The Meaning of Big Brothers

15 Jun

The boys. That’s what we called my big brothers growing up. They are eleven months apart, so they’ve essentially been a pair from the beginning.

My brothers have always had each other’s backs. Dave once intercepted Dan’s “warning notice” from middle school and called their shared answering machine to leave him a message in hushed tones: “Dan, go in the closet and check your left boot.” These heroic acts of brotherhood occurred often. (Of course my mom heard the message first and totally appreciated the explicit directions.)

It’s obvious that Dan and Dave have a special bond. But as their little sister, what I appreciate most is the kind of brothers they’ve been to me.

Admittedly, I’m biased. But it seems to me that every little girl ought to be blessed with a big brother. Lucky me—I have two.

When my mom brought me home from the hospital and lay me down in the crib, my oldest brother Dave made his first brotherly sacrifice. Just five years old, he marched into my room and covered me with his Sesame Street blanket, announcing: “I’m a big boy now so I’m gonna give this to baby Lauren so she will be happy.”

My brothers quickly became my heroes. I wanted to be just like them.

At age two, I made my own bold announcement: “I’m ready to be a big girl now!” Then I removed my diaper and attempted to pee standing up. My mother had to explain, much to my dismay, that I couldn’t pee like the boys. Ladies must sit–a fact I still find terribly inconvenient.

When I was eight I attempted to join the football team, but Mom said no and offered cheerleading as an alternative. Standing on the sidelines with pom-poms in hand, I fantasized about being out on the field in a helmet and heavy shoulder pads. I sat on the kitchen counter and watched the boys dip their mouth guards in microwaved hot water, preparing to create a perfect mould. When they weren’t home, I tried on their jerseys and swiped black goop across my cheeks.

Awkward photos, tucked away in boxes at Mom’s house, feature me in hand-me-down neon Umbros and boy-short hair. I hacked worms in half to watch them squirm, climbed sap-coated trees, played on a boys baseball team, sat happily-strapped to the front of charter boat with a fishing pole in hand, and traipsed up and down our driveway in oversized jeans, a boom box on my shoulder blasting Dave’s Naughty by Nature tape.

I tried, despite emerging breasts and a monthly reminder of my womanhood, to be one of the boys. And my brothers, for the most part, let me in on their fun.

Because my dad was president of our town football club, we hosted weigh-in-eve parties at our house. The kids watched team footage and took turns in the sweat box, trying to shed those last pounds. These nights threw a wrench in my tomboy identity. I was pumped about hanging out and watching films, but also unexpectedly delighted by the sight of sweaty, shirtless teenage boys.

Hormones continued to course through my body until one day in the midst of a middle school social studies class, a boy turned to me and said: You really need to wear a bra or something. I should’ve punched him in the nose. Instead, I hid in a bathroom stall and cried.

And it’s in my growth from that insecure twelve year-old tomboy to a confident woman that my brothers have played the most significant role.

This influence began in seventh grade, when a boy from Cherry Hill with a skater cut and a single mom moved to town. I hung around like a limp dish towel while he hooked up with each of my friends until finally, finally he decided to be my boyfriend.

Throwing in a load of laundry one afternoon, my mom found a neatly-folded note in the pocket of my jeans:

Lauren,

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you f**k me
I’ll f**k you

Love, Brandon

I mean, what was so bad about your twelve year-old daughter receiving such a note from her boyfriend? I, for one, was secretly thrilled. A boy thought I was attractive enough to have sex with. Not that I understood much about sex, but I felt special.

A few days later I watched from an upstairs window, tears streaming dramatically down my face, as Brandon paced the corner across the street from my house.

Oh. My. God. I thought. My parents are so cruel, forcing him to bow down and apologize like this.

To his credit, Brandon did cross that street and say he was sorry. He listened to my mother’s speech about respecting her daughter. I, too, listened from the top of the stairs, and briefly considered throwing myself down them.

It wasn’t until my brothers threatened to “kill that kid” that I finally realized something was wrong. It’s one thing for your parents to disapprove of your badass boyfriend. It’s quite another when the disapproval comes from your big brothers, who happen to be your idols. I pretended to be embarrassed by their threat, but the next day I went to school and told my boyfriend he better not speak to me that way again ‘cause my big brothers would kick his ass.

