the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: V-Grrrl

The Stamp on the Envelope

My friend, Veronica, is trying to single-handedly save the United States Postal Service by participating in Etsy’s 52 Weeks of Mail.

Each week she sends a handwritten note to a friend of family member.

Do you remember the last time you received a letter? Do you remember how exciting it was when personal mail arrived in the pre-e-mail days, before the arrival of the mailman just meant gas bills and fliers for Bed, Bath, and Beyond?

Veronica is the ideal person to be part of this project because she also designs beautiful handmade cards, such as this one —

Her interest in the postal service helped us discover a common childhood passion — stamp collecting! Although it now sounds like a dorky hobby, I was very passionate about my stamps.

I collected first day covers, new issues, and Christmas stamps. I was fascinated by international stamps. I learned much of my geography by connecting my foreign stamps to the home of origin on a world map. Every winter, I would go with my socialist-leaning, horse-race betting, stamp collecting-loving Aunt Ruthie to the big New York Stamp Expo at a hotel near Madison Square Garden.

I stopped stamp collecting when I reached puberty. I was surprised to hear that Veronica still kept up with the old-fashioned hobby.

“Sure, I go to the post office every week to see all the new stamps that are issued.”

I have been out of the stamp-collecting scene for so long that I didn’t realize they still issued new stamps. I figured everyone bought the boring “Forever” stamps that you can pick up at the supermarket — stamps so forgettable that I cannot recall the picture on the stamp, and I have used this one for years!

Despite the new stamps, Veronica told me that much of the old spirit had left the stamp-collecting world. And it wasn’t just the fault of technology. Much like blogging, the Post Office has gone corporate. Rather than issuing stamps that honor America’s great leaders, the Post Office has sold out to the highest bidder.

“Now they make stamps honoring crap, from cartoon characters to ketchup brands” said Veronica. “No one wants a stamp of Benjamin Franklin anymore.”

After hearing this, I am glad that I left stamp-collecting at it’s peak, like Jerry Seinfeld leaving his sitcom before it got stale.

But nothing prepared me for what happened a week later, when my mother called me on the phone. I had received a letter from Veronica in the mail. That I expected. I was anxious to see her handmade card, and the personal note.

“Is it a nice envelope?” I asked.

“Oh, very nice.” said my mother. “Very pretty blue. But just one thing. Unless I’m wrong… I think she put a Hitler stamp on the envelope.”

“A Hitler stamp? You must be wrong.”

“It looks just like Hitler. The mustache and everything.”

Had our Postal Service fallen so desperate that they were now producing new stamps honoring Hitler?!

iPhone Notes from Veronica and Di’s Visit

Wednesday, November 24

Veronica (V-Grrrl), one of my oldest and dearest blog friends, is coming to Queens this afternoon for Thanksgiving, along with her husband, her two teenage children, and Di Mackey (visiting from Belgium).

My mother and I are waiting for their arrival. Although they said the trip should take five hours coming up from the South, it is now seven hours since they left.   Not unexpected knowing pre-Holiday traffic.


I received a phone call from Veronica’s husband saying that they reached New Jersey.  They assume, based on what their GPS says, that they will reach Queens in forty-five minutes.   I just turned to my mother, who is watching “Judge Judy” on the television, and told her that they arrived in New Jersey.

“OK, it’s going to take them another three hours,” she said.

I agreed, and we laughed.


And we were right!  It took them ten hours to come to Queens.  Veronica’s husband parked the car down the block.   The others stumbled out, their bodies creaky and bent-over from hours in traffic.  Veronica was the last to exit.  I felt a sense of warmth seeing her again, despite her looking like she could use a serious nap.


I have met Veronica and her family in person before (I had visited them last Christmas), but this was my first time meeting Di Mackey. I forgot, that despite her living in Belgium as a photographer, that she was born a Kiwi.  I was surprised to hear her New Zealand accent, with its dusty, rough-and-ready timbre.

After we hugged, she asked me, “And where’s your mum?”

