Monday, May 23, 2011

So Long Oprah. Call Me!

My time has run out to be a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

I just know that if I had gotten up there on stage and told my story, Oprah would become a lifelong friend. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway.

I do, however, have an Oprah story. I was this close to being a guest, but it didn't work out. Here's what happened.

Like everyone else I was, and still am, an Oprah show watcher. Some shows I am not interested in, some are so touching that I want to watch them over and over; and then there are those that frustrate me. It was the theme of one of these shows that prompted me to write a letter to the show. You know those reunion shows where long-lost family members are reunited? There's all the crying and hugging, not just from the principles on the show, but in the audience and in living rooms of those watching. I was one of the biggest criers, sobbing so hard when I watched those shows I'd feel sick and sad. Why? Because a reunion like those presented on the show would never, ever be something I could experience.

I long to meet my biological mom and dad. The void in my life that is a result of their deaths when I was just a baby is huge. I have no memory of them and the idea that I could somehow meet them and know them is a dream I can never realize.

As heart breaking as that part of my life is, I am so grateful for what I do have.  I have a wonderful life filled with love that allows me to forget my loss.  But, when I’d see those shows I would sob and feel sorry for myself.  That’s what I wrote to Oprah. 

That was in the early 1990s.  One afternoon the phone rang and it was a producer from the Oprah Winfrey Show.  I couldn’t believe it.  The woman on the other line asked me lots of questions about my letter, my story, and then she invited me to be a guest on the show!  Of course I said yes.  I was flown to Chicago, picked up at the airport by one of those chauffeurs with a sign, and driven to Harpo Studios.  There I was met by the producer who had contacted me. 

There was a problem, she said.  Instead of being just one of a few guests for the show the next day, they wanted to build a whole show around the theme of loss.  They asked if I would be willing to come back for another taping.  I would, of course, still be welcome to attend the next day’s taping.  I said sure (who wouldn’t?) and was sent to my hotel where I was given the Royal treatment.  Everything was taken care of: the room, meals (room service!), and let me tell you, this wasn’t Motel 6.  I remember calling my husband and saying to him, “Rich IS better! 

The next day a driver picked me up, took me to the studio where I was escorted into the Green Room where I got to sit with and chat with the upcoming show guests.  The only one I remember is Mary Pipher, the author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.  We chatted and I felt quite special.  Once, the door opened and standing just outside was Oprah herself.  She nodded at me and said, “Hello.”  That was my Oprah moment.

When it was time to tape the show I got to sit right up front.  I was just another audience member but I felt like I had a little secret; I was going to be a guest one day in the near future!

But, it never happened. 

The producers wanted to bring my brother, Michael, to be a guest with me.  At first, he was all for it.  It was the beginning of his healing process.  My brother, age eight when our parents died (Joey was six, Jimmy was four) was very much damaged by the tragedy.  For a long time he could not talk about it.  When the healing began, it was a very tenuous process.  When it started to get close to the actual participation in being a guest on a nationally televised program where our past would be exposed for all the world, he backed down.  I have a family and I live in a small town,” he said.  He just didn’t want to bring such a burden onto his family.  I understood, but was disappointed. 

So, my Oprah opportunity passed.  I wonder if it had come to fruition what would have come of it?  I know, because it’s Oprah and not Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, that it would not have been sensationalized, but it still would have been exposing. 

I do feel that my story and that of my brothers would be powerful: one that describes how love of family and a will to see the good in life can overcome even the most devastating loss and heartbreak. 

What’s making me cry these days?  Watching Shania Twain tell her story on Oprah’s new television network, OWN.  I see so much of my own story in many of these kinds of shows.  I’ve always said that my story is just one of many that each and every one of us carries; some are tougher to bear than others but none is more or less painful than another’s because pain cuts deeply, no matter what the circumstances.

And who knows? Maybe my phone will ring yet and someone will say, “Hello? This is Oprah Winfrey calling………” 

Friday, May 20, 2011

About Face

My grandson Aiden, the cutest kid in the universe (that was until his brother and cousin made their appearance a year ago) is going through that awkward stage.  His teeth are falling out and are being replaced by his adult set.  His face is changing from that cute, pudgy kid to a freckle-faced boy. 

 He has the best wavy hair, yet, he insists his mother buzz-cut it. 

When I look at him I am reminded of my own awkward childhood phases and remind myself that we all go through the ugly duck to swan stage. 

Some of us transform naturally and some need a little help along the way.  For me, I’m grateful for my peers, Susan Dey, and a beauty book whose title eludes me but I recall fondly as being my bible when I was a kid. 

I really didn’t have anyone to turn to when it came to asking the questions a preteen kid needed answers to.  My grandmother was old school and she didn’t believe in imparting wisdom on issues pertaining to vanity.  Here are a few examples of what I mean:

During the 1970s, the era when feminism burst into our collective consciousnesses and the media, television commercials just started advertising for women’s products.  I recall seeing one and saying to my grandmother, “What’s a tampon?”  Her face blanched and she burst out, “Those are only for married women.  And, don’t ever ask me that again!”  I didn’t understand what the big deal was but I understood her warning loud and clear.

When I told my grandmother I wanted to shave my legs like all my friends were doing, she told me it was nonsense.  To illustrate her point she lifted her skirt to show me her own legs.  “See!” she exclaimed.  “I never shaved my legs and now I haven’t got any hair on them at all.”  She failed to explain that at her age the hairs on her legs had just naturally worn off. 

