Cynthia Varady Writer, Mom, Cynic, Unicorn Lover Fri, 19 Jan 2018 01:11:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 72493227 My First Colonoscopy Wasn’t That Bad Mon, 15 Jan 2018 22:45:45 +0000 It’s always concerning when cancer runs in a family, especially the aggressive types. Luckily, the cancers in my family tree

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It’s always concerning when cancer runs in a family, especially the aggressive types. Luckily, the cancers in my family tree are mostly preventable; staying out of the sun for skin cancer and getting a routine colonoscopy.

If it’s all the same, I prefer to slather on the sunblock than undergo a colonoscopy. But who wouldn’t?

My Family History

Both of my parents had colon cancer. My dad developed his tumor in his mid-50s. My mother in her late 60s. My father didn’t get regular screenings and his cancer metastasized to his lungs. My mom is a cancer survivor and takes meticulous care of her health as a result. At the time, I didn’t think much of my parents’ cancers until I mentioned it to a medical professional in passing.

“With your family history, you’ll need to get your first colonoscopy at forty instead of fifty,” she said, her voice grave.

My stomach did a nervous flip. Ten years early? Was she kidding? Why the hell couldn’t my parents have taken better care of themselves?

For the next fifteen years, my mind would occasionally drift to when I’d have to pony up to the gurney, bare-assed for the anal probing.

Our Society’s Fear of Butts and All Things Butt Related

The US is a very uptight nation. Chalk it up to our Puritan roots. The taboo of talking about bowel movements and such has led to more than a few preventable deaths. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US and the third most common cancer in both men and women.

I get it. I had the same fear. In my younger years, I used to cover the sounds of bowel movements with loud music and running water. The thought of someone knowing I was pooping was so embarrassing, I did everything in my power to hide it. Then I met my future husband.

Like Beets and Carrots

Our courtship didn’t follow the usual path. You know when you start dating someone and you go home to poop and leave the room to fart. Well, about two weeks into our relationship, Matt bought a juicer. We headed to the grocery store and purchased an array of leafy greens, fruits, and root veg. We headed back to his place with our bounty and began to macerate innocent plants into cocktails.

With our 32oz Big Gulp like cups filled to the brim with kale, beet, carrot, pear, and apple juice, we settled in for a movie. Twenty minutes after slamming our libations, yes, they were that yummy, the rumbling commenced.

For the next hour, we took turns skittering into the bathroom, butt cheeks clenched, to relieve ourselves. While the first couple trips were mortifying, they gradually became easier to endure. If it had been the only one afflicted, I would have slunk home, too embarrassed to ever show my face in his home again. But since both of our digestive tracts were hostages, it became a bonding moment.

The Big 4-0

The moment had come. I had turned 40 and it was time for my first colonoscopy. As I readied the mixture of Gatorade (a drink I hate) and Miralax, my heart sank. I had to drink enough laxative to move the bowels of a horse. I needed to divide the 16-oz package containing 16 servings in two. I then needed to mix it into two 32-oz bottles of Gatorade. The first of these needed to be choked down within 90 minutes. Good lord, I thought, I’ll be shitting all night.

Turns out, I wasn’t wrong.

The Human Colon

It’s astounding how much waste the human colon can hold. The day before my procedure, I could eat breakfast. After 10 a.m., my fast began. I could eat Jell-O, Ensure Clear, tea and coffee without milk, any electrocute drinks, and water.

I’m not a huge fan of any of these beverages, and I hadn’t eaten Jell-O since childhood. It’s amazing how hunger will drive a person to consume items they avoid any other time.

I managed to slurp down three packages of strawberry flavored Jell-O, a 4-pack of pomegranate Ensure Clear, and a couple cups of tea. Yet, despite my efforts to stay hydrated, nothing could have prepared for the deluge of watery emissions from my rear.

Every few minutes, I would race to the bathroom as a torrent of filth flowed from me. I couldn’t believe how much crap lay nestled in my large intestine. By midnight, I became afraid to drink anything least the hell I was going through would never end. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

Hair of the Dog

I awoke at 7 am after a few fitful hours of sleep to battle through my next 32-oz. dose of Gatorade-Miralax mixture. I felt awful. My heart raced, my mouth was as dry as the Central Valley in summer, my head pounded, and my stomach rumbled with a vengeance. Basically, I felt like balls.

Now, I am no stranger to hangovers. Yet, I’ve never experienced one without the joy of drunken photos, fuzzy memories, or friends relaying all the stupid shit you did but can’t remember. I also never knew how much of a hangover is pure dehydration.

Stoically, I poured my first glass of liquid shit storm. My body both applauded the electorates and deplored the hidden element that would continue to send me to the toilet for the rest of the morning. Half out of spite, half out of queasiness, I left half a glass of liquid hate undrunk. It felt good to break the rules after such a restless night.

I had feared the half hour drive to the gastroenterologist, thinking I would shit myself on the way there. This wasn’t the case.

It didn’t take long for the laxative to take effect. Yet, much to my surprise and glee, the second round wasn’t as bad as the first. I only hastened to the bathroom a handful of times before the urge to pass nothing but liquid abated.

The waiting game

After the prep, waiting for the procedure was the second worst part. I was hungry, tired, and thirsty. Waiting for the check-in (get my vitals taken, disrobed and IVed) did nothing to quiet my anxiety.

Thoughts of being the 1 in 1000 who suffers complications raced through my mind. What if I woke up during the procedure (something that has happened to me in the past)? What if they perforated my intestine? What if there was something wrong with me and they couldn’t complete the procedure? What if they found cancer?

In the end, no pun intended, it all went well. The anthologist did his job beautifully. I awoke in the recovery area with intense gas pains which two days to dissipate (the third worst part of the whole experience). My doctor found a tiny polyp that ended up being benign but precancerous. So, I’ll be going back in five years.


