Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cultural Appropriation - We're Not All "Sexy Nuns" on Halloween

I decided to put together a Halloween costume this year.  Leave aside the fact that that fact makes me a big kid past 50, I want to be Frida Kahlo.  As you probably well know, she has become an iconic part of popular culture in recent years.  In part, due to the movie made about her life in 2002.  But also her raw, moving, and complete art collection came north of the border for the first time several years after the movie was released.  I flew to Atlanta specifically to see it, and was not disappointed.  I have had books of her art and biography around the house for years.
Upon sharing my costume idea with a young adult daughter (she’s going to be a mermaid this year), I was informed that it would be in bad taste and represent disrespectful “cultural appropriation” for me to do that.  My knee-jerk reaction was to be crestfallen.  The last thing I wanted was to be hurtful or offensive.  But being over 50 comes with its benefits, too.  Quickly righting myself, I began to wonder why Frida could not belong to me too? 
Yes, Frida was Mexican.  She was also a woman of unique strength, heart, talent, and before her time giant balls.  It is with complete respect I emulate her for a day – and if I am being presumptuous at all, I think she would be pleased at her name coming up at a party so long after her death.  What a legacy! 
There are many things we have all integrated into our daily lives.  Good things that have their roots in other cultures.  Far from being a put down, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.  I speak Spanish.  My first ever love was a Mexican man.  We cook and eat Mexican food.  I will never BE Mexican.  Does this mean I must treat all things outside my own culture as one-dimensional property of others?
And it’s not just Latin cultures that we could, in theory, be admonished for enjoying.
I exclaim “Mazel Tov” occasionally.  I am not Jewish
As a show of support and acceptance, rainbow flags are flown by those who are not gay.
You may take your shoes off when entering someone’s home – even if not Japanese.
I think it is hypocritical to wish for One Love, yet feel so fiercely proprietary about the beautiful things brought here from other people and places.
I guess it all boils down to intent.  Cuisine, language, music, fashion, history.  The more we share of ourselves, the more others learn about who we are.  And to withhold who you are from the curiosity and interest of others assumes they do not value you.   Please don’t assume that!  Use it instead as a springboard for education and conversation.
Sometimes, donning something of another makes us feel beautiful - and we tend to try on the identities we admire.
Think about it.  I welcome your viewpoint and comments.
Image result for frida kahlo

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jean's Awesome Personal Travel Tips - Chicago, Anywhere

Travel is like money, or beauty.  If you judge yourself based on others, you often fail.

Just when I am feeling like a hot shit for, say, driving New England on my own - or carrying out my arbitrary goal of “leaving the state once per month” -  I meet someone who has been to Dubai,  Reykjavik and/or Costa Rica….recently!  While it’s true, sticking to domestic destinations is a conscious choice right now for me, I admit to some “travel envy” and a feeling of competitiveness.  Muttering the proverbial “I’ll get there next year.”  In the meantime, I pick their brains for ideas.

It is in that context that I offer you, in no particular order, my top tips for comfortable travel.  Not sure they are revolutionary, but they are personally tried and true.  I hope you find something here that makes your next trip just a bit more comfortable.

   - Peppermint Oil.  While some inconvenience and discomfort are integral to travel, airplane odors sometimes get to me – even jet fuel smell is a bit nauseating.  Putting peppermint oil under your nose, behind your ears, etc can really help.  Don’t worry about the person next to you complaining.  It seems to be universally appealing, and does not hang in the air.  It is also excellent for keeping cool in hot climates.  Just apply liberally at the back of your neck before heading out for the day.   Here is a good quality one on Amazon:

    -Conditioner.  It’s not just for your hair.  Whether you pack yours, or use what the hotel gives, conditioner has lots of uses.  One of my favorite is in place of shaving cream.  Please stop buying that ridiculous metal dispenser full of fluffy cream.  Men’s beards and women’s leg/underarm hair can be softened with ordinary hair conditioner.  Then, after shower, many of them are formulated to not feel sticky or greasy when used on feet and hands as lotion.  Or banish static cling by rubbing a tiny bit on your hands and separating yourself from your garments.

