When I was a kid

A song in my honor

I'm sitting here on the couch with my laptop, earphones jammed in because Phillip is watching a TV show I cannot abide (I'm not even going to tell you what it is, THAT is how much I cannot abide it, you will just have to GUESS). And for a while I was writing the longest boringest post ever about my stupid NaNo novel but THEN. This song called 'Ramona', by Guster, popped up on my Pandora station (Carbon Leaf, if you must know.) And of COURSE I had to Direct Tweet Mona because a song! A song I like! With her name! Swoon! 

And then I thought I would delete the longest boringest writing post and tell you about a song written for ME. 

No. I am not talking about 'Maggie May', which I've never liked, and OMG people, in the Wikipedia entry it says, and I quote, "...Stewart recalled: "Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with..." and EW EW EW. I mean, ROD STEWART. ICK. DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. 

There is also a Bob Dylan song about a Maggie, which is marginally more acceptable. I don't know of any others. Fin! 

EXCEPT. When I was fourteen I was going out with this boy, my first REAL BOYFRIEND OMG, and he fancied himself a musician. (He IS a musician now, a fact I have gleaned from my only-to-be-used-for-good combined Google/Facebooky Powers. He, like, TOURS and everything and I suppose I must find some small amount of impressiveness in this, right? Granted.) 

Okay, so First Real Boyfriend was a bit of a tool. I know that now. But at the time? HE HUNG THE MOON. He was older and smarter and more popular and he had a CAR and he played the saxaphone (so does the boy I married, btw, am sucker for Musicians) and was everything from Football Captain to Student Council President to Lead In The School Play. (It helps when you go to a school with, like, MAYBE 100 people in grades seven through twelve and NO I AM NOT KIDDING.) 

So anyway. Swoonworthy, most definitely. And not just because he was, as I detailed above, Excellent Boyfriend Material. He was... kind of a mushy romantic dork. I mean, as much as you can be at age sixteen. He wrote me notes and letters and illegally drove me (illegally meaning my parents would have killed both of us, HERE I AM 'FESSING UP, PARENTS! I'LL GROUND MYSELF!) to scenic spots and confessed all sorts of shmoopy feelings for me. BLISS!

And one day? He said, "I'm writing a song about you."

That may or may not have been the moment that sealed the deal on When Maggie Grows Up She Will Write Long, Boring, Angsty Blog Posts About Writing YA Novels (That She Will Subsequently Delete Because That's How Much She Loves Her Readers).

So of COURSE I was eagerly awaiting the day I would hear this song, which supposedly he was setting to music with a couple of his friends who "were in a band". And now that I am older I know what "in a band" means, oh yes I do. It means early Saturday morning practice in your friends' garage while your wife wanders around the newlywed apartment, aimlessly, wondering what she got married for if her new husband was going to spend all his free time "practicing" for "gigs" and LET THIS BE A LESSON, ALL YOU GIRLS DATING BOYS "IN A BAND". 


I never got to hear this song. At least, I can't remember ever hearing it. What a disappointment! I have a vague memory of reading the lyrics, which is SO not the same thing, and then I MOVED. I moved to a much bigger (though still very small) school where NONE of the boys compared to First Real Boyfriend and this meant I slogged through the next three years in a permanent state of Emo Pout. (Maybe THAT'S what sealed the deal!) 


I can't say for SURE, because my memories of this are even VAGUER, and possibly I have tried very hard to BLOCK THEM OUT, but I am pretty sure I got a letter from First Real Boyfriend saying he had performed this song somewhere, but had CHANGED ALL THE WORDS. Meaning it was no longer about ME! Meaning THE OPPOSITE OF SWOONWORTHY. 

So. I am still waiting. I don't have the most mellifluous name out there, I am WELL AWARE, but someone somewhere must be desperately in love with a Maggie and writing beautiful songs for her and I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT. Also: since my husband can play guitar and saxaphone and piano and sight-sing and generally kick everyone's butt when it comes to knowing things like, how many sharps are in the key of Super Crazy Hard To Play On The Piano, maybe HE should take up the cause. 

Has anyone written a song for YOU? Go ahead, make me jealous. It'll just give me more evidence to pile in front of Phillip.

A stunning revelation

I went shopping tonight. 

Oh, first I should tell you that I am CRAZY EXHAUSTED and not from any particular physically strenuous task, but just the chaos that is my brain on wedding and holiday fumes, and also the FPC's car just up and stopped working tonight and could you please shoot up some Pink Swirly Thoughts for the beloved automobile of this extremely dated post? THANKS. Oh right, I'm telling you all that so that you won't expect anything coherent from this post, but maybe you've already figured that out. 

SO. I went shopping and it was bliss. Because when we picked Phillip up at work and I told him I wanted to try and get some stuff done tonight he said, "Well, why don't you go when we get home and I'll give the kids dinner and everything." AND THE WORLD STOOD STILL. I'm sorry, Internet, but the Devastatingly Handsome Chinese Man is MINE. 

I went, of course, although not without a lot of "are you SURE?" and "REALLY?" And the mall, as I'm sure a lot of you know, was kind of nuts on this mid-December evening, but you guys, I rocked the mall. I bought everything I needed to buy - presents, last minute wedding attire details, and, um, something for me to wear on Christmas. 