The boys had their mean moments, too. When I was ten, Dave told me the Laura’s Fudge shop on the boardwalk was named after me because I looked like I ate a lot of fudge. Dan told me that being a Virgo meant I’d be a virgin for the rest of my life. They poked me and pinched me and told me to leave them alone. They held me underwater as my limbs flailed and rubbed my face in the snow. Typical brotherly antics.

At the time I cried and tattled to my parents. Once I phoned Mom at work to tell her David had called me a bad word, one I couldn’t say out loud. “Spell it,” my mom said. “B. i. c. h.” I heard muffled laughter–why wasn’t she wasn’t taking this more seriously?

But now? Now I’m a tough girl. Not in a worm-killing, tomboy kind of way, but in a speak-my-mind, don’t-take-crap-from-people kind of way. I have my brothers to thank for that.

The boys support my endeavors, my adventures, and my passions. Whenever I get a new job, they are two of the first to congratulate me. They take me to Phillies games, befriend the guys I date, and these days, they even pay my tabs. We aren’t just siblings, we are friends.

Dan lives in New Jersey, Dave lives in Florida, and I live halfway in-between. But having big brothers means knowing that, even from 600 miles away, there are two people willing to kick some ass for me. A long time ago I stopped wishing to be a boy. But I still want to be just like my brothers, who are two of the finest people I know.

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Becoming the Wind

10 Jun

On a sunny morning last summer I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing, unable to get up. I say “I found myself” because it was like an out-of-body experience. As though I stumbled upon this girl, a heaving pile of limbs, and I could do nothing to help her.

Thankfully, someone else was there to scoop me up off the floor, put me in the car, and take me to the doctor.

While I sat in a bare clinic room, cheeks sticky with tears, he made the difficult call to my mom, gingerly explaining to her what was happening. My parents were on a plane to Asheville the next morning.

And there were other knights in shining armor. A friend who called me from the endodontist’s chair after I sent him a text message asking for help; who got me out of the house for a walk in the woods; who sat with me at Urgent Care, dropped off my prescription, and took me for a slice of pizza. Another friend came to spend the night with me, armed with movies and the willingness to listen. One thing I know for sure: I am a lucky woman to be supported with such love.

The most difficult thing to explain is just how I reached such a low state. From the outside, things seemed to be looking up. I had just completed a master’s degree, moved into a new apartment, built a solid group of friends, and was dating a lovely guy. But something was off.

Trying situations had been amassing over the previous year: heartbreak, loss, unemployment, and that whole 26-and-directionless quarter-life crisis thing. In June I came to the painful (and expensive) realization that I didn’t want to do the very thing I’d just spent two years becoming qualified to do. In July my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. By August, I’d been unemployed for months, couldn’t pay any of my bills, and had no desire to do anything productive.

That last part was the scariest. A total paralysis. Here was a girl who has essentially worked since she was 16, now utterly afraid to seek employment. I couldn’t even imagine myself interviewing for a job, let alone having one. What if I broke down crying in front of my boss? What if I couldn’t get up in the morning and had to call out? I felt pathetic. Suck it up, I kept telling myself, millions of people are much worse off than you. But for some reason, I just couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed by change. Nearly every single aspect of my life had changed in the course of a year, and it felt like life was happening to me. Worse yet, every time something good came along I clung to it with a death-grip that immediately strangled it out of existence.

We have all observed change in nature and called it beautiful: fall leaves like glowing embers, an emerging butterfly, grapes fermenting into wine. Of course, these changes mean that something has died, and without death this beauty wouldn’t exist. Yet when death reveals itself in our immediate lives, we resist, turn away, or dig our fingernails deep in a panicked attempt to hold on.

Depression is a strange friend, in many ways. Often brought on by separation or loss, it beats you down until you have no choice left but to give up or stand up (or let someone pick you up…). General sadness does not compel such transformation–it allows you to keep trucking along, thinking tomorrow might be better.

“Standing up” and moving beyond depression is not about stubornness nor determination. It’s about letting go and becoming the wind, as Rilke puts it in the poem below.

Through yoga, long chats, books and yes, a brief stint on medication, the tide shifted. Yoga, in particular, is teaching me how to embrace change. What was the worst time of my life turned out be the bearer of life’s greatest fruits: the “children” of whom Rilke writes. For me, these children were deeper friendships, a renewed passion for writing, and a sense of belonging in this little mountain town of mine. Right now, that is happiness.

