Monday, April 13, 2015

Your daily distraction 4/13/15 | Family dynamics

The backstory on the relaunch of A Wooden Nickel: I read so very many articles on the interwebs and want to start a daily link share. Today's posts all revolved around parenting (and frankly, some family dysfunction) so I went with it. In the future, I think it'll just be a collection of unrelated stuff I come across. Stay tuned as I shake out all the glitches.

I laughed out loud when I read the headline of this New York Times article. I'm forever grateful that my parents were so focused on keeping four kids alive and advancing their own careers that they never memorized my class syllabuses (syllabi is a hyper-correction, FYI) or rewrote my papers.

When Leaning In gets you nowhere: the (female) face and workhorse behind one of the most successful car dealers in the country got skipped over when her dad retired and left the business to his two sons. Infuriating doesn't even begin to describe this story.

On the opposite end of the parenting spectrum is this talented mother who photographs her daughters being fearless in a series she calls Strong is the New Pretty. The older I get, the more scared I get about trying new things. These photos are a fantastic reminder to stop worrying and start breaking new ground.

My friend Marie's beautiful niece, Hazel, had various complications at birth. Here is her Caring Bridge site. If you have a chance to read the journal and send positive thoughts to these first-time parents, please do so. #PrayersforHazel

Friday, April 10, 2015

Remembering Paul Robert Delmore | 1952 - 2014

My very beloved uncle Paul passed away just over one year ago, and I think of him constantly. I was honored to give his eulogy last year and have been asked several times for a copy. While I certainly don't mind sending hard copies around, I'm also posting it here for posterity.

Paul Robert Delmore
April 29, 1952 - March 31, 2014

Because he spent his adult life a plane ride away, my family has spent the last 40 years waiting for my Uncle Paul to come home. And when Paul finally arrived for a holiday or gathering, two things always happened.

First, you heard his voice. It was an invitation - deep and booming, but impossibly warm. Every word had an air of bravada, as though he should be on stage instead of in your living room.

Then you’d make eye contact with him. And as he beelined toward you for a hug, Paul’s eyes crinkled around the corners, and twinkled wildly. Despite his rich Florida tan, he was still Irish in every way.

And that was when the landscape changed. He was not a performer after all, he was your adored - and adoring - son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. The ultimate conversationalist, cheerleader, co-consipirator. Even when you hadn’t seen him in months, Paul didn’t bother with small talk. He always started five questions in, referencing small details that he’d heard from others while trying to draw out new information. In a word, Paul wanted to know *everything.*

In fact, my mom Sheila remembers her parents, Bob and Margaret, saying that when Paul was born, that little babe craned his neck around to see the world he had just come into. He was taking it in, and he continued to take it in. Paul was extremely observant - he saw it all, commented on it all, and had strong opinions of how things should be.

As the Delmore children - Kathy, Paul, Dan and Sheila - grew up, the most important value instilled by my grandparents was the notion that you are kind and welcoming to everyone. Paul took this to heart more than anyone. I’m sure all of us here today can think of many times where his thoughtfulness made a difference. It could have been an unexpected postcard that served as a day brightener, or a long phone call where he reminded you how great our capacity to love really is. Paul always knew what to say.

He had a genuine interest in people, and he was well-served in this regard by another Delmore trait, the steel trap memory. Paul never forgot a face, detail, name or relation, allowing him to make connections where no one else could, even decades after the fact.

Together, this true love of people and his memory, made Paul the greatest storyteller most of us have ever known. Delmore family gatherings always included stories from days long since past - growing up on Salem Avenue, attending Most Holy Trinity or Benilde High School, stories of local shops, shopkeepers, neighbors, fellow churchgoers and friends.

No one thrived on those memories more than Paul. In fact, if someone brought up a story blurred by the years, Paul was not afraid to interrupt with the long-forgotten details. It usually went something like this: “How can you not remember that the neighbor’s cousin’s best friend’s niece was also the cashier at Warner’s Hardware in the summer of 1972?” It wasn’t only that he remembered, it was that he was incredulous that this information wasn’t stored in everyone’s memory for easy access. And so he stood there, his voice eclipsing the original storyteller’s as he mimicked the exact original quotes, in the exact original voices, of every bit player in the story. By then, his perfect, unique and contagious laugh would set in and soon it would overtake the room. And the stories would continue all afternoon, making it all the more difficult when he left for Florida. We would have to wait until his next visit to get to return to that level of belly laughter.