I have this very old Ann Taylor Loft sweater that I usually wear sometime around Christmas. It's the right kind of red with some inoffensive black velvet ribbon detailing. It's Christmassy without delving too far into Scary Third Grade Teacher Christmas Sweater territory. Anyway, I have nothing to wear with it since all my dress pants are too big and none of my skirts match. I was hunting for a shortish black skirt or maybe some nice black pants. Something classic, something appropriate, something that would probably hang out in my closet for years, long after I grow four sizes larger. 

But I, uh, came home with something else. For one thing, I bought another red sweater. The SAME RED. It's a little different in that it's long and tunic-ish, but you know, STILL A RED SWEATER. 

I also bought (I am turning red and you can't even see me) stretchy black skinny pants. SKINNY PANTS. And see how I've refrained from calling them leggings, though they are nearly as tight as leggings and you probably couldn't tell the difference. Even though they're heavy and have a zipper at the top and aren't, you know, LEGGINGS. 

Okay, so, back story: I tried on skinny jeans a few weeks ago with my sister. My sister IS skinny. I am not skinny, but I am also a lot less fat than I used to be. I thought: why not? Skinny jeans are The Thing, right? But both of us looked embarrassingly awful. Terrible. Unimaginably horrid. I am thinking it has something to do with the fact that neither of us look like tall runway models. I have seen other people who look half decent in skinny jeans, but most of them are tall runway models and I am about as far away from a tall runway model as you can be. I scraped those things off my legs and told myself, "Self? NEVER AGAIN!"

But I've been seeing women in what I will call skinny PANTS. Not jeans, but dark pants, too heavy to be leggings, but nearly as tight, and usually tucked into boots. I like this look. I like the long sweater thing over the tight pants and the boots. Are people wearing that where you live? I swear, all the cool shoe salesgirls and restaurant hostesses are wearing something like this. And even though I am not a cool salesgirl or hostess, I am a STAY AT HOME MOM, I have wondered if I could pull it off. And when I saw the black skinny pants on sale at Macy's I thought: why not? 


I am not sure about this look, internet. (And I know what you are thinking and NO, I am NOT going to post a picture, this is what younger sisters are FOR.) I have to say, the long sweater over the tight pants was kind of flattering, or at least they fit pretty well. And while I didn't love the super tapered look I wanted to see what it would look like with boots. So I bought it. And then I carried it out of the store thinking, "Hmm, I have seen this look on someone other than the hot restaurant hostess."

So I've been thinking about it this whole time and Internet, I have DISCOVERED THE SOURCE. Hold on to your keyboards, now. The person I remember first wearing this sort of ensemble was DUN DUN DUN my high school Italian teacher. GAH!

My high school Italian teacher was ITALIAN. She was from the town and just happened to marry an American teacher eight frillion years previously, which is the only reason I can think of as to why she was allowed to show up in our high school and pretend she was teaching Italian. We mostly learned about how rude American children were and why it was very important to own a Trussardi brand bag and how well-connected Signora was in our little town and if we didn't settle down and do our translations she would tell the mayor on us. BUT I DIGRESS. 

Signora was MAYBE five feet tall. She wore, every single day, a longish sweater in a dark neutral color, and tight skinny pants in darker neutral colors, with an assortment of snazzy ankle boots. With her giant mass of reddish-purple hair and gold jewelry, she looked like every other Italian lady at the market or in the bar. It was the UNIFORM. And I remember silently deriding it my head, and not-so-silently deriding it in the girls' locker room before basketball practice. (Italian was my last class of the day, and she was not our favorite teacher.) 

Anyway, I'm now feeling pretty uncertain as to whether I should keep MY skinny pants. I mean, we've already discussed the fact that I need to start coloring my hair - what if it turns out reddish-purple? IS THIS KARMA? 

We're not the kids anymore

The first year Phillip and I were married was the first year I didn't spend Christmas at home. He couldn't get enough time off to make a trip to Italy worth it, so we hit up my grandma's Christmas Eve get together, and spent Christmas Day with his parents. It was a bummer, but I got over it. Sort of. 

I was ten years old when we moved overseas and it BLEW MY MIND that we were going to have actual holidays without my grandparents. I mean, was that ALLOWED? My mom's side of the family is large and loud and very much into turning holidays into parties and it was inconceivable to me that we could still have Christmas without them. And when my parents invited FRIENDS for Christmas, people who were NOT RELATED TO US, who probably had no IDEA about Very Important Traditions, like fried bread dough and the carefully organized present opening ritual and the fact that Santa is actually my Uncle Joe, I mean: EXCUSE ME? 

And now, even though I stopped "going home" for Christmas years ago, even though my parents don't even LIVE in Italy anymore, it's still kinda strange to me that we celebrate Christmas and other big family holidays with... family. We have a lot of friends without families nearby and I am always a little worried about them this time of year. What are they going to do? Do they have plans? Shouldn't we have a big party and invite everyone? Wouldn't Thanksgiving be awesome with all our friends around the table? Wouldn't Christmas Eve be a blast? 

Then I remind myself that I have family - LOTS of family - around and it would look sort of weird if I was all, "Actually, sorry, I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year and it's friends only. See ya!" 

Not that I really want to do this. I'm thankful my family IS nearby. We're in kind of a weird spot right now where my siblings and I are old enough to do our own thing, but the party is still at Grandma's house. It's fun, but also frustrating, to look around and think about what Phillip and I want to do with our own little family. Is this the year we do our own celebration? Is this the year we decide not to do every single family party? Is this the year we finally go to Christmas Eve Mass at our own church instead of at our parents'? 