When life changes drastically again, as it inevitably will, I’ll remind myself of all I’ve gained from loss. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do what Rilke suggests…

***

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two XII

The Civil Wars

4 Jun

Living down in Dixie has changed me, no doubt. “Y’all” seems to pop out of my mouth a dozen times a day. I’ve taken a major liking to pickup trucks. And the one thing I swore I’d never like, I kinda like now… country music.

Okay, country music lite. The kind that “real” country music fans scoff at: Taylor Swift. Carrie Underwood. The Dixie Chicks. And then there are the folk artists: Ray LaMontagne, Mumford and Sons. Johnny Cash used to be the only exception to my distaste for country. But these days I’ve been known to sing along to a Rascal Flatts song. (Hey, that Broken Road tune is catchy…)

Which brings me to The Civil Wars. I call them folk, others call them country. Either way, they are damn good. So good that they were the opening act for Adele (before she cancelled her remaining tour dates due to illness), whose album is currently the best-selling in the country and whose single is sitting pretty at number 1 on the Billboard 100. If you’re opening for perhaps the hottest act in the country right now, you must be doing something right.

The story behind The Civil Wars is, well, boring. John Paul White and Joy Williams met at a songwriting session in Nashville and eventually decided to put their solo careers on hold and start a band. Their music is anything but boring. Minimalist, yes. But not boring. And people are starting to notice. The Civil Wars’ only studio album, Barton Hollow (Feb 2011), landed at number 12 on the Billboard 200 and number 2 on the Folk charts. The duo also put out two EPs: Live at Eddie’s Attic and Poison & Wine. The former is available for free digital download on their website.

First, my favorite: A haunting version of My Only Sunshine. Second, Adele’s favorite: Poison & Wine, the band’s first single.

*

Chill Out!

3 Jun

If we were making a What’s Hot, What’s Not chart, gourmet cupcakes would probably land on the not hot side. It’s true, the cupcake obsession has become so overblown that people are flat-out tired of hearing about them (though we doubt anyone is tired of eating them). And if you’re thinking of starting a cupcake bakery, you’re going to have to fight off a lot of frosting-gun weilding competitors.

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

What’s hot in the world of gourmet snacks is actually quite cold: ice pops! Just as the fancy-shmancy cupcake craze turned a basic home-baked goody into a 5-star tastebud affair, ice pop entreprenuers are taking flavored ice to a whole new level.

Perhaps the most famous pop-shop in the country, Las Paletas in Nashville, TN is named after the gourmet pop’s origin. Paletas–derived from the Spanish word palo, which means stick–have been a staple of Mexican childhood for decades. Immigrants brought them to the States, where paletas are sold as street food in Latin American communities. While the pops are traditionally made with fresh fruit, gourmet shops are adding ingredients you probably wouldn’t imagine on a stick: avocado, hibiscus, rhubarb, basil, and my personal favorite: tequila. We hope someone opens an ice pop bar, where all cocktails are served frozen on a stick. (Word is, Bar Ninteen12 serves up a mean martini popsicle.)

In honor of sticky-fingered summer days, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best gourmet ice pop makers in the country. And in case there isn’t a pop-monger near you, we’ve rangled up a few recipes for cocktail popsicle treats.

Las Paletas

Las Paletas has been featured on The Food Network multiple times, even playing host to Bobby Flay’s Throwdown (the Paz sisters took Flay down with their Pineapple-Chile concoction). This place is so famous it apparently doesn’t need a website, but you can find them in Nashville, TN.

 

People’s Pops

At several market locations in New York City, People’s pushes pops in flavors like Apricot-Caramel, Spiced Pear, Blueberry Chai and Rhubarb-Hibiscus. Each is handmade using local, sustainably-grown, organic ingredients.

 

Locopops

Summer Bicknell left her corporate job to launch Locopops, based in eastern North Carolina, in 2005. She didn’t just jump in blind. Bicknell actually spent three months apprenticing at a paleteria in Michoacan, Mexico (folklore has it that the first paleta was created in Michaocan). Flavors past and present include Mexican Chocolate, Mango Chile, and White Chocolate Sesame.

Pleasant Pops

College friends Brian and Roger brought gourmet paletas to Washington DC in 2010, where you can get ’em from a truck, a farmer’s market stand, or even on campus at George Washington University. Pleasant Pops ingredeints come from local farmers, and they offer more than 40 flavors including Thai Coconut Curry Cream, Blueberry Pancake, Guac Pop (Avocado Lime), and Watermelon Black Pepper.

