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    July 22, 2015

    The Two A.M. Feed

    How about a Reads & Recommends post in newsletter-via-email form??? Here's the text of my very first NEWSLETTER (BECAUSE I HAVE SO MUCH TIME!)

    (If you want to subscribe, sign up here! I'm still figuring out the format, but I know you'll humor me... RIGHT?)

      

    THE TWO A.M. FEED 

    Hello Friends in the Computer!

    On account of being 1) bored and dissatisfied with the blog format, 2) a delighted devourer of the Engaging Email From An Interesting Friend genre, and 3) a bookmarks folder full to bursting, I welcome you to the new home of my semi-regular-ish Reads and Recommends posts. I thought the TinyLetter newsletter format, wherein I send out a weekly Reads and Recommends-type blog post-ish email, would be a fun experiment for me and, possibly, a halfway interesting diversion for you. 

    The title of my newsletter - The Two A.M. Feed - comes from memories of sitting up with nursing babies in the middle of the night wishing I had something to read. Man, those were bleak hours! Now that God has given us smartphones we can click interesting links in the middle of the night - or at the DMV, or in the school pick up line, or at swim lessons, or on the toddler's floor at night when he won't go to sleep on his own, or waiting for the dentist, or on the bus so we look busy and our chatty seat mate is deterred from conversation. All moments The Two A.M. Feed may come in handy. You are welcome. 


    MUSIC I LISTENED TO IN COLLEGE 
    Any Ani DiFranco fans here? I once made Phillip go to an Ani show with me. He was the only 6 foot 2 inch Asian man in attendance and afterwards he confessed to feeling terrible about blocking the view of the short and devoted lesbian couple behind him. If you ever tried to pick out 'Both Hands' on the guitar you will enjoy 32 Feelings And Then Some: An Inquiry Into The Non-Legacy of Ani DiFranco.


    MUSIC I LISTEN TO NOW
    Oh, TaylorTaylor Swift and the Silencing of Nicki Minaj


    POLITICS 
    The 2016 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet You guyssss, I love this stuff. We gave up cable after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, but come next year I might need to go back on my steady diet of roundtable talking head shows. I KNOW.


    ENNEAGRAM STUFF
    This January 2015 New Year resolutions post from Jen Hatmaker speaks to myTHREENESS big time. (Also I did not promise you timely links, just interesting ones.)

    Speaking of threes, Three-ness Gone Wild! Success and Achievement as America's Top Values.


    INADVISABLE ENTREPRENEURSHIP
    As someone with resources who is STILL struggling with ensuring her small business is legal, I am tremendously sympathetic to the people in Baltimore's "informal" economy.


    A WHITE GIRL BROADENS HER HORIZONS
    What I know about Ta-Nehisi Coates I know from following him on Twitter and readingThe Case For Reparations in the Atlantic. Now he has a book out (I haven't read it) and everyone is writing about it. Here's David Brooks, here's New York Magazine, here's theWashington Post on his "radical chic"


    And now for The Two A.M. Feed's only regular features:

    This Week In Nazisremains of Jewish medical experiment victims found in FranceEdward VIII giving the Nazi salute in pictures, and the 94-year-old "bookkeeper of Auschwitz" appeals his sentence."

    This Week In Seattle: RENT CONTROL? You WISH you could browse the conversations happening in my neighborhood listserv.

    Thanks for subscribing!

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    July 14, 2015

    A little late thirties mulling

    I turn 36 on Saturday. This is the first birthday I've felt uneasy about. I had absolutely no problems with turning 30, having looked forward to Actual For Real Grown Upness since about age fourteen. But now that I finally feel like a grown up, am taken seriously by other grown ups, have acquired some confidence and self-assurance, and, most importantly, FINALLY LIKE MYSELF, I am not terribly pleased about turning 36. 36 is the other side of 35. The "Late Thirties" side of 35. The downward slope to Middle Age. It doesn't seem OLD old, but it feels an awful lot closer. 

    We're going to Leavenworth for the weekend. Leavenworth is this cute little town in the mountains, a Fake Bavaria. I love Fake Stuff (see: Disneyland, Vegas) so I expect to be delighted. We plan to do a bit of outdoorsing, which is not my bag, but seems like something We Ought To Do.  If all else fails, the hotel has a pretty outdoor pool. The big kids have become swimming junkies this summer, so I feel good about our chances for a half decent time. 

    (Even though I just found out that Harry Connick Jr. is playing at the Chateau St. Michelle winery Saturday night and that would have been the PERRRRFECT birthday outing for Phillip and me, ALAS. People who do not like Harry Connick Jr. can exit the blog quietly, I'll wait.)

    Other things about 36:

    Is 36 when they start saying you're of Advanced Maternal Age? NOT PREGNANT. I am just SAYING. It seems unlikely we will have another baby (a nervewracking thing to put out there when you are hovering on the outskirts of Catholic Blogdom, but there it is), but just in case I WASN'T nervous about more babies, I have Advanced Maternal Age to consider. 

    (Somewhat relatedly: Have you seen 'Catastrophe' on Amazon Prime? It is not for people who are squeamish about squeamishy things and/or enthusiastic swearing, but SO FUNNY. Also Phillip likes it. Also a lot about being of Advanced Maternal Age. Heh.)

    At age practically-36 I still have not figured out what I will do when I grow up. I continue to be awed and cowed by ladies with careers. 

    Tonight we meet with another engaged couple to do some extremely amateur pre-marital counseling type stuff. If there is anything that makes me aware that I'm on the Late Thirties side, it's chatting with 20-something couples. 

    I have started thinking about writing again, but it seems the older I get, the younger I want to write for. I keep imagining stories my 8-year-old boy would want to read. 

    Practically-36-year-old me makes friends so much easier than 16- or 26-year-old me. 

    Oh God, 16 was 20 years ago. I mean, I don't MISS 16, but for the amount of thinking I still do about What Stuff Messed Me Up When I Was A Teenager, it seems like I should be, you know, over it by now. 