Because of my sister's wedding, because of who will be in town and when they'll be leaving, my mom and dad are having Christmas several days before Actual Christmas. And in my family Actual Christmas is Christmas Eve - massive amounts of food and drink and presents and, this year, small children wreaking massive amounts of havoc. And because we'll be having our family Christmas a few days before Actual Christmas, it means we won't go directly to Grandma's house afterwards to continue the party with all my aunts and uncles. They'll be eating fried bread dough, as usual, on Christmas Eve, but this is the year we decided we won't be there. 

It's convenient, isn't it? The wedding, the fact that our kids are tiny, the fact that Grandma is an hour away - it all adds up to "Oh, it just doesn't make sense this year." We thought about skipping it last year, when it was scary snowy and we had, like, fourteen Christmas obligations in a row, but we didn't. We felt guilty, but we also wanted to be there. We have a fun time! The fried bread dough is THAT good. This year? I don't feel guilty. I'm a big girl now, I'm a mom. I've got two kids who, so far, are head over heels in love with Christmas (or, at least, their Advent calendars filled with chocolate) and we want to do it our way. 

So we'll do a Pre-Christmas Christmas with my brothers and sisters and all the friends who used to go to our Christmases in Italy, because they'll be here for the wedding. I'm really looking forward to it- I don't want to give THAT up. But then we're staying home. We'll go to Mass at our own church for the very first time since we've been going there (10 years!). We'll have our own Christmas Eve and maybe my sisters will be there, and really, whoever wants to hang out and eat too much at our house Christmas Eve is totally welcome. Because that's what we want our house to be: always available and full of good things to eat. 

People are always talking about creating traditions and while I love the idea, it's really hard in practice, especially when you are still so involved in your extended family. Not that that's a bad thing, but I do want Jack and Molly's Christmases to be theirs. If that makes sense. Right now I feel like we are a part of everyone else's Christmases - driving everywhere, not doing any of our normal things because we spend two or three days away from our own house. As much as I love everyone else's Christmases, and I really really do, this year I'm ready to let other people be a part of ours.

Seven Quick Things I Am Loving

I'm not big into the review blog thing, but if I WAS, this is what I'd be saying*: 

1. Kabocha squash, otherwise known as Japanese pumpkin, otherwise known as UGLY.

Roast this thing, peel off the skin and EAT. It already tastes like pumpkin pie, only better, because I don't LIKE pumpkin pie and I LOVE this squash. Of course, I mashed it with butter AND maple syrup and my kids still wouldn't touch it, but that's okay, I turned it into a soup and now I am orange. YUM.

2. Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton. I don't know if it's because it's written by a man, or because he is SO chill about feeding kids, or because it's hilarious, or because he's local, or because he's a FOOD CRITIC and his kid doesn't eat her vegetables either, but I cried Actual Tears Of Relief while reading. Perhaps you have met me and my Spirals of How-To-Feed-My-Kids Shame? But really, even if you aren't in charge of a two-year-old who subsists on cheese, I think this is a fun read, just stories about a stay-at-home dad and his daughter, recipes included. 

3. Danonino yogurts. 

Jack and Molly enjoying their chicken fries (thx Amanda!), frozen peas and Danonino!

When we lived here, we got to take two free space available flights a year. Something like that. I forget what the official term for that was, but it roughly translates to "We, the United States Government, are very sorry for sticking you out in the Middlest of All Nowheres, so here, take these free flights back to Civilization." Anyway. So we would fly to a navy base in Spain where we had some friends from the last place we lived. I have all these chunks of memories from our trips to Spain and one of them is what I call "little yogurts". I LOVED my little yogurts. Our friend in Spain had them for her kids and we'd just squeeze the yogurt out and lick it up. When we moved to the next base I was beyond excited to find the little yogurts in the one grocery store in town and even when I came home from college I would make my mother buy me the little yogurts. Which are for BABIES. 

And now? They sell the little yogurts in the Safeway up the street. AND? My kids EAT THEM. (Because they taste like dessert. But they aren't dessert. They are YOGURT. Yogurt = health food!)

4. Orville Redenbacher Kettle Corn 100 calorie packs. Um, when I started this it wasn't all about food. Promise. Ummm, anyway, I am in love with these because they are just the RIGHT amount of popcorn. And even though they are disgustingly fat-free, the "kettle" part of the corn makes it taste like something. AND it takes me a while to eat it all, so I'm not sitting there watching Glee and being all, "Dude, that snack went by too fast and now I need ANOTHER one." You know what I mean? 

5. Nordstrom shoe department sales people. (See? Not ALL about food!) You would laugh, then roll your eyes, then snort, then gape at me all, "Are you SERIOUS?" if I told you about the DRAMA my sister and I have been enduring re: what shoes to wear with our bridesmaid dresses. Attempting to find a shoe that is 1) not ugly 2) silver 3) closed toe-ish 4) available in both our sizes and 5) not in a Paris Hilton price range is IMPOSSIBLE. However! At Nordstrom this weekend I found a pair of shoes that fit four out of the five requirements. I then had a Nordstrom sales girl call every Nordstrom in the Western United States to try and find a pair in my sister's size. No luck! But I was impressed (especially after an interaction with a saleslady in DSW today, HARRUMPH.) I am usually crazy intimidated by Nordstrom employees on account of the fact that they all look like runway models, and also I can't AFFORD anything in Nordstrom, but it was the SALE RACK and they didn't make me feel like an idiot for calling all over to find SALE RACK SHOES. Too bad for my sister, though. Guess she'll be barefoot. 