Your fave ice pop maker didn’t make the list? Let me know and I’ll add ’em!

Photo: People's Pops

Mojito Pops

2 ounces Bacardi Light Rum           
3 ounces fresh lime juice                       
3 ounces simple syrup          
2.5 cups lemon lime soda              
12 fresh mint leaves                         
3 cups ice cubes                         

Combine ingredients into blender with ice.  Puree until mixture is smooth and slushy. Pour into 6 popsicle molds, add popsicle sticks and freeze for 8 hours.

Cucumber, Elderflower & Tequila

(courtesy People’s Pops & WSJ)

3 medium cucumbers
3 ounces elderflower syrup
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Approx. 1 ounce tequila

Wash and peel cucumbers, then puree them. Transfer puree to a container with a pouring spout and add the elderflower syrup and lemon juice. Next, add the tequila to taste. Be careful not to add too much tequila as it will prevent freezing. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds, leaving a little bit of room at the top for the expansion that occurs when liquids freeze. Insert sticks and freeze 4-6 hours, until solid.

Soak It In

1 Jun
Bath fantasies: I have a lot of them. Most involve me, a novel, pillowy poofs of bubbles, and a flute of champagne. The more interesting ones feature chocolate-covered strawberries, candle pillars, and that French guy from the Sex and the City movie.
 
These fantasies have never come to fruition, and not just because the French beaut has been busy on Dancing with the Stars and Brothers & Sisters (besides, he’s really more famous for showering…). The real problem: I simply cannot get over that icky feeling of my bare bum on the tub floor. No matter how clean the porcelain, it feels slimy against my skin. And then there’s the yuck-factor induced by stewing in water contaminated by dirt and dead skin cells. Surely I’ve whetted your appetite for a lovely bath?
 
Those tub-lovers are out there, though, as well as plenty others who are more in love with the idea of the tub. (Especially those vintagey clawfoot ones.) So if you’re one of the former, you’ll enjoy using the bath accoutrements below. And if, like me, you prefer the fantasy to reality–then you’ll enjoy positioning them around the bath, where they will look quite pretty.
 

I’m a sucker for packaging. This is some of the most alluring I’ve ever seen. If these bottles arrived at my house filled with rat poison, I wouldn’t mind. I desire them purely for their prettiness. If you’re into the actual bubble bath, though, rest assured. The Relax Evening Bubble Bath is a luxurious blend of white orchid, Tahitian vanilla, bee blossom honey, Indian amber, and moisturizing olive fruit, avocado, almond oils and vitamin E. Or for a more feminine scent try the Breathe Tranquil Bubble Bath, which features peony and white lily.

 

 

Lollia Foaming Bubble Bath

 

 

Yeah, so I’m not really sure why you’d need regular bubble bath and foaming bubble bath. But you might once you lay eyes on this screened glass decanter adorned with a Chinoiserie bird. Inside: Imagine Foaming Bubble Bath, a fragrance with hints of willow, lotus, orchid, rice flower, coconut milk, mandarin and jasmine.

 

 

 

Beekman 1802 Milk Shake Bath Soak

 

 

Love the old-school apothecary look of this soak, which is comprised of dehydrated goat milk and mineral salts. True, I’d rather dine on goat cheese than lie around in a goat milk stew, but apparently this stuff contains skin-healing  properties. Plus, the dropper is filled with essential oils, to be combined with the soak and tossed into your warm bath.

 

 

Truly Aesthetic Bath Affirmations

These neat little tubes contain bath salts and remind me of those sand art bottles we used to make at the town fair as kids (minus the neon colors). Each test tube includes a positive affirmation scroll to help start or end your day on an uplifting note. Varieties included in this set: Enliven Coconut Basil, Repose Thyme Lavender, Harmonize Juniper Berry Grapefruit, Fortify Mango Peppermint, and Thrive Camomile Eucalyptus.

Fiat Luxe Felted Soap

 

 

Oddly reminiscint of a Fraggle, the swirly wool pouch surrounding this yummy soap is both exfoliating and anti-fungal. The soap comes in six flavors, each with it’s own felt design: Fir, Citrus Spice, Amber, Lavender, Lavender Mint, and Verbena (my favorite!). Though pricey, the soap is designed to last longer than a regular bar. Plus, it’s pretty, reusable and economy-boosting (handmade here in the States).

 

 

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My pup shares my distaste for baths.

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