The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Friday, March 31, 2006
I love my friends. I love my friends like they are family. In fact, since I am so far away from my biological family, my circle of friends is my family – and it’s a huge, extended family with branches all over the world. I like that. No matter where I go, I’m “home.”

When I was a kid, we were taught a song in Girl Scouts about friends:
“Make new friends, and keep the old,
One is silver and the other’s gold.”

Girl Scouts is probably the first place I learned to develop strong friendships. My best friends were Lisa, Terri, Karen and Gina. We grew up in the same housing development (except for Lisa), and spent our weekends together doing typical girl stuff like playing Bobby Sherman or Monkees records, dressing our Barbies, climbing trees, and being tomboys. If I wasn’t around the house on the weekends, my mother knew that I was playing in the creek with Terri and the neighborhood boys. Those were the days when summer seemed to last forever. Gina and Karen were quieter and more girly. It was usually Barbie and plastic ponies with them, or coloring books and TV.

Lisa lived further away, so my mother was forever carting me over to her house, where I usually felt homesick after an hour or so. Lisa’s brother owned a large pet iguana that was used to terrorize me. The family also owned a large white German Shepherd that would get excitable and snap at us and chase us through the house. To get away from the dog, we had to climb up onto the back of their large sofa and lean against the wall. We’d be screaming and laughing at the same time. There were some great sleepovers at Lisa’s house, though, because her mom didn’t seem to mind a gaggle of 9 year old girls hanging out there all the time. I spent my summers swimming around in Lisa’s pool with just my underpants on.

As we all got older, though, things changed. Terri’s parents got divorced. Terri moved away. Gina moved away. Karen never came over any more and became more shy and withdrawn. Lisa and I started to move in different circles. I was the brainy one. She was the athletic one. We just didn’t see each other any more.

By the time I reached Middle School, I had new friends: Joan, Andrea, and Tina. Ellie and another Karen joined my circle in high school. Ellie and Karen shared my love of French class. They were also honor students, so we were in a lot of classes together. Karen and I went to France together with our younger sisters. Joan and Tina investigated religion with me. I don’t know why – maybe we were all just looking for something. Joan and Tina were raised Catholic, I was raised Episcopalian. I don’t remember what church Andrea went to. I think she was Moravian or something.

Joan and I became two peas in a pod. We’d collect rain water and wash each others’ long hair. We collected dolls. We went fishing together with her dad in the row boat. We giggled over the same teen idols and nearly cried when they got married. We slept over at each other’s houses all the time, although I liked sleeping over at her house better because her neighbour let us pick the wild boysenberries that grew in his yard. We became closer than most sisters. In the winter, we ice skated together. In the summer, we played badminton or threw a football around.

We all grew older, and none of our lives stayed the same. Joan’s parents divorced and Joan went from being the fun-loving person I knew, to someone who was distant and critical. I mourned the loss of my closest friend even before we physically separated and moved apart. We all eventually married and moved away. Andrea went off and made new friends, unable to cope with our religious obsession (and to be fair to Andrea, we were pretty pushy about it.) I saw Ellie and Karen only once each after high school graduation. Ellie had landed a fabulous job as a French translator. Karen had moved to New York City.

With time, we all changed. I decided that religion wasn’t really what I wanted or needed. In fact, it was making me miserable. Joan decided the opposite and couldn’t understand how someone could feel so differently than she did. Tina became preoccupied with her family, as her father now needed her help with his business and with her mother, and Andrea became a distant memory.

Fortunately, while old friendships were fluctuating and fading, new ones have been forming. I couldn’t even begin to name even a fraction of my new friends’ names, for fear of accidentally leaving someone out. I think that’s the remarkable thing about friendships. No matter what’s going on in your life, you’ll have a friend who will match where you are mentally and emotionally. I still think about and care about my old friends. I wish them happiness and good health. I hate sometimes that things change so much. Adult friendships aren’t the same as your childhood ones, but you aren’t a child any more. Although, sometimes, when you least expect it, when you've got your guard down and are having fun with your friends, you catch glimpses of what you were like when you were a kid.
posted by Melanie O. at 4:16 PM - 2 comments
Sunday, March 26, 2006
I once asked a group of people how they like their tea. I got nearly as many differing responses as there were people who responded to the question.