6. The easy toffee bars I told you guys about long long ago, where you pour melted brown sugar and butter over graham crackers, and then let a bag of chocolate chips melt on top. I made some as an egg-free treat for our get together this Saturday, and passed them around yesterday morning for some mom friends to eat. I am now eating them as I type. Thank goodness I cut them tiny, huh? PLENTY FOR EVERYONE! These are the only cookies I've made for winter celebrating, and they aren't even CHRISTMAS cookies. I am going to be SO out of practice for next year's party. And see how I brought it back to food? MMM FOOD.

7. Potty training. I KNOW. Weird, right? But potty training is turning out to be the one and only parenting trauma that I can endure with an honest-to-God smile. I am not pushing it, worrying about it, stressing, feeling guilty, feeling judged, researching, comparing, ANY of that crap. I am simply putting my kid on the potty and giving him high five after high five. Jack is a Champion Potty User at this point (and never forgets that he is owed a treat) although he is also, still, a champion DIAPER user, and I'm not entirely sure when things are going to switch over. In the meantime, as long as I suggest it, he goes. I can't tell you how awesome it is to have this THING that isn't stressing me out or making me angry in the Jack department. I still can't figure out how to feed him or discipline him or make him pick up his frillion Legos, but potty training is a frustration-free zone. I reserve the right to change this, of course, if he is still potty training NEXT year, but for now? It's really kinda fun. (Don't want to talk about food NOW, do you!)

*I was not compensated in any way by any vegetable, book, processed food product, Nordstrom salesperson, cookie recipe or potty training ideas recommended in this post. The opinions in this post are mine alone, and they are actual factual.

More quick takes here

I'm posting this because I'm avoiding posting about grad school. You're welcome.

Last night I was talking to my mom about an old friendship, one of those relationships that's a lot different than it used to be, and you're not entirely sure when or where things changed. I told my mom, "I used to think she just really changed after we graduated, but now I wonder if she was ALWAYS like this and was just different when we were in school?" And my mom said, "I think LOTS of people change when they're in college and then revert back to who they were before" and then we started talking about everyone we knew who could or did or might or is currently fitting this mold.

I think it's hard to say, because most of us aren't terribly sure who we are before we Go Out Into The World (college, for most of us, and whether that is The World is debatable). But as far as you can really categorize these things, I think it's true for me. I was a boring rule-abider before, during and after my college years, no huge changes for me. But I WAS different in college. As unfortunately evidenced by the totally worn out pair of Birkenstocks I finally threw out the other day, with a huge exclamation of "I CAN'T BELIEVE I EVER PUT THESE ON MY FEET" disgust.

The big stuff didn't change - I didn't lose my faith - but the details did - I became an honorary non-denominational Protestant for four years.

One of the biggest things that happened to me was one of my best high school friends (I KNOW. Eventually I had GOOD FRIENDS from HIGH SCHOOL!) made a special trip to my dorm room sophomore year to come out in person. This was an enormous deal in my universe. It affected everything from how I interacted with my NDCF friends to what classes I chose to the music I liked to recalculating a lot of high school memories to (and this is embarrassingly true) how I cut my hair. I'd always been interested in feministy genderific sociological stuff, but now I was REALLY interested in it, obnoxiously so. I really needed to make sense of certain things, and I really really wanted to live "authentically". I was super committed to doing and being the things I said I was going to do and be, namely: Independent! Smart! Well-Traveled! Did I mention the INDEPENDENT?!

Then I started dating a boy. (One of my very favorite Dar Williams concert moments is when she told us that she got married that year, paused a second, then added, "TO A MAN".) Many - practically ALL - my feministy genderific sociologically contrived ideas floated into outer space somewhere. Half because they were mostly stupid ideas, half because I didn't need those ideas to protect me from Phillip's big scary Man Agenda. In fact, when I tried to tell him why this stuff was so entrenched in me he never appeared to be anything other than Utterly Clueless, so nonexistent was his Man Agenda. Sigh. College Me was frightfully stupid.

ANYWAY. I tell you all this because a few years later I was telling a friend how much I just really wanted to quit my job and stay home with a baby and she was looking at me like I had sprouted another nose. If this person thinks much about our friendship I'm POSITIVE she wonders Where I Went Wrong. We had several conversations about it, all of which made me feel tremendously guilty because where DID I go wrong? Was I copping out? Failing? Turning into someone I never wanted to be?

I spent way too much time thinking about this, but I'm glad I came to the right conclusion, which was: IT WAS OKAY FOR ME TO CHANGE. And perhaps I wasn't so different after all. Maybe the person she became friends with wasn't "authentically" me, but maybe someone trying out a lot of new ideas, the way they say you're supposed to when you're in school.

When I was out with two friends getting my nails done this weekend, we calculated that one friend and I had now known each other a total of twelve years. TWELVE! For someone whose formative years were spent either moving or having friends move, that's a huge number. We've weathered each other's changes, although we're much better friends now than we were in school. But other people haven't ridden the Change curve as well, myself included. It's totally okay for ME to change but I'm not at all sure it's okay for other people.

Did you change or change and then revert? Do you have those different-than-they-used-to-be awkward friendships? What do you do about these? I was telling my mom that my current strategy is to just Go With It. I'm not really sure what that means, but I think it has something to do with letting go of expectations, to just take whatever I get and do my best in return. That's all we can do, right?