I’d give the experience a 6 out of 10. The first day of prep was by far the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. Waiting for someone to probe around in your rear is nerve-wracking. But, getting to eat after a two-day fast is amazing. I have never tasted a burger so good. And the peace of mind that comes with a good bill of health is priceless.

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My Goals for 2018 Mon, 01 Jan 2018 06:09:53 +0000 New Years is here and it’s time to reflect on what we accomplished in the past 365 days and to

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New Years is here and it’s time to reflect on what we accomplished in the past 365 days and to create new goal posts for the year to come.

Last year I wrote 11 goals I wanted to complete by the year’s end. I managed a few. Some I didn’t come close to accomplishing. Other, well, I thought about them a lot. That might count for something.

What I did finish

I finished the first draft of my first book. I even managed to get some editing done. This was by far my biggest accomplishment for 2017. I still can’t believe I finally finished writing a book, even if I will have to rewrite the whole damned thing two more times.

I’ve also begun to build up my author’s platform, although, I must admit to spending more time with Dueling Librarians than my own site.

Running several times a week happened for a long while. Most of the year, acutally. Then my knees decided they’d had enough and I had to give it up. Then there was the issue with my son getting booted from preschool for behavioral issues. Being a full-time stay-at-home mom doesn’t leave much time for exercise.

What about the other 9 goals?

This is where I blatantly ignore what I failed to accomplish and move on to what I’d like to do in 2018.

  1. I recently completed all 26 modules of Google’s Marketing Certificate. In the next few days, I’ll be taking the final for the certificate. I get three chances to pass it. Wish me luck!
  2. Keep editing and working towards a second draft of Dragons of Kalda.
  3. Finish the copywriting course on Udemy (last year’s #4).
  4. Start the Write Story Books for Children course (#2 of 2017).
  5. Continue to build my author’s platform with consist content and social media posts. This means more personalized posts, sticking to my posting scheduling, and giving more love to Wattpad.
  6. Continue to learn about marketing for indie authors and authors in general.
  7. Enter at least 5 writing contests. I managed to enter one contest and submit to three literary publications this week, so 5 in a calendar year shouldn’t be that hard. That’s the theory anyway.
  8. Check in every month on this list. I didn’t do that in 2017 and many of my goals were totally forgotten. I’ll try to do better in 2018.


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Stranger Things and Everything We Love About 80s Pop Culture Mon, 20 Nov 2017 15:46:40 +0000 From the title screen to the clothes to the soundtrack to the set design, Stranger Things captures everything that made

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From the title screen to the clothes to the soundtrack to the set design, Stranger Things captures everything that made the 80s nostalgic.

The Hype

I am not a bandwagoner. So, when everyone started fawning over Stranger Things, I shrugged and went about my day. When word made it to me that Stranger Things was paying homage to 80s pop culture, my interest piqued. Then, a few weeks into the fervor, I decided to give it a try and was quickly turned off. I am not into scary (I used to read Stephen King books like some kids eat candy bars and I’m still getting over the PTSD), and the first three episodes are by far the scariest. So, I ditched Stranger Things with a heavy heart.

When the second season was announced, I decided to conquer my fear and give Stanger Things another chance. Because so much time had passed, I had to re-watch those first three episodes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take pause before walking past my open closet door, or if I said my heart rate didn’t pick up when my bare feet lingered too long next to the gap between my bed and floor at night.  But in the end, my perseverance paid off. I was rewarded with some excellent storytelling, some facepalming fashion reminders, and creeped the hell out, but in a good way.

Here’s why Strangers Things is so great to those who grew up in the 80s.

S-P-O-I-L-E-R-S!!! So many spoilers.

Holiday Gifts

The Master of Horror

Stranger Things gives more than one nod to Stephen King. Firestarter and Silver Bullet (come to mind right off the bat). Firestarter for the overall plot of Stranger Things and Silver Bullet for some key scenes where the kids are hunting the monster. Yet, these are nods that only ardent fans of King might get. Stranger Things makes sure their homage doesn’t go unnoticed by giving the audience two direct references. The first is a character reading Cujo. The second is when Becky Ives pointedly asks Hopper and Joyce, “Read any Stephen King?”

There is so much more than this, but I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Sam Haysom at Mashable does a great job with his list: 8 Stranger Things references only Stephen King fans will get.

Shadowy Monsters and Classic Horror

Horror movies saw an upswing in viewing with the advent of VHS. Now people didn’t have to trudge to the theatre to see a movie that may have been considered immoral, broadcasting their deranged viewing habits publicly (it was a different time). Now they could rent these films and view them in their dark homes, pausing for pee breaks whenever the urge hit them. But more than that, VHS was highly inferior to what one saw on the big screen. Colors were muted, the picture grainy, and most importantly, shadows were darker. This darker picture led the viewer to never quite know where the monster might be lurking. The overall effect was a much tenser movie experience. Stranger Things brings back the slow burn shadow play VHS gave us in the 80s. Where is the fucking monster?! What does it look like? Someone turn on a goddamn light!

To learn more about the scary movie VHS phenomime, check out HBomberGuy’s video essay on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.

Dat Hair!

The 80s is known for its larger than life hairstyles, and Strange Things delivers them mops in full frontal Farrah Fawcett wings and waves. Did you miss the bowl cut? Mohawks? Mullets? Fear not! They’re all here, waiting to make you cringe and reach for the dull as fuck pair of kitchen scissors lost in the junk drawer as a weapon against the nap.

Big Holiday Deals


You either knew a Barb or you were a Barb. Fashion was particularly unkind to the Barbs of the 80s. No one looks good in pleated pants, especially Barb, but she worked it as best she could.

