Mom, Advice Columnist?

I have an idea. Well, my friend Deb’s idea really. Last week she called me and said, “You should have your mother do an advice column on your blog.” I laughed.

“I’m serious. It would be so funny because she’d start off all her answers with ‘What are you crazy?”

We laughed even harder.

Hmmm…maybe my readers would send in their dilemmas. Who couldn’t use a wise Polish woman’s sensibilities to help with those hard to navigate conundrums? Especially when it’s not your own mother and there would be no inherent conflict, i.e.: I told you so.

On second thought….

Actually, what my Mom will do is say nothing- which is the worst kind of I told you so. It’s like ’ I told you so’ to the max! To the 10th power. It’s so deep an ‘I told you so.’ Her silence reverberates like a gong. She says nothing and it’s all I need to know. It’s good to have this. So I know when I’ve royally veered off track.

Not only is my Mom fortified with post-war Poland sensibilities, but with her love for Dr. Oz, Oprah, 48 Hour Mystery, and Pass Book Savings Accounts, she’s bound to hand out some wisdom nuggets.

And you may even act on them.

Find me on Facebook and message me. I promise to keep your question confidential. Perhaps from time to time I could feature one in my post.

I could call her column:

Pani Matusiak’s Wszystko w Porządku — Mrs. Matusiak’s Everything in Order
Ask Jannett’s Mom
….because let her worry about someone else

I joke. But not really. My mom has doled out good advice. Seriously. The most level headed woman I know. Conservative? Yes. Low on drama and tears? Yes. Ability to plow through heartache? High.

Did I really need an elaborately carved wooden Indonesian headboard (slightly damaged) for $500 at Pier One Imports when I first moved to Denver?

I walked out of the store reluctantly and called my mom in the parking lot. I wanted to tell her about the unbelievable deal I just found marked down from $1,200. (She can’t resist a good deal), but my deep subconscious knew why I was calling her.

If you ever want to kill an impulse, call my home number. Ask for Halina. You’ll end up driving home and investing 2% more into your 401K plan. Trust me your bank account will thank you.

Later I decided I didn’t even like the headboard design that much. It would have been an expensive mistake. I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.

I take care of most things that I buy. So that sucker would have stayed in my life forever.

Here’s the thing though, I would have bought it if I loved it to death. I would have bought it if I weren’t newly settling into a place. While my fantasy impulse was saying ‘BUY! BUY! BUY! This is so awesome.’ The voice of reason was saying, ‘Don’t do it, dummy!’

I’m glad the voice of reason is louder than my impulse voice; most of the time anyway.

This is an interesting thing I keep coming back to with my parents’ values. They are instilled in me and yet I somehow find myself resisting them. Do I really need x thing? If so, why? Or why not?

What I find myself so deeply resistant to are these phrases: ….save money for later…in the future…when you retire…someday…when you….if you…

I know you understand me when I say, haven’t we all seen it all go wrong?

The vacation never taken, the retirement never enjoyed, the suffering that comes too soon and in spades to ones we never expected.

The end, it just comes too quick; the future, unpredictable.

I don’t advocate for reckless behavior, because it’s good to strive for balance day to day. But what is that balance?

Some years ago, I said to my Mom, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow!” My go-to response.
She responded, “Don’t say that.”

I planned and went on a trip to Paris on my own.

My choices have to make some kind of sense. I want to enjoy the way I move through the world. Even if at times it is confusing to know what is right for right now and what will be right for me in the future.

But I think it comes down to this one single question: with anything I do and with anyone I engage with—

Does this enrich my life?

What does my Mom think of this philosophy when she has bank rolled me in the past?

Mom and Ciocia Play Matchmaker

This was the number card I was given at brunch yesterday while I was waiting for a table.


I was talking to my Mom on the phone a few months back when Ciocia asks to talk to me. The conversation played out like this:

“Czy słyszałeś od kogoś?” Did you hear from anyone? Ciocia asks.

This is not an unusual question. I am the one in the family who keeps in touch with my cousins in Poland via internet, often retelling bits of family news that is passed on through email, Facebook or Skype.

“Nope.” I say.

I can’t quite tell if the silence on the phone is from Ciocia not hearing me (she’s hard of hearing) or whether she got distracted and is watching something on Home Shopping Club.

“No email?” she says.

“Why, are you expecting to hear from someone?” I ask

I could hear my mother in the background. Her voice drops into alpha Polish octaves and mutters things like, “Oh. Uhh. Uhh. You just had to, didn’t you! Uhh. You had to. I told you not to say anything. I told you. Now you’ve done it. You didn’t have to tell her.”
I picture her motoring around the kitchen in a state of contained fuming.