    One one hand I feel so Desperate Housewivesy - we're interviewing kitchen/bath remodel companies, my kids drive me crazy, I'm overweight, the best thing that's happened in weeks is hiring a lawn service to clean up my jungle yard. And on the other hand I spent two hours with my best friends talking about what it would be like if we created some sort of retreats/trainings/spiritual direction type place HOW COOL IS THAT. (SO COOL.)

    Inactivity, crazy pills, and a lifetime devotion to baked goods have me at my possibly highest weight (I stopped checking, ha), but hey, there's always Hot By Forty. Right? Right. 

    Aaaand, just like that I see it's 5:12 pm and I have yet to figure out what we're eating for dinner. Do we think 36 will be the year I learn to love cooking? I don't think so either, internet. 

     

    July 08, 2015

    The web we miss

    I just read a piece called "Tiny Letters To The Web We Miss". It will be most fascinating to those of you who've been around blogging a while, but I think it's interesting regardless. It's useful as a super brief history of how those inclined have been exposing their insides via the World Wide Web. It also articulated something I haven't been able to pinpoint: 

     In 2003, the internet felt like it was just us.

    Self-publishing online was fluid and inviting in the early years because the community was self-selecting — the sort of people who would know what Blogspot was in 2003. I didn’t worry about my boss finding my blog... We didn’t have the same worries over public personas, because the internet felt like it was just us.

    Blogging before social media was like drinking with friends. If someone adjacent to your conversation said something interesting, you would pull up a chair and invite them in. 

    Yeah.

    I continue to mull what this place is for, now, and whether it should still exist. Same for my Twitter handle. Some women wonder whether they'll go back to work once all their kids are in school, and some of us wonder whether we'll keep our social media accounts. 

     

    June 25, 2015

    LONDON [WITH CHILDREN]

    Before Phillip and I were married and my parents were still living in Italy, we traveled with two of our best friends (not another couple) to Europe just because we could. We flew into Rome and drove our way up to my folks' house north of Venice. It was, quite possibly, the worst vacation of my life because I was caught between the needs and wants of my very VERY good friend and my future HUSBAND. Very Good Friend's goal was to spend as little as possible while seeing as much as possible. Future Husband's goal was to...hmm. Eat? See a few things? Be comfortable while enjoying himself? Oh, and buy stuff. 

    The worst part was when we reached Florence and our hotel reservation was messed up (probably my fault, everything felt like my fault) and it turned out we'd all have to share a tiny room and Very Good Friend declared she would sleep in the bathtub before paying for another room and Future Husband was sick and tired of slumming it and grumping around and I called my mother in tears from a payphone because OMG WORST TRIP EVER. 

    My travel style was, and still is, much more in line with Very Good Friend, but I ended up MARRYING Mr. Comfortable. KEEP THIS IN MIND. 

    So London! One of my very absolute favorite cities in the WORLD. A bajillion things to see, a crap ton of history to delve into, AND A MUSICAL EVERY NIGHT. Okay, maybe that is my ideal London trip, if it were, you know, just me. 

    I spent weeks agonizing over where to stay, the area being mainly dictated by the location of Phillip's company's office. NOW. If I were doing this OVER. I would not NECESSARILY go along with trying to find a place as close to the office as possible because London has an excellent public transportation system, especially if you are riding solo. But without the benefit of hindsight, we were trying to find a place close enough for Phillip to walk, and which would also be relatively near a tube station. 

    Those parameters in mind, and the discovery that there weren't a lot of apartments available to rent in that area plus the stomach sickening price of hotels sent me a bit farther out, but I thought I found the perfect spot. A two-bedroom apartment with an amazing view, walkable to the office, smack in between two tube stations, seemingly close to restaurants and sights. Also it was the best price I could find. 

    And you know what, it worked. IT WORKED. But it wasn't quite as walkable as I'd hoped. The walk to Phillip's office took more like 20 minutes and while the walk to the tube bordered on 10 to 15 and not THAT horrible, I had not factored in my unpleasant-when-forced-to-physically-exert-themselves children and how that 10-15 minutes started us off each day on a Tired Foot. 

    It wasn't even a very NICE walk, since our area was pretty residential and absolutely packed with people trying to get back and forth to work. Also construction. CONSTRUCTION EVERYFREAKINGWHERE. 

    Phillip's mom and dad stayed in a more tourist-friendly spot about 15-20 minutes away from us and would often meet us at the Shard, the easiest halfway point between our two locations. The thing was, the first few days I was still thinking we would walk and tube everywhere and it would have been smarter if I'd just admitted defeat right off the bat and walked/tubed/cabbed/Ubered from the beginning. My default should have been: "What is the EASIEST thing to do right now" instead of "What is the FASTEST" or "What is the SMARTEST" or "What would a Smart and Seasoned Traveler like myself approve of right now?" Because those answers were always wrong. The fast thing was never fast and the smartest thing always made me look stupid. You know how I feel about looking stupid. My personal stupid standards were extra stupid for this trip, but then again, even the easiest thing wasn't always easy. I don't know WHY getting around London was so hard when there are so many WAYS to get around London, but we had a difficult time of it. Next time: live next door to a tube with at least four lines. The end. 

    THAT SAID. Here is the list of things we did (or, rather, things I dragged everyone along to):

    • The National Gallery (we saw Van Gogh's sunflowers and Monet's water lily bridge, both paintings we studied in homeschool art class
    • The Museum of London
    • The Tower of London
    • Greenwich and the Royal Observatory
    • Wicked
    • Matilda
    • Hamley's the amazing toy store
    • playgrounds everywhere
    • Westminster Abbey (might be my favorite thing I did with the kids in London)
    • river bus rides on the Thames
    • catching the Horse Guard ceremony near St. James' Park
    • Clink Museum
    • Churchill War Rooms
    • eating fish and chips
    • eating terrible English food
    • Borough Market
    • Trafalgar Square
    • dim sum in Chinatown
    • watching weirdos perform at Leicester Square

    That's some good stuff! A lot of good stuff! I don't know why I was always so down on myself in London for "not doing it right" when we did get to do SO MUCH!

