Posted by Susannah Herrada on Jun 14, 2013 in Relationships
My wedding day–the kick-off for the best days of my life
Ah, June. The magical month that kicks off the nuptial season. Truth be told, I’m actually so beyond the wedding season of life that I’ve even passed the baby shower cluster, quickly approaching the “first born high school graduation onslaught.” Nevertheless, I find weddings just plain fun, but too often, for the bride, it can be a day of grand disappointment wrought from unrealistic expectations.
We’ve all heard horror stories of weddings gone awry–raging bridezillas, meddling mothers, overbearing mothers-in-law. While all these things might be simple annoyances on any other day, they reach fiasco proportions on one’s wedding day, tarnishing the “this is the happiest day of my life” image that so many brides feel to be their right and privilege. How do things become so warped, how do nerves become so raw, and how do otherwise rational women morph into raging lunatics?
It’s called conditioning.
It’s because we as women, from the time we get our first Bride Barbie, dream of the moment when we will be belle of the ball, queen of our own prom, princess for our Prince Charming.
So we spend hours planning for our wedding day. Savings, which could perhaps be better spent toward a down payment on a house, are instead invested in creating an unforgettable moment in time.
Unfortunately, this obsessive preparedness for a single day often curtails appropriate preparation for the emotional, financial, spiritual, and just plain logistical parameters of marriage—simple questions are left unresolved. How many hours of TV is OK? Will we hire a housekeeper? Whose family will we spend holidays with? To unmarried couples, these seem like small issues. But as anyone married for more than a few hours knows, these seemingly minor concerns can quickly balloon into large issues. These questions are much easier settled, or at least carefully discussed, before couples exchange vows. But premarital counseling, if couples participate in it at all, is often just one more item to check off the ‘to do’ list and usually completed in a few hours.
I don’t think I’m being unnecessarily alarmist to suggest that most brides spend more time shopping for their dresses than they do participating in premarital counseling or practical planning for the realities of married life. And even though its effectiveness is backed by empirical and anecdotal evidence, counseling is often neglected completely or conducted with someone who may have mediocre training or experience.
A friend of mine who was married in Colorado less than two years ago recalls her disappointing premarital counseling. The facilitator scoffed at her concerns about their credit card debt—instead telling her to focus on the strengths in her relationships with her fiancé. Needless to say, the couple is now in the unfortunate situation of being maxed out on their credit cards, and money is a huge issue in the marriage, erasing their ability to focus on the “strengths” of their relationship.
So how many brides actually end up with that ‘happy ever after’ vision they have in their heads? Very few. We all know the divorce statistics in this country. And despite all the work, the wedding day is hardly ever perfect. I’ve been to two weddings where the brides had such big arguments with their future husbands on the day of the big event that they told me later they seriously considered scrapping the walk down the aisle.
In the movies, jittery brides and grooms ditch their intendeds at the altar all the time, but in real life, couples would rather take a chance and spare embarrassment before friends and family, knowing they can get a no-fault divorce later if it just ‘doesn’t work out.’ By taking this lackadaisical view, we are scoffing at the institution of marriage.
So if the day’s not going to be perfect, and the marriage is inevitably going to be more work than you bargained for, here’s what you disillusioned women who’ve tied the knot need to know, along with you soon-to-be brides crash dieting and waking in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. over concerns about the hue of ribbon in the toss-away garter.
First of all, your wedding day is no longer about you and your spouse becoming one beautiful and perfectly harmonized partnership for all eternity.
Instead, here’s what a wedding has become: a wedding is a party for your parents, their friends, and your friends. It’s a multi-billion dollar business. It’s a time to impress. It’s so your niece can be the flower girl in a frilly dress. And your nephew will change out of his soccer jersey for a few hours. It’s so your parents have a formal picture of everyone together. It’s a day that you are giving to honor your parents because you know it would break your mother’s heart if you eloped. It’s a day that recognizes that as much of a liberated woman as you have become, you will still give a nod to tradition and let your father walk you down the aisle.
These elements are all important to your family and to you and your future spouse for varied and often complicated reasons. And I’m all for weddings, and flowers, and cake, and pink Chuck Taylors peeking out from under a pile of silk and tulle. The problem arises when we expend all our energy trying to create the “best day of our life.”
Brides, when anyone tells you that your wedding day will be the best day of your life, examine their motives. More likely than not, it’s an unmarried bridesmaid or a vendor trying to upsell you a dress that’s too expensive and requires $400 foundation garments to make it all hold together or is trying to convince you to upgrade the menu to include a caviar appetizer.
The Perfect Day myth is an emotional and fiscal crime setting up brides for heartbreaking disappointment. Instead of spending months preparing for a single day, engaged couples need to invest their time and energy in preparing for a lifetime together.
And that lifetime, if prepared for properly, could be full of many “Best Days.”
Here’s what I’ve found after 15 years of marriage, acknowledging the stark reality that I’ve threatened to leave my husband at least as many times . I still love him like crazy. I admire him and appreciate him more than I did on our wedding day. I wonder on a regular basis how it was that I got him (and why he sticks around). My life as it is today is certainly not the result of my feeble efforts, luck, or some twisted favoritism people refer to as being ‘blessed.’ It’s been the result of a lot of work and forbearance.
Maybe it’s that I knew from the outset that plenty of perfect $45,000 wedding days end in divorce while plenty of potluck picnic shelter events garner years of contentment.
I did have a beautiful wedding day, but it was by no means the highlight of my life. It was merely the kick-off. Here’s how my wedding day stacks up against the last 15 years: Our honeymoon in New Zealand was everything I dreamed of, but visions of my kids pole boating in the rain at Tuileries Gardens, hiking with my husband through the cool dark caverns that burst open to illuminate the library in Petra, sleeping under the almost blindingly bright stars in the dessert at Siwa, desperately hitchhiking for the first time in a blizzard in Iceland, breathing in the timeless dust at the Wailing Wall as I felt my husband’s hand resting on my back, and reclining against my suitcase on a rocky beach, exhausted and waiting with my kids for the next train in Italy all compete for “best of my life” moments when my husband and I reminisce.
Though I will never forget seeing my husband’s face at the front of the church as I shakily held my father’s arm as he walked me down the aisle, recalling the first moment my daughter’s round little arms reached for me is a memory that conjures up deeper emotions.
I’ll also have to admit that although there was no videographer to capture the moment, the promise of life imparted when I heard my son say “Mama” for the first time still outranks how I felt when I heard my husband promise, “I do.”
