Thursday, February 2, 2017

Same Thing Only Different


Same Thing Only Different - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Traveling through England for the first time in my life I ran into so many well-wishers that asked me what I wanted to see while I was there.

“Not much,” was my standards response.  “I’m not a classic culture seeker.  Museums, art, and history are not my best companions. I really just want to see how other people live.”

As I circled back at the latter end of my trip to some of the lovely new friends I had encountered early on in my English travel, the question repeatedly came up, “What did you think?”

Similar to the classic response of the waitress at a Chinese restaurant I visited fifteen years ago that has been in my lingo rotation every since, when I asked the difference between #22 and #23 on the menu, "Same thing only different."

My theory is that people everywhere are essentially the same.  We all have different customs, nuances, barriers, freedoms, languages and dictions, yet inside we’re all people just trying to make some sort of connection with life.

I’m always looking for the connection with people.  I need to interact with others, whether it be with words, activities, gestures, or even just direct eye contact, which to me, is the acknowledgement of I see you and you are just as integral a part of the world as I am, no matter the differences.’

The differences often are debunked upon closer inspection. Take, for example, the blokes my girlfriends and I encountered in a Manchester pub.  While sharing boisterous conversation over wine and lagers at our own table, 3 gents, each pushing 70 and standing in a cluster at the bar in the next room over, decided to add perspective to our girls’ night exchange.  One of the men made what appeared to be a goofy-as-all-getup come-one line toward my friend.  Another made a big deal about us four of us being gay, and all three of the joes razzed us relentlessly about Trump.  Our initial impression equated to chauvinistic, albeit it jovial, drinking mates, trying to strike something up with the womenfolk. Before we began our natural ladylike habit of writing them off as assholes, the most outgoing of the three men made an attempt to relate to us by acting as the mediator between his rather outspoken top dog group leader throwing out Trumpism after Trumpism, and our revulsion at his suggestions.  After a few runs at it, the rusty middle man developed a common ground for all of us….practicing tolerance of one another.  

Same Thing Only Different - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
He discovered I resided in Chicago and pointed out that his other buddy, who was sporting the Neil Diamond look, had children living in Chicago. I tried to bridge the gap with Forever in Blue Jeans by initiating a conversation about his grown kids - where did they live, what did they do, how old were they, etc.  While his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, his spirit appeared to be zipped up tight.  He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and seemed unwilling to talk about his offspring in Chicago at all.  As a last ditch effort, I asked him if he’d visited them there, and he said no, that it would never happen.

“”Why?  Do you all not get along?” I probed.  “It seems like a perfect opportunity to spend time with family with all of them in one city that you could visit in one trip.”

“They come to visit me every so often.  That’s enough,” he snapped.  End of story.

“You should visit them,” I pushed forward against his stonewalling, “I bet they would love it.”

“Oh rubbish,” he swatted me away.  “I don’t want to.  I’m a 68-year-old man. What am I going to do going in Chicago?  They have their own lives, they don’t need me.”  Bingo.  The truth of the matter.

I stopped pushing and shared with him what I guessed to be a similar situation with my own father in which he doesn’t find it necessary to come visiting to Chicago, even though it’s just a few hours drive for him from Indianapolis.  

“We don’t see eye to eye on anything,” I laughed.  “His 75-year-old opinions on politics and religion and almost everything else in life makes me often wonder if I was raised by a pack of wolves, as it so acutely juxtaposes my own 45-years-in-the-making value system.” 

But he does visit and it’s meaningful.  It feels good to be acknowledged by a parent during a visit as a grown person with my own life, even if it doesn’t overtly overlap his at all.

I left Song Sung Blue and hit it to the bathroom, thinking about how we all share the bullheadedness of convincing ourselves that the fictitious stories we create in our minds to address those things in life that we’re fearful of, is real. 

Guessing he won’t be coming to America anytime soon, I thought to myself.

As I headed back to my own girl group of four, Solitary Man held up a picture on his phone and asked me to take a look.

“This is my daughter,” he beamed as he gazed at the lighted screen showing her social activity from Facebook.  “It says she’s at Sheffield’s in this picture. Have you heard of it?”

So happens it’s a mile away from me in Chicago.  Susanna is his daughter’s name.  She’s beautiful and used to be married to an English chap and now lives the single life with a girlfriend in the states.  His boys are close by and enjoyable company.  He shared the bare minimum with me; he connected.