“What?!” I asked, not understanding her question.

“Your mum!”

Funny Kiwis.


Everyone was hungry after their arrival, so I called my mother down from the apartment building, and we walked over to Valentino’s Pizzeria, famous for its shrine to Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”), one of our block’s most famous former residents.


Still at Valentino’s.  Di is fascinated by the large portion of pasta at Valentino’s.   While Veronica and I mock American culture, Di seems to love our country.

“The people are so friendly,” she said.

“Maybe you’re the friendly one.” I said, already noticing how she had immediately started conversations with the waiter and a Chinese woman standing in the street, carrying an umbrella.

She was also “blown away” by her visit with Veronica and her daughter to… Marshall’s at the mall!   Apparently, in Belgium, there are two types of women’s clothing shops — ones that are very expensive and ones completely schlocky. There aren’t stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, where the average woman can buy designer clothes at a discount.

Di mentioned that her new-found enthusiasm for American life got her in trouble with some blog readers back home, who thought she was dissing Belgium with her glowing reviews of Marshall’s and Applebee’s.   After all, asked her friends, wasn’t it the Belgians who really invented the waffle?


We’re back home and I am falling asleep.  A few weeks ago, when I first told my mother that I invited guests over, she wasn’t THAT happy. She was traveling to Florida for the winter a few days after Thanksgiving, and didn’t want to deal with the cooking, etc.    But now she is enjoying herself with the guests.  She is chatting with Veronica and Di as they watch the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”


Knowing that my mother was leaving town in a few days, Veronica and Di presented me with a cool — and amusing — gift.    They wrote — by hand — a small cookbook for me, with easy to make recipes.  They also gave me twenty essential McCormick spices to have in the cabinet.  If you follow me on Facebook, you might remember that I once asked a question about the essential spices every cook should have, which caused a minor fight amongst other Facebookers debating the merits of such things as tarragon and cinnamon.


Thursday, November 25

We are in the subway. We woke up at 5AM so we can find a good place to stand at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Despite growing up in New York, I have never gone to the parade.  Maybe it is the idea of waking up at 5AM that had something to do with it.

When we entered the subway station, it was fun seeing everyone’s confusion over using the Metrocards.  For some reason, Di has compared the NYC subway to the train system in Istanbul!   She is now chatting with this grandmother who is sitting next to her.

Di talks to everyone.


We are on 50th Street.   We got a decent spot.  The parade is in progress.  But the waiting for the parade, and now the standing and watching the parade is tiring.  The event is fun, but it feels like my feet are falling off.

By chance, we picked a spot that couldn’t be more “American” in culture.  We are across the street from

1) an Applebee’s restaurant

2) a huge, building-length billboard for some ultra-violent video game where each game character is holding a shiny phallic gun.

3) some tropical island tourist billboard, where a woman’s bikini is half-falling off.

Surprisingly, this inappropriate billboard is quickly becoming the highlight of the parade for Veronica and her kids.  They are each amusing themselves by trying to photograph each balloon character at the exact moment it floats by the billboard, making the character look like he is trying to grab the woman’s bikini, or just plain sleazy.

I like Veronica’s family!

Photos by V-grrrl —


It is now night. My mother cooked up quite a Thanksgiving dinner. To top it off, Veronica and her family brought three delicious pies from a bakery down South.


It is after dinner and we are now watching the parade on TV that we saw in person earlier in the day.  What a vastly different experience.

First of all, most people on the parade route never see any of the Broadway show routines that they perform for the cameras in front of Macy’s.  Also, the celebrities on the floats, such as Kanye West and Gladys Knight, mostly wave and yawn as they travel down the parade route, reserving their energy for when the camera lights go on.  Sometimes, the floats passed by so fast, you’re not sure who it was that was waving at you.   We just learned from the NBC broadcast that the five clean-cut guys on the Build-a-Bear float were some popular boy band on Nickelodeon!