Some had a "magic formula" for tea, taken from a group of English university professors, who had calculated the exact water temperature, the weight of the tea leaves per cup, and how long to steep it. Tea must be made scientifically for it to be right. The milk must be in the cup before the tea is poured, and should be room temperature.

Others, like myself, preferred a much stronger "wake you up in the morning" type of brew, complete with cream and sugar, much like coffee, but without the nasty coffee breath that ensues.

Some preferred smoky-tasting teas like Lapsang souchong. Some preferred a sweeter, jammier tea like Assam. Some liked green tea and some preferred herbal infusions. But no doubt about it, men and women alike like tea. Even Captain Pickard of the USS Enterprise liked his Earl Grey, hot. Maybe it was the bergamot that made him so damned sexy. The captain of the Titanic was stirring his black tea with a thin slice of lemon just before they hit the iceberg, if the movies are to be believed. Entire cultures have developed elaborate ceremonies for brewing and serving tea. According to common folklore, the American Revolution started over a disagreement on the taxation of tea.

Tea is like fertilizer for the soul. In fact, in the US South, where Soul reigns supreme, sweet tea is an icon. No restaurant worth its salt would even think about not having lots of fresh-brewed cold sweet tea available. I miss that, being in Australia, where they know how to make hot tea the English way, but haven't figured out that iced sweet tea is a hundred times better than canned fizzy softdrinks. Nowhere can I find good ol' southern style iced sweet tea. If you want it, you have to buy cold bottled tea, which doesn't even taste remotely like tea. It tastes like sweet peach or lemon water.

I recall Eric Idle's Beatles parody: The Rutles, and Dirk McQuigley confessed that he had had tea. Lots of tea. And biscuits. Tea taking was linked to the Rutles' psychedelic phase of musicianship. And as I sit here, in front of my computer, drinking my very strong hot tea with cream and sugar, I can almost hear the angels singing. Either that or it's the caffeine buzz.

Dan always asks me if I want a cup of tea when he goes to fix himself one. I have come to the conclusion that this is a sign of a great husband. Some people's marriages are held together by their kids or their religions - ours is held together by tea. And biscuits.
posted by Melanie O. at 6:32 PM - 4 comments
Friday, March 24, 2006
Dating hell
I am one of those post-feminist women who is thankful that there are still a lot of honorable guys out there who believe in marriage. More and more, I hear from 30-somethings who despair of ever finding that person and of having a family. And while I can't say I've been married to the same man for 25 years, I can say I have married a good man, even if it took a few tries to get it right.

I was one of those 30-somethings (a single parent, to make matters worse,) who despaired of finding a partner. I tried the local Christian singles scene, who either a) decided I wasn't a "real" Christian because I didn't attend one of the churches on their list, or b) decided I didn't fit in because I wouldn't conform to their idea of a right wing Republican (because, as we know, only right wing Republicans can be true Christians.) Plus, I also don't believe in "waiting" for marriage before you can express your feelings for someone (although I certainly don't advocate irresponsibility.) I probably scared the "good" men away. You know - the ones who play in Christian rock bands and are terrified that some woman will tempt them to eat the forbidden fruit against their will.

I also tried Internet dating. I met some interesting guys. I struck up a nice "conversation" with one guy who was a couple of years older than I, who, after only three emails and barely learning each other's names, accused me of "playing games" because I wouldn't spend the weekend with him at his place. Nice. Another guy came off as being really sweet and wanting to help kids. He'd tell me about the work he did on a horse farm with troubled boys and girls. He seemed like a decent person, even though there was no real chemistry there. We became penpals of a sort. Then one day I accidentally received an email from him that I don't think he meant to send to me. It was an episode from a serial porn story that he was writing. Here was a side to this "nice guy" I'd never seen, and I stopped writing, after I recovered from the shock.