“Maybe I could still make the trip over,” he considered.  “What time of year is best to visit?”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Becoming That Which You Despise

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Becoming That Which You Despise
During this time of year, I hear so many wondrous stories of generous souls performing good deeds, like donating money, lodging, supplies, or friendship to those in need.  I pay more attention to people paying it forward, as in buying coffee for the person behind them in line or picking up another table’s tab at dinner and notice more individuals and groups spreading general good cheer.

The end of the year also seems to highlight those less touched with the holiday bug though, doing their best to bah humbug everyone around them, like the driver honking relentlessly at the Holiday Bus and the people getting off of it to get out of the way.  Maybe it’s the person throwing a huge tantrum in the return line at Target or a client demanding unrealistic results by the end of day “or else.”  Oftentimes, those examples of people not being their “best selves” as Oprah likes to call it, are the ones that stick in people’s minds the most.

“What an asshole,” I find myself automatically thinking about that person acting badly, even a day or two later when I’m describing the situation to a family member or friend. Such judgement I reserve for him or her, for being so unkind to the store clerk, or belittling to the receptionist, or obnoxious to a family member.

And the next thing I know it’s me throwing the fit.  It’s me in the gym at the membership table demanding to be provided “separate but equal” workout machines to offset the ones I use on a daily basis that have now been roped off for personal training clients only.  It’s me looking at 5 salespeople, all eyeballing each other wondering who’s gonna take the bait, who’s gonna go head to head in order to fix this situation, or at the minimum pacify me.  It’s me having a valid complaint, one that would have been much better addressed after my workout, when I could have addressed the issue in a rational, across-the-table sort of conversation, but choosing instead to present it in the height of adrenaline, 20 minutes into my workout because I was pissed that a young trainer had asked me mid-set to move off the equipment so she could use it with a training client.  It was me making the scene because I refused to leave the equipment until I’d finished my set (go big or go home) at which point she said she’d have to call a manager.  I was the asshole.  I’m the one people won’t be able to get out of their heads!

My point is this:  every one of us occasionally, some more often that others, acts, thinks, or behaves in a way that is the opposite of ‘practicing greatness.’  Neither a public fit nor a video-captured recording of ill-intent is necessary to acknowledge that every one of us has our ‘below the line’ moments.  Owning up to that fact helps me feel closer to every human being, because it reminds me that we’re all just a hair away from being in another person’s shoes.  It also helps me practice compassion toward others. 

My “what an asshole” thought when I see someone in the heat of an unsavory moment is usually followed by, “I wonder what’s going on in that person’s world to make them react in that fashion?”  To be fair, sometimes that second thought takes minutes, hours, days, or in some cases, months later to emerge, but once considered, there’s usually more to any situation than meets the eye.

For example, what if the honking guy was trying to get to the hospital to see a parent before they passed?  What if the Target lady didn’t have the money to buy her child the coat she desperately needed for winter without the exchange money from the return?  What if the client was going to be fired from his job if he didn’t fix the situation by the end of the day.  There’s usually some sort of fear ruling the behavior.  

Even in my case at the gym, if I really have to break it down, I was fearful of not being able to have enough knowledge to perform the workout I need on another machine.  The salesperson that drew the short stick with me, calmly acknowledged there is no other machine in the gym like the one they had roped off, but asked me to describe what I usually use and how.  She then took the time to show me every other piece of equipment in the gym that could be used for the same type of workout, but with just slight adjustments in usage, as well as those machines and exercises that would “bump it up” a bit or offer an alternative.  This lady took my problem and made it a non-issue within 2 minutes.  There’s no way she could have done that without putting herself in my shoes.  I found myself apologizing to her for getting fired up unnecessarily.  

It’s easier to dig our heals into scorning someone else’s choices in a difficult situation than to consider how we might handle or have previously handled similar situations ourselves.  It’s at that brave moment of recognition, though, when each of us imagines oneself in the conflict, that tolerance grows.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Vacation Mode

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Vacation Mode
Is it possible to take that laid-back feeling of relaxation one has after an incredibly chill vacation and preserve it as a daily analgesic for the fast-paced life we lead when not on holiday?  I think applying vacation mode to our day-to-day approach towards tasks, requirements and expectations without urgency or expediency, will reduce stress and improve overall mental and physical health.  

I'm currently testing out the theory.  

Forty-eight hours after the wheels touched down in Chicago from our Grecian honeymoon (albeit 2 years after the wedding) I still felt the tranquility of vacation, even though school had started for the kids and the idyllic days of summer had been spent.  Days went on and I continued to enjoy newfound quality time with my wife and kids no matter how many dishes needed cleaned, birthday gifts awaited purchase, or trees begged for trimming.  