If you happened to be friends with a Barb, you knew you could count on her to supply an alibi for nighttime romps with your forbidden boyfriend, lend a hand with your tough science project, eat ice cream and watch sappy flicks when said forbidden boyfriend cheated on you, and if she survived the woods, she’d hold your bouquet at your wedding as you exchanged rings and vows.

Some key characteristics of a Barb are high intelligence, bookishness, unpopularity, nonconform to traditional beauty laws, biting wit, and above average loyalty.

Free-range Kids

When Dustin says to Will’s dad Ted, “Son of a bitch, you’re no help at all,” he nails the role of most adults in Stranger Things and the 80s movies in general.

As a child of the 80s, I spent most of my free time with my friends exploring. We saw our parents when we came in for food or when it was time to go in for the night. Other than that, we were running wild.

Films like The Goonies, Stand by Me, Monster Squad, and The Lost Boys are kid-centered with very few adults in their casts. Parents tend to be clueless dream killers while most other characters over the age of 30 are bad guys. The first season of Stranger Things introduces five main kids and only two have parental figures on screen. Sure, Mike’s parents are there, but they play very little into the kids’ daily lives. We don’t even meet Lucas’ and Dustan’s moms until season two.

But there are always exceptions, like Joyce. Bad ass Joyce who takes an active role in her kids’ lives. Unlike Mike’s mom, who plays the stereotypical 80s mom, Joyce is there. She listens to her instincts and doesn’t give two shits if you aren’t on board. She’s going to find her son, so either pitch in or get the hell out of her way.

Hopper’s character is similar. While he isn’t directly a father to any of the kids, he serves as a proxy to 11 in season two. Here he plays both a co-conspirator and a barricade for 11 as she tries to live a normal life.

Stephen Spielberg and E.T.

The Duffer Brother make no bones about their influences as filmmakers, and Spielberg in high on the list. I had to smile with 11 pulls out a sheet and tells Hopper she could be a ghost for Halloween and no one would be the wiser to her identity. It worked for Elliott and E.T., right?

Holiday Cards


I love that the boys are D&D playing nerds. There they are, in the basement diving into the Forgotten Realms. It’s fantastic, especially when they use D&D as an algology to the Upside Down, the world Will has disappeared into.

Arcade Wars

Tapping into cult classics like the Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet, Stranger Things fits top scores into the storyline to introduce the exotic California transplant, Max. Not only is she sweeping Dustin off the number one spot in Dig Dug, but she skateboards, surfs, has long red hair, and is tough as nails. What’s not to like?

Dig Dug is a clever nod to what the kids will have to battle later in Season 2. As the portal to the Upside Down contusions to leak its darkness into Hawkins, a series of subterranean tunnels spider web out into the farmland outside the town. The kids must now venture into the tunnels to hunt monsters, just like in Dig Dug.

Sean Astin

Who doesn’t remember Sean Astin as the asthmatic treasure hunter in Goonies? God, I loved this movie as a kid, and can probably still recite most of the dialogue by rote. Who better to solve the creepy crayon map sketched by Will than Bob? Mikey’s all grown up and still solving puzzles and finding treasure.

Teenage angst

What coming of age story would be complete without a teen little angst? All I have to say is thank fucking God teenagers don’t actually have telekinetic powers. In the second season, 11 is one bloody prom away from becoming Carrie White. Just watching Mike talk to another girl puts her into a tizzy, which, when you think about it is pretty spot on for a hormonal teenager.

The Big Dance

So many great 80s flicks either end with a big dance or contain one as a means of setting up character hierarchies; Pretty in Pink, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Teen Wolf, Back to the Future, etc.

The big dance is a quintessential part of growing up in an 80s movie. I had watched this scene play out so many times I expected my first school dance to be just like it. I was highly disappointed.

Video Killed the Radio Star

Well, not on Strange Things. These kids are all way too busy saving the world to sit around watching MTV. As with the mise-en-scène, the soundtrack to Stranger Things is the icing on the 80s homage cake. So many great pop tunes, the nostalgia poured out of my television, bathing my Ikea living room in Aquanet and Opium perfume.

So, there’s my list of some of the ways Stranger Things’ was a trip down the 80s memory lane. I know I’ve left out a ton, but we can be here forever.

If you liked this, check out my Wonder Woman review.

Home + Pets

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Gluten Free Carrot Banana Muffins Your Kids Will Love Sun, 24 Sep 2017 21:32:56 +0000 Picky eaters and meal-time battles For some parents, fighting with their kids over food is a ceaseless battle. Getting their kids to

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Picky eaters and meal-time battles

For some parents, fighting with their kids over food is a ceaseless battle. Getting their kids to eat balanced meals, try new foods, or consume anything from the dreaded veggie department is fight no one will win.

As a parent of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder who has a superhuman sense of smell and taste, and for whom most textures are unpalatable, food is a major area of contention. My son has never eaten a vegetable of his own volition. If it weren’t for green smoothies, muffins, and breads to hide greens and veggies in, we would be $hit out of luck.

The following recipe has been a huge hit with my son, and other members of the family who aren’t opposed to eating carrots.

Gluten Free Carrot Banana Muffins Recipe

2 1/2 c. grated carrots (the smaller the grate, the better)**
1 3/4 c. gluten-free flour
2 large eggs
4 tlb. butter or butter substitute, melted
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 c. milk, milk substitute, or yogurt
2 tlb. maple syrup or sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon or pumpkin spice
2 tlb. vanilla protein powder
1 tsp. baking pows

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.
  • Mash bananas. I find it easiest to do this on a flat surface like a cutting board or plate.
  • Grate carrots. I use the smaller blades. The smaller pieces are better for picky eaters.
  • Beat eggs and add milk, melted butter, and mashed bananas.
  • Slowly add flour mixture to egg-banana mixture and mix until well-blended.
  • Grease mini muffin tins or regular muffin tins. Coconut oil works the best for me, especially with gluten-free baked goods.
  • For mini-muffins, fill cups to the top. Regular muffins, fill them 3/4 of the way.
  • Bake for 25 mins to 35 mins or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • Set aside and cool.
  • Makes approximately two dozen (and change) mini muffins, and around a dozen and change of regular muffins.