Even though you see more of the parade on TV, the NBC broadcast has become very cloying and commercial.  Was it better years ago?   Now it seems that they break away from the parade every five minutes so Al Roker could interview — wait, is that a star from one of NBC’s new shows who just “happens” to be standing there on the parade route?!


Friday, November 26

We’re back in the subway this morning, this time to Battery Park to take the boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

My photo of Ellis Island (via iPhone)


Today, it is Di’s day to shine. I am watching how she takes her photos. She has such an eye for detail.

Here’s an example in one of her photos from Ellis Island.


We have returned to Queens.  Veronica’s husband just found out that he got a $70 parking ticket because he misread one of New York’s many confusing parking enforcement tickets. He is a little mad at himself for making the mistake.  I am telling him that rather than feeling upset, he should consider getting this overpriced parking ticket the most authentically New York experience that he will have this entire weekend.


We just ate dinner.  Why do leftovers always taste better?


After dinner, we were using my mother’s laptop to show each other various funny videos from YouTube.  I remembered that there was a parody version of the song, “Empire State of Mind,” titled “Forest Hills State of Mind,” which prominently showcases the Queens subway stop at 71st Street and Continental Avenue, which is where we caught the E train each day en route to Manhattan.  I thought I would amuse everyone by showing it.

OK, now remember, I don’t have kids.  So it didn’t even occur to me that this video, filled with references to motherf*ckers and other NSFW items, might not have been been the best Holiday video for the entire family.  From now on, I’ll remember to check the ratings before I show Veronica’s family any videos!  (Yeah, like photographing Thanksgiving Day balloon as sleazy characters is “normal” family behavior.)


Di wants to take some photos of me.   She tells me to stop mugging and “look natural.”

by Di Mackey


Saturday, November 27

My guests are going home later today in order to avoid the big traffic on Sunday.  We are at the Dominican Diner having breakfast.

A few moments ago, Di ordered a bagel, saying that she hadn’t yet tasted a “real New York bagel.” My mother and I exchanged glances.  Both of us know that the bagels at the diner are terrible, probably from the supermarket.  My mother gestured to me, as if to say, “Eh, don’t tell her, and she won’t know the difference. Why ruin the moment for her.”


She loved the crappy bagel.


I just said good-bye to everyone, hugging Veronica, Di, and Veronica’s daughter.   I have been feeling a little lonely since leaving LA.  Their visit was just what I needed.

V-grrrl’s Wonderful Heart

Copyright 2010 Veronica McCabe Deschambault (V-grrrl). Image may not be copied/reproduced, online or in print, without written permission.

My good blogging friend V-grrrl is having surgery this week for atrial fibrillation of the heart.  She’s been waiting four months to have this done.

Now, God loves to throw in obstacles.   Surgery is just not enough drama.  Why not have a volcano with an unpronounceable name, Eyjafjallajökull, blow up a week before the surgery, stranding her husband in Europe until four days AFTER the the scheduled surgery?

Luckily, V-grrrl’s brother is coming down from New York to help.


Good luck, V!


V — Before your surgery, I wanted to leave you with something inspirational, something to think about in case you get nervous before the procedure.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at pep talks or new age sentiments.  Instead, I’d like to share with you this comment I received today on on a four year old post from a writer named Shane.  I think he says it better than I ever could in a stand-alone blog post.

From a comment on “Briefs or Boxers.”

What’s ironic about this is that a generation ago all guys wore plain white briefs.  It meant you were athletic and confident. Boxers were for old men and fat guys.  During the last 20 years there’s been a total reversal of this. I vote for briefs because they provide support. The sperm-count thing has actually been proven a myth, and in any case, what young guy actually wants to get a girl pregnant?  If you wear boxers your balls will hit the floor by old age. Plus, there not at all suitable for sports or anything athletic. The pendulum is swinging back towards fashionable briefs. Boxers only became popular in the early 90’s because of the baggy jeans style. They have no real function, except maybe as sleep-wear.  If a girl rejects you because of your underwear – find someone better.