Two weeks into it, I set aside work and household-related minutia in order to ride to the lakefront with my friend in hopes of interviewing some old diver guys for a talk-show idea that’s been churning in my head for years.  Twenty-four days post-Greece finds me luxuriating in the sunshine while sprawled out on the turf surrounding the playground at my daughter's school while she plays with any kid that is also interested in the monkey bars, instead of scheduling a play date or organizing an after-school activity. A month after returning from our honeymoon, I’m taking the time to chop up fresh vegetables each day and marinating them in an oregano-olive oil vinaigrette in order to satisfy my eternal craving for Santorini Greek Salad; not only that, but I’ve established a habit of sitting down at the table, even if by myself (sometimes with a glass of cheap Greek White Table Wine) to enjoy and savor my feast.
ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Vacation Mode

Five weeks have passed since the most alarmingly beautiful and tranquil vacation of my life, and I still haven't been tempted to get fired-up about another parent's action, a teenage meltdown, or a sock-stealing dog's monthly bout of diarrhea sprinkled with loss of bowel control. 

"Mom, why are you so tired all the time now?" My 7-year-old asked while cuddled up on my lap after waking me up from an early-afternoon siesta on the sofa. 

I've wondered the same thing over the last month.

"I think my body is just catching up on having not rested in the last ten years," I calmly explained. 

It's called hitting the reset button. 

Spending 10 days away from schedules and deadlines and carpools and bank balances alone allowed my mind and body to slow down to a snail’s pace.  Without external outcomes hinged on my performance, actions or even existence, I was transported to an euphoria where decisions need not be made, time was of no importance, and my next move or lack thereof had zero impact on anyone or anything.  Additionally, our vacation destination of Europe, specifically the Greek Islands, where the pace is so drastically unhurried in contrast to ours here in the states, afforded me a front-row view of perspective.  

With one lane roads where unprotected cliffs drop down to the ocean far, far below, drivers have no option but patience while waiting for cars, bikers, and busses to pass.  In a place where dining is regarded as an important social activity where good food and drink is leisurely consumed and appreciated, reveling in a two-hour meal is the norm, without rush to get the check.  The gorgeous scenery of brilliant blue sea and sky, weathered cliffs, and narrow dirt roads frosted the cake of serenity for me as I took the time to absorb my surroundings.  

I thrive in this environment.…even outside of Greece.  It turns out that a slower pace better allows me to acknowledge and honor the needs of myself in congruence with the needs of others.  Clearing my plate of non-essential motion instead of rushing from one activity or task to the next to no end, allows me to notice the signals my body sends me when it’s time to rest, eat and be active; along the same lines, my brain warns me of potential trouble, pleasure, and even over-doing it, promoting common sense actions.  Taking time to really listen to those around me, without rushing to complete the task or problem before finding out if I’m even part of the equation, is necessary for healthy relationship maintenance and growth, but is only possible for me by freeing up brain space for silence.  Overall, without a steadiness of pace, I’ll never catch the cues.

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Vacation Mode
I feel transformed after Greece.  Acknowledging its beauty and peace allowed me to find the same in myself.  If I fall prey to, or more likely, spearhead, the fast and furious life again in the future, I am armed with my newfound knowledge of where the dial on my own barometer should always read to function optimally:  in vacation mode.

Check out our Greece vacation pictures.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fall is the Time to Try Pork & Mindy's


ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Pork & Mindy's
Bao to the Tot - photo courtesy of Pork & Mindy's
Wherever you live, you probably have access to Food Network star Jeff Mauro and his relish creations on the boob tub.  Maybe you've even tried some of his recipes at home or picked up his famous sauces int he grocery store.  But have you visited Pork & Mindy's in Chicago, where he and founder Kevin Corsello put his Sandwich King status to the test with crazy-good smoked creations?

To be fair, I wouldn’t have known about about Pork & Mindy’s unless a) it was mentioned in the Red Eye, the Tribune’s dumbed down version of a newspaper for people like me with short attention spans, of which I am obsessed with reading in order to bucket-list new restaurants; or, b) someone told me about it.  It turns out both happened.  Unfortunately I missed the writeup earlier this year while jacked up on painkillers that kept me from reading.  Thank heavens my wife joined forces with the quirky Wicker Park / Bucktown restaurant as Franchise and Operations Director not long after, so that she could tell me about how freakin’ phenomenal the food tastes!