     -Forgot your phone charger?  Most hotels have a huge lost and found box full of them.  Even if you are not near your own hotel, the nearest one will likely be happy to rummage through and find one that will work.  Take a break in the lobby, and juice up for the day.

   -Germ freaks unite!  Before leaving for the airport, I have adopted the custom of liberally coating my nasal passages with Vaseline or other heavy lotion.  The nose is a major pathway of entry for all of those mysterious coughs you hear.  The eyes too.  Consider leaving out your contacts and wearing glasses during transit as yet another buffer.  Yes, I am serious.

And now for some Chicago specific ideas…..

-Try the L Train from either airport.  Don’t make your friends and family have the distinct displeasure of circling the airport to pick you up – especially at heavy traffic times.  You could take a Lyft or Cab (I do recommend Lyft over Uber, by far), but the blue line from O’Hare, and the orange line from Midway straight into the loop works great.  Even if your destination is too far from the loop stop, a cab from there will be much cheaper.  Don’t believe the crime hype you read.  Use the trains. 

-Regarding site seeing, bigger isn’t always better.  Okay, this is purely opinion.  But the obvious places don’t always yield the best experience.  For example, everyone sees the Art Institute.  It is beautiful, world class, and right in the middle of everything.  But go a bit north, and see the Contemporary Art Museum instead.  Less exhausting, more intimate, and the gift shop has lots of unique items.

or this one in a gorgeous neighborhood historic mansion if you are into science….

I could go on and on.  But, that’s plenty from me.  Please feel free to comment with YOUR best travel tips.  Tell us what you’ve learned from experience. 

As always, wishing you safe journeys.



Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Believe Facebook Has "Jumped the Shark"

Just as I was late to the party in joining Facebook, so is this tale of how I how find it loathsome.  I am not the first to figure out that for most of us, it should simply run its course and cycle out of our lives – sort of like the requisite bad relationships and dead end jobs that make up a full life.

I’ve been 100% Facebook free for well over a year now.  A fact I admit (with some discomfort) is partially responsible for my contented state.  I have passions, yes.  But they are not tied to the phony distractions of others.  It is my position that Facebook has given platform to the senseless, and made decorum and privacy a thing of the past. 

I see myself as a modern gal and free thinker.  As a writer, free speech is near and dear.  But the strange, disingenuous sociological changes that take place online cannot be denied – and I would contend can be the death of meaningful exchanges. 

See if you recognize any of these people on your “friend” list.

-The person you know is going through a lot of difficulty in real life, but all of her multiple posts show a smiley, fulfilled person. 

-The superficially confident friend who constantly posts photos that are “accidentally” sexy and flattering – thereby soliciting a running feedback of “omg you look great!!”

-The person who passive aggressively seems butthurt by the fact that you don’t “like” all their posts, no matter how inane.

-The person you find out is functionally illiterate, or has uninformed or polarized viewpoints that are offensive to you – all of which you learned due to Facebook, but were blissfully unaware of before.

I’m sure I could come up with more caricatures of our shared experience, but you get the idea.

So how did all of this equate to unhappiness for me?  I found it was a thing to navigate – a stressor without merit.  The more time you put into a thing, the more you feel you should get out of it, right?  Wrong.  It was a vicious cycle of effort + expectation + time suck = frustration.  I discovered some unflattering things about myself, too.  I can be very mercurial online in a way I would never be in person.   Even if you claim you are not bothered by the intermittent remarks, opinions, and boring life details that are put out there, I urge you to have another look.   I had roughly 100 friends when I left Facebook.  I know perhaps 3 of them now.  And guess what?  We have time to have dinner together. 

It is here that I will acknowledge that some people use Facebook in a healthy way.  Having frequent shares with friends or family across the miles can maintain and even deepen relationships that today’s busy lifestyles wouldn’t permit.  A wild guess on my part would say that about ten percent of the FB population are enjoying only this.   