In fact, even my husband saying I looked beautiful on our wedding day doesn’t mean as much as when he casually remarked a few months ago, as I was folding laundry while wearing yoga pants, that he thinks I look better than I did when he met me.
And then there was a Saturday last month when my entire family, kids included, worked to clean the house while we alternately listened to Taylor Swift and Joe Jackson. That day was better than my wedding day. We did some yard work and got a dozen donuts. I think we played a game that afternoon, but I don’t really even remember. We just hung out. We were a family. Jorge probably paid some bills, and I may have threatened the kids once or twice to stop bickering or I’d dock their allowance. We put the kids to bed early, letting them sleep in our room. All four of us rested there together, and most likely Jorge was snoring before the kids were asleep. When they were good and asleep, I nudged him awake, and we slipped out of the bedroom to the sofa. I rested my head on his chest, without a thought that this had been the best day of my life. Instead, I dozed off with the secure promise of knowing that there would be many more, just like this.
Yeah, I think that was the best day of my life.
And it didn’t cost much. And it will happen again and again. And there weren’t months of anxiety or planning, and my husband didn’t need to buy me diamonds, or make brunch plans, and I didn’t have to go on a crash diet, or worry that my eyebrows were not perfectly shaped or that I had a blemish on my cheek. I didn’t worry about a menu or linen colors or a perfectly clean house. I just woke up and went to bed, but I did it with the best people in my life.
That’s why we have weddings for a day, but live marriages for a lifetime.
Posted by Deborah Huso on May 20, 2013 in Musings
, Success Guide
There are wonderful times when life catches me completely off guard. Like a week ago when I attended my five-year-old’s first piano recital. It was, initially, reminiscent of the recitals I’d played in as a child, where the first children to play were the youngest and least skilled, and the last were those who could show some mastery over their lessons. Needless to say, I never played last at a recital in any of my seven to eight years of piano lessons. I liked playing the piano, still do, but I was never passionate about it.
However, last Sunday, I saw passion. As I sat there in church watching one student succeed another, a few of them showing fine technical skill, I expected no great epiphanies at the keyboard. But then the last student to play, an 11-year-old boy who had been taking lessons only four years, sat down to regale the audience with five minutes or so of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and I sat there dumbfounded. Not only did this boy demonstrate technical skill way beyond his years, but he played with the passion of a man who has found and lost love, watched a beloved die, walked through fire….
Where does feeling like that come from in an 11-year-old boy?
I have no idea.
But I do know that it was not passion alone that made that young man stroke the keys as if he was born to play. The piano teacher’s sister informed me after the recital that the boy’s parents could hardly keep him from the piano, that he played all the time.
That’s not just passion. That’s commitment.
And if you ever want to succeed at something, and I mean really succeed, you have to have both.
How often have I seen a person with passion for an art, skill, or subject fail to reach potential, not for lack of talent but for lack of commitment. And commitment, mind you, is more than hard work. It comes with cost and sacrifice.
A friend of mine had to give a meditation recently at a wedding, and she was anxious about how to do it because she had been asked not to be too religious. “How can I talk about passion,” she asked, “and not draw an anomaly to the passion of Christ?”
I don’t know what she ultimately came up with, but even though I’m not religious, I know there is much to learn from what we refer to as “Christ’s passion.” Jesus, whether mortal or God, was willing to take the cost, make the ultimate sacrifice, for what he believed. The result? His life and teachings form one of the world’s most influential religions. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the influence of Jesus’ passion and commitment.
I suspect, knowing my friend, that she perhaps touched on the necessity of passion and commitment to a successful marriage. It is one thing to love another person, even deeply love him. It is quite another to commit yourself to maintaining that love for life. That not only takes work, like the work of resolving minor disputes before they become big resentments, but the work of sacrifice–willingly and lovingly giving up to get more. And I don’t mean more in a greedy sense. I mean more fulfillment, more meaning, and, ultimately, more passion.
Because that’s the thing about commitment that is passion-inspired. It builds more passion.
I will not pretend to know about passion and commitment within the framework of a marriage. I know I tried commitment without passion for a very long time, and it didn’t seem to do much other than take up valuable space in the short span of what we know as life.
But I do know about passion in other things. I have had a passion for writing since I was a small child, yet for a brief period while in college and grad school, I let a couple of mentors convince me to pursue a career as professor instead of as a writer. To my good fortune, poverty eventually drove me out of academe, and I began to see, after working as an ex parte brief writer, speech writer, and copywriter, that one could indeed earn a living writing.
For five years, I spent every waking hour I wasn’t at my salaried job working to build my own business as a writer. And once I cut the cord to the world of the regular paycheck and began freelancing full-time, I worked 80-hour weeks for a couple of years to build a client base. There was never a time that any of it felt exhausting. Why? Because I was passionately committed to living my dream.
The same held true when I finally bought the farm I’d always dreamed of owning and built the house I’d always dreamed of building, working until the wee hours of the morning at times painting cathedral ceilings while lying on my back on a scaffold, hanging wallpaper, and sanding and varnishing cabinets, stair treads, and trim. Passion launched me. Commitment held me.
I have no doubt I will hear one day of that 11-year-old boy at my daughter’s piano recital rocking the world stage as a concert pianist. Because the boy is not just passionate; he is committed. He practices his passion daily.
That’s the key—daily commitment to passion.
As one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, remarks, you should live “as if you were on fire from within.” Doing anything less is not really living; it is not really committing. If you believe in your passion, whether it is the passion you hold for your work or the passion you hold for your lover, then commit to it, live as if “the moon lives in the lining of your skin.”
Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 26, 2013 in Musings
I’ve always had a bit of trouble with letting go. Raised by my father to be a “fix-it” type person, I have suffered from a belief that everything can be made right with a little adjustment and ingenuity…including relationships.
But this isn’t always so.
Sometimes you just have to abandon ship and let the old girl sink.
How do you know when it’s time to bail on a marriage, a friendship, perhaps even a parent? Probably when the relationship keeps you awake at least four nights out of the week and your contact with the person gives you a case of the jitters equivalent to five cups of coffee drunk in quick succession or gives you a sudden desire to send your car off a cliff…with yourself in it.
Evolved creatures though we are, we tend to resist change, even if continuing in the same rut feels about as good as ripping a band-aid off a hairy leg 100 times in a row. I should know. I have resisted giving up on people with immense relish over the years.