This morning, I opened the catering menu that had been residing in my purse since I picked it up two nights ago at the fall tasting event at Pork and Mindy’s which featured their newest culinary mind-blowers.  Like Pavlov’s dog, my taste buds immediately lit up as I got a whiff of their famous smoked meats right from the paper flyer.  The Bao to the Pork, a gorgeous piece of pork-shoulder topped with a jalapeƱo relish and some other crunchy veggies, on a……wait for it…..steamed bao bun, is my all-time favorite sandwich on the menu.  After the party, I’m thinking it might have to take a temporary back seat to the new Eggplant Parm, which rocked my world!  While it’s described on their menu as crisply fried eggplant coupled with the house smoked mozzarella, which is killer in its own right, I was pleased to note the eggplant carried the best of both worlds, with a firm texture consistent with a fried item, but without the greasy breading that often accompanies a watery vegetable like this.  Perfectly-herbed focaccia encompassed the staples, along with sundried tomato pesto, fresh basic, and roma tomatoes.  Perfecto!

A better man would have paired it with Sweet Potato Potato Salad to keep it totally vegetarian, but I’m a sucker for the meats, so I chose the Reuben Tots as a funky sideshow, complete with pastrami, homemade 1000 Island dressing, toasted rye seeds, and shredded swiss atop perfectly seasoned tater tots.  Right now, I’m making that motion of kissing my fingers and flinging them out with with flair that usually signifies how good something tastes, just thinking about it.  The tots on their own, without a single topping, dipped in Pork & Mindy’s homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, make a bold statement of taste.

Other items launched at the event included Da Beef, a slow smoke-braised chuck with giardiniera, sweet peppers, and beef au jus on a dipped roll and the Pastramindy, yep you guessed it, a house-cured, smoked pastrami sandwich on marble rye with mustard and spicy pickles.  The new Buffalo Chicken Tots gave the established Totty Bar classics a run for their money (Bao to the Tot and Tot’tine) with smoked chicken, hot sauce, blue cheese, and ranch. 

I didn’t get a chance to sample the Cheezy Beef Tots, but I’m guessing it would have held my attention with giardiniera, smoked mozz, and chuck.  Pork & Mindy’s famous candied bacon, aptly named Pig Candy, made an appearance in the new Buffalo Blue Hog Slaw, partnered with creamy buffalo dressing and blue cheese.  While I didn’t try it, I can’t imagine a single food item that couldn’t be enhanced by Pig Candy!

If you’ve already tried Pork & Mindy’s, go again and try the new stuff! If you’ve never tried it, get on it….stat.  
ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Pork & Mindy's

Pork & Mindy’s 
1623 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL  60647
BYOB

Friday, July 29, 2016

An Unexpected Show of Compassion

An Unexpected Show of Compassion - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
‘Random Acts of Kindness’ has graduated to a staple buzz phrase in our world.  We’re not only familiar with its meaning, but most of us have experienced it, either as the giver or the receiver, or both.  You know what I’m talking about….the anonymous neighbor that weeds your garden and mows your lawn, the guy behind you in line at at the Starbucks drive-through who literally pays it forward by buying your coffee before you pull up to the window, or you carrying a load of groceries home for a senior or young mother who seems to be struggling.  I love the trend of showing kindness to complete strangers; it’s a custom I’ve come to rely on.

But I’m also a sucker for the unexpected show of compassion I receive from others, and occasionally dole out myself.  While compassion itself can be passive and does not necessarily require action, the intimate offerings of warmth I’m referring to require a little more interaction and often takes a lot of guts.  Example?  How about the lab technician who gave me a full-on hug from behind today while I was uncomfortably trying to keep my boobs from being squashed to death in the mammogram machine during my annual appointment.  Sounds wacky, but the unexpected offering of fellow feeling totally eased my angst over a painful medical necessity.  

We were talking about tattoos, as what else do you talk about when you see a crying eyeball in the center of a flaming sun etched on someone’s chest as you’re positioning their ta-ta’s on the tray?  She said she wanted her own permanent mark  for her 50th birthday, and we shared a moment of verbal appreciation for doing something for yourself that makes you feel even more in tune with your spirit than you already are.  Somewhere between the compression of the twins, and the holding of my breath for the umpteenth time while the camera captures a digital image of my mammary glands, she gave me a quick squeeze on the back of my shoulders. 

In that moment of uber exposure while my cha-chas’s lay flattened out on a cold glass table-top machine and portions of my chest were being crushed to the verge of a cracked rib cage, her simple charity of touch went a long way to both ease my distress and to allow me to accept the connection she was handing out through our conversation. 