On the other hand, there can be a loss of patience and respect from the “oversharing” that goes on.  I lost one close girlfriend and a cousin to this.  It IS a double-edged sword, so be careful out there.

It’s also probably no mistake that newer sites like Instagram (which is photo driven) and Twitter (which allows for only 140 characters per post) are getting bigger.  I recommend either of these over Facebook for all of the fun, without the pain in the ass.  I also have never had that “cyber tracked” feeling on Twitter, or been solicited by a crowd funder for Save the Pandas. 

Do what you do.  Love what you love.  Let me know your thoughts.  In the meantime,



Friday, August 19, 2016

Euthanasia Is Not A Dirty Word

Arthur at 3 months old
We recently said goodbye to our long time dog family member, Arthur.  It was the first dog any of us had had – including my husband and myself.  He didn’t grow up with pets, and my family always seemed to have a cat or two around.  Back then, people didn’t pamper their animals the way we do now.  Cats spent time outdoors and came inside when it behooved them.  It was more of a roommate situation.

What led up to his death was not so much a sequence of events, but what I would call a climate change.  Our family had been managing his slow decline for what I admit was nearly 2 years.  His sight was not great, he had Cushing’s disease (which we chose not to treat because the side effects of the medicines sounded worse than the illness) which caused constant hunger and thirst.  When he had free access to water, accidents were commonplace. 

About 6 months ago, these symptoms worsened.  He began to follow me from room to room, which I eventually had to acknowledge was because he was nearly blind, deaf, and uncomfortable alone.  The walks in the evening stopped.  There was no interest in toys, car rides, or our other dog, Dora.

Since it was my credo from day one that no pet of mine would suffer, we began to talk about euthanasia.  At first, it seemed more of a concept than a reality.  After all, he was not in any acute pain (that we knew of), so there was no hurry.  It is not my custom to “poll the audience”, but this was such new territory, I began to ask friends who were also dog lovers/owners.  Turns out, fully MOST people had been in this position before.  Our family was experiencing a rite of passage, and there was an unexpectedly supportive atmosphere around us.

I phoned the emergency veterinary clinic near us for information, and was met with a warm, professional voice.  She described the procedure and added “the timing is your decision, and we respect that”.  I cannot tell you the comfort that statement gave me.

There were another two weeks of goodbyes and getting our heads around it.  It was decided that my younger daughter and I would be the ones to actually take him.  In the end, it was a Monday at nearly midnight when we both were available and had the guts.  I phoned them before we left, as they had recommended, so they could be prepared for us.  After spending ten minutes in their parking lot not sure we could go through with it, the inevitability settled in.

Once inside, “shit got real” as they say.  Signed some papers, and we were in the room.  The vet did not rush us, she explained each step, we did not feel awkward weeping shamelessly in front of her.  Veronica commented how the place was empty, and that was good.  We held hands, told a few anecdotes about him, and that was that.

When it was over, the doctor said we did the right thing.  Another kindness I will not forgot.  Within a week, we had sympathy cards from that office and our regular vet (they notified him).

While sad – epically so – I didn’t see it as a negative experience.  I learned that my daughter is a strong, loving young women who can do selfless things.  I met a doctor who has set me free with her pragmatism and decency.  I remained true to my promise to Arthur of no suffering, which I made 12 years ago when we brought home the little 4 lb runt.

Ingrained in our culture is a kneejerk need to see every ending as something ugly.  Maybe it’s time to try to turn that on its ear.  Painful goodbyes are the price of love.  But love is the good stuff, and the alternative is unthinkable.







Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Secret Life of Hugs - A Valentine's Day Contemplation


In the discussion of tactile greetings in our culture, it would remiss not to start with the most common - the handshake.  As social animals, these are chock full of information.  We may only make vague note of our first impressions and judgments based on a handshake, but they are there.

For example, we’ve all received the “dead fish” – the one where it just feels like a limp appendage comes to rest briefly in your palm.  Or how about what I have dubbed “The Lobster Claw?”  A lunging reach, culminating in a mildly painful pincer grasp.  What do you perceive about each of these people?  Is it different if it’s a man or woman delivering it?