Co? Co!” -What? What! hisses back Ciocia.

Now they’re bickering.

Watching my mom and my aunt fight is like watching two alley cats claiming the same ground. When one of them walks out of the room, the other will start up the argument an hour later, even though an icy silence has created a crevasse between them.

One last claw swipe into the air, just to let the other know they have not been defeated.

I’ve never seen better fighters with so few words and no profanity. They make can make a common word a searing insult. As I’m listening to them bicker, the alarms turn on in my head.

Red alert. Red alert.

“Cioooooocia, who did you give my email to?”

“No one.”

Bickering continues.


“Nice boy from church.”

Do you hear the slap on my forehead?

She copied my email from the info card I left for my parents before I moved.

Daj mi. Daj mi.” Give me. Give me, says my mom as she grabs the phone from her.

“You gave my email to some guy at CHURCH?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with it? There are so many things wrong with this.”

“He comes to church every week. He dresses nice. Very polite. Nice guy. I can tell. Good person.”

Do you hear more forehead slapping?


My mother’s mouth moves away from the receiver. She is growling at Ciocia again telling her- I hope you’re happy now. My mom hoped for a surprise attack.

I ask my mom to start from the beginning so that I can strategize damage control.

My aunt ran into the ‘nice guy from church’ at Market Basket and said, “Hi. I no see you in church today.”

“I went yesterday.”

“Oh yeah” said Ciocia, “You single? I have niece for you.”

Leave it to Ciocia to get right to the point.

What the stunned nice guy from church was thinking when my Polish 85 year old aunt and mother walked up to him in a grocery store, is both fun and horrifying to speculate. Thankfully, he never wrote so we were both spared the awkward.

My Mom and Ciocia mean well. They really do. How can I be mad at Ciocia for saying “you single? I have niece for you.”

If she weren’t so damn funny, I’d be mad at them for real.

It makes me wonder about something I hear my mom say to me once in a while, “I know you, better than you know yourself.”

When I see my friends watching their young toddlers grow, I think to myself how that might be possible. They know their child’s temperament, strengths and weaknesses. Reactions can be anticipated. Challenges prophesized. I told you so, said or held back in an effort to allow their kids to learn lessons. Each of these things folds into itself in a careful geological layer.

My Mom and Ciocia have the advantage of watching me become myself. So could they in fact, actually choose someone right for me? I mean maybe a better question to ask is, could they do worse than me? Their ears prick up at the first sniff of something gone off. They wouldn’t stick around to ask questions and contemplate why.

Those are instincts I have learned the hard way.

I have never been pressured by them to get married nor have children, so for them to concoct a Mission Impossible plan makes me wonder.

What if they can they see something I can’t?

Out on a Limb

I tumble for ya.

I know what you’re thinking- those are some pretty hot looking bow ties, right? I know. There is a lot going on in this picture.  If the 1980s era was about excess than my three tier bow tie shirt exemplifies the times. I’ve never seen another shirt like this in my life. Would the generation of today believe me if I told them, this was cutting edge fashion? More importantly, washboard abs and 12-inch waist line, where did you go?

I post this picture of myself in restitution to my mom. She was disgruntled a few posts back that I published a Skype photo of her with “włosy nie czesane”- hair uncombed. I told her I was sorry and that I would post an embarrassing photo of myself just to be a good sport.

I’m only all too sorry that my other favorite photo of me standing in front of a Billy Idol poster in a safari ensemble is safely tucked away in a box in my parents’ basement. It was another hands on hips shot. The stance I usually take when I mean business.

It’s hard to know what to comment on first.

Despite the white flats, acid wash jeans, Madonna belt, spiral perm and pink frosted lipstick, let the record state that I had a boyfriend. Long term. And no, he was not imaginary like Jan Brady’s boyfriend, George Glass.

A few years ago I was “putting myself out there” on and decided to post this photo in the gallery of photos to showcase my best self. I hated the artifice of perfectly poised photos and thought a royally goof-ball photo balanced out the nice headshots and the potentially snobby sounding things that I enjoyed: English Breakfast Tea, reading, traveling, writing, theatre and art. Surely my prince charming would see this photo and die laughing, but I don’t think anyone picked up on my sense of humor or the idea that I try not to take myself too seriously. Was that not the right approach? Who cares! Life’s too short to pretend I didn’t wear three bow ties on a blouse. I know somebody is out there laughing with me, maybe even in a pair of parachute pants.

My current self is still a part of my 80s self and I’m not ashamed to say we are the same person. While I don’t have the acid wash jeans or the frosted lipstick anymore, my hands are still on my hips.