Seven completely random quick takes

1.I know I need to pick the lettuce in my garden (already!) but will it grow back? Or is that it? I read somewhere about staggering when you plant lettuce so you can have it all summer, so I'm guessing that's it, and I should buy more seeds (I planted Mesculun). But then why do I need to pick it before it gets too big? So the little leaves can have room to grow and I can get more out of one plant? Can anyone answer this burning question?

2. I've been trying to hunt down a sandbox on Craigslist for weeks now. I emailed a few different people but no one returned my messages. Then yesterday I was probably the first person to email a guy selling this sandbox down where my parents live. We then exchanged four frillion text messages to arrange pickup. And then about a half hour after my parents were supposed to pick it up, he called. I was all set to make excuses as to why my parents weren't there yet, but he was actually calling to say thanks for taking it off his hands (not like it was free, buddy!) and his son is four and too big for it now, but he loved it when he was younger and oh, did you know you could fill it with water too, like a swimming pool, and my two-year-old is going to love it. I know warm and fuzzy conversations with strangers aren't everyone's bag, but I thought it was the nicest thing. My two-year-old WILL love this sandbox. (At the very least he is going to stop digging in MOMMY'S sandbox.)

3. Speaking of text messages, I think I have now Caught On. I'm still not that great with the PHONE part of my phone (several days ago a friend called my home phone and informed me that my cell was dead, go plug it in idiot, but I forgot, and then last night she called my home phone again and told me my cell was dead AGAIN and I was all "oh, I think I forgot to plug it in before" and she was all "seriously, what is wrong with you" but it turns out my phone WASN'T dead it just needed to be kind of reBOOTed and ANYWAY) but I loooove text messaging! I can totally be a high schooler you guys. It's, like, INSTANT EMAIL. How can that be anything other than awesome?

4. As I have mentioned many times before, we visit my mom and dad on Fridays. And tomorrow? Friday? WE ARE LEAVING THE CHILDREN. Gasp! Choke! Blink! Well, we are leaving Jack FOR SURE and let's just say I am packing lots of Molly clothes and diapers and food in the event that 1) we are confident enough and 2) my parents are brave enough to take her. It's sort of spur of the momenty, and there's no occasion, but there's sort of an open invitation for sleepovers at Grandma's house and we are taking advantage. Also because there's no possible way a night at Grandma's can adversely affect the way they sleep at home BECAUSE THEY AREN'T SLEEPING. Have fun Grandma!

5. And speaking of sleepovers, I was not allowed to. Sleep over. At friends' houses. EVER. I think the first time I slept over at a friend's house was my senior year of high school and I'd gone to some horribly boring and angsty high school party and then crashed on a friend's living room floor. This was rather disastrous for my social life in the middle school and junior high years, and I suppose I did survive, but I always told my parents that was the most Neanderthal of all their Neanderthalish parenting policies and I would NEVER do that to my own kids. Except. When I think about it? I don't want to let my kids sleep over at some random friend's house! Poor Jack and Molly. I weep for their tween years.

6. I'm thinking I should do a post about my parents' Neanderthal policies. What do you think, Mom? All about being the OLDEST CHILD and therefore sentenced to watching my siblings do everything I wanted to do YEARS BEFORE I WAS ALLOWED TO. And also all the times my dad growled, "I will Shut. You. Dowwwwwn." whenever I got in trouble in high school, which is now a tiny bit amusing to me because there wasn't anything TO shut down. Except basketball practice, I guess, and OH, HOW PAINFUL, MY DAD SAYS I CAN'T GO TO PRACTICE AND RUN LINES ALL AFTERNOON, WOE! I was, honestly and truly, the most boring high school student on earth. FACT.

7. I can just see the look on my mom's face right now so I better post a picture.

Saturday morning at the Folklife Festival- at the fountain washing off the hippie smell.


Inaugurating my kids

My first memory of the United States being The United States, My Country Tis Of Thee has something to do with President Reagan and the Challenger blowing up. I read something a while back that said people tend to associate the country with whichever president was president when they were small. I was glad I saw that because I've always thought the way I automatically associate a map of the United States with President Reagan is a little bit weird. Anyway, there must have been something on TV and I saw it and bam! That guy must be in charge.

I don't remember the first President Bush at all. I remember the election: I tape recorded conversations between myself and the girl down the street, pretending to be television reporters. I believe I was arguing for Bush and she was voting Dukakis (and now you know how our parents were voting) and I found these tapes many years later and promptly died an excruciating death of embarrassment.

Now President Clinton, I remember him. VIVIDLY. Not his first several years, but later on, when he started sending Important People to my very small Italian town. I was living next to an airstrip filled with fighter jets, the ones that flew the missions over Bosnia, so he wanted to make sure we were happy, I guess. The Secretary of Defense and his wife came to visit. Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea showed up too (as a member of the high school band I got prime seating at those festivities, directly behind Sinbad's giant head.) My favorite memory of President Clinton is when he and Mr. Gingrich couldn't agree on a budget and government shut down. Do you know what happens when you are living on a military base and government shuts down? NO SCHOOL!

And later, I remember sitting in a hotel room somewhere with my parents (London? I think?) watching the impeachment stuff, my mom nagging my dad to get his shoes on and get going and my dad watching in disgust.

The Bush/Gore election was the first in which I was allowed to vote. And the last eight years, oh, I feel that there are lots and lots of blogs that have gone over that.

