You’ve come a long way baby

photo of a boy near leaves
Photo by Min An on

When I was a little kid I was very shy. You know that kid that hides behind all the adult’s legs and peeks around afraid to get too close?  Yep, that was me. I think my mom referred to me as a late bloomer. When the time came, I was not excited in the least to go to school. I would actually have to talk to people there. Ugh. As the summer wore on and September loomed closer my anxiety grew.  I am the last of five kids and four of those siblings attended the very same, very small Catholic school. Everyone knew everyone. You would think that would give me comfort. Except my brothers were (and I’m trying to be kind here), rambunctious boys. Saying that you knew our family may not have been a compliment.  Our family had a certain reputation at school.

So day one rolls around, I can recall the dread that wedged in the pit of my stomach as vividly as I can the plaid of my uniform skirt. I had a nun for a teacher that year. In my memory, all of the nuns looked the same so I can’t really remember her name. In my head, I have always just called her Sister Mary Penguin. This being a very traditional school in the 60’s, we were seated alphabetically. Was there any other option? My last name started with A, so I was in the first row and the first seat. Ok, ok. I could do this. I was a master of not being noticed so this prominent seat was a challenging position. But with my ninja-master-level skill of melting into the background, all would be fine. Then the bell rang and school started and that theory went out the window.

Sister Mary P introduces herself, she talks about the day and what it will be like and she is really nice. Oh, and they have books there. Books that I can take home and read! Whew. Maybe this whole school thing isn’t going to be so bad after all. Then it happened.

Sister asked us to introduce ourselves. Stand up and say our name IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. OMG. This was not good. I had to speak in front of these strangers. I’m in the pole position. I’m first. I stand up on shaking legs and mumble my name. The nun, in what I am sure was an attempt to engage with me, says that I have a long last name and asked if I knew how to spell it. Seriously?  Of course, I did. It’s eleven letters long and I’m proud of myself for knowing so and I start to spell. A—–R—–C—H– – – – Mid letter I can’t take it, I can feel all those eyes just staring at me. It’s super hot in the room. My uniform is scratchy and I think I have to pee. The anxiety gets the better of me, and I throw up. Not the little ick it’s just in my mouth kind, but I mean like a bucket full of vomit. Go big or go home has always been my motto.

The room went still. No one said anything. Time was frozen. The kids in that classroom were the same kids that I spent the next eight years with. My worst nightmare had just come true. Sister finally broke the silence and grabbed the trash can but it was too late. The janitor had to come and put sawdust on the floor, the windows were opened and the class was pretty much disrupted. Welcome to First grade, Mari.

Somehow, I survived that year. I put one foot in front of the other and made it through. Sister Mary P was kind and somehow I didn’t get a cruel nickname over the incident. I was lucky that time. I had plenty of other times when I didn’t skate by so easily, but that’s for another post.

My stepdad got remarried last year in the church that was next to the school. The morning of the wedding Keith and I got there a little early and as we sat in the parking lot, waiting to go into the church to celebrate the day, the memory of that first day of school flooded back to me. I recalled the shame, the humiliation, the dread, and realized that I have come such a long way. It would be so easy for me to hold onto the negative part of this memory and to dwell in the pain. For me though, I want to start looking at these parts of my life as gifts. I am grateful for those experiences. Let me make this clear I wasn’t grateful at the time, but I am trying to look back and see the lessons I was being taught. I have come to believe that all of the crap we go through in life are assignments from the universe. I have the opportunity to learn something every day. It’s when I fall down and fail spectacularly I learn that I can get up that I learn how strong I really am.

Just don’t ask me to spell my maiden name.








Brunch is overrated

Keith and I have been married for 8 years now. We have children from both of our previous marriages. I have a son and a daughter, and he has 3 boys.  Together we have one four-legged furbaby,  Zoey. We all have had challenges blending these two families together. My kids were older and more independent. His oldest boy was not even in High School at the time. When I told a friend about our engagement, she asked me in surprise what I was thinking? I was almost done with raising kids why would I want to start over again? Good question with just one answer. I loved Keith. His boys were a part of him, so I was willing to take that chance. He was a package deal.

I saw Keith’s smile on these boys faces. I saw how his mannerisms would pop up in them. They shared a sense of humor, and it would show up in the most unexpected times. Ugh, the fortune cookie joke they still tell…  And I saw the look my husband had in his eyes when he looked at them. Colin, the oldest, is a quiet, unassuming kid with a daredevil streak that scares me and delights me. He is the one who would lead the family down a black diamond ski run without looking back. I can’t tell you how often I brought up the rear of that train, my knees knocking the whole time, and how much fun it was at the exact same time. Nathan has his father’s brains and curiosity.  He is the one that can figure things out without much trouble. He is creative and smart. Aidan is the one with a huge heart and big feelings.