Whether it’s meeting a new guy, sending out my essays to literary magazines (3 rejections this month) or sliding down a double black diamond like a human luge, that proverbial limb is something I want to keep crawling out on.

It’s scary as shit, but I know its got the greatest views.

It Isn’t Easter Without Horseradish

Happy Easter! Happy Spring! Some flowering trees on my walk.



Chrzan– horseradish (pronounced Kshan)

I bought a jar of horseradish at the grocery store. It pained me because I know Ciocia Felicia grated fresh horseradish for the Easter breakfast table at my parents’ house. I’m 2,006 miles away so I have to figure out how to burn my nose hairs on my own, so I can feel like I had a normal Easter without them.

I can picture her grating it- outside or on the porch, silver metal bowl in hand, eyes tearing, nose sniffling and face red with force. Woman against rooty beast. When it comes to hand to hand combat, believe me, I put my money on Ciocia Fela. She’s not easily put off by tears and some hard work. Someone walks out a winner from the shred, and it isn’t the root.

Ciocia keeps the grated horseradish white, or dyes it purple with beets. She stores it in a recycled jar. I like seeing those old jam jars. Makes my store bought shrink wrapped cap hygienic but disappointing. I bought Bubbies brand because it had natural ingredients and their dill pickles are super tasty. I had a different brand I picked up first but when I saw that Bubbies made horseradish, I brought the other one back with a skip in my step. Any company that has a photo of their ancestor on the bottle is okay in my book. This is the best I can get to homemade without doing it myself.

If Ciocia had her picture on a jar, she'd be wearing her Elton John glasses.

I’m not sure I have the mettle to hand-grate some myself. I’m likely to touch my eyes or scrape my knuckles. It just wouldn’t be fun to try unless I had my mom and my aunt, hovering behind me saying, “Not like this. Like this.”

It’s the Chrzan we talk about around the table, second to the fresh kielbasa.

“Where is the Chrzan?”
“Pass the Chrzan”
“Is the Chrzan hot this year?”

Adam usually plops a heaping spoonful onto his kielbasa and rye bread.

Czy ty zwariował – Have you gone crazy! My mother will say.

Everyone waits for the verdict, hot or not hot? It happens every year. It will happen again today even though I am not at home.

I’ll ask on the phone.

If ‘It’s not that hot’ is proclaimed. Ciocia will go on to complain about the root. She’ll shrug. She’ll wonder if Market Basket didn’t have good ones this year. She’ll act like it was a firecracker that didn’t go off. A dud. A fuse with no blast. She’ll feel had, robbed of something spectacular. There’s nothing she likes better than setting off a Roman candle at the kitchen table while silently taking praise while washing the dishes.

spring fireworks

It’s not like one cooks a horseradish to perfection, you either get a good root or not. You either balance it perfectly with vinegar or you don’t. It’s either going to create a new path in your sinuses or it won’t.

Every Easter, we gather around the table to find out.

Will my store bought horseradish be as tasty at Ciocia’s homemade horseradish? I dunno.

My nose is waiting.

The Pleasant Steady Pulse of Satisfaction

It is difficult to write today. Not that I have a particular block, just that the work week drained me. I am much more interested in reading (four new books on the coffee table) than showing up in front of a blank page. Writing is work and to paraphrase my friend Catherine, you get to only enjoy a few moments of glitter. The rest is sweat.

If I have to work today, I’d rather mop my hardwood floors- which I did. And not lazy-man mopping, only maneuvering the mop head around furniture. I moved my sofa, I rolled the bed away. I swept up dust bunnies so large they reminded me of childhood cotton candy vats that spun airy fibers into a kind of wig. I’m a tidy person, but still the dust collected. I pictured my mother’s eyes assessing the mound and figuring exactly how many days I let this carnival dust bunny grow under my bed.

This only validated my need to mop instead of write because obviously these dust bunnies would have tried to suffocate me overnight.
I thwarted them.

For now.

When I was a kid and inexplicably sneezed in succession in bed at night. I heard a singsong voice coming down the dark hallway from my parents’ bedroom, “Someone didn’t vacuum so good.”

“I vacuumed!” Achoo!

“Not behind the bed.”

Achoo! Achoo!

I feel like this sneezing memory is much like the nagging blank page in my head. It wasn’t going to go away until I did something about it. No matter how much I wanted the page to write itself today, I had to work at it like rolling away an unwieldy bed from a wall.

I am reminded of the words of so many great writers, mentor and artists who talk about creative process and their work. Two words: Show up.

So I stared straight at this blank page and found words after I moved some furniture in my mind.

I finally got into the rhythm of work and felt the pleasant steady pulse of satisfaction.