Remember that.  If a girl rejects you because of your underwear – find someone better.  Translation — the wise man cares less about the material of the house, then finding a way inside!

Wait, what does this have to do with your surgery?  Well, actually nothing.  I SAID I wasn’t very good at pep talks.

Stay Strong.

The Christmas Parade

December has been a social month.  I met up with Doobleh-vay at her New York hotel, Jen Lee at the Moth Storytelling Slam, attended the BlogHer NY Holiday party, and lived it up at the NY book launch party of Kirtsy Takes a Bow: A Celebration of Women’s Online Favorites.


The Kirtsy book contains great writing and photography from female bloggers, many who you might know from being online.   For some reason, one of my tweets is included,in this woman’s book, bringing me one step closer to that sex change operation.


At the party, someone asked me if I write a sex blog, or if I am just obsessed about breasts.  I didn’t get too many phone numbers that night.

After all the festivities, I woke up early on Friday morning for the big topper event — I was taking a train for a weekend in Virginia, visiting V-grrrl and her family.

(photo of V-grrrl by Di Mackey)

V-grrrl is one of my long-time blogging friends, although I have never met her in real life, mostly because, until last year, she lived in Belgium.

She also send me the most important piece of European art work that I own, back in 2006, after she read one of my ground-breaking posts about boys peeing in Norway.


V-grrrl is also the very first person to be interviewed — by me — in the first Great Interview Experiment.

V-grrrl and her husband live in a beautiful home practically sitting in a forest (with a lot of Revolutionary and Civil War history).  In her backyard, all sorts of exotic birds fly to her feeder.

“That’s a real oriole!” I screamed, looking on my “Birdwatching” iphone app that I downloaded when it was on sale at $2.99!  I pressed a button on the iphone and showed off the bird sounds to V-grrrl’s kids.  They were not impressed, since they had iphones themselves.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spend sharing iPhone apps with V-grrrl’s twelve year old son.  I have a feeling modern technology makes us all the same age — teenagers.

V-grrrl’s kids are super-brainy.  Have you ever heard of this school competition program called O.P.?    O.P. kids compete against each other building miniature airplanes, and then devise the flight plans, as if they were air traffic controllers.  They explained it to me, but I didn’t really understand.  I’m more about the peeing in Norway than engineering feats.

The big event of the weekend was the town’s 40th annual Christmas Parade.  I was excited to see the charm of this small-town tradition. And then it SNOWED.  And SNOWED.  A nearby town, which was also having a parade that day, cancelled their event, but V-grrrl’s town, wanting to prove that they were not a bunch of Yankee wimps, said “The Show Must Go On.”


V-grrrl’s family and I dressed in our long underwear and overcoats, and headed out to the parade route, V-grrrl’s husband carefully driving on the icy road.  The crowd on Main Street was surprisingly large for the inclement weather, but some youth group was selling hot cocoa, keeping us warm.

The first half hour, waiting for the parade to start, was magical.  The lights, the snow, the old fashioned bookstores and ice cream parlors on Main Street, the church steeple in the background, the pub where George Washington once slept, and the gentle small town faces made this scene as American as any Norman Rockwell painting.

Then, the parade started, and no offense to V-grrrl, her family, or her town, but that was the WORST parade I have ever seen.

Parents were smartly wary about sending their children marching in the snow, so half of the marching bands never showed up.  One determined high school band consisted of three people — one tuba, one drum, and a cheerleader dressed in a wool coat that prevented her from doing any of the dance moves.

In the past, the highlight of the parade was the tradition of those on the floats throwing candy out at the crowd.  V-grrrl’s kids told me of how they would come home with more booty than Halloween.   Sadly, fear of Johnny Cochran-type legal action has now taken hold in small town America.  The city banned the candy throwing — just in case some child was hit in the head with a poorly-aimed Smarties package, and the city was sued!   What a downer.   You could see it on the kids’ faces.   There was no joy in Whoville that evening.   Thank you, legal Grinches.

But that’s not all!