    Phillip was anxious about work, so I did most of the planning and sightseeing on my own and with his folks. After his first day he was a lot less nervous, so it was okay that I'd bought tickets to Wicked that night (I CANNOT HELP MYSELF AROUND DISCOUNT TICKET STANDS.) London was hard for Phillip - too crowded, too much, too hard to get places. He really loved the morning we spent in Greenwich ("I feel like I can breathe!") and was fairly unhappy with me for nagging everyone to get back to the boat in time so we could see Matilda that afternoon. 

    Oh Matilda. 

    I am only going to tell you this story because I have been praying for more humility and what is more humbling (humiliating?) than telling everyone the Matilda story? 

    I love shows. I LOVE SHOWS. I see absolutely no reason why a trip to London shouldn't be sightseeing during the day and a play at night. Every night. So I was FOR SURE taking my children to a show in London and one of you Kind Readers suggested Matilda and I looked it up and HELLO, PERFECT. And then I spent hours - HOURSSSSS - mulling over dates and times and seats and ticket prices and going back and forth with Phillip about how much and when and OMG I decided this thing to death. I wanted it to be AWESOME. So that is why I paid full price for the second-most-expensive seats you could get, right by the aisle on the floor because I'd read there was a lot of action in the aisles for this show. It was totally worth it to me to spend that much money and I was so excited. I looked forward to it the entire trip. THE ENTIRE TRIP. I booked it for the last evening we'd be in London, so even if the rest of our London trip was terrible, at least we'd have that last night at the theater to look forward to. 

    On the train from Stansted Airport into the city, after a nightmare experience with Effing Ryanair out of Treviso, I got out my London With Families guidebook and wrote out the days we'd be there and started planning our stay. And that is when I realized that I bought our Matilda tickets for the evening we were flying OUT. Our flight home left London at 1pm June 9. Our Matilda tickets were for 7pm June 9. And then I threw up. 

    Well, no, I held it in, but I WANTED to throw up. And I didn't tell Phillip right away because 1) I'd ALREADY made a similar mistake with our Paris airfare WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME and 2) he was exhausted from not trying to kill Ryanair reps and 3) he was really nervous about work and 4) we were looking at a complicated and unpleasant tube trip with 3 kids and suitcases to our apartment.... IT WAS AWFUL.

    Much much later that evening I shut my eyes and blurted what I'd done. And he didn't run screaming into the river! With a very large sigh he told me he'd call and see if anything could be done. 

    GUESS WHAT. Nothing could be done. Nothing. Our only option was to try and sell them online (which you are not supposed to do, I am such a rule follower, GAH.) I felt terrible. Did I mention we were reading Matilda each night during the trip and I'd been talking up the show to the kids? 

    So then a few days later we were in Leicester Square where all the discount ticket shops are. And I went into every single one of them asking about Matilda and in every single one of them they looked at me like I was crazy. "You know that's a very popular show," one ticket seller said. "It's very HARD to get tickets for that show." 

    As we were heading OUT of Leicester Square and as I was trying to figure out how to tell my children how badly Mommy had messed up, we passed one more ticket stand and Phillip said, "Do you want to try that one?" (HE ASKED. HE SAW IT FIRST.) Of course I did, so I went in and MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, someone had just returned a set of 8 Matilda tickets for the next afternoon. AND DID I WANT THEM? 

    They wanted nearly as much for those tickets as I paid for my original tickets. Phillip couldn't do it. Then he said, "So we have these OTHER tickets..." and I died because RULE FOLLOWER and we're not supposed to make deals with those and of course they'll scold us and now they know I'm an idiot!!!! But it turns out you CAN make deals sometimes? I KNOW. She was willing to knock 100 pounds off the price of the five tickets we wanted if we gave her our tickets. 

    This was a hassle because we didn't HAVE the tickets and Phillip had to be escorted to some print shop to get into my email and print them out and he was UNHAPPY and ANNOYED and FEELING BROKE AS WELL and I tried to look properly chastened, but it was hard because I WAS GOING TO GET TO TAKE MY KIDS TO MATILDA!!!!

    Okay, so there is another loooong story about why we were a half hour LATE to Matilda, but that makes Phillip look bad instead of me and we are only humiliating ME on the website today. (LONDON WAS HARD)

    Matilda was so great. It really was. Even from seats in the second to last row in the theater. And I LOVED taking my big kids to Wicked (they knew all the songs, we HAD to go). I LOOOOVED taking them through art and history museums, especially if there was an audio guide. They'd listen intently and then rush over to tell me what they'd just learned. Westminster Abbey was TERRIFIC with kids, and the docents there are SO kind and SO happy to chat. We loved every park and every playground and we generally found good things to eat (if very expensive) (the Borough Market is definitely worth a look). The Tower of London was difficult with a three-year-old who finds uneven stairs unfriendly and a YeYe who didn't want to climb stairs at all, but we were very interested in the armory and the gory story of the little princes in the tower. I even found the Crown Jewels interesting because Molly was there to gape at them. 

    We wish we would have spent a whole day at Greenwich. We wish we could have figured out where to catch the buses we wanted to catch. The Clink Museum was too yucky and scary, even though someone's mother told him EXACTLY how yucky and scary it would be. We did not get enough pictures with street performers. We should have gone directly to the ground floor of the Museum of London where the cool Victorian street is (and Molly's reaction to a photo of a little boy during the Blitz ensured we would not be going to the Imperial War Museum). Yours truly could have spent many more hours in the Churchill War Rooms, but the big kids were tired and kept asking me who the man in the big coat was, wait, who is he again?

    One of the best things we did was meet my 9th grade BFF and her husband for fish and chips in a random street off Oxford Street, which was not anything that had to do with London itself and serves to remind me that I don't HAVE to go go go go go go go go all the time. Although I like to. Ahem. 