I think it started with my mother. A highly respected educator, even by me (though I admit I window gazed in her AP English class just to annoy her), she was never particularly skilled at letting me be me. The result has been a decades-long battle of the wills between us that I finally had to just throw into the ditch. Meaning I accepted the fact that my mother would never approve of me no matter what I did. I let go….
The unfortunate thing is it took more than half my life to do it. Wisdom cannot be rushed.
Over the years, I’ve sped up this “process of elimination,” but it’s still been pretty slow. It took me at least five years to finally throw in the towel on an unfulfilling marriage.
The trouble with me (and with a lot of people, I suspect) is that I’m not very good at giving up on people. While in grad school, I taught college English and Humanities and reveled in the adrenaline rush of getting a student who started the semester with solid D’s to writing polished B+ essays. However, when I had to flunk an entire English Comp class of unprepared 18-year-old boys, it frustrated me beyond measure. Why didn’t they give a shit?
The reality is, not everyone gives a shit. And sometimes you just have to accept that and move on.
I’ve played mentor to a few aspiring writers over the years. Sometimes the relationships have been mutually rewarding. Sometimes they have not. It’s the “have not” ones that have kept me up at night. When I have invested months, and sometimes years, of my life in teaching a young person not only how to write in a way that will sell but how to find markets for her work, only to have her turn tail and give up, especially when she has potential and talent, it messes with my head.
It’s like being a parent in some ways. You have to tell yourself, “I’m investing in this person because I believe in her. If she chooses to give up and walk away, it’s her choice.” Too often I have gotten caught up in “fix-it” mode, believing I could make someone believe in herself through my own confidence and will. But it doesn’t always work that way.
Some months ago, I began the process of letting go of an aspiring writer and friend who had given up, convinced after years of being put down by others that she was always being judged even when she wasn’t. It was among the more frustrating experiences of my life, watching someone with loads of potential back herself into a corner and decide, perhaps unconsciously, she was not worthy of great things. Even worse, she blamed me for her retreat.
Being the hardheaded fixer that I am, I persisted in trying to reach out, only to be greeted with hostility.
Eventually, however, I had to do what I did with my disapproving, negative mother, and my toxic spouse…I let go. I said to myself, “Enough is enough. You cannot force someone to live to her full potential. Allow free will, and walk away.”
When I watch friends struggle with this all too common problem with their children, I empathize. I know what it is to want the best for someone you love and to watch that person dig himself or herself into a deep hole. And frequently, as the digger digs, he looks up at you, the self-proclaimed “fixer,” and wishes you’d fall in so he could bury you.
If you haven’t jumped ship by this point, it truly is time to bail and expend your energy where it is wanted or at least accepted.
There is an old Zen proverb, which you’ve probably heard: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” On a couple of occasions, I have thought the student was ready and that I was the teacher.
Sometimes we miscalculate. Sometimes the student is never ready.
When that happens, it really is okay to cut your losses and move on.
I know my mother will never be ready to accept me as I am. I know my ex-husband will never believe in himself as I tried to believe in him. I also know I have had students who don’t want to learn.
In the grand scheme of things, it seems a little whacked to waste energy on negative people. But perhaps it is the stubborn human will to convert the faithless, no matter how hopeless the cases, that drives us.
As for me, I am making a new commitment to watch carefully for the people who would happily suck me into their black holes of anger and resentment and to focus instead on aligning myself with those who are willing to learn…and willing to teach in return. I choose not to waste energy beating half dead horses or worrying too much about their final gasps of air. As Elizabeth Gilbert , author of the popular treatise on finding joy, Eat, Pray, Love, has noted, “As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff is bad for you.”
Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 18, 2013 in Travel Archives
With one of my girlfriends after swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands
A couple of weeks ago, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to get certified as a SCUBA diver. Apparently, a couple of their media folks had had their eye on some of my outdoor recreation and adventure travel writing and thought I wouldn’t necessarily be the worst person in the world to teach diving to.
They could be wrong about this.
I’m claustrophobic to the degree that I will occasionally have mild panic attacks on small commuter jets. And I’m terrified of deep water, especially if I can’t see the bottom. Tell me while I’m in this deep water where I can’t see the bottom that a hammerhead shark might come drifting by, and I might just suddenly decide I want back in the skiff.
So why I told the folks at PADI, “Absolutely, I’d love to learn to dive,” I have no concrete idea. I just know that some of the best experiences of my life have started out scary as hell. Thus, I have a default setting in my brain that says if something seems inordinately challenging or frightening, I just need to jump in and do it.
Fortunately, I have friends who are exactly the same way.
One of them is coming with me on this SCUBA diving trip to the Bahamas. When I asked her if she wanted to go, she squealed and said, “YES!!!!”
Strangely enough, she, like me, is mildly claustrophobic and has never had a particular urge to learn to dive. After her confined water dive experience this last weekend, she told me she was exhausted, felt utterly stupid, somehow passed the test, but was as excited as ever. “But you know since you and I are going to be diving buddies, if you decide you really don’t want to go way down there deep to look at that shipwreck, you know I’ll be okay with that, right?”
I nodded and advised her, given our claustrophobia handicaps and poor multitasking skills (how do you remember to descend slowly, equalize your air spaces, and operate your buoyancy control device all while carrying a steel tank on your back?), that we might come across as geriatric divers. We decided to come up with an underwater hand signal for “how about we ditch this dive and go get a cocktail?”
Which comes back to the question of “Why do it? Why do something scary and unfamiliar that you’re not even sure you’ll enjoy doing?”
Because it might change your life. That’s why.
There are anthropologists who would argue it’s just in the genes of some of us to be risk takers. Is your ring finger longer than your index finger? Mine is. That’s supposed to mean I’m genetically predisposed to sky dive and cheat, ever on the lookout for the next big thrill. Personally, I think it just means I have funny looking fingers.
I don’t do the things I do because I have a genetic compulsion to live on the edge. I do them because experience has taught me that wonderful things happen when you dare to step outside the familiar trappings of your life, challenge yourself, and introduce yourself to people who fire your brain.
When I moved to the isolated mountains of Highland County, Virginia, all by myself 11 years ago, apparently on a whim, quit my day job, and began to pursue a full-time career as a writer, pretty much everyone in my life thought I was crazy. I didn’t think I was crazy. I was just doing what I do–testing the waters of a grand new experiment in living, which in this case was seeing if I really could do what I wanted to do, live where I wanted to live, and be who I wanted to be without going bankrupt.