Then I met and dated a wealthy guy who, while nice, was somewhat distant. He took me to the nicest restaurant in town. He was nice enough looking, although there was no real chemistry right out of the starting gate, but I was willing to give it time. Apparently, he wasn't willing to do the same. He was in a hurry to get married and I wasn't warming up quickly enough to suit him. He quickly faded from site. Maybe I was too cautious? Who knows. I'll never find out. I think he figured that by the second date, I should have jumped into bed with him. But who'd want to jump into bed with someone who doesn't give you any signals, one way or another, that he finds you attractive? Maybe he wasn't "that into me" although he emailed and called me regularly. Maybe he felt he was applying for a job.

I also dated a lawyer. Nice guy, but rubbed me the wrong way. It was one of those things you can't always put a finger on. I think it was his aggressive approach to dating that bothered me. He was a mass-dater, meaning he dated several women at once, and I got to hear about the other women. This didn't allow me to relax at all and devote my time and attention to him. I felt like I was auditioning for something. A part in Peter Pan, except that he had the Cathy Rigby role.

I also dated the inventor/motorcycle racer. Smart, good-looking (in a thin-lipped kind of way,) great sense of humor and full of energy. My kind of guy, and I was really warming up to him until he told me one day, "I don't think that, just because you're a couple, you should have to spend most of your time together. You both need to have your own life and spend maybe 30% of your time together."

I ran for the hills.

There was also the army sergeant that I met via an online dating profile. He was a really nice guy - total gentleman, but, again, no chemistry. I think it was knowing what it was like to be an army wife that made me a bit standoffish. I was thinking that it was never going to happen with anyone. I had to learn to enjoy being on my own and not be beholden to anyone. Some days, I was actually happy to have decided this.

Of course, through all of these online dating experiences, I had a penpal in Australia. Dan was there for me to cry on through all of the mishaps of dating land. He was "safe." He lived on the other side of the world, so there was NO WAY we were going to get together, as far as I could see. He was just a good friend. Not husband material since he "just drove a truck" for a living. Turns out that he makes twice what I make, and I'm in the IT business.

We celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary this year, at a time when people are putting off marriage or eschewing it altogether. I think I know why someone invented marriage. It wasn't about political alliances or pooling land resources. It wasn't about bribes and pawns in tribal conflicts. It was because people figured out that dating in your 30's sucks, and my heart goes out to anyone who is over age 30 and still "dating."

posted by Melanie O. at 4:15 PM - 2 comments
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Weekend away
Mount TomahDan and I came to the conclusion last week that we needed a weekend away. What with having to euthanise our cat, renters who are never in time with the rent - resulting in us not being on time with some of our bills, and our current landlord who thinks that everyone is out to get him and then put his house up for sale (which means we have to move soon,) the world just seemed a bit out of control. This doesn't even take into account job and family stresses. It was obvious to us, though, that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge - even if just for the weekend.

Dan knows that I love being in the mountains. The mountains refresh me. I don't know why that is, but whenever I go to the mountains, I am instantly energised. I can accomplish twice as much and sleep twice as well as when I am in Sydney. Like Rip Van Winkle, I seem to wake up after being asleep for twenty years, and there's so much that I want to see and do!

So, we drove up towards
Mount Tomah and stopped in Bilpin for an apple treat. Bilpin is reknowned throughout New South Wales for its apple orchards. It seems like it's been forever since I've enjoyed "home made" apple pie, so we indulged in some as we made our way to our final destination of the day, Clarence.

Clarence really isn't much except for an old coal railroad, now a tourist attraction, affectionately Zig Zag Railroadcalled the
Zig Zag Railway, which is really what it is. Back in the days when Lithgow was a mining town, coal was shuttled down the mountainside from Clarence, but the mountain being as steep as it is, couldn't support a straight or even curved track, so some genius decided to shuttle it down in stages, and the line is a zigzag. The is means that after each section of the zigzag is completed, the old steam engine of the train has to be switched to the other end of the train for the next section (a switch-back). Dan, being the train afficionado that he is, was invited to sit in the driver's compartment on one of these switches. He was in heaven, while I wandered around, foolishly, wondering what had happened to my husband. I should have known! You can take the man out of the train, but you can't take the train out of the man.