    If you are going with kids and have questions, email me, I will try to say more than JUST TAKE A CAB. (I really really wish I was one of those people who are all NO SWEAT, JUST HOP ON A BUS, EASY PEASY! but man, it just did not work that way for us.) 

    But it's okay, I'll be back. I did not see NEARLY enough war stuff OR shows. Yay London! 

    Next installment: Paris, In Which I Am Forced To Ride A Bike.

     

    June 21, 2015

    In which I ramble a lot before I get to the Thumbprints part

    It's Father's Day. I saw my own dad on Thursday. I gave him an unwrapped book of Churchill quotes and pictures from the Churchill War Rooms gift shop and as I was leaving I said, "Happy Father's Day!" and he said, "I don't believe in these ridiculous Hallmark holidays" and I said, "Oh, then can I have the book back?" and he said, "No." So that's my dad. 

    And then Phillip got what he most wanted for Father's Day, which was a day full of shameful lazing about. The kids stayed with his parents last night so we could see The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, or should I say so Phillip could see The Bad Plus Joshua Redman and I could sit next to him and drink cocktails. I have nothing AGAINST jazz, it's just that most of it sounds like a mess (TO ME). I need my jazz to be a steady stream of Gershwin standards, preferably with a singer. But anyway, the kids stayed away and Phillip and I did a whole lot of nothing until it was time to pick them up. Then they all played a Lego Xbox game (their gift to him) and we grilled hot dogs and burgers and now Phillip is out with the big kids at a MAGIC SHOW. A big one at the fancy theater downtown - we kept seeing billboard advertisements for it and Phillip kept saying he wanted to take the kids, but when we realized this was the last night of the show, an impromptu ticket buying commenced. Emma and I are home by ourselves, reveling in the quiet and the sunshine and the advent of summer. YAY SUMMER. 

    I should tell you more about my trip, but the parts of the trip I need to tell you about next require the sort of blogging I used to reserve for the Parenting Post. As in, attempt to write coherently, have a point, share actual information, etc. Tonight's more of a tipping my head to the side, knocking my temple, and seeing what spills out of my ear style of blogging. Also I don't feel well. It started last night when my friend and I had left our husbands for the second set of the jazz show while we caught up on each other's lives in the lobby of the Westin Hotel. (Pro Tip: The Westin Hotel lobby is my favorite downtown place for lounging when you don't exactly want to buy anything.) 

    HOWEVER I started to feel Queasy and it turns out you can't use the Westin hotel lobby restrooms without a key. I basically stalked someone who had a key and then I felt REALLY unwell and when I came back I asked my friend to take me home. But her husband had her car keys and my husband had my house keys and while I would have LIKED to suck it up and let Phillip watch his favorite musician's second set, I DID NOT HAVE A KEY TO THE RESTROOM. Ahem. 

    I was not going to tell you this story. It's slightly embarrassing. 

    Anyway. I felt terrible because 1) Phillip and my friend traded places which was sad for both of them and 2) I FELT ACTUALLY TERRIBLE. Jack had a fever a few days ago, Emma had one today, I am wondering if I am getting something too or what. Blargh. I had grand plans for wine and perhaps a chocolate ice cream bar on my deck for when Emma goes to bed, BUT NOW WHAT.

    Oh, I remember, I was going to tell you about Thumbprints. 

    After what seems like our 47th Come To Jesus conversation, Katie and I made some decisions. Chiefly: Thumbprints is going to become a macaron factory. With a few custom sugar cookies thrown in. After a year of this selling cookies and cakes nonsense and a whole lot of Learning From Our Mistakes, what seems WORTH IT is selling macarons and sugar cookies. I think if you were to pick our least favorite things to eat, macarons and sugar cookies would top the list. But these are the things that appear to bring a profit. And are the things that we can easily store, easily deliver, and easily manage the details of. If we were a STORE, things would be different. But we are not a store. We can't even concentrate on this endeavor full time. Today I picked up a Seattle Magazine and read about a few different food people selling ice cream and other things - they're doing it in a shared kitchen downtown, they have pop up shops, they have dreams for a permanent location. That was me for about 4 months. But Katie moving and the reality of We Both Have Small Children have really put the brakes on Ambition. 

    That said, neither of us want to QUIT and we want to do something that MAKES SENSE. Streamlining down to macarons and sugar cookies makes sense because if we just do those things, getting approved for a home baking license will not be quite as hellish as our attempt last year. SO WE HOPE. The bureaucrats of the State of Washington could still be bored and sadistic and make our application process dreadful. But getting Katie's kitchen approved is the thing that makes the most SENSE. Paying for a kitchen that is too HARD for us to use, plus insurance, is expensive and annoying. So we're going to start that process and, in the meantime, ask our old kitchen if we can go back for a weekend this summer so we can sell stuff at the street fair in August. We're still not totally legal, as our license is about to expire, but WE ARE DOING OUR BEST (@$#*$)!(#%&!!!

    I do not want to be a Quitter and you all know that Failure is basically the worst thing that can ever happen to me, but DUDES. Getting a food business going is... I mean, we finally have customers. We occasionally have to turn things down, even. I do enjoy putting money in the bank account. It is FUN to do something new and grow something from nothing. I love doing this with my sister. But everything else is SUCH A FREAKING SLOG OMG. 

    Okay I'm going to read my fever baby some stories and put her to bed and reconsider that chocolate ice cream bar. 

     

    June 13, 2015

    Phillip's company needs to open an Italian office

    We listened to the Matilda soundtrack on the way home from dinner out tonight and I thought Gee, I should probably write something about our trip! BUT WHAT. HMMM.

    People keep asking me what the best part was and the best part was either going to the theater in London, which is something I could do every night for the rest of my life, or just "living" in our Italian town for two weeks. Which I honestly didn't expect. When we first were planning this trip I didn't want to spend that much time near where I used to live. I thought maybe we could use it as a base to go to the beach and for taking the train to bigger more exciting places. I even thought maybe we'd take a jaunt down to Sicily. I was nervous about maybe having to see all my parents' friends, or old teachers of mine (because when your parents are teachers all their friends are teachers), and high school wasn't the funnest or anything and I wasn't nostalgic and didn't ever need to go back - 

    AND IT WAS SO LOVELY. It happened as soon as we'd landed and made our way through the airport to the rental car parking lot. I felt mysteriously comfortable, at home-ish. I was so happy to be there. I texted some friends right away: I AM SO HAPPY TO BE HERE!