In my wedding vows, I promised that I would accept these kids as my own, always try to see through their eyes, and to love them the best I could. We have had a difficult time of it. I have read books on parenting, advice on being a stepmom, and many articles on the web trying to figure this out. We have a sort of uneasy truce between us. At least that’s what it feels like to me. I had always hoped that it would get better as we got older but I am not sure where that lies. There are days I have hope and days that I don’t.

I own my part of the dysfunction. I didn’t understand how these boys worked. I have a son myself, but he was different than these stepchildren. He was not as boisterous or active as these ones were. I couldn’t figure out what they were feeling, and often I felt like I was the uninvited guest to the party and they just wanted me to go home. I felt rejected and it was easier to take a step back.

I was an imperfect mother. I was often impatient, and when I got mad — I got mad. I will not list all of my flaws, I’ll just say it would be a pretty long list. I didn’t get the kid raising manual when I got the kids, so I was playing everything by ear.

But I have tried. I spent three years cooking double dinner when Nathan was a vegetarian, and we were not. I have baked amazing birthday cakes (I don’t mind giving myself a little credit here) and spent inordinate amounts of time figuring out the best Christmas gifts I could come up with. I taught them how to do their own laundry. I’m pretty sure they will thank me later on. We have had really astounding family vacations. I went to culinary school because of this crazy idea that food is one way to show people you love them when it’s too hard to do it any other way. I have taken them from bread-and-cheese to food explorers.

I feel like there is hope. One Christmas they got me everything you would need to make movie popcorn. Ok, I have an obsession with popcorn. I love it like a fat kid likes cake. They did all of the research and found the right orange oil, the fake butter, and the popcorn popper that gives the corn just the right amount of fluff. OMG! I was blown away by their thoughtfulness. Last year Colin gave me a beautiful photograph he’d taken and thanked me for all of the encouragement I had given him.

There is still a bunch of awkwardness around us. It’s hard navigating the rough waters of any relationship. If the boat doesn’t get rocked too much, we’re pretty good. At least we’re trying.

As I was sitting on my porch typing up this post, I got Happy Mother’s Day messages. It didn’t come with a mimosa, or an envelope.  And It was every bit as good.

What do you know?




Sorry, not sorry



I grew up with a mother who had a bad temper. Once she was going, it was best that you took cover and let the hurricane pass. I hated when I was the one in her path. That woman scared me. My brother was older and figured out the art of calming her down. He knew the right things to say. Me, I just made it worse when I opened up my mouth. I learned how to shut up and take what she shoveled out. Her anger became my shame. All I could do is apologize.

Then Love Story came out. I’m showing my age here. It was a movie starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil. A sappy, tragic, unrealistic love story that leaves the female lead dead in the end. (Yeah, dead female leads will be another blog for the future) And it was wildly popular.  The big tagline from that movie was, “Love means you never having to say you’re sorry”.  Was that implying that love meant your relationship never had strife? You never argued if you really loved someone? Well crap. If love meant you never had to say your sorry, man my mom must have loved me way more than I thought.

When I had kids, I would tell them that instead of saying sorry over and over they should try very hard not to repeat whatever it was that they did instead of just the endless sorry, sorry, sorry. I am not sure I knew what really being sorry meant or if it was just a way to make whatever was going on stop. I have found that I don’t always take my own advice.

So fast forward, I was traveling a couple weeks ago and I had a connection through Chicago O’hare Airport. It was a very tight connection and of course, O’hare being O’hare, my gate was on the total opposite side of the airport. I’m trying to make myself believe that the airlines do this as a courtesy so after a long flight you have to walk in order to get the blood flow moving in your legs. Yeah, they are trying to help you avoid blood clots. OK, it’s a thought that is a work in progress. Anyway, I had to negotiate my way around 3 or 4 groups of people just standing at the end of the escalator or one group in the door of the train. Every time as I walked around these groups I would say and I can hear my voice as I type this, Sorry.  Wait, what? These groups are not paying attention and clogging up the walkway I am the one who is saying sorry? It’s not my intention to be grandiose just an observation of my behavior.

So I started to pay attention I how many times I say sorry. I found that I say I am sorry that my kids are tired. They don’t live with me so I have nothing to do with them being tired. I am sorry that the lady at Ralph’s ran into my cart when she was texting and pushing, I was standing still looking at the cheese slices.  I was sorry for the numerous strollers that cut me off in Disneyland.

What was I doing?

I think you can get a feel of where this was going. We all do it. I think women are especially prone to this. Women say they are sorry for the slightest thing. I read this great quote from Melody Bettie. It says something to the effect that by apologizing all the time it is a way that we shame ourselves just for being alive. We all are born with value. We can’t get more because we are more educated, or have lots of money or are beautiful. And we can’t get less because of the color of our skin or where we live. Just the fact of being alive gives us equal value.