After the last float passed by (something about Jesus, sponsored by a hardware chain), everyone waited for the real meaning of Christmas — the ho ho ho man himself.  The crowd stood there, shivering in both the freezing cold and anticipation, waiting for the grand entrance.

Santa Claus never showed.

It was too cold and snowy, so Santa decided to just STAY HOME and watch videos!

It was truly a bad parade, and we all knew it.   Of course, that is when the fun began.  On the way home, we all devised funny editorials to the local newspaper decrying the “Santa” outrage, the best title to the editorial being, “No, Virginia, There is No Santa.”

Luckily, V-grrrl’s daughter baked a cheesecake for us to eat when we got home.

The next day, when the newspaper came out, there was a glowing review of the parade (I think they were one of the sponsors).   At the end of the article, the journalist wrote, “And lastly, Santa entertained the children, although he showed up late.”

Bullsh*t, I say!  We were there.  Santa did not show up at all.

As I took the Amtrak back to New York the next day, I thought about small towns and big cities.  Was there really that much of a difference?  We both watch the same TV shows.  We both own iphones with bird-watching apps.  And most importantly, we both have media operations that LIE TO US ABOUT SANTA!

Thanks for the great weekend, V-grrrl!

Note: The Fourth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert is THIS THURSDAY.   Please email me files or links by Wednesday at the latest!

The Great Interview Experiment — My Interview with V-Grrrl

photo by Di Mackey 

I’ve so impressed with all the interviews.  I’ve read all of them.  Some of you have a harder time than others.  It must be difficult to ask the right questions of someone you only met online that day!  I was very lucky to get V-Grrrl as my person to interview.   I’ve been reading her blog for quite a while.  I knew I could ask her anything.  My only regret was that I couldn’t ask her the questions face-to-face.  Someday!

V-Grrrl’s profile:  An American expatriate in Belgium (although not for long!), I’m caught between two kids, two continents, two cultures, and my opening and closing acts.  Here I am stuck in the middle with you. 

My interview with V-Grrrl of V-Grrrl in the Middle:  

Neil:  I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I recently went back to read you first posts.  Your blog started out more an exploration of being an expat — an American in Belgium.  More recently, your writing has become personal, even emotional, and less focused on your surroundings.  Was this a creative choice form or has something happened in your life during this past year to change something in you?
V-Grrrl:  It wasn’t a creative choice as much as it was an evolution. When I first became an expat, the changes in my life were all encompassing, and I was focused on dissecting and analyzing everything that was different. After a while, Belgium became home and life felt more ordinary. Being an expat became a smaller part of my identity and less a topic of my writing.
Another reason my writing has become more personal is that over time, I’ve become more comfortable in sharing my emotions and my life on my blog. It makes for more powerful writing. I try to keep my posts authentic, even if it means revealing things I’m not proud of. That takes courage and was stressful at first, but then as the gap between my “public persona” and my private self narrowed, I felt better. It’s been liberating to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with my readers, to share my humanity with them.
Finally, I think midlife is an introspective time. So much is going on in my life right now as my marriage matures, my kids grow up, and I take stock of my choices and the relationships I have. For me, it’s a time of reckoning, and the emotion of that comes through in my writing.
Neil:  You are moving as I write this.  Are you moving back to America for good?  Why are you moving?  What will you miss most about Belgium?  The pissing boy fountain?  What will you miss the least?  Are you nervous about the move?  Or happy about the change?
V-Grrrl:  Our plan was always to stay in Belgium for three years, though we did consider staying longer. There are practical considerations driving our decision to return now, things related to my husband’s career and also the children’s education. I love Europe but want my children to launch into the world from America. As a “trailing spouse,” I haven’t had a work visa or permit or an opportunity to get one here. I’m not ready to retire yet–another reason to head home to America.
Will we stay in America for good? I hope not. My husband and I talk about coming back to Europe as soon as we launch the kids into the world, and I definitely plan to come back and visit friends and family.
What will I miss most about Belgium? My friends, E’s Belgian family, the beautiful architecure, the way it’s green year round, the enormous number of parks, and the Belgian sky, which is moody and dramatic. Believe it or not, despite the prevalence of gray skies and horizontal rain, I like the climate here. I have fantasies about moving to the Pacific Northwest now that I’ve lived in Belgium.
What will I miss least? The howling wind and the crazy drivers.