Jack and I are watching inauguration coverage. Molly is still sleeping. We had a better night last night, since we weren't TRYING to get her to go down early, merely attempting and hoping and shrugging when it never worked out. And now I've decided to let her sleep through her morning nap because it's not like waking her up has made any difference. Jack is eating a waffle. I'm drinking coffee. I'm about to switch the channel from MSNBC in search of commentators a little less... entertainment reportery.

Jack and Molly are going to grow up associating the shape of the United States with President Obama. I wonder what will form their awareness of America. I grew up with National Review on the coffee table and the McLaughlin Group on television and my dad's Air Force brat stories. Jack and Molly will remember cable news because their mother likes a constant current events chatter in the background. They'll remember my magazines. They'll grow up (hopefully) in a city that pretty much wants to marry Obama. I hope their memories of their first president, like my memories of mine, are simple and good and tinged with a childish red white and blue patriotism. That they know this is a good place to live, and President Obama is in charge.

I am writing this while Phillip does my contract work for me

When I was 8 or 9 years old I was in a community theater production of A Christmas Carol. I don't quite know why my parents let me do this, since the theater was quite a ways from our house and I remember going to quite a few rehearsals. Maybe they had visions of my Future Stardom? But I don't even think I had lines. Anyway, it was fun, and one of the best parts was having my dad all to myself while he drove me there and back.

My family had a gigando van and a small station wagon. My dad drove me to rehearsals in the station wagon, which was a treat, and he often took me to a fast food restaurant for lunch, which was an even bigger treat. One day my dad picked me up and told me there was a surprise waiting at home. A SURPRISE! I'm sure I badgered him about it all the way there, but he wouldn't give me a hint. Finally, when we got home and the garage door opened, there was a new car inside. Our old white van with the red stripe (people called it The Ambulance) was gone and in its place was a new-to-us Ford van, just as hulking as the old one, but blue and much newer and better looking than the white van.

I cried.

It wasn't that I loved the white van. I mean, even at 8 or 9 I knew it was the farthest thing from a Sweet Ride. But the white van was our van. And this van... was nicer, yes, but DIFFERENT.

I offer that trip down Memory Lane to show you that I am unreasonably sentimental. Ridiculously so. I mean, hello, I am a THIRD GRADER. We are talking about a CAR. And not even a car, but a huuuuuuge van, a van so big my mother could pretty much walk around inside and dole out snacks to the five of us in car seats. And so unattractive that it had its own nickname.

So it makes sense that I would be at least a little bit morose about the fact that my little hippie car, with its excellent mileage and shiny blue paint and sparkly rearview mirror disco ball, is sitting on some dealership lot somewhere and there's a mini minivan sitting in its place in my garage.

(Yes. That is what Phillip and Maggie Cheung did on their fifth anniversary: try out car seats in a dealer's showroom and "negotiate" with a car salesman for an hour, only to say we needed to sleep on it, by which we meant "agonize about getting a new car over our anniversary dinner of halibut and salmon". GOOD TIMES.)

Even though we'd already pretty much decided to get a new car AND we were 99% sure which one we wanted, it was still a hard decision. I mean, it seems pretty stupid, in these Dire Economic Times, to trade the car that got 42 mpg on our little weekend road trip for one that [supposedly] gets 27 mpg at best. And do we really NEED that third row? No, we guess not. Making sure you can take your 91-year-old neighbor on a 10 minute ride once a week sort of IS a silly reason to buy a totally different car. And if we DID buy this new car... that third row is super tight. I mean, my Teeny Tiny Sisters would fit just fine (seriously- why didn't I get THOSE genes?) but normal sized people? Not so much. And buckling a kid into a car seat in that third row might require more agility than Phillip and I possess. Shouldn't we be considering a Real Van? One that would be enough space, even if we had a third kid? A used one, so we'd still manage to get away with no car payment?

I was feeling guilt over wanting a New and Less Fuel Efficient car while Phillip was frowning over whether to just go for a full size van.

But today Phillip went back to the dealer on his own (can you imagine keeping a baby entertained for the duration of a Finalizing The Car Purchase afternoon? During NAP TIME?) and came home with a new car. Which we then immediately piled into because we were late for my grandmother's birthday party an hour away.

So far I love it. It doesn't drive like a van (although perhaps I don't know, as I am used to driving vans that handle like buses) and when you have been driving a diesel for two years, it doesn't take much for you to describe another car as "zippy". It's blue. It has all the fancy stuff, because Phillip's consolation prize for owning a mini minivan is that it will answer his phone for him. It's SO MUCH EASIER to get Jack in and out of a car that has sliding doors and is higher off the ground. I even think it's sort of cute (although, again, I grew up with a van that could seat 85 people.)

But I have an itsy bitsy twinge of something inside. Did we do something dumb? Irresponsible? Silly? Short-sighted? Something we'll regret?


And then I will say: Suckas! I still have the Story Of Actually BUYING The Car And Why I Should Not Be Allowed To Be Anywhere Near Car Buying Negotiations and the Story Of Why We Traded It In (which is very short, it goes something like "no one wanted to buy it, I am assuming because they are stupid" and also "one of us is very impatient and got tired of no one emailing her, can you guess who?")

Bread belongs in its own styrofoam bread-sized carrying case

Last week I was all GAH, HATE BLOGGING and WHINE WHINE WHINE and POOR WITTLE ME and barely looked at my computer this weekend. I KNOW! I actually spent my weekend with real people! I even went OUT! Friday night my sister took me shoe shopping because, as we know, I own one pair of shoes and they do not go with the dress I was planning to wear to the church tea party. (Apparently, all the primary level teachers at my sister's school know about my Shoe Deficiency and, when she told them about her Friday evening plans, sent their prayers and The Force.)