Sorry is something that just falls out of my mouth without much thought. I have decided to replace it with oops. And if I am feeling spicy, I might add sorry, not sorry. It makes me think about what that sorry means to me. I think I need to make something really clear here. I am not suggesting that I am off the hook for making amends for the wrongs I have caused. I just think that for me it makes those genuine apologies more powerful when they are really from the heart. Words matter to me.  It is a clearer path when I use words the right way. I also think that just because I am sorry that doesn’t automatically mean the person I have hurt has to forgive me. That is their choice to do when they are ready. Forgiveness is on their terms, not mine.

So next time you see a middle-aged woman rushing through the airport repeating OOPS, sorry, not sorry …

That might be me.















As far as I can tell, my family came to America during the Irish potato famine sometime in the early 1850’s. The famine was caused by an airborne virus that traveled in the holds of ships, and it spread throughout Ireland like a fog. The virus was fast moving and even faster at destruction. The spores would land on the leaves of the potato plant, and they rapidly would turn black and die. One infected potato could infect thousands of others within days. The Irish people watched as their crops perished before their very eyes. They would try to save them by digging them up and at first, it appeared to work, the potatoes looked normal. But within a few days, they would start to wither and stink and would soon rot away. I read once that Irish farmers could eat up to 14 pounds of potatoes in one day. Taters filled a man’s belly. I think about what that must have been like watching helplessly as your food source disappeared as you are helpless to stop it. The famine caused widespread starvation throughout Ireland. My people had no potatoes, no property, and no prospects. But what they did have was hope. So they gathered up their kids and came to America. Potato love is in my DNA. I have never met a potato I didn’t like. I have to admit it delighted me beyond belief when I watched Matt Damon grow potatoes on Mars in The Martian, the movie based on Andy Weir’s novel.

So really, I have a point behind all of this potato lore. Recently I attended a retreat with a group of lovely and health-minded women. My friend Cheryl was part of that group, and we have a shared love of spuds. Being the brilliant lady she is, brought a bag of potatoes with her. I want to believe that she knew that someone would make something delightful to eat out of them and that’s why she brought them. So here is the crazy part, once she arrived, she offered her potatoes to the chef. Our chef was a lovely young woman who is all about nutrition and balance. The vast majority of the food she prepared was vegan, raw, gluten-free and with minimum sugar. She was going to make sure that our ten days with her were all about the right things for us to eat. Eating this well was a challenge for me. I admit it I have a carb problem. I should attend meetings for it. (Hello, My name is Mari, and I am a card-carrying carb-oholic.) So back to the potatoes, Cheryl was asked if they were non-GMO and organic. They weren’t – they were just grocery store potatoes. Yikes, The poor potatoes were soundly rejected not even allowed in the house. Someone said they could take them and feed them to her dogs. Cheryl had been potato shamed. Now I understand the issues surrounding GMO’s and organic food. I went to culinary school and knew that you should always buy the best food you can and as much as possible eat clean. And at the very same time, I am aware that everyone is different and not every one gets the luxury of eating this way. And due to my spud love, this rejection was hard to swallow.

The week went by, and the work got deep and emotional. I wanted, no I needed some comfort food. All I could think about was mashed potatoes. I begged a ride into town and made sure I bought organic potatoes.  I made the most marvelous mashed potatoes that night. Full of butter and real milk and enough salt to make my taste buds dance! Nom nom nom. Ahhh. Life was good! Simple, delightful and outstanding.

I guess the reason I tell this story is because of what happened at the end of the week. There was a closing ceremony that consisted of presenting a gift to our community. A symbol of what we wanted to offer to the world. Remember the rejected bag of potatoes earlier in the story? Cheryl allowed me to use them as my offering. I made mashed potatoes that made my group happy, so they knew potatoes were my thing. My community laughed, and they also got what it meant before I did.  As we were getting ready to leave two of the women asked for a few potatoes to take home with them. They wanted to cut them up and plant them. They were going to grow their own.

I could almost hear the light bulb click over my head. It made me think, my husband and I have been very fortunate, and we have had the opportunity to start a charitable foundation. Our foundation is like a big bag of potatoes. We are lucky enough to be able to share our potatoes. I like to think that the support we offer organizations can be thought of like a potato. They can use it in lots of different ways. Administration costs, direct support or 15 other things. It translates into mashed, au gratin or french fries, but I think it’s just because it is almost dinner time as I write this blog and I’m feeling hungry. And they also can use a part of that potato to plant more. I realize that I am reaching here. What lovely way to think about charity. What if everyone just shared one potato and those potatoes grew into more potatoes. How far could that reach?

So thank you universe for my favorite starch. I am grateful on many levels for you. Now I think I’m going to make some french fries for dinner.