It turns out I could.
And there have been a lot of other things I’ve done since then that looked risky as hell at the outset but turned my world upside-down in beautiful and amazing ways.
I had my first kayaking experience off St. Croix when I was pregnant with my daughter and a bit reluctant to go paddling off into the sea on a whim. But I shrugged and did it anyway. Years later, sea kayaking is one of my favorite things, and it has allowed me to paddle up to calving glaciers in Alaska and drift along colorful rock formations on Lake Superior I could never have seen otherwise.
Far be it from me to take on the world from the deck of a mega-cruise ship. Because life isn’t something you watch. It’s something you do.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks.” How true. There is nothing nor anyone in this world that I value highly that I have not risked wildly or worked hard to have. My deepest, most rewarding friendships are the result of long and dedicated acquaintance where I dared to risk vulnerability and censure by being myself. The incredible career I live and breathe every day is the result of a no doubt inane belief I could not only pay the bills as a writer but live a pretty darn good life, too. It took years of work and a willingness to leap off the high dive into a precarious world where paychecks didn’t come biweekly to pull it off.
This is not to say risk always pays off in an immediately positive way. Sometimes it blows up in your face. That’s why it’s called “risk.”
Not every wild venture I’ve taken on has turned out for the best. Heaven knows I’ve fallen in love (or thought that I had), only to discover the person on whom I’d showered so much admiration and affection had borderline personality disorder. I’ve taken on a new and way out of my field job with hopes of grand financial remuneration and promotions only to be told by a boss and self-proclaimed amateur chef who paid $300 for a gourmet mushroom that I had to wait my turn, no matter how smart I was, to climb the corporate ladder.
But even the risks that seem not to pay off at first have their own less obvious rewards. They offer lessons that make the next risk not quite so risky. Once you know how to kayak, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to hit a bull’s eye with a pistol, how to keep from screaming when a sea lion dives at your snorkel mask, and how to survive a broken heart and a foiled career move, things like learning how to SCUBA dive or venturing into a foreign country alone don’t seem quite so daunting. You’ve already proved you can stare down fear.
Don’t confuse staring down fear with not being afraid, however. I’ve never said I wasn’t afraid. Take for instance my trip to Ecuador last summer. After developing a fond acquaintance with a local from Guayaquil who was trying to teach me functional Spanish, I took him up on his offer to show me the city. After we’d strolled the crowded Malecon, eaten ice cream cones on the river, and he’d tested my Spanish reading skills by asking me to read aloud the inscriptions on local monuments, we walked away from the tourist areas, deeper into the heart of the city. I heard gun shots, the streets were more isolated, some apparent acquaintances shouted something in Spanish to my companion that seemed to suggest he had quite the prize in this long-legged, blond American girl he’d found. My gut instinct told me to flee, to find my way back to the five-star hotel where I was registered, to abandon this latest scheme to experience some of the “real” Guayaquil.
But something of the risk taker held fast in me. I smiled at my escort, took his hand, and we walked to dinner where I understood nothing of the exchange he had with the waiter. Instead of worrying about it, I resolved to revel in the sunset over the river, to absorb the melodic sounds of my companion’s voice as he spoke to me in beautifully accented English with a few Spanish words thrown in, and remember this was living. The next morning, my Latin companion delivered me to the airport safely and put me on my way back home.
When I read, a couple months later, about the dangers of Ecuador, about how supposed taxi drivers would pick up foreign tourists and then deliver them into the hands of criminals who would rob them and sometimes even commit physical violence against them, I marveled at my bravery (ignorance?) in Guayaquil. However, I would not have traded the experience of touring the city with a handsome and intelligent local at my side for anything. Despite my girlfriends’ teasing that I had acquired the “bucket list” experience of finding myself a Latin lover, what really counted for me was the insider’s view of Ecuador I received—my companion’s perspective on local politics, social injustice, poverty, and crime. He had brought me, for a moment, into the thick of Ecuadorian life.
And that’s what risk taking does—it takes you into the thick of things. It’s where life happens. So next time a wild opportunity throws itself on your doorstep and you’re not saying “yes” because you’re scared, it might be time to reevaluate. Saying “no” to a possibly life-changing experience isn’t really about being cautious or safe so much as it is about being cynical. And as American political satirist Stephen Colbert says, “Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics say no. But saying ‘yes” begins things.”
So, readers, let’s begin….
Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 26, 2013 in Stories From the Road
, Travel Archives
Pegram Parlor at the Linden Row Inn on Franklin Street in Richmond
My latest “Stories From the Road” column has hit the press. This one, on the Petersburg and Richmond haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, will appeal to anyone who has a hankering for how to get closer to the master of the macabre. Though it’s not the easiest thing getting inside the head of the literary man who married a 13-year-old girl. Even in 1835, that was a bit unusual.
The dining room at Bistro 27 on Broad Street
Nevertheless, while you’re checking out Poe haunts in Virginia, be sure to give yourself the best eats and digs while you’re exploring. Spend the night at the Linden Row Inn, and be sure to ask for “Pegram’s Parlor.” This is the inn’s classic honeymoon suite. Else you might find your lodgings a little rough around the edges. Then hit Bistro 27 for dinner. I recommend the chef’s special beef ravioli. And while you’re wining and dining, you can watch the world go by on Broad Street.
Kitty in the window on Broad Street
Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 21, 2013 in Men
It occurs to me I should not be blogging now. It is 1 a.m. I am sick with bronchitis. I am exhausted. My daughter is sleeping in my bed. I have spent the past two hours mothering…but not to a child—to a man. A man who took nearly an hour to tell me what was wrong. It took him that long to run through all the various diversions he felt compelled to run through before finally being honest about the fact that he was suffering and needed me.
You women who read this will know what I am talking about—the way the men in our lives can emotionally exhaust us more than our children do.
Children are simple and direct: “Mommy, I am tired and hungry. Mommy, I miss Grandpa, and I am sad.” Their wants and fears come out easily, then the tears, then the hugs and kisses and the soothing, and it is over.
Not so with men.
Over the course of their wayward socialization and upbringing, men’s emotional directness has been bred right out of them…unless it’s something they can solve with a fist fight. If they have to cope with an emotion that is not anger (or that can’t be translated into anger), they are lost.
We women pay the price.