So, we rode down and back up the side of the mountain, in freezing weather (it's still summer here, but the
Blue Mountains defy any predetermined weather patterns,) and had a blast. Dan, of course, spent an inderterminate amount of time talking to the drivers and maintenance workers, which has made him all the more determined to get recertified as a train driver, himself.

We spent the night in a rural town named Marrangaroo (kind of rhymes with kangaroo) at a fabulous motel that was really more like a Bed and Breakfast with 35 bedrooms. That night, we ate in their little bistro where you could order a steak and throw it on the barbie, (or they'd cook it for you.) The next morning, we had breakfast delivered to us in our room. But the best part of it for me, was the soft mountain water!

You have to understand, Sydney's water is full of calcium and lime, and it's murder on your hair, especially if your hair is bleached, like mine is. Mountain water is soft water and I think I heard my hair weeping with joy after I got out of the shower. I didn't wash it again for a few days afterwards to enjoy the afterglow.

Orient CaveThe next day, we made our way to
Jenolan Caves, and booked a tour through the Orient Cave. It was magical. I felt like a little cave gnome, climbing my way up and down stairs, through chambers and past pools of water. It was truly like another world in there. Dan has never seen anything like it, and was completely mesmerized. We spent a few hours at Jenolan Caves and then decided to take the leisurely way back to Sydney. It was a sad moment, having to leave the mountains.

We knew we were back in Sydney again when the traffic became just awful with aggressive drivers, drivers who just don't know basic road rules, and Dan and I getting more irritable. Some people want to win the lottery so that they can buy "stuff" and travel the world. I want to win it so that I can move up to the mountains and not worry about the fact that there aren't too many jobs there. That would be my idea of heaven. You know, when you think about it, minibreaks can be a dangerous thing: Dan wants to go back to train driving school, and I want to be in the mountains. A weekend away can change your life.
posted by Melanie O. at 8:09 AM - 3 comments
Friday, March 17, 2006
Religion checklist
prison bars I am not a religious person, although, I like to think that I do maintain a certain level of spirituality. I was raised a Christian and believe in the Golden Rule. This does not mean that it is a belief system, since it requires no faith to see that, when you treat others right, you get treated right in return. Whether or not Jesus was a real person makes no difference to me. Jesus’ teachings are a great guide for life and healthy human relations. I also follow some of the teachings of Buddha, but am not a Buddhist.

I don’t believe in religion, since all religion is man-made, no matter what “prophet” may have said differently. Let’s face it, in modern times we recognise that the only people who “talk with God” are mentally unstable. They’ve usually gone off their Risperdal, lithium, and Stelazine. The ones that are really good at it get their own TV shows.

I suppose there are some religions out there that are completely harmless, like simple nature religions, but most are not, and I don’t understand how we allow them to flourish. I guess it’s our superstitious natures and primitive fears that are our own worst enemies. People are going to look to religion to give them the answers to life’s many questions, so, I’d like to make a list of questions that one should ask oneself when choosing a religion:

• Does this religion view the female half of its congregation as being intellectually and spiritually inferior to the male half?
• Does it resist reformation?
• Does it have a tradition that believes that women are the source of sin and are generally “unclean?”
• Does it have a view of the Afterlife that caters to men and not women?
• Does it have a view of the Afterlife that is based on material happiness or rewards physical lust?
• Does it have a warrior tradition (versus a peaceful one)?
• Does it teach that its members are “better” or “set apart and special” from other religions?
• Does it proclaim itself the Only True religion?
• Does it have a self-proclaimed prophet that started it?
• Does it have so many rules for living that you can't do simple tasks freely, and feel deprived of what it means to be human?
• Does it prescribe death for those who apostatise/want to leave? (Even if they don’t practise it - it’s just “on the books.”)
• Does it use excommunication to punish people?
• Does it teach an “an eye for an eye” type of justice?
• Does it refuse to be self-critical and openly persecute those who criticise it?
• Does it engage in re-writing its own history?
• Does it use holy writings that are contradictory, or plagiarise other books?
• Does it proclaim that its leaders are infallible?
• Does it refuse to use outside sources to prove its validity?
• Does it promote or teach as part of its doctrine polygamy and other lifestyles that are detrimental to women and children?
• Does it teach that anyone who does not belong to their religion is going to Hell or at best a “lower” form of heaven?
• Is it elitist in that it only “helps its own” instead of being part of the community?
• Does it seek to perpetuate a certain racial culture as well as belief system?
• Does it dictate how you should dress, what you should eat and drink, when you should pray?
• Does it pry into your personal/sex life and dictate what can or can’t be done between two consenting adults?
• Does it make you feel unworthy of God’s love or somehow lacking if you don’t want to conform to their model?
• Do they “have an answer” for everything and make excuses for why their doctrine makes no sense?
• Do their leaders get angry or annoyed when you question points of doctrine?
• Are you physically or emotionally threatened or psychologically abused by members of the congregation (including family members) if you don’t want to conform to their model?
• Do they teach (brainwash) by constant repetition?
• Are religious laws more important than love and acceptance of others and self?
• Are you expected to give large portions of your income to support your church (more than would be reasonable?)
• Could the “prophet” or leader/founder of this religion be classified as a criminal today and be prosecuted for crimes that include: rape, paedophilia, fraud/con jobs, murder, and thievery?

If the answer to more than one of these questions is 'Yes,' and you are still thinking of joining, best of luck to you. You’ll need it. How do I know? I joined one of these religions back when I was a young teen. Back then, I was sold a package of goods. I was shown the icing, but the cake underneath was a rotting fish. I confess, at the time, I enjoyed the fellowship and structure in my life, but now, looking back, I see that it wasn’t religion I needed. It was self esteem and a feeling of belonging – something that a lot of teens lack.

So if you must believe in something: Believe in yourself. Believe that you are the most perfect You in existence. And live life. And love. And have joy. If there is a Great Creator out there, it doesn’t care what you wear or what you eat. I’m a parent. I just want my kids to be happy and fulfilled. And to not kill or hurt each other - and I would step in to intervene if I thought they would.

You know, I just realised that sane, rational people do not start religions. Sane, rational people don’t need to tell other people what to believe. We’re too busy enjoying our own lives. We don't need to tell other people how to live theirs.
posted by Melanie O. at 2:51 PM - 7 comments
Monday, March 13, 2006
Goodnight, sweetheart
We had to have our cat, Butch euthanized this weekend. We knew the day would eventually come – not just so soon. Butch was only three and a half years old and the sweetest, cuddliest teddy bear of a cat ever. But what else can you expect from a breed called Ragdoll?

Butch first started showing signs that something was wrong when he was a kitten. He’d start wheezing if he played too hard or if he got too excited. My first worry was that he had a bad heart problem. It did turn out that he had a heart problem, but it was minor and that’s not what killed him.

Last winter, he developed a breathing problem. He wouldn’t play. He just sat, crouched on the floor and wouldn’t move. We took him to the emergency room and it turned out that his lungs were full of fluid. There was no real explanation of why or how it happened – but his lung capacity was down to 17% and we had to do something fast.

One operation and several hundred dollars later, Butch was back with us, but he had picked up cat flu at the clinic, which I have since found out that cats can live with, even if they sneeze a lot. Heck, I have allergies and I sneeze a lot. I would hope no one would think of putting me down for that. He was treated twice for cat Chlamydia, to no avail. We learned to accept the fact that he was just going to be a sneezing, snuffling cat. I had suspicions, however, that the lungs full of fluid were going to be the tip of the iceberg.

