodies, like pasta or beans or toasted nuts?

I also crave salads with lots of flavor, and when I saw this recipe, I knew it would fit the bill because of the key ingredient in the salad dressing–harissa.

You guys do have harissa in your life, right?

Right?

Seriously, if you don’t have harissa in your life, go online now and order yourself some, because it will change your life.

Okay, well, maybe not your life but it will spice up your cooking in a lovely way. Harissa is a spice paste from North Africa/Tunisia and it has a smoky, complex flavor a and a pleasant spicy kick, and it is delicious rubbed on any kind of meat about to hit the grill.

I get my harissa from Whole Foods, but you can order it online from a variety of places. Personally, I like Zingerman’s, but it’s not hard to find elsewhere.

I’d never used harissa in salad dressing, but I knew I liked the stuff, so why not? So I did, and this salad made a lovely weekend lunch paired with some crusty bread and a cold beverage to balance the slightly spicy kick of the dressing.

A word about spice: Harissa varies widely from brand to brand as far as spiciness, so make sure you taste your harissa and adjust accordingly. If it’s fiery, use the lesser proportions called for here. No need to blow your head off! Unless, of course, you like things that way.

We are about to run out of luck with our weather–rain and snow is coming our way as I write this, so I may have to bust out the slow cooker again. Apparently, winter isn’t quite done with us yet.

I’d be bummed about that, but I’m not, because guess what? Something AWESOME happened to me a few weeks ago that made me positive that I could endure the end of winter’s wrath without harm.

I received a package in the mail, sent by a wonderful and long-time reader of this blog, and in the package was the most magnificent thing ever.

Readers, I am now the proud owner of…

My own voodoo doll.

A voodoo doll of winter.

A voodoo doll of winter in the effigy of Fuck You Linda.

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You might want to pop back over to the post where I describe Fuck You Linda right now, just so you can see how masterful the craftsmanship is on this thing, because this reader freaking nailed it. She rendered her perfectly, right down to the green of her sweatsuit and the frizz of her fiery hair and gaping pie-hole and her gi-normous butt.

I love her. And of course, I stuck the pin in that huge ass first.

P1050751

Next year’s winter had better watch out, because I’ve got weapons now. Thank you, Leslie, for giving me a reason to smile through winter.

 

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Shrimp and White Bean Salad with Harissa Dressing

serves 4 to 6

adapted from Sunset: Fast and Fresh magazine

 

3 cups arugula or mixed greens

2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 celery stalk, sliced thinly

1/2 cup seeded chopped cucumber

1 chopped shallot

1/4 cup chopped red pepper

1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked

3 to 4 tablespoons harissa

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large minced garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

Put arugula, beans, celery, parsley and shrimp in a large bowl. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Serve the dressing on the side or toss to coat.

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The Thaw

March 18, 2015

Tomorrow, spring officially begins, and do you know what that means? It means that I won. I made it. Winter did not eat me this year.

I’m not sure why winter didn’t eat me this year, when last year it damn near devoured me, but I’m grateful. No “Fuck You Linda” territory for me, not a single day where I found it impossible to get out of bed, no afternoons that seemed so bleak and endless that the idea of a dirt nap seemed really enticing.

I still had days tinged with sadness, or boredom, or flat-out loneliness, don’t get me wrong. Winter is always dangerous for me. Winter is the time when I can’t seem to get out of my own head, and like Anne Lamott says, “my head is like a bad neighborhood that I don’t want to be in very long.”

In typical and annoying Dana fashion, I feel the need to over-think this.

Why? Why was I able to get through this winter without tumbling down the rabbit hole? What was different this year? Was it me or some outside force or just a blind stroke of luck?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s probably a bit of everything above, and if you’re not someone who struggles with seasonal depression, you can probably bail on this post right now, because I’m going to think out loud about it and you will most likely be bored to tears, so it’s okay if you click away now. I won’t mind.

But some of you do wrestle and tumble and struggle, and I think it’s important not to hide that part of ourselves, as rotten and as shameful as it makes us feel. Hiding is double-dog dangerous; hiding is what makes us feel fraudulent and very, very alone. I know this. As icky as it feels to examine the darkness, the alternative is worse, don’t you think?

I think so. So I’ve been thinking.

Reasons Winter Didn’t Flatten My Ass This Year:

~I gave winter the due respect it deserves. I think in the past, I’ve let winter sneak up on me. I haven’t paid attention until things are too late and I’m too far gone to fix. Last year scared me straight. I had to admit that winter owns my ass, period.

~After that admission, there was the next step. I realized that I need to start preparing myself in the fall months for the inevitable fallout that’s coming. This means:

1. Daily exercise. Ideally, a vigorous 3-mile walk out in the open air and sunshine. If the weather won’t cooperate, it means weight training with hand weights and resistance bands and the dreaded abdominal exercises.

2. Over-the-counter supplements: fish oil, vitamin D., St. John’s Wort, Lithium, probiotics.

3. Three healthy meals daily.

4. Consuming things that normally soothe me in moderation, because in winter, I’m not normal, and those things mess me up. It’s true; there can be too much of a good thing. Those things are sugar, alcohol, carbohydrates, caffeine.

5. Getting enough sleep. I am a psychotic wolverine when I am sleep deprived.

~I added extra activities to my schedule, like more volunteering at Miss M.’s school, hosting playdates and activities for the girls, etc.  I realize that this seems goofy and counter-intuitive–shouldn’t I be cutting back on things to make my life easier? And yeah, that probably works for normal folks, but for me, the more free time I have, the more time I have to think, and thinking ain’t good when your head’s not straight.

~I was gentle about my writing schedule. Normally, I’m in this space a couple times a week, but I cut back to once a week and tried very hard to be okay with that. When things are difficult, it’s hard to find the words, and if the words aren’t coming, I have to be kind enough to let that happen. I have to tell myself that this isn’t permanent and it’s what’s best for me at the time.

~I listened to music or podcasts when I was home alone. This one was huge. Normally, I crave quiet and find background noise annoying, but background noise is a savior in the winter. It drowns out the roaring (and the fucking tinnitus) in my head.

~Another biggie: Every night before I fell asleep, I tried to think of something that was happening tomorrow that I could look forward to. I’m not going to lie–sometimes I really had to fumble around for something to grasp onto, like, “I’m going to let myself eat pasta for lunch.”  That’s a pretty lame thing but it was enough some evenings to settle my mind and get me in the frame of mind that there was something worth getting out of bed for in the morning. This sounds like a little thing, but it worked. I’m actually going to keep doing this one, even in the warmer months.

~Lots and lots and lots of time on walks and on the floor with my little white Prozac. We got the Mozz man last winter, but I was already too far down for him to make much difference. He helped, but I was already warped. This year, having this fluffy dude who was always so happy to see me and content to sit at my feet while I wrestled with words…it was a blessing. Yes, he is in constant need of affection and attention, and walking him in freezing cold weather blows, but he gives back in spades.

mozz-man

So suck it, winter. You lost. Rein in your frosty talons and bugger the Hell off until next year. You won’t be missed and next year, I’m coming in prepared. Because it all starts again.

 

spring

Thanks for hanging in there with me, readers. It means more than you know.

 

*I realize that I haven’t been able to fix the comments yet so they appear to everyone, but I can still see them, so if you want to leave a comment or a tip about what strategies you employ to keep yourself out of the doldrums, I’d love to hear it and will share any wisdom in a future post.

**ps: I hope you tune in next week–I’ve got a little piece of awesome to share with you!

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