As for being nervous about the move, yes I am. When you become an expat, you dwell in a space between your native country and your new country. Expats call that “the third culture.” I know I’ll never feel fully at home in America again, even though it’s “home.” The surface of my life looks unchanged but I feel profoundly different. How do I settle this “new person” into my old life? Where does she fit?

Neil:  How has living in Europe changed you?

V-Grrrl:  When you leave your country behind, you truly start over. Life is stripped of its social infrastructure, family ties, community and cultural touchpoints, EVERYTHING. I shed all my “labels” and everyone’s expectations. It was terrifying and liberating at the same time. Disconcerting and grounding. For the first time ever, I devoted significant portions of my time to my personal writing and creative pursuits, including art. Living and traveling in Europe, surrounded by people from different cultures and backgrounds, has been amazing and wonderful and so enriching. Living in a country where I don’t speak the language, where “new” experiences are a daily occurrence, has given me confidence in my ability to handle myself.

Neil:  I didn’t know much about your artistic talent until all of a sudden, you started posting your artwork more frequently.  Were you always creating artwork and just being shy about showing it, or is this scrapbooking, etc. a new endeavor?  Where would you like to take it?
V-Grrrl:  I never took art in high school, but in my last year of university, I took studio art, art history, photography, and a beginning graphic design class. I absolutely loved all four classes and regretted that I was graduating and couldn’t pursue more art studies.  My dilemma since then has been that I’ve felt like an artist without a medium. I have a good eye for art and a creative sensibility but lack traditional art skills like painting and sketching.  I’ve always gone to galleries and museums and bought art, and I enrolled my children in private art lessons, but I never did anything artistic or crafty until I moved to Belgium. My friend Sherry introduced me to rubber stamping and cardmaking, crafts I never thought I’d like but came to love. I had a growing interest in mixed media art, in collage.  Last August, one of my readers sent me a book on art journaling, and that inspired me to claim myself as a mixed media artist and head in a new direction. I began an art journal and started posting my pages. As for where I want to head with it–well I want to advance my skills and use of media. I want to continue to art journal and maybe grow into making pieces for display.

Neil:  Can I get personal for a second.  I’ve always pictured you as a classy woman, interested in raising her children with strong morals.  So, I was surprised at first that, of all my readers, you seemed to always enjoy my sex gags.  After a while I began to notice that your writing is very sensual itself, not overtly sexual, but filled with sights and sounds.  Are you aware of these two parts of your personality — the upscale expat Christian mother AND the lusty sensualist?  Do these two distinct personalities ever get you in trouble, like checking out the Reverend’s butt?
V-Grrrl:  Ah Neil, you know me so well!  I am VERY aware of these two parts of my personality; the dichotomy keeps life interesting. My closest friends appreciate “V the Christian Mum”  and “V the Lusty Sensualist” in equal measure. I can’t say the same for everyone else.
Does it create problems for me? ALL the time. I have to watch how I present myself because not everyone is accepting of my “warped” sensibilities. My husband doesn’t appreciate sexual humor, innuendo, or comments AT ALL, and it’s a rough spot between us. Must.Bite.My.Tongue.
Once someone accusingly said, “Doesn’t the fact that you’re a wife and mother mean anything to you?” The question was meant as a reproach for the “inappropriate” nature of some of my comments. All I could think was, “Hmmm, being a wife involves a lot of sex and I became a mother as a result of that. So where are the great chasms separating marriage, motherhood, and sex?”

