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Very superstitious

January 1, 2018
Bunches of green grapes hanging on a vine

New Year’s Eve 2017: A brief screenplay

INT. MAGGIE’S HOUSE – NIGHT

ME: We have to do the thing where we eat 12 grapes at midnight to bring luck in the coming 12 months.

HUSBAND: What?

ME: It’s a thing. They do it in Spain.

HUSBAND: But why do we have to do it?

ME: I’m not going to risk it. I’ll take all the luck I can get.

HUSBAND: Fine.

ME: Oh, we also have to sit under the table when we do it. Or leaping over the threshold of our home? I can’t remember. Anyway, I have to wash the grapes. Meet me under the table in 5 minutes.

INT. UNDER THE KITCHEN TABLE – FIVE MIN. LATER

HUSBAND: Are you sure we have squeeze under the table to do this? My back hurts.

ME: Pretty sure. Now hush. Eat your grapes.

HUSBAND: I don’t even like green grapes. You’ll have to finish mine.

ME: Great. I’ll be the only prosperous one. Fine with me.

HUSBAND: It’s not even midnight.

ME: It’s well past midnight in Spain.

HUSBAND: (chewing)

ME: Maybe we could have just had a glass of wine instead.

HUSBAND: (still chewing)

ME: Also I think I made up the table thing.

 

On Shrinking Women

October 24, 2013

I watched this video from a poetry slam the other day, and it left me in tears.

Poet Lily Myers talks about body image and how it affected the women in her family, especially her mother: “Nights I’d hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled, deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy.”

 

My mom was strong and tall, a German woman who survived World War II by walking over a frozen lake. She could do anything — open stuck pickle jars, lift all the bags of groceries at once, push me higher than any other kid on the swingset. One time my plastic digital watch stopped working, and my mom slapped it across her palm so forcefully that it turned her hand pink. “Just needs a good German touch,” she said, as the digital numbers reappeared.

As much as her body could do, my mom was never satisfied with it. My house was a world of weekly weigh-ins, diet gum and Tab. I don’t remember my mom eating bread, only thin Wasa crackers at 35 calories each. Sometimes she binged on candy, then immediately berated herself. She was hungry for years, skipping breakfast and only eating the tiniest of lunches. This magnificent, accomplished woman was consumed by her own consumption.

 

It’s strange. I loved my mom because she was elegant and exotic. She tucked me into bed every night and whispered prayers in other languages. She was proud and loyal and she loved me fiercely. I don’t remember the shape of her thighs or the roundness of her belly. I remember her crinkled fingers that felt for fever on my forehead. I remember the arms that held me. The swoop of her freckled shoulder.

You could say my mom died of Alzheimer’s Disease, which is what gnawed away at her mind and body for 10 years. But really she died of starvation, which is a terrible irony. In the final stages of Alzheimer’s, my mom’s brain could no longer send signals to her organs, so her body couldn’t process food anymore. My family decided a long time ago that we did not want to prolong her life with feeding tubes, and eventually her body shut down. In her final days, she had been whittled down to a thin, pale shape. And she was beautiful.

That’s the awful thing. When I looked in my mom’s coffin at her funeral, my first thought was, “Wow. She would be so happy.” She was finally skinny. She would’ve loved that.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up these unhealthy thoughts and made them my own. I’ll eat something delicious, then complain to my friends that I’ve been “so bad.” I do regular detoxes and cleanses, the more modern, acceptable version of diets. And I look with longing at tiny, slim-boned women, and I wonder how wonderful it must feel to be so small.

Now my husband and I are trying to start a family, and he says he hopes we never have a girl. “I don’t want a daughter to grow up with your body issues,” he says, a comment that is so distressing in its truth. I could be one bad-ass mother to a girl — and instead I want to be small? Why not focus on being substantial? Something is very wrong here.

As that poet says, “I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking.” I wonder if my lineage could become one of women who are larger than life.

Maggie Dreams of Writing

September 19, 2012

The other night my husband and I watched a spare and elegant documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” It’s the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, owner of the Michelin 3-star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. Although he is already considered to be one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs, Jiro wants to perfect the art form and elevate the delicacy to new heights.  His quest becomes an obsession, to the point where Jiro even dreams of sushi.

 

Of course, the film isn’t just about the sushi. I paused the movie and asked my husband if he feels a similar obsession for his profession.

“Do you dream about teaching?” I asked.

“All the time,” he said. “Do you dream about writing?”

“I do. Scenes and characters and things I haven’t even written yet.”

“When you worked for newspapers, did you ever dream about journalism?” he said.

“Yes. But only in the nightmare way.”

And that’s right about the time I had a writing epiphany. Because when I pressed play and the film started up again, Jiro looked directly into the camera and said, “I fell in love with my work and devoted my life to it.”

 

Now, I’ve always heard the old cliché, “It’s not work if you love what you do.” But Jiro’s take on it is slightly different.