    And it stayed that way, fortunately! The house my folks rented was absolutely perfect, with more than enough space, five minutes from cappuccino and a pizzeria and the train station. It took us at least a week to get over jet lag and I think it rained every day. And my mom and dad kept asking us what we wanted to do and we always just felt like THIS. We wanted to do THIS. Have our cappuccino and brioche at the bar. Buy fresh bread in the morning. Stroll through town. Get gelato in the afternoons. Think about what we'd eat for dinner. Why yes everything DID revolve around what we would eat next. And it was fabulous. 

    We did see some old friends and we did drive the kids past my old house (they were more interested than I thought they'd be!), but for the most part we spent our days traipsing around the town and eating things, or doing little day trips here and there - Venice, Padua, the beach, markets, and this town called Aquileia, an ancient Roman city with some pretty great ruins. It also happens to be one of my dad's favorite places in the world (the favorite?). Any time anyone from the States came to visit, the next day they'd be on their way to Aquileia with my dad as tour guide. It became a running joke in my family, and when my in-laws arrived later on in our 2 weeks, we couldn't NOT take them to Aquileia. 

    One of my favorite memories is taking my in-laws to one of my parents' favorite restaurants. It's the kind of place where there is no menu and the waitress just tells you what they have that day. And you're supposed to order all the courses and you sit there for hours enjoying your meal and if it's summer you're outside on the expansive patio looking out at the kids playing on the lawn. The food was fantastic, the pace was heavenly, and because there was a huge family party happening inside the restaurant, lots of kids kept coming outside to play and Jack ended up playing soccer with them. I LOVED watching this. I loved watching them try to communicate, how the older boys were so nice to Jack, how he wasn't too shy to play with them. It was such a great moment and I hope he'll remember it. In case he doesn't I did take one million pictures. 

    I was not ready to leave Italy. I really was so happy being there. It helped having the perfect accommodations - oh wait, let me tell you about the house. So it belongs to a Belgian family who rents it out to mainly, I think, Germans on holiday. Anyway, it was spotless, comfortable, spacious, and very Italian with the entrance hall and the four giant rooms of equal size off the hallway that could be anything you wanted - just stick an Ikea kitchen in one and there you have your house. The bathroom was tiled up to the ceiling and contained an itty bitty washing machine. The windows were all shuttered, the floors were cold and hard, it had an echoey stairway up to the second floor. And the owners did not pay for trash pick up. The house information sheet, clearly posted in the hallway, instructed renters to tie up their garbage bags and place them in public garbage cans. "You'd better do this daily," the sheet warned. So every night there was this surreptitious leaving of the house with secret bags of garbage to dump in the cans along the sidewalks on the streets nearby. We weren't supposed to let the neighbors see. One night I went out with my purse full of plastic water bottles, dumping one in each garbage can I came to. It was actually sort of stressful, thinking about how much garbage you were going to have to take out that night and if it would fit in the public cans. I was so happy to note the four dumpsters outside our apartment in London PLUS a garbage chute on our floor. 

    Venice was insane. I kept reminding myself that I hadn't been to Europe in the spring/summer for years - I mainly came to visit at winter break or for Carnevale in February. I'd forgotten what the Dolomites looked like without snow and how everyone has hedges of jasmine and the smell of jasmine on a hot evening. (I smelled it and immediately flashed back to high school.) So it had also been a while since I'd been to Venice in the summer and OMG THE PEOPLE. On the plane I'd overheard a pompous young man discussing how touristy Venice is, he just can't go there anymore, and MAN, that is so annoying. Almost all of us are tourists, you know? But WOW, the tourists. The people. For the first time Venice felt like a sort of Disneyland, where this amazing place has been built just for people to visit and no one actually lives there. Scary, actually.

    Of course I loved it anyway. Crowds rarely bother me. Except for when I thought I might get squished to death on the Paris metro. I'll tell you about that later. 

    Padua was my favorite. I'd been, but I wanted to go again, and even though half the things we wanted to see closed before we could get to them, and even though the kids were so tired from walking and it was hot, it was so beautiful and St. Anthony's basilica is so amazing and I won't forget browsing the market stalls with Molly. In 10 or 15 years I might go travel with just Molly. You say, "Molly, what do you want to do today?" and she says, "EVERYTHING!" Girl after my own heart. 

    The beach. I was the only grown woman not wearing a bikini. Not wearing a SKIMPY bikini. And still I was so self conscious, so wanting to hide. I envied these ladies their bikinis. 

    The food. The last time I went to Italy I remember feeling panicky that I wouldn't get to eat and therefore remember all my favorite things. This time I had more than enough time to indulge. I ate all my favorite things and then some. Some of it wasn't as good as I remembered, some of it was entirely new and maybe THOSE are my new favorite things. And it wasn't just the food it was the process of eating it - the wine and the bread and the taking all the time in the world. I could live that way. 

    And I was exceedingly obnoxiously proud of how much Italian I could understand and speak. Not anywhere near an impressive amount, or enough worth my obnoxious pride, but I was terrifically pleased with myself anyway. I could tell you every single time I had to bust out my Italian and spoke grammatically correct sentences. By the end there I was even thinking I should download an app or something and learn it for real. I was terrified when I went to France and could speak NOTHING, relieved to go back to Italy, and for real disappointed to go to London where I wouldn't have to translate anything at all. I weirdly liked trying to speak a foreign language. 

    I was so sad to leave. I wasn't ready. I don't quite understand it... I didn't live there THAT long, and the time I spent there was definitely not the best of my life. But there's something about the PLACE and the SCENERY. There's something about those mountains, how everything is flat flat flat and BOOM: mountains, and how the towns we lived in were nestled into that right-angle corner where flat and mountain meet. It was foreign, but still so familiar. I felt like I could be there a long time. I felt like I could learn it and become it, you know? I didn't miss home at all. 