That’s because we are not just their wives and lovers. We are their best friends and the stand-ins for the mothers whose skirts they once cried into as little boys. They do not have our network of emotional sustenance. We fill our emotional buckets with the kind and encouraging words of other women. It is a resource men lack. If they do not have an understanding wife or girlfriend, their emotional buckets stand empty.
I have said this often enough on this blog—that women are the one and only emotional stand-in for men in most cases. Even your husband’s best friend isn’t going to be capable of much more than a pat on the back, followed by, “Hey, how about we go for a ride?”
A male friend said to me recently, “For men, emotional sustenance is supposed to be provided by a beer and a football game.”
But when beer and sports don’t cut it, the lucky few with loving women in their lives will come limping and sheepish to our arms, beating around the bush for a couple of hours, but coming nonetheless—to women who, more often than not, have just finished a 10-hour day at the office, made a barely competent dinner for the family, bathed, soothed, and put to bed a couple of kids, and are now sitting blithely for the first time all day on the floor in a corner of the bedroom gleefully painting toenails red. Thrilled for the first moment of peace and absence of need in their lives.
But then the man intrudes like a roving brown bear.
The best among us will set aside the red toenail polish, summon our last ounce of understanding and tolerance, and listen. But sometimes we just cannot help it. We turn the look of death on the beaten down husband, fling the bottle of red nail polish at the quickly closing door, and peevishly deny him sex for a week.
It’s not that we are cruel, guys. (And yes, I know you are reading this, slightly aghast.) It’s that we are exhausted. Women’s lives, whether because of biology or socialization, are loaded with caregiving—we tend to the emotional needs of our children, our friends, our lovers, our colleagues, even our pets, and we do it like it is second nature (because it is), but because we do it all day for days on end, we eventually run down, especially when the caregiving is sparingly returned.
One of my girlfriends told me recently she is actually grateful her husband has a few female friends. “It takes some of the heat off me,” she explains. “I get so bitchy when he’s needy.”
It’s not that we are angry at our husband’s or boyfriend’s failure to be an invincible knight in shining armor. Most of us are realists, and we do not expect men to fight off their dragons all on their own. We don’t think men in emotional need are weak. In fact, when we first fall in love, we find this sensitivity about them wonderfully endearing.
But sometimes, we do resent his deep emotional dependence on us, a dependence we do not share because we usually have female friends and relatives who tend to our emotional bucket filling long before the man in our life ever shows up with a water hose. By day’s end, we have often already been hosed down, dried off, and are ready for that glass of wine and a book in front of the fire.
But instead, in walks this man who has no deep emotional connection to anyone but us, and we can see from the wild look in his eyes that he is needy. And, as one of my girlfriends put it recently, because men have so much pent up emotional baggage, their need often turns into what she terms “emotional diarrhea.” She adds, “It’s like a contagion, and it can take over your life.”
Pretty soon your peaceful evening has turned into his dumping ground, as he recounts his screwed up day, awaits your verification that he is wonderful and his boss is just an idiot, and depends on you to restore his sense of manhood by sharing a rousing romp in the hay just to seal the deal that all is well.
Pretty soon it’s 2 a.m.
He is snoring peacefully, and you’re lying awake staring at the ceiling fan, wondering if any of your girlfriends are awake doing the same thing.
For the men who are reading this and wondering if they have deeply erred in sharing that most vulnerable part of themselves with their wives and lovers, let me provide some assurance: if the women in your life have to come your aid (no matter if they are staring at the ceiling wide awake at 2 a.m. afterwards), they adore you. Even if you’ve gotten a door slammed behind you with a bottle of red nail polish thrown against it a few times, still…rest assured…they love you.
If you can give a little back in return, then give it. Even if it as clumsy as a bouquet of flowers, still, give it. The acknowledgement will not go unnoticed. The women in your life do not need you so much as you think (sorry to disappoint, gentlemen). As a dear friend of mine puts it, women have other resources at the ready for their emotional sustenance: “Women are like the inflatable insulation that is blown into the wall and attic spaces of old houses — they simply know where the gaps exist and fill them, intrinsically. The men are not capable… It’s when we expect them to be that things go south.”
It is so true. Occasionally, however, give the unexpected. Fill a gap here and there, and watch that woman who has thrown a few too many bottles of nail polish and…ahem…other things at you morph into something a good deal softer and a good deal more ready to be there for you when life runs, as it will, counter to your expectations.
Posted by Susannah on Feb 10, 2013 in Motherhood
, Success Guide
, Travel Archives
With the kids in St. Peter’s Square
I finally succumbed to sitting on the grotty stoop of the apartment building by the bus stop. I leaned away as residents pushed by me to enter their building, muttering something in Italian. Looking directly up from my perch was another striking old building. By this point, I was less into the architectural details and more interested in how the little overhang protected us from the drizzle, which had progressed well past the tolerable early evening mist. It was well past dark. The kids and I were damp, and although it was July, we were getting chilly from sitting still as we huddled in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the Vatican.
We had crossed the street back and forth and jumped around the block from bus stop to bus stop. Most of the drivers were kind, and though their facility in English was about as good as my knowledge of Italian, they each assured me that their bus went nowhere near our hotel. How that was possible puzzled me since our little hotel was in the historical center just off a major thoroughfare. Isn’t there some saying about all roads leading to Rome? I guessed Rome was just bigger than we realized. I tried not to complain as it was futile. We were so hungry for real food, not gelato or street cart popcorn. I missed my husband and his planning. I longed for the chipper young Parisian women donning perky green uniforms that we had met a few weeks prior in the Paris metro, with ready smiles and pens and maps in hand.
Honestly, I just wanted to cry, but every time my eyes welled up, my children looked all the more hungry and tired. I was alone with them. I knew that had Jorge been here, he would have figured out our transportation home long before we had even left our hotel for the morning. And if he hadn’t taken care to plan, I could gripe and complain to him, as unjust as I knew that behavior now was.
The stark truth was that after more than 2,000 years, Rome was clearly tired of accommodating tourists. And after a nine-week odyssey in Europe with my kids, I was ready to go home.