Amazingly enough we found a pair of shoes in a heel height my feet have never known (AND YET I STAYED UPRIGHT ALL AFTERNOON). And then the NEXT day I not only partied with the church ladies, I went out for Red Robin french fries with girlfriends and LEFT THE BABY AT HOME. See? REAL PEOPLE! OUTINGS! RED ROBIN RANCH DRESSING!

(Who thinks I have used up my allotment of capital letters ALREADY?)

Okay, even besides all those things, some rather blog-worthy things happened this weekend and then I was all YAY, LOVE BLOGGING. There was the fascinating article American Family linked to yesterday (not sure if that NYT link will work because of registering etc.) about multiracial children traveling in China, finally taking our car in to be fixed and having to rent a godawful Ford Taurus, then discovering that Jack is most likely allergic to eggs (WOE!)- all terribly interesting to be SURE. But what I really want to write about today is Grocery Store Bagger People.


First of all, I speak from experience. I was a Grocery Store Bagger Person in high school, although we called ourselves Commissary Baggers and we worked for tips. Being a Commissary Bagger was pretty much the only not lame job available to high schoolers on base. You could work at one of the food joints (LAME) and you could also do Summer Hire during the (duh) summer where the military matched you up with a military office and you worked for twenty-five cents an hour doing whatever the 20-year-old sergeant wanted you to do. When I was 15 I worked in Pass & ID, when you still had passes and ID cards made out of real paper, with a picture glued on to the front and run through a laminator. (AM VERY OLD.) My brothers mowed the grass on top of ammunition mounds (what are those things called? Never mind, I don't care.) The summer after my senior year, because I was special, I got to work at the base newspaper where I wrote incredibly dorky articles (and turned down an opportunity to go and write about paragliding, because I am a CHICKEN) and got to be in the thick of the Most Exciting Summer Event, when a fighter jet made a crash landing seconds away from our building. Oh yeah, good times on the American overseas military base.

But you did not do Summer Hire to make money, you did Summer Hire to put something on your resume or your college applications. If you needed to make some cash, you cozied up to Toni, the Head Bagger at the base commissary and begged for a job as soon as she had an opening.

Toni was three feet tall and all three feet made up of Crazy. She was mean and scary and owned the express lanes so she'd never have to take a huge order out to someone's car. There were rules and training periods and God help you if you broke the eggs. But if you got through your first few bagger weeks alive, you could make some serious money (and possibly Toni's affection!).

There were lots of baggers and we all took turns. When we weren't bagging we were lounging unattractively on plastic chairs at the back of the commissary and counting our tips. When it was our turn we hoped for a big family because that meant a double cart to haul out to the parking lot. And everyone knew double carts commanded Super Huge Tips. It helped that nearly everybody knew everybody. Especially if you were a high school kid bagging for a family with kids. Chances are they knew you or your family and yay for having parents who taught elementary school kids because THOSE families knew you even better. Tipping wasn't necessarily for a job well done, but for how much work it was to bag your 487 items and how far away you parked, in addition to whether or not the person buying the groceries knew their bagger. But we were trained by Toni and BY GOD we knew how to bag groceries. Bagging was long, boring and occasionally hard work and we were pathetic high school kids with no other options. I used to be able to tell you how much I could make in an afternoon, or what my highest take was, but I forget now. And it probably would sound like nothing because hello, over ten years ago, but it was big money for us.

All of that to say: I KNOW HOW TO BAG GROCERIES.

For the most part, I give the nice people at Safeway a break. They don't work for tips. I'm not even allowed to tip them I say "Yes, I would like some help out, thank you!" They are so bored they WANT to take your groceries outside. (I found this out when one of my numerous pharmacist friends worked at stint at the grocery store and passed on this helpful information. And when you have a kiddo in the grocery cart, you ALWAYS want help outside.) But perhaps if they did take tips they'd do a mite better job.

There are a few things you should be as a Grocery Store Bagger Person. You should be fast. You should be nimble. You should bag cold things with cold things and hot things with hot things and poisonous things by themselves. You should not make a bag too heavy to carry. You should be aware of eggs and bread and bag them safely. I even do my best to help my Grocery Store Bagger Person out, by grouping like things together on the conveyor belt. Yes, this may be due to my OCD about such things, but I'd like to think I'm doing them a favor.

Occasionally you get a great bagger and most of the time you get a decent bagger who is just trying to pack a lot into one bag, or puts one cold thing in every bag. But sometimes you get the Grocery Store Bagger Person I had yesterday and then you consider going on a Murderous Rampage.

He started out nice enough, although, COOL IT WITH THE QUESTIONS, Grocery Store Bagger! Yes, I found everything I needed! Yes, this will be all! Yes, I DID enjoy the weather today, thank you! Everything but the most important question: paper or plastic, which he totally did not ask me. But whatever.

When he was loading my bags back into my cart I noticed they were a little, uh, rounded. As in, things may be falling out. But I said thank you and dragged the cart to my car (I was baby-less! Whee!) and started the process of loading up the trunk. Whereupon I saw that one loaf of bread was buried underneath ten jars of baby food. Another loaf of bread was sitting under a jar of applesauce. The eggs were sideways and packed along side more jars of baby food and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. The grapes were perched on top of a pile of small boxes, about to bust out of their plastic bag, and the bananas were jammed between a box of cereal and a pint of ice cream.