When Jiro says “fall in love with your work,” he isn’t talking about having a strong affection for your chosen career path. This is a matter of loyalty. It’s doing this thing for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you live. Jiro fell in love, and he made a lifetime commitment — the guy has been creating sushi since age 10, and I bet making sushi will be the last thing he ever does.

For me personally, that means putting my ass in the chair and writing, even when the mail brings me nothing but rejection letters, even when I’m scrounging for grocery money, even when I wonder why I bother. It means standing by writing’s side, even when she is a nagging whorebeast who refuses to do the dishes.

It means that I’ve already made the commitment — I quit the only career I’ve ever known; I sent myself back to school to learn more about the craft; I’m giving myself ample time and opportunity to write. Now it’s time to see it through. No more messing around. If I’m going to be putting my ass in the chair anyway, don’t I owe it to myself to be the best possible writer I can be?

Sounds so simple. But, then again, so does sushi. And Jiro’s been working on that for 75 years.

 

Later in the film, a Japanese food critic ticks off the five attributes that separate great chefs from average chefs. I believe these attributes could apply to anyone, no matter the field.

1. “They take their work very seriously and consistently perform at the highest level.” — Strive for excellence, which requires unyielding focus and determination. Sacrifices must be made.

2. “They aspire to improve their skills.” — There is always room to learn something about your craft. The day Jiro received an award that declared him to be a national Japanese treasure, do you know what he did? He returned to work.

3. “Cleanliness. ‘If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good.'” — Keep it simple. You want your readers/customers to focus on the thing they showed up to do — and they’re here to savor your work.

4. “They are better leaders than collaborators. They’re stubborn and insist on having it their way.” — Trust your instincts. Don’t accept substitutes for your vision.

5. “Finally, a great chef is passionate.” — Fall in love with your work every single day, all over again. Wine her, dine her and slip her the tongue. It’s your job to make this relationship work.

Month of fun: Day 29

September 29, 2011

Oh, it’s National Coffee Day? Well, this is a holiday I can wholeheartedly embrace.

I am a total coffee freak, which is why my caffeine-fueled trip around the globe could easily be subtitled: Americanos in Argentina, Lattes in Laos and How I Grudgingly Learned to Love Nescafe.

Aside: I once contacted Starbucks about sponsoring me on a bean-themed trip, where I would travel through some of the biggest coffee-producing countries in the world, writing stories about the process from bean to cup and the people who get it there. Sadly, Starbucks turned me down.

Back to my story. It’s coffee day. Yay!

 

Since today was my kind of day, I kicked it off with a total brewed awakening — a coffee mask, coffee scrub and piping hot cup of coffee.

That’s a lot of coffee!

First, I made a pot of coffee and put it in a carafe where it would stay nice and warm. Then I started working on the other stuff.

For the mask, I took 2 tablespoons of just-brewed coffee grounds, mixed it with 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of soy yogurt, then slapped the mixture on my face. While the mask dried, I made a coffee scrub using a couple more tablespoons of coffee grounds, a tablespoon of sugar and a drizzle of olive oil. I applied the scrub in the shower, washed it all off and then relaxed with super-soft skin and super-yummy coffee.

You can just call me Sir Mix-a-Latte.

 

I got the idea from this Crunchy Betty post, which you can read for more details. (NOTE: The face mask can be made with honey and/or cow yogurt, for those who aren’t vegan.)

How does it work? Basically, caffeine detoxifies your skin and cuts down on puffiness and swelling, which is why it’s used in so many expensive beauty products.

Well, here you’re just cutting out the middleman and using straight-up, fresh grounds within 20 minutes of brewing. You’re isolating all the wonderful properties of caffeine without wasting all your dough.

Of course you know that your skin absorbs 60 percent of whatever you apply topically, which translates to an extra caffeine kick in your day! But don’t blame me if you end up running a triathlon instead of going to work.

Month of fun: Day 27

September 27, 2011

A sunny afternoon ride in a convertible. A delicious lunch. A fantastic conversation with a beautiful friend.

What could possibly be better than that?

This is the salad sampler at Palm Greens Cafe, 611 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.

 

I swear the salad sampler is a force of nature. I am physically incapable of ordering anything else whenever I go to Palm Greens.

The dish comes with a big bowl full of crisp greens, shredded carrots, tomato slices, cucumber and other fresh veggies. On top of that they put scoops of other salads: Red quinoa, lentil, soba noodle, sweet potato, curried tofu, seaweed, potato salad.

But wait! There’s more.

Three dollops of vegan goodness top it off: Hummus, star-kissed seed salad and cockadoodle tofu. (They’re underneath the tortilla chips in my photo). Then you can slather it all in vegan caesar dressing.

In a word — amazeballs.

But if you think the food was the highlight, you’re wrong. Because sitting across the table from me was this lovely lady:

 

That’s the wonderful Tammy Coia, who has a huge heart, radiant spirit and energy to spare. You can learn more about her and her remarkable work here.

Tammy is one of those rare people who is unflinchingly supportive and genuinely cares about the people in her life. I’m lucky to call her a friend.