Paul spent much of his life in service to others. He was humbled by the idea of making someone’s day better or brighter, and he did so in his personal life but also for many years as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines and the job he held after his retirement. He had an uncanny ability to make people feel welcome, and important - which was recognized by Delta executives who promoted him into first class service almost immediately. Beyond this, his over-the-call-of-duty approach was greatly appreciated by the regulars he served and came to know on his flights over the years.

In short, people felt cared for in his presence. He was truly devoted to his parents, with whom he talked every day on the phone - if not multiple times a day. Despite the geographic distance, Paul remained an incredible caretaker to them. He bookmarked news items he knew his parents would want to talk about, and always had a treasure trove of anecdotes to share with them. But the truth is, the content of the conversation didn’t matter as much as the fact that he was calling - their chats with Paul were the highlight of their day. Because of his easy ability to travel, he also came to town for the big events and often for no reason at all. Over the last few years, he has generously chauffered my grandparents around town to go to dinner or to take them on long drives around their old neighborhoods.

The second best example of his caring spirit was that Paul - not once but twice in his lifetime - became the adoptive dog father of a dachsund. Pepper, in his childhood, and “Doggy” over the last ten years or so in Fort Lauderdale. While both dogs had perfectly decent families attending to them, they met Paul and their lives were never the same. If you heard anyone else tell that story, it would have seemed crazy - but when you knew Paul, it made perfect sense that the dogs had chosen him, and that the request had been honored by all parties.

The fast-changing world was difficult for Paul to accept. He would be the first person to say he didn’t like computers or cell phones, but I think what he truly didn’t like was how they changed people. Paul loved to make connections, to strike up conversations and offer his quick, quirky wit to strangers. And so as everyone started to quicken their pace, and spend more time looking at their phones than the world around them, Paul was dismayed to lose what he considered to be a pillar of the human condition. The power that comes from a random shared experience with a stranger who becomes a friend, if only for a moment.

The great mystery of Paul’s life, and now his death, is that he was able to show staggering levels of love, selflessness and kindness to everyone he met, but unable to give himself that same level of care. And so as we put him to rest, we ask that you remember the lessons he put on display for us everyday.

Be there for people, and love them. Show them they are important, by asking the questions no one else would, and not judging them for their answers. It may be that you have to put intention behind it. It may be that you have to slow down. But you will find that by offering kindness, it will be returned to you.

And when that kindness is returned, know that you are deserving of it. Recognize your value, and recognize that you are in fact invaluable. Know that those whom you love, love you back. Do not be ashamed or afraid to ask for what you need from them. Do not be afraid to be who you are. And know that who you are is enough. In fact it, it has always been more than enough.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Howard Dean, the European Paper Crisis, and how I came to care about politics

I still remember when I fell head over heels for politics. It was my senior year of high school, on the day after the 2004 Iowa Caucus. As the bell rang to start class, our Giddy Civics Teacher exclaimed something like, “Last night, a top candidate lost his bid for the presidency in just 10 seconds.”

Then, he played Howard Dean’s wack-a-doodle, screamy “We’re going to [all the states plus more states], WHOOOOO!” proclamation. The class was in an uproar.

“Yes!” said Giddy Civics Teacher. “Your reaction right now is exactly why this man will NEVER BE PRESIDENT. This soundbite has been played over and over, and it makes him look off-kilter. And he’ll never recover from this.”

We respectfully requested that he play the clip eight more times before discussing the implications.

Quick backstory: It was pretty clear that this man was a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. We knew this not because he’d told us, but because he was incredibly passionate about conserving paper in his classroom. Once, he’d teared up when two girls asked him if he'd heard about “The European Paper Crisis,” a fake paper shortage they’d created to stress him out.

“I can’t believe you haven’t heard that they bulldozed the entire Black Forest,” my classmate said sweetly. “It’s such a huge issue, I assumed you’d be really upset about it.”

GCT was in panic mode at this point, and it was hard to watch. I remember wondering how someone so smart could be hoodwinked by these two who — like most 17-year old girls — knew more about bronzer than they did about German forestry.

I digress.

GCT was explaining how Dean was previously considered to be the savviest Democratic candidate, and was by far the party’s best fundraiser. He related Dean’s squealing to the Kennedy-Nixon debate, where Kennedy wore makeup and looked flawless, while Nixon appeared to sweat through the screen.