    Paris was different. London was really different. I have another million things to say about those places, and another million about the logistics of our trip. How we managed things, all the mistakes I made, what things actually did work, all that. The helpful trip recappy things. I guess what wanted to come out tonight was how much I didn't realize I missed Italy. And how I would go back, over and over, at the expense of going other places. Molly suggested we go again tomorrow and I said, "Why not?"

     

    May 23, 2015

    How we've kicked off the big trip. [Cliffs Notes: We're TIRED]

    My first tip for those of you considering European Travel with your family is to go for a long enough time that the first three or four days of jet lag, bad weather, intestinal issues, and disoriented children can be written off as "Just Getting Used To Things". I decided to make some use of myself during this problematic time by sharing my wisdom with all of you - the rest of my crew is at the Carrefour looking for car seats and Imodium. Ahem.

     

    After I whined for a week straight about packing, we finally got on the airplane. And it wasn't terrible. Well only a little bit. When the lady at the gate yelled above the din of the hordes of travelers gathered that families with small children may begin to board, we had to beat our way through the dozen Older German People [Sans Small Children, Natch] who immediately got in line and I thought to myself, "Oh right! This!" 

    But the flight itself was manageable, if also very long and very boring and mostly uncomfortable. Molly was the only who got any sleep, seeing as how she scored herself a nice dark window seat and zonked out for the last three hours of the flight. 

    Frankfurt Airport, however, where we spent a brief layover, was the Absolute Pit of Hell. My parents had warned us of this fact via email and when I mentioned it during a conversation with a friend who frequently travels to Europe she said, "Oh. I'm sorry." But I am a patient and understanding lady when it comes to people I don't live with and felt certain that we would Carry On. 

    But I was the one tearing up with Unholy Righteous Indignant Anger in security because OH YES for whatever reason, after deplaning and riding a tram thirty miles to the other end of the airport, we got to go through security. Again. And these people. THESE PEOPLE. They were horrible and rude and without a drop of sympathy anywhere in their beings. Getting through airport security is an exercise is losing one's dignity in any airport, but Frankfurt has taken it to an entirely new level. I cannot adequately describe the scorn and contempt with which we were told to take out ALL our liquids and ALL our electronics and why yes INDEED the sleeping utterly-exhausted three-year-old would have to be removed from her stroller, PATTED DOWN, and walked through the scanner. And if her mother walked an extra two [TWO] steps to place her BACK in the stroller, ignoring the commands to HALT! HALT! from multiple venomous security agents because she herself needed to go through the scanner, she would INDEED be chastised like a child, and her fury made fun of by a man of Goering proportions who must have nothing better to do with his life than hassle mothers of small children who just got off a ten-hour airplane ride. "Ma'am, if you just LISTEN to us and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS everything will go SMOOTHLY," a prim and possibly possessed woman snapped at me. All I could do was Glower and Seethe, but trust that I did both of these to the utmost of my ability.   

    The tears didn't come, however, until a security agent, after cycling our carry ons through the machine another two times because we hadn't taken everything out properly, gazed upon our children's water bottles [Funtainers, for those taking note for future travel] with something like horror. THEY CONTAINED SOME WATER. Note! Of the three bottles containing scary water, only two of them were selected for closer inspection. An expressionless woman gingerly held the two bottles at length and took them to first a pair of uniformed men and then a manager type who then directed her to a Special Testing Room where the water in the bottles was to be tested for Top Secret Bomb Making Agents (I am assuming). At this point I fairly screeched, "LET THEM HAVE THE WATER BOTTLES AND LET'S GO" whereupon my clearer-headed husband responded, "Do you want these people to think we're GUILTY of something?!" 

    Eventually the offending thermoses were returned to us and we were told we were free to leave and BY GOD I AM NEVER GOING BACK. I actually really do have a VERY high tolerance for Bullshit and People Who Are Just Doing Their Jobs, but I have never been made to feel so stupid, so imbecilic, so utterly like a piece of human garbage. In relating this trauma to my parents my father said, "Not hard to see how those people became Nazis, isn't it?!" Which was said somewhat in jest and ordinarily I would have found it within myself to at least ACT like this was an indecent thing to say, but as it was EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING MYSELF, I congratulated myself on my observations and VEHEMENTLY AGREED.

    Well! That's over with!

    Now we are in Italy. And you guys. I am in love. The last time I was here I was pregnant with Jack and everything is totally different and exactly the same. When I think of this place I usually think of the time I spent here as an unhappy to moderately less unhappy teenager and all the ways my experiences here contributed to my Hated Anxiety Episodes, the things I didn't yet know about myself, the boys I had crushes on, how much I wanted to LEAVE and BE A GROWN UP and STOP BEING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I don't so much think about Italy itself, specifically this smallish suburbanish not-too-interesting-for-tourists part of Italy that was, for quite a while, the place I was "from". The way the houses look, how the stores close in the afternoons, the fish shop and the cheese shop and the meat shop and the bread shop, the language, the mountains (oh my God, the mountains, I cannot wait until the weather gets better so I can instagram the crap out of the mountains), the pace of life, the driving, the old buildings mixed in with the new, the way it is all so familiar and also so incredibly different from my own life. 

    Last night we went to a bar (so in Italy, the bars are more like coffee shops that serve drinks and also gelato and cookies, so basically the best places in the world) with old friends of my parents. And I used to go to this bar often in high school. It looks exactly the same. The same daughter of the owners was still working there (and has her own child and is probably the owner now) and she recognized my parents and we all had gelato (I had mango cheesecake TO DIE FOR) and it was twilight and the town was quiet, but also sort of buzzy like a proper Friday night, and I couldn't help being nostalgic. But I don't think it's JUST nostalgia, not least because I don't HAVE a lot of nostalgia for this place! I wanted to leave so badly! My parents lived here for THIRTEEN YEARS and act like I know all the places and people they know and I'm always, "Dudes. No. I was here for my angsty teenage years and ESCAPED ASAP. I remember none of this." But it appears that I remember the pace of life and the tastes and the views and apparently I have really missed it. 