One day, as I looked down at Butch, I noticed that one of his eyes looked funny. Butch always had a way of meeting my gaze. He had beautiful blue eyes that always locked with mine in expectation of a cuddle or playtime. It’s just that this time, his right eye seemed a little skewed and a little “off.” As time went on, the problem grew to the point where his eye actually seemed to migrate off centre. I had read that cats with cat flu often develop conjunctivitis and thought maybe Butch had developed it.

Back to the vet’s we went, where he scared the attending vet who had never seen anything like it. She told us to take him to the specialist right away, as he looked so odd, he needed more than what they could do for him there.

So, Butch, ever patient and ever loving purred his way through another battery of tests at the specialist animal hospital. We were told that he showed no signs of infection. But he did show signs that he had a tumour.

There was the Big C word looming in front of us, but we still requested that he be treated for an abscess with antibiotics and steroids as a last ditch effort. The specialist said he would probably be dead in six months, but we wanted to try anyway.

Ten days went by. The tumour was growing at a phenomenal rate, and nearly pushed his eye out of his socket. The area was obviously painful now, and poor Butch couldn’t even close his eye properly. The steroids gave him a false appetite and thirst, because as soon as his course of treatment was over, Butch’s appetite disappeared and he went off his food. I don’t think he would have even lasted a month, and he would have been in terrible pain. We knew it was time to say goodbye.

On the morning we delivered him to the vet, I held Butch and cuddled him for several minutes. Despite his obvious discomfort, he totally relaxed against me and purred as I stroked him. I told him that he had been a wonderful cat, and that I wished that there had been something that I could do for him. He did what he usually did when I picked him up. He nuzzled under my chin and I could feel that little motor going. I put him in his cat carrier and grew silent.

My husband took him to the vet, who declared that there really was nothing more to be done. Butch even purred at the vet, even though his tail was twitching, as he was in obvious pain. “Come on sweetheart,” he said to Butch, “let’s take care of that headache.”

My 6’3” tall husband lost it. He came back home alone and we both had a good cry. It’s funny how those little furry critters can get under your skin like that.

We'll miss you, Butch.
posted by Melanie O. at 2:30 PM - 6 comments
Monday, March 06, 2006
The Oscars
Nothing amuses me more than watching a huge awards ceremony like the Oscars, and I have to wonder why? Is it because I’m just viewing the faces of people that I know from the media and there’s some kind of familiarity there? The entertainment is mediocre. OK, the gowns are nice (some of them,) but that can’t be the reason why so many eyes are glued to the television set for Academy Awards night.

I think I have the appeal figured out, however: in addition to ooohing and ahhhing over the bling and the gowns, my friends and I are secretly playing “Mr Blackwell,” and we’re slagging the stars. In all fairness, when you put yourself out on the Red Carpet, you have to be prepared to be slagged. When you earn that much money for entertaining people, the people have a right to pick you apart:

“Look at Charlize’s gown. WTF is that hideous oversized bow doing on her shoulder? Naomi Watts looks like she stepped out of a paper shredder. Heath Ledger could have at least shaved. That ‘stache looks nappy.” It’s a great way to vent your jealousy over the fact that these people earn more in an hour than you earn in a year.

I try to imagine if this would work on a much smaller scale, say – for a bowling academy. I am thinking of the commentary from my livingroom.

Announcer: “And now, for the bowler with the highest accrued score in a single league, the nominees are:
Billy Bob Johnson from the Altoona Sharks,
Jay Kaszewicki of the Milwaukee Suds,
Jane Cleeson of the Indianapolis Rollers!”

“And the winner is:…”

This is when the viewer gets up to grab another bag of chips.

“Jay Kaszewicki!”

Jay Kaszewicki’s eyes well up with tears. A narrator comes on:

“Jay Kaszewicki tonight is wearing a stunning powder blue Vintage 50’s bowling shirt, made from cotton poplin and starched to a stunning sheen. Jay prefers to wear Dockers shorts and a matching pair of two toned blue bowling shoes completes the ensemble.”

Jay steps up to the microphone to accept his trophy. He sobs, “You like me! You REALLY like me!”
posted by Melanie O. at 2:48 PM - 1 comments

About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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