Abigail and Dylan waiting for the bus as the rain starts to fall in Rome
We were stranded, hungry, tired, and cold. Later when my husband asked why we didn’t just do the obvious and take a cab home, I explained that it hadn’t even been an option for me. When he and I travel, we have a hard and fast rule about walking or public transport whenever possible. It’s cheaper, you see more, and you are given a better glimpse into the lives of the people that a cab can’t give. There were chickens under the seat in Bali, a uniformed school boy traveling alone who was almost too small to make it up the bus steps in Japan, and an interminably hot bus in Egypt by the Libyan border that stopped at a roadside shack with the best ground meat kabobs I have had ever had, along with scary looking big men with big guns, lots of flies, and a yucky hole-in-the-ground toilet. Give up these experiences in exchange for the comfort and security of a cab? I’d rather stay home.
I also confess I had something to prove. I could do this trip alone. I wouldn’t take the easy way out. After a month with my husband in Spain and Morocco, I had five weeks alone with my kids to see a bit of the rest of Europe and I was going to show the kids, myself, and my husband that this life of a gypsy was in their blood. Wanderlust would become a part of their psyche by nature and nurture.
But I wasn’t thinking all those lofty thoughts as I cursed the bus schedule under my breath.
Then the moment of responsibility came to me and I was released from my paralysis. I stood up, looked at my two raincoat-hooded children and knew what we must do. Though I have a habit of making broad proclamations, I knew I couldn’t force anything. At this moment, I asked them if we should start walking. I genuinely wasn’t sure if they had it in them.
They knew it was through the rain, in the dark. I didn’t know how far we would have to go or how long it would take us. We were all dead on our feet. Our legs ached from the long day of walking and standing in our extended tour of the Vatican, preceded by many long days of traveling.
The consensus was to strike out into the dark and start walking in the direction of what we thought was our hotel. We went a block and then another. Soon we had crossed the bridge over the Tiber. Our paces quickened in our soggy shoes as we started to recognize a few landmarks. We had been walking for no more than 15 minutes at that point. We soon became giddy with excitement as we realized we were close. And we had been so close all along. Within less than half an hour, we were back in our neighborhood and looking at the al fresco dining options. The rain had stopped, and though we were still wet, we couldn’t help but notice that we were actually late enough to experience dining with the Romans instead of our usual habit of eating in quiet restaurants that were barely open for the evening hours.
As we were seated with our wet bags and jackets hanging off our chairs, I looked at both of my children. I was so proud of them. Proud of their bravery, their willingness to take that first step away from the security of the bus stop, and their sense of adventure, not just today, but every day on this journey we had taken them on.
I told them that they must never forget what happened that night. Never forget how far away we felt from home, how dark the night seemed, and how discouraging the rain felt. Never be afraid to take that first step away from the complacency of a bus stop into the dark unknown. Avoid the trap of letting the temporary situations of life, like rain and darkness, hunger and fatigue, overwhelm them and keep them from making their way. I wanted them to know they always have the strength to make the journey, to remember that more times than not, we are much closer than we think. Just remember Rome.
And yes…my children do sometimes roll their eyes when I remind them of this night. But I know that as they grow, there will be many moments in their lives that they think that they cannot go on. It’s then that they will remember that night in the dark and the rain in Rome and, I hope, take the necessary steps toward their dreams, whether those dreams are as simple as coming home again or launching themselves onto a completely foreign road in an untried direction.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 26, 2013 in Girlfriends
The three ladies who mentally dissected a cheese plate
I have to confess I’ve not received too many extravagant gifts from men. While I know there are women out there who would appear to belong to “the ring a month club” courtesy of their boyfriends and husbands, that has never been me. The best I’ve gotten from a guy short of an engagement ring is a pair of cross-country skis. (And let me tell you, that was thrilling enough.)
So I have to admit from the outset I don’t exactly come at the whole “guy showers girl with extravagant gifts” thing with a very clear perspective on the issue. Which is no doubt why my current boyfriend has thrown me a bit off kilter…and many of my girlfriends, too, who (like me) have never really experienced much in the wine, roses, and diamonds department.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’d much rather have a kayak or a hiking trip to Peru than a diamond any day, but I’ve not gotten anything along those lines either. However, I digress….
My new beau is a whole different animal from what I’m used to. Not only does he have something on the verge of a conniption fit if I try to lift a 40-pound bag of dog chow out of the trunk of my car, but he insists on stopping along the side of the road to adjust the headlights on my car when I complain about them not performing well enough in the fog. (And yes, he has the tools for things of this nature magically handy at all times.) He also pulls out my chair at dinner (even when it’s at my own house) and refuses to allow me to stand up to refill my own wine glass. He is a model of chivalry, and I still can’t quite get used to it. The attention verges on decadence to my way of thinking.
But one of my well-heeled girlfriends begs to disagree. She does not find it in the least disturbing that he also buys me shoes, scarves, jewelry, new tires for my car, and anything else he can think of to bring a twinge of a smile to my face. In fact, she said to me only yesterday, “This is how a man is supposed to treat a woman, Debbie. He is wooing you.”
If that’s true, what have all the other men in my life been doing the past 20 years?
I’m not the only one asking this question, by the way.
A girls’ getaway to California this last week proved my point…and also proved what I think most educated men already know—that a woman (and a group of women even more so) can take the tiniest shred of an idea and run with it way past left field.
After a day out shopping in Sausalito and strolling through the John Muir Woods, my girlfriends and I returned to our hotel room to find an “edible arrangement” waiting in a refrigerator that the hotel staff had carted up to our room for the very purpose of keeping my chocolate-covered apple slices and pineapples appetizingly chilled. We all knew who the charming culprit was—my boyfriend (whom I will leave unnamed until I am certain I have charmed him to the degree he won’t dump me for talking about him on my blog).
Of course, before any female analysis of the chocolate-covered fruit in the pot could begin, we all set about devouring it as quickly as possible. (I got first dibs on the chocolate-covered strawberries—it was my boyfriend after all.)
Once the four of us were satiated, our bodies strewn across two queen-sized beds, torsos propped on pillows as if we were having a high school slumber party all over again, Sarah piped up, “I don’t think anyone has ever sent me a gift like that when I’ve been away traveling.” I see her cocking her head to the side and getting that slight twitch at the corner of her lip that she gets when she’s about to claim something is suspect. “Have you, Shiloh?”
Shiloh, whose heart has been recently decimated, shakes her head. “No, never.”
Megan, who is in her third trimester, continues munching her chocolate-covered apple slice and offers no opinion.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this either,” I say, though I can sense I have gained temporary “admired woman” status among my friends.
We make a rather hasty group decision (because it’s almost dinner time) to chalk this up to a delightful form of male chivalry and admiration to which all of us are unaccustomed but which seems…well…kind of nice. Who doesn’t like to end their day with chocolate-covered berries and pineapples carved into flowers?