    And thank God we're here for two weeks because the first few days haven't been ideal. Jet lag is doing its best to render my whole family useless, including myself. The weather is TERRIBLE. (It looks to get better right when Phillip and I go to Paris, and then possibly go back to terrible when we get back.) We wanted to go to Venice today, but the idea of marching around Venice in the rain sounded miserable so we headed to a larger city market this morning (not as big or busy as I remember - my dad says the huge influx of big American-style everything stores is hitting the markets and small shops hard) (this is where they're at right now) (I'm sad I'm not there). It was wet and gray and blah, but we made up for it with cappuccino and sweets at my parents' preferred pasticceria and a tour of the cathedral. My kids were enthralled with the church and it wasn't even the sort of church you'd make a point of visiting. Even this regular boring not-tourist-town church had frescoes and statues and oldness and I loved that they were so interested in all of it. 

    Tomorrow is supposed to be the only nice day for the forseeable future, so we're going to try it tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law and 10-month-old nephew fly in tomorrow afternoon and join us in this house - I haven't even told you about the house! That's for another post, I guess. Too much space wasted by the evils of the Frankfurt airport. We're also hoping to go to the beach one day and a small town on a mountain lake my parents particularly love. Other than Venice not a lot of "important" sight seeing and this is honestly fine by me. Just "living" in a town is its own experience. It's not like my kids are dying to do anything other than open every Kinder egg in sight. 

    I'm posting all my pictures to Instagram (/mighty_maggie) if you like that sort of thing. Unfollow if it's not! So far it's been a fun and stress-free way for me to document the trip. I used to collect every bit of paper and take a million pictures for scrapbooks that I never ended up making. Now I'm instagramming and the kids are writing in their journals every night (BLESS my former-grade-school-teacher mother for taking up this responsibility so far!). 

    I think I'm going to go take advantage of the rainy day alone time to sprawl on my bed and read... exactly what one should do on her European Vacation, yes? 

    May 15, 2015

    I need to go this far away

    My parents are already in Italy. They are poor travelers (and freely admit this, not breaking blog policy here, HI MOM!), but it sounds like the flight went mostly well and getting the car and driving to Practically Podunk, Italy went ok too. My mom's email this morning said they spent most of the first [rainy] day at their favorite coffee shop where the owners remember them and want to see the kids and I'm feeling sort of sad about that. My mom and dad lived in this town for 13 (I think?) years, and only moving back to the US when Jack was born. I know they want to be near us and their now hordes of grandchildren (I already can't imagine living far away from MY hopeful future grandchildren!) but I sort of feel like Practically Podunk is home for them. My dad, I think, would disagree. He always says he's American and feels most comfortable in America, but there are no Italian-style cafes where they live now. No good bakeries with fresh bread, no weekly markets, no lifestyle of evening strolls and cappuccino in your regular bar. I can still see my parents living there and being happy in their Italian farmhouse, my mom's flowers, my dad's weekend road trips, the dinners out, the knowing how to get around Venice, the friends they still have there. I feel bad (sad? mournful? wistful?) that they moved. (And happy too.) 

    I finally got out the suitcases. I packed a week's worth of underwear for every family member in a ziploc bag. I divvied up the activity books, crayons, markers, and stickers amongst three backpacks. I've almost found sandals for everyone. I'm doing laundry. I have a general packing list. We have kid headphones and car seats and as of this morning we have a will and health directives. Not a necessary item, perhaps, but one we've been meaning to do for YEARS and now we have it and if our Paris plane crashes into the Eiffel Tower, at least our family will know what to do with the millions of dollars we have hidden under the mattress. 

    I haven't flown overseas since Jack was born and I'm starting to dread the trip. I hate small closed spaces. I hate confinement. Everyone does, I know, I am not a special snowflake. At least the way the seats are situated we are only sitting with each other, no strangers with whom to bump elbows. Although I can see scenarios where I might prefer a stranger to my own kid. 

    I bought tickets to Matilda. Thank you, wonderful London reader, for your recommendation and instructions on how to get from Stansted to Southwark. I have printed out every single airline and hotel and otherwise logistical confirmation email, boarding pass, and ticket. I wrote down how to get from the Paris airport to our hotel. Phillip SAYS we will have data plans for the phone but WHO KNOWS. I'm very much a Have A Folder Full Of Everything I Could Possibly Need sort of person. I'm super fun. 

    I think... finally, after the insanity that has been our Spring, I am ready to get on a plane to anywhere. I want to go away. I want to not think about school or the bakery or what's going down on Twitter or my church obligations or who I haven't emailed or talked to or where I'm supposed to be tomorrow or what I'm supposed to buy or pick up or mail or clean or ANYTHING. I want to stop THINKING. I want to get on the stupid airplane and get myself to Practically Podunk and then *I* want to spend a full week sitting in an Italian bar drinking cappuccinos and listening to people have conversations I don't understand and don't need to worry about. I will be a tourist in England, but in Italy, at least for that first week, I want to relax my shoulder muscles for the first time in months. 

    May 11, 2015

    A few thoughts on Pants, Fit Of and the chances of losing children in the London underground

    The FPC is here because we have a wedding cake tasting tonight and another tomorrow night and there are a lot of little cakes and bowls of fillings on all of the surfaces. And between this (passionfruit curd!) and the crazy meds and running errands instead of going to the gym, oh and also PLAIN TIRED, there is a lot of angsty sighing when it comes to choosing a pair of pants to wear each day. Oh, pants. PANTS. Or should I say "pants". What's really working for me these days is a nice sack on top and something soft and stretchy on the bottom. Like... pajamas.

    But then this morning I saw a tall, slender, elegant looking lady in the Target underwear section, holding up a piece of shapewear and eyeing it critically. And I thought, Well. There's no hope for ANY of us, is there. 