 I should confess here that I often view handshakes as an awkward, antiquated greeting – and one of the best ways to spread illness.  So, it’s pretty tough to win with me on that front.  In my experience, less than half of the time do people land what I would consider the perfect hand to hand contact.  Let’s call it “The Classic.”  It is marked by a warm, unrushed, confident touch, coupled with simultaneous eye contact and a few kind words. 

Hugs are a completely different story.   Good, solid ones may well be the antidote for our touch deprived culture.  They seem to be regaining popularity, even in a casual business setting.  At least, it seemed like I received more of them at events this holiday season.  I tell myself that is because I’m getting more huggable with age.  Or more likely, with age, there is less risk of it being received as flirty.  Boooo.

Regardless, it set me to wondering.  Is there a cultural shift happening?  I really hope so.  While still giving rise to a silent opinion, they are virtually impossible to screw up because at any given time we all secretly could use a hug.

I decided a very informal text poll of some contacts was in order.  It turns out, the responses were surprisingly specific and heartfelt.  Here are some direct answers, though some partial, to “Tell me an observation you’ve made about hugs.”

 “Bigger people equal bigger, warmer hugs.”  VS

“If they give a quick one, it is just out of obligation.  If they hold on and squeeze for a bit, that tells me they are sincere.  This is true whether from a man or woman.”  -Pat R

Sarah states: “I’d just like to take boobs out of the hugging equation.”  I don’t care how they are perceived.  I just don’t want to be pushing my boobs onto people.”                                                           (it should be noted here that Sarah has magnificent boobs)

“Hugs with backpacks are awkward because you can’t get your arms all the way around.”  -VS

Beth says, “It’s the only way left to physically show affection to my kids.  Can’t kiss them anymore, but hugs are great!”

“A good hug feels like letting the air out of an overinflated tire – a stress reliever.”  -Jim

“Usually I notice what kind of clothes they’re wearing because I am short, so my face is on their chest.  Also, I’ll notice what they smell like and how warm they are and if they hug you tightly.”  - JP

“The verdict is still out on whether or not they are better than drugs.” –KK

 What’s it all mean?   I can’t answer for everyone.  But as my New Year’s Resolution, I plan to hug to the verge of being against social convention.  In that moment of hesitation, I hope you decide to embrace with abandon.  Turns out it’s what we are all craving…and it’s FREE!










Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rock What You've Got - Recalibrating Feminism


The online dictionary defines feminism as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of woman as equal to those of men.”  I feel monumentally lucky to live in a time and country where, in a legal sense, this is true.  Things we and our daughters take for granted today, were once unheard of.

But now that all of this is in place, what are we doing with it?  On an interpersonal level, are you supporting the truths that those before us suffered to establish?  Just because we have all of the choices available, are we keeping ourselves from making them freely?

We all do it - call ourselves evolved, and then harbor a confused resentment toward those who go against our personal tenets.  If we are to truly support a group, we must allow for ALL choices, with only ONE judgment – that they are socially responsible, non-abusive and allow for the completely natural variations in human beings.

In the animal kingdom, we see plenty of it.  Some species mate for life, while others mate with multitudes every day.  Often, the females are the early nurturers.  But sometimes, it is the male who sits on the egg, or keeps the babies warm while Mom hunts.

So, if we are to support feminism, the same logic applies.  These completely natural, inborn differences are not to be tolerated, nor celebrated.  Just observe and accept them from your own place of comfort for how you live.  A true supporter of women’s rights would not take issue with a little girl who is dying to dress up as a princess for Halloween, or who dreams of growing up to be a mother.   More importantly, look at how she prepares for it.  It’s like the old saying – “Whatever you are, be a good one”

Have the Courage of Your Convictions

On the other end of the spectrum, much of the feminist rhetoric revolves around the traditional business world.  My husband had a booth for his business at a trade show recently.  We spent four days rubbing elbows with brush manufacturers from around the globe.  Scintillating for him, and my younger daughter and I got some serious people watching done.  I observed at least three women speaking, almost apologetically, about leaving their children at home.  Guess how many men were talking about that?   I kept thinking, “you can only be where you are.  You’ve chosen to be here, so why not just BE here?”  The way I see it, the power for women in these realms is one of refusal to spend time on emotional waste.  If you can separate yourself where appropriate (dare I say, the way many men do) from the weight of conjecture of others’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, you will transcend those that see you as a “girl” rather than colleague.  