While I traditionally can hold my own in the compassion department, I’ve recently experienced a rut, where the simple connection with others is difficult, as my immediate comfortable zone is to close myself off.  Thank you, fearless lady, for extending your humanity to me, even in the most awkward of times; your action has already started a chain reaction in me of reaching out to others. 

Shall we keep the ball rolling?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Life Lessons Live On

Every year I track her down on Facebook to make sure she’s still around.  Our disastrously intense, messy, and passionate love affair came to an end almost seventeen years ago, yet I still need to know she is out there somewhere, that she exists, that she’s still alive.  One year my FB creeping yielded that she had moved and was in a new new relationship; another year’s tracking revealed that she was in the hospital again, and still another year’s data mine pointed  toward a new business she had started.  This year my search led me to Debi’s obituary.

The sense of loss I’ve felt over the last week since discovering she’s gone is nothing short of life-altering.  Our tumultuous four-year relationship ended exactly as one would expect, in catastrophe, given the circumstances.  I was a young, proud gay woman struggling to find my way in the world on my own, for the first time without the emotional support of my family.  Debi, almost twenty years my senior, dropped the entire life that she knew - husband, kids, business, and home - to love me just as I was.

Our life together was unsustainable in every way imaginable.  While we kept in touch for quite a few years after our difficult split, fostering the connection eventually became a strain for both of us.  While the relationship had died, the love and respect remained in tact.

I mourn the loss of Debi from this earth.  I shed tears for the family she left long before her death.  I grieve for the loss of “first love” and innocence.  I sorrow over the vulnerability I’ve tucked away all these years as a measure of self-protection from the hurt I experienced during our partnership.  I shed tears for the loss of a life guide who helped form me into the human I am today.

Our unlikely relationship proved pivotal in my growth as a person.  I learned:

What sort of mother I want to be
To seek healthy relationships at any cost
Never to rely on the affirmations of others for my own happiness
Laughter heals most pain
Self-care is necessary to be a good ANYTHING (mother, lover, worker, etc.)
To be true to myself at all costs
Love is NOT enough to keep a relationship alive when practicalities are not considered
To honor the fine line between how much of myself I can give without falling off the ledge
Life lessons don’t die just because the person who taught them is gone

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Entitlement Era

We see it in our kids and our youth.  The assumption that they can do as they choose, regardless of boundaries or limitations that have been place on them, without ramification.

“Can we have 5 more minutes to play after lunch?” a 6-year-old playmate of my daughter asks me.  “How about 2 minutes or 1 or even 30 seconds?“ is the negotiative response to my emphatic no.  Two little feet patter over to the slide and climb its ladder, despite our conversation.

“So?  It’s no big deal,” a motorized scooter-riding, almost-teenager responds to an adult pointing to a sign posted to the outside wall of the school, prohibiting wheels on the new turf.

“But I just missed it by one point, Mom!  I should have still still made the finals.”

They’re just kids learning the ropes, right?  Sure, if we’re doing the teaching.  But what if the parents are the ones teaching the entitlement?  

What if dad parks in the crosswalk at the corner of his daughter’s school when he’s running late, despite the illegality of the park job, endangering other kids trying to cross, and the weekly emails from the school highlighting the traffic issues and asking each parent to do his part to keep the kids safe? 

And how about mom juggling her latte, a bag full of snacks and juice boxes that will keep the two kiddos in tow quiet during the 2-hour musical, despite the rule of no food or drink in the auditorium?

And what does it say when an adult whips out his handheld for a quick text, call or FB update at an event that has been dubbed no phones or electronics allowed during a presentation?

It trickles down folks. Each incident may seem like minutia, but each small entitled action screams not only to the world, but directly to our children, that per definition, we are “inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment” and it’s just not so.  Our children don’t learn entitlement from the outside world, they learn it right at home….from you and from me. 

Even though we may take the time, energy, and unpopular stance of setting up behavior expectations and ramifications for non-adherence for our kids, it’s not enough.  Regardless of following through with the monitoring and doling out of consequences to our children for their behavior, it doesn’t do the trick.  Active engagement in a child’s life alone is insufficient.  We must acknowledge that our personal actions have direct bearing on what our children learn.

When we act as the rules don’t apply to us, our kids will think the same for themselves and respond in fashion: Monkey See, Monkey Do.  Let’s change the behavior.  Let’s change the attitude of tomorrow’s youth.  Let’s change the world.....one self-monitoring behavior at a time.