I have a great sense of humor; I laugh often and laugh loudly. Sex is a very funny business–I can’t stop myself from being a bit “naughty” (as Di likes to say).
For the record though: I never check out clergy butts, OK? My clergy read this blog, and I just want to make it clear, I’m NOT that kind of grrrl. I am, however, the kind of grrrl who hears the Christmas carol Silent Night and thinks, “This will be the LAST silent night of Mary’s life. She’s got a boy child now. She and Jesus will both be crying in the morning. Wah! Wah! Wah!”

Neil:  Is there something that you brought in Europe that is very precious to you that you are shipping very carefully home?
V-Grrrl:  I bought fifteen pieces of framed art and some pottery from Italy, Holland, and Poland.  My favorite? A small piece of Modigliani pottery I bought in Rome. I wanted to hand carry it in my suitcase because I didn’t want to ship it and be separated from it for eight weeks. I practically kissed it goodbye.

Neil:  Did you stop working full time when you had your kids?  I know you worked as a journalist.  What are your plans now as the kids get older?  Are you secretly writing a steamy novel?
V-Grrrl:  I have worked as a news reporter, but right before I had children, I was working as an editor for a small publishing firm. After my son was born, I began working part-time from home as a public relations writer and strategist.  It was an ideal situation. I worked for an agency on a project-by-project basis for various corporate clients. I wrote Web copy, marketing materials, advertising sections, white papers, and articles. I did a lot of ghostwriting for executives.
I have a mass communications degree,  and I think I’m well suited for PR work. I plan to return to it in the U.S. I’m also considering pursuing some freelance writing gigs. Not a fiction grrrl. No steamy novels in me, but I do like to write poetry and essays.

Neil:  You met your husband at 17?  Did you get married early?
V-Grrrl:  I had one serious boyfriend before I met my husband the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. He was a college senior, five years older than me–attentive, romantic, warm, sexy, considerate. He just kept getting better the longer we dated. I was engaged at 18, and I married E when I was barely 20, during spring break of my second year of college.
I have regrets about some of the choices I made in my 20s, but I don’t regret marrying him. We’ve made a good life together for almost 26 years now. Sure, there are times when we question whether we’re meant to stay together; we have different temperaments and sensibilities but we’ve persevered.

Neil:  Through your blog, I met Di (at least virtually).  She takes such wonderful photos of you.  How do you know her?
V-Grrrl:  Di is from New Zealand and lives in Belgium. I began blogging about the same time she did and we read each other casually for about a year. In the fall of 2006, she sent me an e-mail and told me she was going to launch a photography business and was trying to build a portfolio–would my family mind being photographed? I’d seen her work on her blog and jumped at the opportunity to “model” for her.
I met Di for the first time during that photography session, and I offered to use my PR experience to create a marketing plan and help her with her Web site. Our friendship grew out of that collaboration, and we’re very close now. There’s an intensity to our bond that I cherish. Our affection for each other shows in her photographs of me–I’m always smiling and have a certain radiance. She brings out the best in me while accepting the wobbly bits. : )

Neil:  Where does most of your family live — like aunts, uncles, etc.?  Have you missed having a close extended family while out of the country?
V-Grrrl:  Most of my extended family is based in NY but my siblings are scattered down the East Coast from Maine to Georgia. I rarely see my extended family, and even when I lived in the States, I often went years without seeing some of my siblings. My parents died 16 years ago, so we don’t have a central place to gather or parents holding us together anymore. Most of my nieces and nephews are grown now, and I have more than a dozen great nieces and nephews. Even though we all get along fine, my family is not that close, so living overseas hasn’t been that big an issue for us.

Neil:  Who are your kids like the most?  You?  Your husband?  No one?
V-Grrrl:  My children bear little physical resemblance to me. I have brown eyes and curly dark hair and my kids are very fair, blue-eyed blondes with straight hair like their dad. Thankfully, neither of them got my nose! My son’s hands are exactly my hands, and he has some of my temperament–a bit of melancholy with a sly sense of humor. He has his father’s mechanical intuition and shares my love of science. My daughter got the best of both me and my husband in both her aptitudes and character. She’s got the prime DNA in the family.