Let me add….

In doing so, you must not deny your femininity.  Breasts and hips are not a handicap.  They are a strong, integral part of your identity.  If you have doubts, try asking any woman who’s had a mastectomy.

What Are We Modeling?

The above mentioned daughter was the impetus for this blogspot.  She is extremely interested in the disparity of social convention and the unique talents that may be wasted by following them.  At the tender age of 17, she has inspired me to explore my own judgments of women and their choices.  If your drives lean toward the stereotypically female, then the rejection of them would also be misogynistic, no?  And yes, I believe women can be very misogynistic. 

I am not encouraging you to be a cheerleader (or linebacker) for women’s issues. Just take silent note of those who choose differently.  It is my contention that most of the distaste we have for the “other side” comes from our own lament of the path we did not take.   Voltaire said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

And every time I see one of those “Live, Love, Laugh” signs I want to amend it to something like this:

“Live Unapologetically, Love Fearlessly, Laugh Louder than anyone else in the room.” … Admittedly not as aesthetically pleasing.

As always, I welcome your comments posted to the site, or privately at







Wednesday, April 1, 2015

For The Calendar Tells Me So

“Time marches on.  And sooner or later you realize, it’s marching right across your face”
– Dolly Parton

My father has been dead 15 years, as of yesterday.  He was a wonderful man, and for years I kept him “in the loop” of our lives emotionally and in thought.  I remember for a long while I focused on the bad things he’d avoided by dying.  For example, he missed the tragedy of 9/11, and the subsequent changes that caused in the world.  In death, he remained innocent to it.

On the ten year anniversary of his death, I got a tattoo (admittedly after 3 martinis), to honor him.  A large, colorful US Navy anchor on my left upper arm.  After about a two month identity crisis directly afterward, I have grown to love it as part of me. 

At the 15 year mark, the pertinent dates of his life still make my consciousness.  My parents’ wedding anniversary (January 15th), his birthday (in May), and, his death.  Admittedly, I have a strange “thing” for dates.  I still recall the birthdates of lots of past friends, and the exact date I lost my virginity.  This has always surprised me, as I am quite unsentimental about most things.  Maybe storing dates is my way of relegating memories to their proper place and amount of energy.

How we feel about loss is dependent on so many variables of the people and situations.  There is no right or wrong way or timing – only that, like all things, it changes over time.  I can tell you from my process, I learned the following:

-You can continue to have a relationship with someone long after they are gone.  Even now, I sometimes consider how my dad might have reacted to a person or event – taking his “advice” posthumously. 

It happens less and less as the years go by, but it’s there, and I am so grateful. 

Here is a poem I wrote on the subject at about the 10 year mark.


The charismatic sheriff left town.

He was the only one who believed I’d be the people’s poet.

Words are, after all, the perfect veil for the encomiast.

He was dead tired.


dead man walking.

I watched him fold up like a gate leg table,

speaking in tongues of undulating stares.

Still unable to get yoked up to the jesuswagon.

Dead silence.

Oh, how the preacher tried!

Just plain dead.

So now I brush and love his white horse.

The one he rode at forty.

And the silvered leather tack gets polished

every time I speak of him.

(you see, this poem is earning its keep)

In town, the street again filled with daily dust,

and the saloon door swings one direction.

Unladylike for a gal to drink alone.

But land sakes,

I’d give my spurs for one more sunset.


Thank you for listening.  I bid you peace, and welcome your comments or contact in confidence at