So…out we go to dinner at an Italian café, followed by cocktails and bread pudding at the hotel bar. We return to our hotel room. We are casually sprawled about the room again in our yoga pants and PJs, and there is a knock at the door.
It’s 10 p.m.
We exchange looks. No one moves.
Then Shiloh, the bravest among us, hops up, opens the door, and a white-coated waiter is standing there with a platter loaded with more chocolate-covered berries, grapes, bread, and half a dozen types of cheese. He presents a card. Shiloh opens it, reads it, looks at me.
“Holy shit,” I say, nevermind the presence of the room service waiter.
Of course, as with the first delivery, we really waste no time digging into the edible delights, though we conduct our female analysis of the situation in tandem with the devouring of Stilton on rye.
“Um,” Sarah finally volunteers, her lip curling just a little again, “does this strike you as a bit over the top?
Shiloh and I look up in mid-chew.
“It is a little over the top,” Shiloh says.
“Twice in one day,” Sarah adds.
I nod and put down my goat cheese, feeling a bit disconcerted. Something about the decadence of it all is starting to unnerve me.
I can see Sarah’s brain at work. She is thinking, Is this guy a stalker? Is he marking his turf? Is he just loaded and has nothing better to do with his money?
I decide to take a shower, knowing that as soon as the bathroom door closes behind me, the girls will start analyzing, saying all the things they don’t dare say in front of me…not yet anyway. (That is how women are. Whoever leaves the room will undoubtedly become the subject of the conversation.)
Ten minutes later when I re-enter the bedroom, all is rather quiet, as if some conclusion has been reached without my consent. “He’s not an idiot,” Sarah says. “He is trying to impress your friends, too. He knows the weight of female opinion.” And Shiloh and I have to admit there is some truth in this. After all, I’ve ditched guys I might never have ditched based on the weight of female opinion. What man in his right mind would dare anger the girlfriend contingent? And, conversely, not try to woo them, too?
There is no more discussion of the edible arrangement and room service cheese plate, however, until late the next day. I am in Macy’s in Union Square, waiting for Shiloh to purchase deadly stilettos and a red coat. I call the man who has been the subject of so much feminine analysis.
After some chatting, I remark that the girls and I will be returning to the hotel soon to eat the remainder of yesterday’s cheese plate.
“Wait a minute. What did you say?” he asks.
“The chocolate-covered strawberries and cheese plate you had delivered to our room late last night,” I say.
“What?” He is a little perplexed. “That was supposed to have been delivered tonight.”
I am overcome with relief at these words. I make haste of our conversation and run to Sarah’s side. “Guess what?! The room service was supposed to come tonight. It was a mistake!”
Her face lights up. “Thank God!” she says. “Two deliveries in one day is too much, too much like a cat pissing on his territory. This is excellent news.”
We share this latest tidbit with Shiloh, who also shows great relief.
And then Sarah says, “We really need to call room service and complain.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because you might have ended the relationship over this,” she explains. “Remember last night how we were analyzing? Thinking he was too intense? Wondering if he didn’t have a screw or two loose in showering you with so much attention in one day?”
“Yes,” I agree, “we did take it rather far.”
“But then it’s also disturbing how much we can read into a cheese plate,” Sarah adds.
“I think we should get a complimentary cheese plate in restitution for the error,” Shiloh suggests.
We all nod, and when we get back to the hotel room, Shiloh takes charge of the situation, calls room service, explains the near-relationship-ending error they have made, and receives a response from the maitre de of “Oh, yes that was shitty of us.”
Half an hour later, we have a new cheese plate along with complimentary spring water. “The berries will be coming later,” says the waiter. “We have to heat up the chocolate. So sorry.”
Even the waiter knows not to mess with a room full of tittering females bent on analysis of male motives. Though in our heart of hearts we also know that to a man, a cheese plate is a cheese plate, and a chocolate-dipped strawberry is just something you give to a woman you love…and her girlfriends you are trying to charm.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 23, 2013 in Men
One of Mark Twain’s most famous and often quoted lines is “Familiarity breeds contempt…and children.” How well many of us identify with this quip, especially the first part, which actually isn’t exactly funny. Only last week, I was chatting with a colleague who said, “I’ve been married 40 years, and I’m just grateful my wife still speaks to me.”
I suspect many of us who are married (or have been) have asked ourselves if this is just the way things are. We marry, as a friend of mine says he did, as a result of drinking too much alcohol (wife no.1) or “a momentary lapse of reason” (wife no. 2) and hope for the best, thinking if we get lucky our lives might look a little something like a fairytale.
Cautionary fable might be more like it, however.
A friend of mine told me the other night after I found my brain rattled by yet another run-in with love gone awry, “Your life reads like a movie.” The comment was uttered partly in admiration and partly in an “it’s entertaining to hear about, but I sure wouldn’t want to live it” manner of speaking. You see, I’ve been proposed to six times. That I turned down four of those offers would make me appear wise. The problem is I accepted two. I only wish I had the excuse that I was drunk at the time.
I’m not sure marriage is the problem though. My friends and I often talk about the poisonous metals present in wedding rings that make the wearer turn into a creature no longer recognizable—a beast who has become demanding, critical, resentful, and likely to take advantage of all his or her partner’s weaknesses. I do not necessarily excuse myself from having been poisoned by 14 karat gold rings. Maybe next time I’ll try platinum.
My ex-husband says marriage sets up expectations where there were none before, and that’s the downfall of us all.
I have to disagree (no surprise there—the poisonous wedding band metals are likely still in my system).
I’m not exactly a hopeless romantic either. I’ve never subscribed to the idea of “soul mates.” I remain unconvinced there is one man out there destined to fulfill all of my romantic desires. That being said, however, I do believe in true love.
What is true love?
Well, I’ll tell you…it’s certainly not what you think. It’s not love at first sight. It’s not the passion you feel when the devastatingly handsome man with the sparkly brown eyes kisses you for the first time. It’s not the chest flutters you get when you think of him. All of that, my dears, is infatuation. And infatuation is fleeting. Even love is fleeting.
But true love: that is something else entirely, and I guarantee it is not something the father of American colloquial letters ever experienced.
How do I know?
I know because familiarity makes true love grow. Whereas the love most of us experience and marry into begins as a bright flame that gradually sputters and often even goes out completely, true love can begin tentatively (though not always) and then widens and deepens with time and familiarity.