Neil:  I notice you like poetry.  Is there one poet that really speaks to you?
V-Grrrl:  It changes based on where I am in life and in spirit. I used to be devoted to Emily Dickinson, but lately Mark Strand and Billy Collins have been speaking to me.

Neil:  Next week is your birthday.  You recently wrote a beautiful post about the passing time.  Your son even shaved for the first time.  I know that time seems to be speeding up for me as I get older.  Do you feel the same?
V-Grrrl:  My sister was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16 and she died young. I’ve always been very aware of the transient quality of my life. I live with a clock ticking in the background, and it gives me a certain intensity and point of view. I have to be sure that the things I spend time on matter to me and that the people I love know that I love them. I have low tolerance for BS. I like to savor my experiences. I’m all about process and less about product. I can’t stand to rush around or stuff my schedule full of activities. I don’t confuse being busy with living a meaningful life.  I refuse to sacrifice my time to the American idea of productivity.  

Neil:  Are you taking cholesterol medicine yet?  For me, getting old is when you have to think before you eat a slice of pizza.
V-Grrrl:  I was a vegetarian, distance runner, and vitamin popper in my 20s, and health conscious through my 30s. I always exercised and did the right thing. Around the time I turned 40, I developed an idiopathic cardiac problem. God has such a sense of humor. Last time it was checked, my cholesterol was only 155, my blood pressure was that of a 14-year-old, and yet my life includes regular visits to a cardiologist and daily medication. Sometimes my heart fatigues me, and I have to plop on the sofa. It’s humbling.

Neil:  Are you a good cook?  What does everyone ooh and aah over when you make it?

V-Grrrl:  I wouldn’t call myself a “good cook” because I reserve that label for people who put far more time and effort into cooking than I do. When I bake, I bake from scratch, and I like to make soups. Di thinks everything I cook for her is fabulous. My husband always thanks for me for preparing meals. My kids? They’re not so impressed and complain a lot. I hate preparing food for my family. I guess that makes me a bad mother.

Neil:  You say that you sometimes get prone to depression.  I notice a lot of bloggers have this problem.  Do you think writers/artists are more prone to depression than more “normal” folk?  What snaps you out of your moods?
V-Grrrl:  I’ve dealt with episodes of depression since I was a teenager. As I aged, the episodes got longer, the remission shorter, and the recovery from them was less than complete. I was losing ground.  I was encouraged by a friend to get medical treatment about five years ago and it changed my life. Really, it saved my life.
While I do think artists/writers are more sensitive to life than others, I don’t think they’re necessarily more prone to depression; they just express their angst more openly.
What snaps me out of it? Well at this stage in my life, I need medication keep my depression under control. Music helps me shift moods, and getting outdoors and taking long walks lift my spirits. The love of family and friends keeps me plugging along through the dark moments, and anyone who makes me laugh out loud is part of my depression cure.

Neil:  and lastly… I just had to ask this — If I asked for a photo of you in a bathing suit, would you send it to me? 

V-Grrrl:  If Di took the photo, I just might, not because I look great in a bathing suit but because I accept the body I have now better than the one that used to rock a bikini. Watch the mail, Neil. You never know what it will bring. : )

Visions of Sugar Plums Dance in My Head

(shiksa blogger on Christmas morning) 

Merry Christmas!   Peace and love to everyone who celebrates on this special day.   Did Santa bring you the gifts you were hoping for?

If you want me today, you can find me with the other Jews at your local Chinese restaurant, playing Mah Jongg with the restaurant staff.

Thank you Melissa, Momentary Academic, and others, for your holiday cards.  And special thanks to V-Grrrl for sending me this amazing gift from Belgium!   I can’t think of a better gift!

(photo by Sophia)

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” to me more than a little boy holding his little penis, just like the one in Brussels!  I’ll put my little “Manneken Pis” on my mantle, right next to my Hoagie Blog President Award and my imaginary Oscar.

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