    I have probably never been in a more confident state of mind, happier with who I am and who my people are, how things are with my family, really, and my PANTS. MY PANTS have the power to take all of that confidence and happy-with-self-ness and make me want to crawl into a hole of shame and doubt. How does that even WORK? 

    WHATEVER.

    Katie has... (wait I have to ask, hang on...) Chocolate cake with a whipped ganache filling and chocolate sour cream frosting OHMAHGAWWWWWD. Cookies and cream filling. Passionfruit curd. Coconut frosting. Cream cheese frosting, raspberry filling, carrot cake, white cake, lemon cake... YOU WISH YOU WERE HERE DON'T YOU. EFF THE PANTS.

    Europe is only going to exacerbate the pants problem, but I'm finally in the place where I can't wait to go. I need a VACATION. Right now it's a big spin of what we need to buy and what to pack and all that, but it will be SO NICE to get away from the stupid calendar for a bit. No bakery deliveries or pick ups to worry about, no back and forth to school, no homework, no piano practice, no who's working late or who has a dinnertime meeting... We've been go go go since the end of March and NOT going sounds SO NICE right now. So nice. (Except for the part where I GO to Paris sans children. Yes.) 

    Thanks for the Matilda recommendation - I am totally buying those tickets ahead of time. HAVE MY HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS, WEST END! I AM COMING FOR YOU!

    Oh, and Phillip told his parents the other day that if we were going to Syria, say, their level of panic over theft of both money and children would be appropriate, but since we are NOT, maybe they could dial it back a bit. Because they are wonderful wonderful people, his dad just sighed and smiled sheepishly. I shall still mentally prepare to ask my in-laws to allow my children to run free at London playgrounds and for regular anxiety attacks (THEIRS) whilst managing the kids in the underground. 

    (I told my FIL this story about my brother getting "lost" in St. Mark's Square - he lost US (too busy feeding pigeons), but my dad had an eye on him and watched him feed pigeons while throwing up his head every few minutes or so to shout, "MOM!" Basically letting him get good and nervous until my dad "found" him. But my FIL did not think this was funny AT ALL. "You need to get LEASHES!")

    Excuse me, I believe my tasting services are needed (PASSIONFRUIT CURD).

     

     

    April 29, 2015

    Packing, Planning, Blathering Recovery

    I'm trying to put my life in order which is pointless considering that we're going on vacation in 3 weeks (THREE WEEKS) and when we get back it will be summer vacation and there's never any order during summer vacation. Does it really matter if I organize the art supply bins? Does it even matter if I put them back where they're supposed to go post-Blathering? What about putting the winter coats away? Or organizing my desk? WHAT IS THE POINT. 

    I cleaned and decluttered for the kitchen designer to come on Monday and he ended up canceling and seriously, I should just make myself a t-shirt that says I HAVE STOPPED BOTHERING.

    Things I Still Need To Do For Our Trip About Which I Am A Little Bit In Denial

    Buy another Bubble Bum

    Borrow the Rider Safe Vest from our friends

    Get powers of attorney for the time period when Phillip and I will be in Paris and my parents will be road tripping with the kids

    Rent a car for Italy

    Figure out the best way to get from the Stansted Airport in London to our Southwark apartment 

    Think about what I want the kids to do during our trip and buy the appropriate supplies (keep a scrapbook? write a blog? Write reports?)

    Make packing lists (I do not want to do this. I do not want to do this. I do not want to do this.)

    Make sure everyone has appropriate shoes

    Research tube tickets for London 

    Find out how much WWII-related stuff I can do in England without driving my family insane

    Figure out if we have any money left over to see a musical in London

    Emotionally prepare myself for my beloved sainted in-laws having hourly anxiety attacks about losing children in London (quoth my FIL this weekend: "You need to buy LEASHES for the kids!")

    Find someone to housesit and/or pick up mail and water plants

    Worry about all the things I'm forgetting

    I feel like I can't throw myself full force into trip planning because there is STILL big stuff happening - Jack's first communion is Sunday and there's a lot involved in that. Saturday we have to go to the rehearsal and then make a banner for our family's pew the day of - who knows how long that will take. Sunday is the big day and after Mass we're having a lunch at our house. It will also double as Jack's family birthday party because his birthday is the FOLLOWING Sunday (Mother's Day.) And because I'm kind of big on birthdays, I feel like he should also have a FRIEND party so I have to figure out how we're going to do that next Saturday (day BEFORE Mother's Day...) I was going to throw money at that problem, but all the options are so MUCH money and have so many restrictions with how many people and times and all that... it just doesn't feel worth it. 

    That's a lot of stuff, right? 

    I DO feel recovered from the Blathering, which, well, I wasn't sure there for a while. I am not a young lady drinking too much wine in someone's back yard anymore! My age is showing; also my introvert. Man, my poor introvert was silent screaming by the end and I had to give her a few days of intense solitude. Thank goodness that's over - I'm sort of a BAD introvert and can't stand spending days on end by myself. I can tell I'm all better because I spent the better part of the morning trying to find someone to hang out with Emma and me and feeling MOROSE when no one was around. 

    I didn't even tell you about the Blathering, did I? Maybe I'll write a proper post, but for now I'll just say that I was so stinking proud of Seattle, you can't even imagine. The weather was DIVINE. The views were GORGEOUS. The food was YUMMY. The party bus did NOT get stuck in my cul de sac and none of my neighbors have dropped by to interrogate me about the horde of women who showed up that Friday night. I was so so happy with the way everything went off. I was beyond delighted with the sunshine. I did my best to spend time with individuals and small groups - I'm best via email, but if I must be endured in person, it's best to endure me in small groups - and I felt like I got to talk with a few more people than I usually do at this event. I'm just PLEASED. And proud of my city, which is dorky I know, but you know what I mean. 

    Feeling like I've outgrown blogging/Twitter/the Internet is a frequent topic here (sorry, also how meta, also eye roll), but oh I would missssss yooooooooou. 

     

     

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