I pulled out one loaf of bread, squashed and flattened beyond recognition. I SWEAR. If I hadn't been so exhausted (we'd walked down to the lake and taken the baby to the baby swings and limped all the way home and I WAS SO FREAKING TIRED) I would have marched into the store swinging that loaf of bread above my head and hollering for the bagger, the checker, the manager and everyone who thinks putting a jar of applesauce on top of a loaf of bread is in any way a marvelous idea.

But I didn't. I went home and bitched to Phillip about the Severe Lack Of Bagging Education going on in America today and ate ice cream for dinner. Because I can. Also, this post is embarrassingly long for being all about GROCERY STORE BAGGING and I think it's time for me to take a shower. Bye!

Fifteen was dreadful

If I HAD to pick a moment in time when I became a Christian, accepted Jesus, turned into a goody two shoes church goer, however you want to call it- I could narrow it down to the first year my family lived on the base in northern Italy.

As I've mentioned several times before, and no doubt some of you are bored already, this was a Very Bad Year. At the time, it was a very bad year for me. Many years later, as I was having coffee with my mom and talking about The Old Days, I realized it was bad for everyone. My parents, my brothers and sisters, all the other people who moved to that base that year, the people who were already there and the Italians who lived nearby. Pretty much everyone living in that town that year could have used an open ended prescription for Prozac.

But I was fifteen and therefore solely focused on my own personal misery. In one summer I'd lost my best friend, my boyfriend, my social standing in school and the freedom to go places without my parents. So, for a fifteen-year-old, practically everything important. I was heartbroken to leave all of that stuff behind, but not for one second did I think I wouldn't be able to rebuild, that I wouldn't be able to make new friends and quickly be known for all the same things I was known for before.

The other day I was reading a blog that sort of made fun of the emotions and thoughts you have in junior high and high school. I honestly forget where I read this, but she was ribbing her junior high self for being so in love with her junior high boyfriend and how everything is So. Drastically. Important. when you are that age. I read it and I understood, but I also wanted to say, "It may be silly, but it's real." Like right now, I am sitting here completely and utterly mortified at how long and how forcefully I missed the dirtbag I dated for all of six months in ninth grade. But I am also tearing up, because I remember how much it hurt to say goodbye to him and K and how I didn't have anyone to take their places for the longest time. So yeah, it's really just a flash in time and the "love" I thought I felt at fifteen isn't at all like the love I have for my husband after four years of marriage and one baby, but to say it wasn't love is to invalidate, I think, everything I knew about myself at fifteen.

So yeah. It was an awful year because I was lonelier than I'd ever been in my life. The kids at my new school weren't like the kids at my old school and I didn't know how to navigate the new shark-infested social waters. People seemed to like me, but not enough to hang out with me and the loneliness was compounded by knowing what I'd left behind.


I began to pray. I had no idea what else to do. I was going to be stuck at this place until I graduated from high school and I had to survive. The only good thing was that it couldn't get worse, right? I prayed for friends. I prayed for something to do on the weekends. I prayed to stop missing my old friends so much. I prayed that my parents wouldn't be embarrassed of their homebound daughter who never got any phone calls. I was so ashamed of my failure, as I saw it, at making new friends. Every single night I prayed for God to give me a friend. How sad is that? INCREDIBLY PATHETICALLY MORTIFYINGLY SAD. Why the HELL am I sharing this with the Internet?!

I guess I have two points here. The first is that I think just about everyone living there needed God. That place was going through enormous growing pains, not to mention the stress of the mission (bombing the crap out of Bosnia) on the newly arrived families. There were two new elementary schools that year. People living closer to Austria (several hours away) than the base. A ton of high school kids who weren't allowed to drive. Kids who were getting in all kinds of trouble because they had nothing to do and parents managing their own stuff. The first real friend I made was a girl who'd had her ID card taken away the year before because she'd been involved in a drug bust. Some of us prayed and sat in the chapel to wait out lunch break. Some of us smoked pot at discotecas and got themselves kicked off the basketball team. Because things like pot were never an option for me (have you met my parents?) and because K had schooled me and I was already so inclined, I chose God. I honestly did not see another way through. 

The second thing is that I believe God answered my prayer. The next year I met the girl who became my next best friend. I learned that to make friends at school is to join a sports team. I was known again. It never became a great place for me. I never loved it. I never felt as strongly about those friends as I did about the ones from the old school. I was still aching to graduate and move away with every bone in my body. But I made it. I had people to eat lunch with. I had things to do on the weekends. I had fun. And I never thought this was coincidence, or the natural way of things, or because of my own social skills or anything like that. I really truly believed that God had heard my desperate cries in my teeny tiny bedroom at night and he wasn't going to leave me alone.

A lot of times I think the only reason I have so many wonderful close friends right now is because I prayed so hard for them when I was fifteen. Sometimes I think God was so tired of listening to me he decided to set me up for life.

Are those reasons I can give anyone else for believing in God? Or being a Christian? Obviously not. They only work for me, and really, only years later when I can look back and see what was really happening. I prayed and prayed and prayed. It didn't seem to be working for a VERY long time, but it was the only thing I could think of to do. So I kept praying, and then things got brighter and suddenly I was a believer. That year was so bad, you guys. So bad. I don't even want to tell you some of the things I thought about that year. But then it was over. And things were slowly but constantly getting better. And I couldn't think of any reason for that except God answering my prayers.

So. I am going to publish this without editing, because the baby is demanding to be picked up from his nap and because if I read it again I probably won't publish it EVER.