We spent the rest of the period talking about perception, and how it can be even more critical to a candidate’s success than the candidate’s stance on the issues. And I was hooked — not only at the absurdity of it all, but also by the confidence of GCT to pronounce Howard Dean dead in the water.

I wondered, How do you know the difference between a gaffe and a career-ender? How do you know when something is just that day’s big story, and when it will become an in-joke used for decades?

For example, Todd Akin had said all kinds of terrible things about women over the years but it wasn’t until he talked about “legitimate rape” that people took notice and emptied their coffers to support his opponent.
In the 2012 debates, I remember being delighted as Mitt Romney uttered the words, “I love wind jobs” when discussing alternative energy. But only minutes later, he trumped it with “binders full of women” and the rest is history.*

All of this is to say, we have so many absurd stories to choose from these days. And so while I had blind faith in GCT’s assessment of Howard Dean’s collapse, I’m not sure these falls are as easy to predict as in 2004.

What is clear is that the gaffes just keep coming. This morning, for example, I watched two 60-year men — current and former governors, no less — throw a dual tantrum over the use of a fan during a debate:

I haven’t been able to get that clip out of my head all day, but it doesn't seem like this bizarre series of events is really going to affect either of these yahoo candidates. I'm still not sure how GCT knew so clearly that Dean's shrieking was going to stick.

What I do know is that ten years later, I’m still making connections from one lesson plan. And while things like #FanGate are fun to talk about and obsess over, I'm interested in the complex issues of policy, too.

That was the gift GCT gave us — he first showed us something that was easy to access and dissect, then moved to the more difficult stuff throughout the course.

GCT, I don’t know where you are today. But I hope you’re out there playing a clip about #FanGate to a group of high schoolers. And even if they look apathetic, and even if a few of them are telling you that every California redwood was torched last night to make way for Google’s new headquarters, just know that one future wonk is in the back, listening to every word.

And because of you, she’s going to grow up to pester roommates, cousins, boyfriends and her parents to care about candidates and the big issues. Because of you, she’s going to be the weirdo who cries on election day as she considers the importance of her vote.

Thanks, GCT, for teaching me to be giddy about civics, too.

*Big ups to Kelli S. for prompting this post by telling me today is the two year anniversary of Binders Full of Women.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why we don't have a house

Jeff and I are pretty typical Gen Y-ers, which is to say we sometimes put a skewed value on goods and services.

Ten dollars a month for an unlimited Spotify account? Preposterous! Two lattes in one week, totaling more than that unlimited music account? Totally worth it.

Once, after I bought a stupid amount of gourmet cheese, Jeff yelped at me, "THIS IS WHY WE DON'T HAVE A HOUSE!"

At the time, we'd been dating six months and lived in different cities. So the lack of homeownership back then was due more to geographical logistics and our new-ish relationship than my high-quality dairy addiction.

Still, it was obvious then, even 2,000 miles apart, that we'd need to pull it together if we ever wanted to be like our good friends, Kory and Jenna. Kor and Jen are not only the king and queen of thrift, they are also Bonafied Homeowners™.

When living with them prior to moving to California, I started to take note of their habits.

"Today, Jenna made two pounds of pesto from the slightly aged basil leaves in our fridge," I reported to Jeff in August of 2013. "She did not let the basil go bad and then throw it in the garbage.


Not long after, Jeff was traveling for work. He was hungry at the airport and hadn't eaten. I told him, helpfully, that he should have brought his own snacks to the airport so as to avoid the high-priced options at SFO. He informed me that his plan was to buy food directly from the flight attendant on his next leg.

The only thing more expensive than in-airport food, of course, is on-plane food served from a cart by a blonde-banged flight attendant who resembles your aunt Tami.

"THIS. THIS IS WHY WE DON'T HAVE A HOUSE!" I hollered at him, threateningly.

We promised to do better once we moved in together, and so far, we're batting .500. We haven't been eating out a ton, but we do patronize the Whole Foods at the end of our block quite frequently. And Whole Foods, my friends, is not for the faint of heart or the thin-walleted.

Last week I made guacamole for a taco dinner night. I admitted as we ate that I had bought the stupid avocados from stupid Whole Foods.

"I simply can't stand for a life where Taco Tuesday is free of guacamole!" I said defensively. "It's un-American!"