**Substitute grated carrots for zucchini to mix things up.

If you and your kids liked this recipe, you can check out some of my others below:

Super Chocolatey Gluten-Free Brownies

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto

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My Wonder Woman Review. Better late than never. Sun, 27 Aug 2017 21:55:51 +0000 Author’s Note This review is coming out waaay later than it should have. However, as a parent of a small

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Author’s Note

This review is coming out waaay later than it should have. However, as a parent of a small child with SPD and ADHA, things like blog posts get placed on hold. But here we go! Let’s talk about Wonder Woman.

As the parent of a child under the age of five, I don’t get to the movies all that often. The count as of last year is around four. Four movies viewed on the silver screen in a calendar year. Before that, it was zero. Now that my semi-nuclear family is back in the states with relatives nearby to watch the wee one, my husband and I periodically make it to see new releases before they hit Netflix and cable. A month back (or so), we made it to a matinee of Wonder Woman. Before I get into how much I love this movie, let’s first chat about the trailers.

I rarely get excited about upcoming releases. With most being stale remakes of old classics, it’s not hard to see why trailers send me into either a yawning fit or make me cringe with horror, especially if it’s a beloved childhood favorite being dragged through the remake mill. Pete’s Dragon, for instance, looked promising and ended up being the worst thing I’ve seen since Plan 9 from Outer Space. Yet, Plan 9 only made me feel bad for Ed Wood. The Pete’s Dragon remake made me angry. My son couldn’t even watch past the first five minutes, having been traumatized by the car accident and wolf attack. But we’re not here to talk about bad movies. We’re here to talk about exciting ones.

Atomic Blond

I couldn’t contain the maniacal grin this trailer produced. Charlize Theron looked so badass as Lorraine Broughton, I wanted to be in the room with her. Not talking with her, she wouldn’t give me the time of day. But I wanted to be near her. Let some of her amazingness flake off her shoulders like golden dandruff onto my five foot three-inch head. The outfits, the lighting, the fight scene choreography. All of it screamed for my pocketbook to be ten bones lighter and my gums filled with popcorn kernels.



The Dark Tower

A lifelong Stephen King fan, I read The Gunslinger as a teenager and fell in love with Roland immediately. I scared my husband with my gasp of excitement when I learned Idris Elba had been cast as the intrepid Gunslinger. Matthew McConaughey received less than stellar reviews. One review was so disenchanted they linked his portrayal of the Man in Black to Ru Paul imitating Clint Eastwood. But this means little to me. As the Man in Black, that sounds perfect. If you haven’t read King thoroughly, you aren’t privy to the Man in Black. He’s the supreme evil in King’s world. Over and over he shows up in different forms throughout King’s work. He was in The Stand, Needful Things, and Eyes of the Dragon to name a few. Each time he has a new persona and new human skin suit to hide amongst the crowd. Why not a flamboyant cowboy?

Murder on the Orient Express

This was one of those rare occasions where a remake made me sit up and pay attention. Being a huge Agatha Christie fan, and fan of murder mysteries in general, I was probably more excited for this remake than was appropriate for a public venue. But with a star-studded cast, beautiful sets and costuming (multi award nominee and winner, Alexandra Bryne), and great source material to pull from, who wouldn’t be excited? I’ll admit, I can wait to view this one at home, but that doesn’t diminish my excitement.

And now for our feature presentation. . .

Wonder Woman

Before the story ventures away from the island of Themyscira, I had teared up at least four times. That’s how engaging and heartfelt Diana’s origin story is. She’s young and has great potential as a fighter, but her mother, Hippolyta, tries to shield her from what will ultimately become her purpose on earth. In secret, her aunt, Antiope, one of the great warriors of Themyscira, trains her niece to fight.

The relationship between the two women is wonderful and complex and is something that cries for further exploration. In fact, all the Amazonians cry for greater development. I would have been happy as a pig in mud to have had the entirety of the story take place on Themyscira. Imagine that. A superhero movie with a cast of nothing by women. How men’s rights groups would get their boxers in a bunch over that. Fills my shriveled feminist heart with glee. But we live in the real world, not one where an all-female cast can carry an action movie like the menfolk can.

Gods only

Another aspect of Wonder Woman I found remarkable was the use of god as a term. Never is goddess used, which is so refreshing. This places Diana on par with all the male deities in the Parthenon, with the exception of Zeus.

Grammatically, adding ess to the end of a word in English to feminize it is referred to as a diminutive. This added ess signals that the noun receiving the affix is smaller, less important than the noun not receiving the affix. Goddess, actress, waitress, stewardess, hostess, etc. It’s really irritating, and I’m happy to see the practice begin to fall along the wayside. Now if we could just stop calling grown women girls…

I have two beefs with this film. The first is how it shifts as Diana leaves home to help fight Ares, the god of war. It goes from being an all-female cast to one where Diana is the only woman around, with two exceptions. Etta the secretary, played by Lucy Davis and Dr. Maru, the evil scientist, played by Elena Anaya. Etta’s on screen presence blew me away. She was quick witted, saucy, and did her job with efficiency. I kept waiting for her to return, but sadly, she’s only in two to three brief scenes. Dr. Maru on the other hand hardly says a word. Her characterization is comprised mostly of frightening smiles, petulant scowls, and wide eyed anger. There was so much to work with, but it ended up as an Utter disappointment.