It does not retreat over time. It builds.
I’ve heard psychologists say the average person experiences true love only once a lifetime, twice if he or she is lucky. Those statistics are pretty sad. It means when you find it (if you’re smart enough to recognize it and, even more importantly, nurture it) you better damn well hang onto it.
Unfortunately, most of us never find it, or, if we do, we kill it as promptly as we can or maybe even deter it from growing in the first place. That’s because true love is scary as hell.
I should know. I’ve experienced it at least once, a fact which terrifies me to no small degree at the tender age of 37 given that true love experience number one didn’t work out so well. If psychologists are to be believed, I’m on my last chance at this gig.
I had my first experience of true love quite accidentally. It was one of those “I have nothing to lose” relationships I thought would never last that makes one go full out on vulnerability, risk, and “reckless honesty,” as fellow contributor Susannah Herrada likes to call it. The interesting side effect of throwing all caution to wind is that it connects you with another human being on levels the average romantic relationship never experiences.
I have frequently tried to explain this to people who have never experienced it, and usually, at best, I receive blank looks. Other times, I find my sanity questioned. So I’ll make an effort here to tell you what I’m talking about, to tell you what true love looks like. Maybe you’ve seen it, experienced it. Maybe it’s right there in front of you waiting to happen if only you will let go of all your inhibitions, fears, and resentments.
You know you have a case of true love on your hands, friends, when you not only experience all the usual characteristics of love (or infatuation) like persistent thinking about that beautiful man with the sky blue eyes and persistent longing for him but also the ability to feel that persistent longing (and find it deepening) with time. And I don’t mean the growth of infatuation over a few months. I mean that two or three years into the relationship you love that person more than you did after six months’ acquaintance, and you find that love deepening with each passing day. It’s that rare kind of love you might see once in a blue moon when a couple who has been married 50 years is still holding hands and kissing on the front porch at sunset.
Where true love is concerned, you not only love your beloved’s finest qualities but you love his weaknesses, too. You don’t just accept those weaknesses, you love them. And you long to protect them, not use them to manipulate and harm. This is a person whose eyes you can gaze into for hours, maybe days, without boredom. And again, you still feel this desire after years and years. There is nothing he can do to deter you from loving him. You may feel anger against him, but it does not diminish your love, no matter how much you may wish it would.
You see, true love is not all wine and roses. In fact, it can hurt to the core, even when it is good. Because when you love someone to the depth that you reveal all of yourself, every last shred of your vulnerability, you make that person a part of you. It’s not living on tenterhooks, mind you. True love is a deeply secure feeling, but it is deeply painful when the beloved is outside your reach. It is the kind of love Pablo Neruda describes in Sonnet XVII when he says it is a love “where I does not exist, nor you / so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, / so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”
True love is the kind of love that risks all without hesitation. It says, “I trust you. Take all that I have, and I lose nothing.”
But before you jump up and raise your hand, and say, “Yes! Yes! I’ve seen that! I’ve known that!” examine your love. I once loved a man so deeply and fully and accepted and adored all that he was, even the qualities others saw as liabilities, that I offered, if need be, to sacrifice all that I knew to occupy a space beside him till death. I waited for him “like a lonely house,” windows aching, and when he would not come of his own volition, I gave him a hard shove, an ultimatum.
And still he would not take that final leap into space that says, “I will expend the last full measure of my devotion for love of you.”
I found myself facing the hard reality that I felt true love for him, but he did not feel it for me. As a friend of mine once said to me, “Real love does not need shoving.”
The object of my affection, you see, had given doubt a foothold and allowed it to fester until he was overcome with fear, as most of us are, of giving way to full-on vulnerability, the vulnerability that says “be willing to give up all that you know to get something better.”
It’s the same kind of fear, you see, that makes people miserable in their jobs fail to leave them to start the business they’ve always dreamed of owning or that prevents a grand move to another continent when a delightfully tantalizing (if frightening) opportunity beckons.
You have to give up to get. It is a law of nature. Death of one thing is necessary to create life in another.
You may be wondering how I have fared in this grand scheme of true love gone awry. Well, I can say I have fared better than the man who let me go. At least I will never need ask “what if?” I threw my heart into the ring and risked its pulverization, found it pulverized, in fact. And when the dust had settled, I picked up the pieces, poured them into my pocket, and set about the long, slow process of putting them all back together for round two.
Because yes, there will be a round 2.
That is how life goes. The lessons keep coming until we learn them.
I often wonder if the man I believed to be the love of my life will ever learn his own. In the aftermath of the end of that relationship, he said to me, “I am a fool. I will regret this all my life.”
It may be so.
But only if when his round 2 comes, he commits the same error a second time.
I wish I knew the secret to finding true love. I still am not certain if it requires a certain mix of two people. I am not certain if you can have it with one person but not another. I do know, however, that it’s worth trying on for size. That person who is in your life right now, that sometimes makes your heart skip a beat, consider taking the frightening risk of being real with him and see where it leads.
Because one thing I do know is that you will never find true love by being anything other than who you are and loving someone else for any other reason than that he is being exactly the same—the person he is and wants to be.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 9, 2013 in Stories From the Road
, Travel Archives
For those of you who are mainly followers of the wacky musings on this blog and not my more conventional fare, it may interest you to know I actually earn a living as a professional journalist, too. And occasionally, I get paid to do things that are loads of fun–like write columns about road trips. If travel floats your boat and, like me, you’re more interested in local color than necessarily hitting all the high points of a particular place, then check out my new “Stories from the Road” series, a monthly column in Cooperative Living magazine that launched this month.
In the January issue, I chat with Brunswick County, Va. stewmaster Col. George Daniel, who dubs himself “the Dale Earnhardt of the stew crews.” That would be the stew crews who participate in the annual Taste of Brunswickheld each October just off old Route 1 near Alberta. “I rag on everybody,” says Daniel, and it’s easy enough to believe. His Red Oak Stew Crew has been champion of the event many years running.
The Dale Earnhardt of Brunswick Stew: George Daniels
If you’d like to taste some Brunswick stew in Brunswick County, head to the Alberta General Store, the centerpiece of a one-dog town where you’ll find the heights and weights of local children recorded on a support post at the back of the cafe. “Uncle” Chuck Johnson is the stewmaster here, and he serves up a mean bowl…though not as good as Daniel’s…at least that’s what Daniel says….