I begged my grandmother to let me pierce my ears.  It took lots and lots of convincing but she finally relented.  I had them done at the Eastern Hills Mall at Transit Town in Clarence, which was a whole lot safer and less painful then when I’d let my girlfriends ice my ears and use a safety pin, a method I had tried without my grandmother’s consent.  And when I begged for contact lenses I had to pull out all the teenage angst I could muster before she agreed.  I had become a cheerleader in my sophomore year of high school and I would have rather died than wear glasses out on the floor.  Trouble was I couldn’t see a thing without them. 

I am so grateful that my grandmother acquiesced to my requests even if she didn’t agree or understand them. 

What does Susan Dey, the actress who played Laurie on The Partridge Family television show have to do with any of this?  She wrote a book, an autobiography I guess and the one thing I recall she said was how she kept her lips looking red like cherries.  She bit them.  She also said she pinched her cheeks to make them nice and pink.  It was another book I must have gotten out of the school library that was also a huge help in my quest to find the pretty in me.  It was a book on beauty.  The name is completely lost to me but it shared all sorts of advice on how to wash and style your hair, apply makeup, and dress.  I think I checked that book out for the whole school year and read it countless times. 

Lastly, it was my peers that I looked to when it came to being up-to-date with things like fashion.  To this day I am no fashion maven; I go for what’s comfortable and try to maintain my own style, but in high school I would copy the way my friends put their clothes together and try to emulate them.  In our house and with my grandmother’s frugal countenance, there wasn’t a lot of money for shopping sprees.  But, I managed to make a lot of outfits out of a few and got by well enough. 

I’m pretty sure Aiden, whose all boy, could care less about his looks and how to dress, at least at this stage of his life.  As for me, I’m still learning from books, magazines, and my friends.  It’s sometimes hit and miss, but generally I manage to get it right. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Body and Resolve- A Work in Progress

Just after the first few days of the new year, I began a workout and diet program that I committed to and surprisingly stuck with.  I purchased a Groupon (if you haven’t signed up for this yet, you must!) for a 20-day Boot Camp.  When I first saw the deal I kept hesitating; my finger itched to click my mouse on “buy” but I couldn’t help but question whether or not I could do it.  Me?  Boot Camp?  After a little investigation on the offer’s website, I found I could have a choice of the boot camp or revolution training.  So, I bought it.  20 days for $25.00. 

Next, I signed up for a 28-day challenge offered by our local Whole Foods Market called “The Engine 2” diet. 

For the whole month of February I followed a plant-based eating regimen.  I purchased the book, which in all respects if very well written; but I could have saved myself the money because the philosophy behind the diet is something I am familiar with.  Eat “live” food, don’t eat meat, and incorporate lots of whole grains into every meal.  What was different was the omission of any oils and animal products.  Basically, for a month I’d be a vegan.  In a previous post I admitted I was not ready to be a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but I figured I could handle this limited experiment.  So, I dove in with great enthusiasm.

I decided to try these two programs because, frankly, I could not stand the body I was living in.  As one who pays attention to instinct, I knew when I started avoiding mirrors and cameras, deleting photographs I shunned looking at, it was time to do something.  The truth of the matter is, I wasn’t yet ready to stop having my picture taken with my grandchildren and I wanted my family to want to take and display them. 

So, I took the leap of faith that if I paid for it, I would see it through. 

The combination of revolution training – that is resistance machines mixed with cardio, and the vegan diet really worked!  And, I stuck with it.  For eight weeks I went to the gym three times a week (if I had to miss a day I made sure to walk) and ate the prescribed foods with nary a cheat.  By the fifth or sixth week I noticed a difference – my pants were falling off my butt!  Really!  I was like those kids who find that look fashionable, hiking up their trousers every couple of steps.  The best part was I was proud to share a recent photograph of myself, compared to the one taken of me a few months earlier.  Even better?  My daughter said, “You look good.  Whatever you are doing, keep it up.”

So, did I?  Kind-of. 

 I said to my husband, “I hate Easter!
“How come?”  He asked.  Because of the peeps?”
He knows me too well.  For the weeks leading up to Easter I resisted the temptation to buy, cure (by that I mean leave out in the open air until they are nice and stale), and gorge on peeps.  Even when my best friend Nancy thought she was being nice by buying some for me, then eating them with relish right in front of me, I stayed firm.  Until one weak moment when I bought four packs.  By the time the third pack was furtively (my husband never knew!) consumed, I was disgusted with myself and threw out number four.  Then, yeah – I did it again a couple weeks later.  Same thing; eat three, shove number four into the depths of the trash. 

After that I ate pastry, made cookies and homemade bread, and pretty much fell off the Engine. 

It hasn’t all been for naught, however.  I am back to working out because I felt the weight creep back on.  I go to the local YMCA now and do my workouts on my own; no trainer prompting with “keep it up, come on, PUSH IT!”  But I do well on my own.  I also have eliminated many things from my diet: processed sugar (of course, after my fall from grace), table salt, meat (I’ll eat chicken once in a while); and I eats lots more fruits, fresh vegetables and really interesting grains such as farrow and quinoa. 

Sure, I’m mad at myself for my slip-up, but I think I turned a corner and realize that the foods I grew up with: meat, potatoes, pasta, was meant for a different era.  I also truly understand that any diet, in order for it to work must be in conjunction with exercise. 

I have come to realize that if I want to live long and (key word here) healthy, I had to accept some changes. 

I’m a work in progress, and my philosophy is, it’s never too late to start. 

This picture was taken in Sept. 2010.  That's Paula, little Rain's other grandma.  She looks fantastic!  Me?  I look so bloated and fat! I hated this one and wished I could have posted it on Facebook but was too mortified.
This photo was taken in April.  I was proud to share it.  By the way, both pictures are with beautiful Rain.