The other irritation I have is how love is played with in the story. I am all for love. Love is grand. Love makes the world turn. Well, not really, but you get my point. However, love gets thrown around in action movies like a hot potato. In Wonder Woman, Diana’s love for a man is what makes her become her true self. It’s what makes her destiny possible. If the story had stayed on Themyscira, we could have had the same outcome but with Diana’s love for her mother, her aunt, her people, or her home. Instead become her turning point. Instead, it’s because of a man.

Annoying, over done tropes aside, I loved Wonder Woman and I can’t wait to see what Gal Godot further brings to the role. She certainly proved her chops in this first installment of DC’s re-imagining of Wonder Woman.

Photo Credit

Wonder Woman: Interior artwork from Justice #5 (June 2006). Pencils by Doug Braithwaite, paints by Alex Ross.

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Never Go to A Second Location With A Hippie Thu, 08 Jun 2017 21:11:28 +0000 In the summer of 1969, my cousin, a San Fernando Valley native, met a couple of hippies down in Reseda.

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In the summer of 1969, my cousin, a San Fernando Valley native, met a couple of hippies down in Reseda. They started chatting and they invited her out to the ranch where they were staying to smoke some weed, maybe do a little acid.

Being a teenager in the 60s, my cousin, of course, went with them. Teenagers are so dumb.

Chatsworth, California by Jeff Turner

It wasn’t long after arriving at the 200-acre defunct movie set out in the hills of Chatsworth that the girls’ demeanor changed.

They started going on and on about some guy named Charlie, and how my cousin needed to meet him. Fawning would be putting a gentle spin on it.

So now my cousin’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere with a group of creepy young hippies, all ranting about this Charlie dude, trying to get her to take pills and drink, while she’s trying not to freak out.

Luckily, and I do mean this in the greatest sense of the word, luckily a couple of reporters were up there doing a story on The Family as they called themselves. They saw my cousin, and immediately latched onto her, I don’t belong here vibe, and offered her a ride home.

My cousin snatched up the offer, and the three of them left for civilization. She absolutely stayed sexy, and didn’t get murdered, or raped, or pimped out, or God knows what other horrible things might have happened.

Spahn Movie Ranch Sky by Jeremy Sternberg

A couple of weeks rolled by, and my cousin’s uncle, William “Bill” Gleason comes over for dinner to talk shop with his cop brother (my cousin’s dad). Bill, a Sargent with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD), starts in about these crazy people living up at the Spahn movie ranch out in Chatsworth who’ve been hanging out with the Straight Satans motorcycle gang from Venice.

Bill had been investigating the Straight Satan for several months and found they’d been hanging out at the ranch to trade drugs for sex with the young girls, mostly underage runaways, living out there.

My cousin listened with growing terror. This had to be the same ranch she’d been to. Sure, the Valley was filled with old western movie sets, but how many of them had groups of creepy hippies squatting on them with a leader named Charlie, calling themselves The Family?

Manson Girls
Illustration by Daniella Urdinlaiz (

On August 9 and 10 of that year, all hell broke loose in Southern California with the Tate and LaBianca murders. On August 16, the LASD obtained a search warrant to hunt for stolen vehicles on Spahn Ranch. They arrested the 24-member group, but no one would talk so those responsible for the auto thefts went unnamed. The group’s silence forced the police to let everyone go.

Within two weeks of their arrests for the stolen vehicles, most of the group had run off to Death Valley and set up shop in Barker Ranch.

On August 26, Manson ordered the murder of Donald “Shorty” Shea, a ranch hand and aspiring stuntman working up at Spahn. Convinced Shorty had snitched to the cops about the stolen cars, Manson had him tortured and killed. Shorty’s remains were recovered in December 1977. Sgt. Bill Gleason was present.

The LAPD and LASD made no connection between the murders and the Manson Family.

Barker Ranch is infamous as the last hideout of Charles Manson and his “family” after the gruesome Los Angeles murder spree. It is located inside Death Valley National Park in eastern California. Credit: el-toro

When the Inyo Police Department went to Barker Ranch to investigate the destruction of a bulldozer, they called out Bill Gleason to help identify the group as being the same as the Spahn Ranch hippies.

There are only a few men in this world I wish I had a blood relationship to. Tim Gunn, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Sir Ian McKellen top that list, but I’d be a fool if I didn’t wish the badass Sgt. William “Bill” Gleason wasn’t one of them. I mean, how cool is this guy?

My cousin never had the heart to tell Bill she’d up to the ranch and hung out with members of The Family. He died never knowing how close his niece came to becoming some horrible statistic.

If you’d like to delve into the Manson history, check out Los Angeles Magazine’s oral history piece on Manson, and the part my cousin’s uncle played in bringing him in.

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Failure: The Other F-Word Mon, 08 May 2017 22:46:21 +0000 A few days ago, I received an invitation to the college graduation of a kid I used to nanny. I’ve

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A few days ago, I received an invitation to the college graduation of a kid I used to nanny. I’ve watched Max for the last year on Facebook. Vicariously experienced his amazing three-month stint in Prague. Examined his dark and fanatic art. Watched him fall in love with a beautiful European. And now, his graduation from college. There were two emotions that came from this: feeling my age and crushing failure.

There’s nothing like seeing the kid you used to babysit when they were two, graduate from college. You sit there peering into familiar eyes wondering where the time went. You remember them as picky toddlers. The potty training nightmare that became a miracle of diaperless days. Teaching them to swing. Throw your legs out and pull them back! You got it!! Yay!




I will be celebrating my 40th birthday the weekend before the graduation party. 4. 0.

Where has the time gone?

I expected to feel old. That’s a given. The second emotion blindsided me.