"I'm fine with not having a house," Jeff said, "if we can ALWAYS have guacamole."

So that's where we are right now. I am a 28-year old who works in real estate marketing, and I have written all kinds of articles about why Gen-Y won't enter the housing market. They're good articles, too. They have stats of unemployment rates, of how we toiled through unpaid internships and got pointless law degrees. All of that is true, statistically.

But for now, I just love guacamole too damn much.


Mom and Dad, I swear to God we're actually saving a lot of money and being quite responsible, aside from the avocado addiction. We hope to buy a house in two or three years, or until my "Should I wear a wrap-dress today" weather app takes off. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Red curry

One of my truest, purest loves is Thai-style red curry. I'm not sure if I have an authentic palate or not, but I do know that I have a lot of opinions about this particular sauce and how it should be served.

So far, I haven't found anything in the Bay Area that lives up to my (High? American? Terrible?) standards and I am becoming pretty distraught over it. I even threw away leftovers last week after ordering truly terrible takeout.

Back in Minnesota, my gal pals and I would routinely trek to Amazing Thailand for the greatest dish in all the land, Mei kah thi. It's pretty much red curry with egg served over noodles and it is delicious. Plus, it comes in an enormous portion that you can easily (even on your fattest of days) translate into three meals.

Yesterday, things got so dire here that I began googling my favorite dish alongside location qualifiers. Alas, there is not any mei kah thi, in any spelling arrangement that seems reasonable, in Berkeley, Oakland or the city of San Francisco.

Google, why have you forsaken me?

I remain undeterred. There will be red curry, and it shall be delicious. Fine people of the Internet, will you help me? LH, do you know any good places?

Thanks to all the readers who hate red curry and/or do not live in the Bay Area. For you, this was not a good post.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Snakes on a Train

I'm a newcomer to public transport, but I'm making slow strides with my new pal BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) and the characters I come across on the train.

Jeff and I live in a very nice neighborhood, but we have some seedy characters (complete with a drum circle) who hang out at our local BART stop during the day to um, drum and smoke weed. Their real skillset, though, is harassing single women who enter and exit the stop. I've become an expert at walking the long way around the stop to avoid them, and I also wear my headphones because I've learned the hard way that I do NOT want to hear the things they are saying about me as I walk by.

So. That's the biggest bummer.

Once you get on the train, though, there is so much drama for a chronic eavesdropper like me. Last week I live-tweeted the inspiration for my first screenplay, an as-yet-unnamed romantic comedy that takes place entirely on BART.

Really, we've all been there, Male BFF, so don't lose hope. Probably don't keep pining for this chick, because I think she knows that you love her and she likes giving you the run-around. But someday soon, I'll see you on the train with a new lady who adores you and we'll make eye contact and I will smile knowingly at you, and you will have NO idea who I am. But I'll be filled with joy on your behalf.

So to recap, sometimes there are fun things to watch on the train. On the other hand, sometimes you get on with luggage after a flight, and you see an entire three of four seats open in a quadrant, with a bunch of people standing. Your natural instinct is to think, "What luck! These fine people are so kind and generous to let the gal with the baggage take a seat!"

But really what's happening is that the gentleman sitting in the quadrant has a snake wrapped around his neck and no one wants to get within six feet of him.

The man whose hand is on the seat realized what was going on when he saw me take this picture. He freaked out and hissed at me, "I'm new to town. Is this normal?!"

I wish I knew, buddy.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I've been trying to come up with the perfect blog post to show you what a perfect life it is here in Berkeley, California. Because as you know, I now live in Berkeley, California.

Of course, no blog post can be perfect and no life can be perfect.

But life can be really good, and that's how it is right now.

Jeff and I settled in easily - so far, we've had no battles over the brand of toilet paper we'll use or the color of our throw pillows.

Last week, I got my hair chopped off and when I unveiled it, I asked, "Don't you think it makes me look older?"

He looked uncertain. Then he mumbled a lot.

"It's so great!" I interrupted, as I tend to do. "I was mistaken for a 16 year old last year. I think it'll be good for interviews!"

Suddenly, he looked relieved. "No, it definitely does make you look older. I just had no idea if that was a good thing or a bad thing."

That's a smart, cautious man, no?

Here's the new hair:

P.S. Thanks to Lee for strong-arming me into blogging again. You are one persuasive lady.