I found myself lying awake at 3 a.m. staring at the nightlight of the solar system. Red and blue plants glowing on the white popcorn of the ceiling. My mind raced through hypothetical conversations I might engage in at said party.

Them: Cyndi! It’s been so long. What are you doing these days?

Me: It’s been forever. Right now, I stay home with my son and write when I can. Mostly when he’s napping.

Them: You get to stay home with him. That’s so good. But you said right now. Are you planning on going back to work when he starts school?

Me: Yeah.

Them: Anything in particular?

Me: Well, I got my master’s in Library science, but-

Them: A librarian! That’s great. Public or academic?

Me: Well, I did my concentration in archival studies, but jobs are hard to come by.

Them: Why’s that?

Me: The field’s flooded with applicants, so competition’s fierce. I’m trying to steer more towards writing.


Penning this now, with the light of the sun and the song of birds floating through the window, it doesn’t seem so bad. But at 3 a.m., it was unbearable. I felt like such a failure. Forty years old, with an advanced degree, and no career. It’s not like I’m on leave to raise my son. I was never able to find a job in the library field after graduation.

I go back and forth between elation that I didn’t get a library position and the sensation of being an utter loser. Staying home has allowed me the time to write, which makes me truly happy. There’s this glow that settles in your chest and slowly spreads to your extremities after a productive writing session. For runners, I akin it to a runner’s high. To those who gambles, it’s a big win. Alcoholics, it’s the first drink of the day.


Getting in a good writing session is akin to scaling Mt. Everest. It’s amazing. And for that, I am truly grateful I haven’t found a library or archival job. If I had, I would spend my days working to come home and relax on the couch until bedtime. Maybe I’d read for a bit before shutting off the light and closing my eyes. But writing probably wouldn’t have been part of the routine.

Then there are other days when the bitterness of my unused degree seeps into my mouth, making me want to retch. This bitterness usually arrives right before I spend time with people I haven’t seen in a while, or when someone attempts to joke with me about my degree.

Them: Where are all your books?

Me: In boxes. We need to get some bookshelves.

Them: No bookshelves? But you’re a librarian. *wry smile*

Me: *painful chuckle* Am I?

Them: Sure. You have the degree. I would think getting bookshelves would be a priority.

Me: I’m like a doctor with a revoked medical license. I’ve got the training, but I’m not seeing patients.

Or when they offer advice on how I can find a job.

Them: How about interning?

Me: Sure. I did about five internships in college.

Them: What about volunteering?

Me: Volunteering doesn’t pay that great.

Them: It might get your foot in the door. Beggars can’t be choosers.

At this point in the conversation, I smile into my drink before walking in another direction, any direction. I’d rather walk into a wall repeatedly than talk to this pretentious asshole with all the answers.


We, as a society, entertain a sense of what success is. Success is making money, owning a home, a car, having a closet full of clothes, vacationing in exotic locales. Other, more noble souls, or at least people who pretend to be noble, will tell you success is having your family close, having good friends, and loving what you do. I do like the idealism of the noble soul, their logic, and intense optimism. But it’s so hard to get there when so much of who we are is wrapped in what we do for a living.

The idea that the quality of a person is the sum of their accomplishments is absurd. Sure, accomplishing a task or goals feels good. Shit, it feels great, especially if we worked our asses off for it. But then when we don’t make our goals, finish a task, or win the prize, we view ourselves as failures.

Reading about how to deal with failure has led me to some wonderful revelations. We need to value who we are as people, not what we do. Are you a good person? Are you there for your friends and family when they need you? Honest? Hardworking? Neighborly? Punctual? Think about the values you hold dear. Be open to the positivity other’s give you. When someone pays you a compliment, accept it. Don’t just say thank you. Take that in. That’s what compliments are for.


At first, this new attitude towards yourself will be foreign, especially if you’ve been wallowing in the failure zone. I think of it as remodeling your home. Room by room, you gut the old, tired fixtures, the Pepto-pink toilet, the country geese wallpaper, the parkette flooring, and methodically you replace them with updated accent walls, toilet with heated seat, reclaimed hardwood flooring. It’s the same with restructuring the view you have of yourself. It takes time. You must work at it, and it ain’t easy. Every time the crushing weight of your own self-hate hits you, remember something nice you did for another person. Think about the time you stood up to someone for something you believe in. Think about the people who love you. They see the good in you. You should too.

And above all, remember, beyond death, everything is temporary. You may not be where you want to be now, but there will be other opportunities. When they come around, grab them by the short and curlies and hang on for dear life.

I’m still not sure if I’m going to the graduation party. The thought of seeing all those old faces again makes me freak out, and the fail blanket tucks itself around me again. I need to remind myself that staying home with my son is not a sign of failure. I get to be on the front lines of all his first. First words, first skinned knee, first successful pee-pee on the big boy potty. Not getting hired to the job I wanted isn’t the end of the world. I don’t need to have a spectacular career to be a success. Success comes in all shapes and sizes.

We are good people, and we deserve to be loved, especially by ourselves.


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Choke Out: A True Crime Tale Sun, 26 Feb 2017 01:32:47 +0000 This isn’t a story about murder. No one dies, but a crime took place. In the early 1960s, when my

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This isn’t a story about murder. No one dies, but a crime took place.

Classic Car Interior In the early 1960s, when my mom was around 19 or 20, she received a ride home from a regular at the bar her sister served at. The man, Cal Sterling, was a charmer, “a good-looking guy” my mother recounts, and he had a wife and a couple kids.

My aunt had to close the bar, meaning my mom, who was without a car and staying with my aunt, would need to wait several hours before she could leave. Cal offered to give my mom a lift.

Only he didn’t take her home.

Cal drove off with my mom, weaving his way through the San Fernando Valley. Right away, my mom knew something was wrong. She told him he’d taken a wrong turn, that my aunt’s house was in the other direction.

Cal ignored her and kept driving.

My mom grew more and more alarmed. Then Cal pulled over and choked her until she lost consciousness.

Dark StreetA few minutes later, she came to and found him driving again. Cruising the car down dark streets while everyone tucked into their homes slept.

He did this over and over again.

My mom’s terrified pleading and begging for him to take her home got through because Cal took her home.

Hours had passed. My aunt answered the door. She asked my mom where she’d been. My mom, panicked and in shock, lied and brushed away the questions.

Then there came a knock at the door.

It was Cal. He told my aunt his car had broken down and needed her to call AAA.

My aunt obliged and asked him if he wanted to wait inside. He said he’d stay with the car.

When AAA arrived, Cal was long gone.

Faceless Shadow Man (CC0)My uncle, a cop in Los Angeles suspected something was amiss. He questioned my mom, and then he saw her neck.

It turns out Cal was a fan of choking women and my mom wasn’t his first.

My mom won’t let herself think about what might have happened if the house had been empty when Cal dropped her off. Would he have tried to get inside? Would he have raped or worse?

We don’t know if Cal Sterling ever went too far and murdered someone, but with a sadist like that, it’s only a matter of time before they snap.

I’ve tried to look him up, to see if he’s made it onto the internet as some Southern California Strangler, but found nothing. There is a Calvin Sterling living in Riverside County, now in his nineties. Could be him.

Perhaps he never snapped.

Or maybe he never got caught.

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My Dream Is To Work From Home Fri, 17 Feb 2017 06:02:42 +0000 To Work From Home Is To Be Free. . . A friend of mine tree sat for a week. For

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Tree Sitting at UC Berkeley | Work From Home
Tree Sitting at UC Berkeley

To Work From Home Is To Be Free. . .

A friend of mine tree sat for a week. For the uninitiated, tree sitting entails hunkering in an old growth tree to keep loggers from cutting it down. Activists construct a small platform on which the sitter will reside. Equipped with a sleeping bag, food, water, and a bucket and pulley system, the sitter begins their official protest.

So there’s my friend, way up in a tree. Her only task: to stay in the tree so loggers won’t cut it down. This means that if the urge to crap hit her, she’d need to squat over a bag and aim. She would then lower said shit-filled bag down in the bucket for her support team to dispose of.

My friend didn’t shit for a week. She tried, but her bowls put the kibosh on that idea.

Public Toiler | Work From HomeI can sympathize with her. If I sat perched in a tree for days on end, my sphincter would strike too.

. . . Free To Poop Whenever I Want

With the exception of the occasional fetish revolving around human excrement, there are only two categories of people who should ever have anything to do with what emerges from another person’s southbound exit. The first is family e.g. parents, significant others, and adult children. This group is tasked with cleaning up hinnies when said hinny owner is either too young or too infirm to do it themselves.

The second category is for the professionally trained e.g. doctors, nurses, and lab technicians. This group gets brought into the poop loop when we fear something may be wrong with our digestive tracts, or for the annual checkup.

This week I started working full-time after a three-year stint in graduate school, two years of job hunting, the occasional piece of part-time work, and three years as a stay-at-home parent. It’s only been three days, and I miss staying at home. I miss my freedom. The ability to remain in my PJs all day, to eat when I’m hungry, to pass gas if my tummy bubbles, scratch my crotch, adjust my bra, and to take a shit whenever the urge hits me.

S&M Toilets | Work From HomeThree days in and the inevitable hasn’t happened yet, but it will. It has to. It’s a numbers game I will lose.

One day I will need to take a crap at work.

I really, really want to work from home.

Photo Credits

Tree Sitting at UC Berkeley by Jason Creative Commons License

Public Toilet Namche Bazaar, Nepal March 2008 by SuSanA Secretariat Creative Commons License

S&M Public Toilet? by Kieran Lamb Creative Commons License

Featured Image

She Loves to Sleep by hobvias sudoneighm Creative Commons License

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I’m So Sorry: An Open Letter to Pro Wrestling Mon, 23 Jan 2017 22:16:09 +0000 Dear Pro Wrestling, I owe you a huge apology. For much of my life, I have disliked you. I used

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Dear Pro Wrestling,

I owe you a huge apology. For much of my life, I have disliked you. I used to scoff and scold people who admitted to enjoying you. “You know it’s fake?” I’d say with a spiteful roll of my eye, docking them IQ points for having owned up to indulging in such trash. That is until Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling by Max Landis entered my life.

1969 10 03 CCLC Pro Wrestling by Gostalgia: local history from Gosford Library (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was another rainy spring afternoon in Vancouver. My husband and I sat on the couch. I pretended to write on my laptop when I had once again fallen down the rabbit hole that is social media. Matt sat watching something energetic. I had tuned it out for the last ten minutes, but as the intensity reached a rich lather, I could no longer ignore the passion spouting from the T.V.

“What in the world are you watching?” An edge in my voice.

“It’s a video on pro wrestling,” he answered, his eyes and attention never breaking contact with the flickering screen.

“Ugh, that stuff is so fake.” My irritable edge became full-blown vexation. Have you ever had that happen? Go from mildly put off to hateful in two seconds flat? Of course You have, you’re pro wrestling. You’re all about shifting emotions.

“So are the detective shows you love,” Matt spat back, a gleam in his eye. A smirk hanging from the corner of his mouth.

“Yeah, but that’s different,” I replied, thinking my tastes superior to anything resembling the charade that is pro wrestling. He raised an eyebrow, stopping my snootiness in its tracks. He’d hit a nerve. Almost everything I followed on T.V. is fake. Why wouldn’t it be? T.V. is entertainment. It’s not an accurate representation of life. Television is inflated, dramatized, and spiffed up to appear larger than life. It has to be. If it were just like life, it would be too boring and depressing.

“All right, point made.” I closed my laptop. “Do you mind starting it over?”


“Yeah, it sounds interesting.” I settled in to watch. What I learned blew my mind.

Triple H by Megan Elice Meadows (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Turning Point

Landis’ parody of the rise of Triple H (a.k.a. Hunter Hearst-Helmsley) to World Wrestling champion is fantastic. The gender-swapped reenactment gives the viewer an amazing and playful ride through the trials and tribulations of Triple H’s on-screen career.

Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling ladled intrigued into my mind. Not only did I sit through a short film about pro wrestling, something I would have never done, I ended up watching it twice. . . in a row. Yes, it’s that good.

What can I say? I found you interesting to the point of mild obsession.

However, Landis’ Cliff Notes version only tells the public story of one of the greats in pro wrestling. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know about the actual pro wrestlers, about the people behind the personas.

Enter Radiolab’s The Montreal Screwjob podcast where Bret “The Hitman” Hart went up again Shawn Michaels for the championship title. But, things didn’t go according to plan. Note: a screwjob is a finish to a match where the promoter and one wrestler scheme to have the other wrestler lose without the other wrestler’s foreknowledge. As you can imagine, this is a really shitty thing to do.

Where Landis’ bio on Triple-H piqued my interest with what happens in front of the camera, The Montreal Screwjob was a gut punch as to what goes on behind the scenes. This is where shit gets real. I always complained about how fake wrestling is, but a lot of real-life bleeds over into the ring. This blurring of the lines between reality and fiction makes for some tough working condition, but great television.

The Screwjob

Here’s the skinny for those unfamiliar with the Montreal Screw Job. Bret Hart, a longtime babyface in WWE and right-hand man of Vince McMahon, the WWE principal owner, jumped networks and go to WCW for better pay.

As stated in Hart’s contract, he had reasonable creative license over the outcome of his final match. Over the weeks, McMahon and Hart found some middle ground; Hart’s final match against Michaels would end in a schmozz (a cluster fuck of wrestlers rushing the ring making a clear winner impossible to call). This outcome would allow Hart, the championship belt holder and Canadian National Treasure, to save face while on his native soil. Hart would return the belt the following day before moving over to WCW, or so he thought.

Bret Hart by by Simon (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Here’s where it gets shifty. McMahon couldn’t risk having his belt appear on WCW, so he came up with his own ending to the Montreal match. After agreeing to Hart’s demands, McMahon secretly told Shawn Michaels, that Hart would lose, making Michaels the victor. Michaels, agreed to keep Hart in the dark, laying the blame for the screwjob with McMahon.

During the match, things started out as planned. Michaels puts Hart in a hold like discussed, and then someone, perhaps McMahon, says, “Ring the bell”, officially ending the match. Since Michaels had Hart pinned when the bell rang, Michaels became the champion.

It’s rare for pro wrestlers to break kayfabe (the third wall of wrestling) while in the ring, but this was one of them. The expression of shock and betrayal on Hart’s face is unmistakable. He’s not acting. Hart spat in McMahon’s face (a man he considered a second father), destroy WWE property by smashing the announcer’s table and audio equipment, and then later he punches McMahon in the face, knocking him unconscious.

Many pro wrestling fans and critics believe what happened in Montreal was scripted, and nothing more than a publicity stunt. Yet, Michaels and Triple H come clean about the Montreal Screwjob in the documentary WWE: The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak & Triumph. But even their admission of knowing the actual outcome of the match could be considered keeping kayfabe.

Pro Wrestling Gets Real

Team Xtreme by Nate Miller (CC BY-NC 2.0) Team Xtreme consisting of Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy and Lita (2002).

Stories like this are not unique. Take the love triangle that took place between Matt Hardy, Edge (Adam Copeland), and Lita (Amy Dumas).

After a bad fall that left Matt with a torn ACL requiring surgery and leaving him home to recuperate for months, Dumas struck up a romantic relationship with Copeland.

The affair went on for several months before Hardy found out, leaving him heartbroken. Understandably so. Later in an interview, Hardy broke kayfabe and spoke out about the breakup which led to WWE firing him. Eventually, they took him back, and wrote the breakup into the show, pitting Edge and Hardy against each other in the ring.

Edge Champion by Stormyxxx (CC BY-SA 2.0) Edge as seen with the WWE Championship after a failed “Live Sex” celebration with Lita (Amy Dumas) on the January 9, 2006 edition of RAW.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around how awkward and hard that was for everyone involved. Imagine being placed in a situation where you need to pretend to beat the ever-loving shit out of someone night after night when all you want to do is beat the ever-loving shit out of them for real. Talk about a hard working environment. Yet, they pulled it off. Absolute professionals to the bone. Shirts off to you sirs. Shirts off.

So, Pro Wrestling, I’m sorry for being such a prick to you. I was wrong and I’m not too big to admit it. You are fascinating. Your wrestlers are tremendous athletes who risk their lives to bring their fans amazing shows. I would even call you theater, after all, there’s over the top dramatics, costumes, characters, and an audience. I may never froth at the mouth or scream as the top of my lungs for you, but you have my undying respect.

Further Reading/Watching

Montreal Screw Job – This is Wrestling!

Sports Illustrated” Bret Hart opens up about the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’

Grantland Dictionary: Pro Wrestling Edition

Byte This – Lita Interview

Slam! Wrestling – Matt Hardy Pulls No Punches on Between the Ropes by Steve Rennie

Former WWE Star Describes Bret Hart – Vince McMahon Backstage Fight After The Montreal Screwjob

Why You Should Love Wrestling Podcast

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