Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There's plenty to go around

Unless you live in a cave that doesn't have wifi, you've probably heard about the killing of Cecil the lion. He was killed by a dastardly dude who, one can only assume, has a very small penis. The man is a dentist. Or was a dentist, I guess. I can't imagine anyone wanting to use his services ever again. I think his main job now is "professional pariah." Speaking of dentists, I had an appointment with mine this morning. I've been going to the same dentist for years. Last time I was in the chair, Dr. F's wife popped in to have a brief chat with him. She was going shopping for some new things for their grandchild. A discussion about Kohl's coupons ensued. After I heard about the lion-slaughtering dentist, it occurred to me that if my dentist uses coupons at Kohl's, he's probably not going to spend $50,000 to travel to a foreign land to take down some majestic creature.

After a day or so of expressed outrage on Facebook and via all news outlets that exist, some people started to wonder, "Why aren't we this mad about other stuff? Like the #blacklivesmatter movement, for example?"

My friend Maurice was one of the people who posted this. I asked him why I'm not permitted to be mad about both. As someone who cares about animals, I often feel the need to remind people that caring about animals and caring about people are not mutually exclusive.  I get where he is coming from but, truth be told, I'm mad about lots of shit.

Here is a partial list:
  • Our food system. It enrages me that sugar is pumped into everything we eat (watch the documentary "Fed Up" for the scoop on this) and that big companies control what we eat. I find it appalling that fast food is often cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables and that low-income neighborhoods have plenty of fast food but not fresh stuff. 
  • Factory farming. Once you know what you know, you can't ever turn your back on that. I learned about factory farming as a teenager and have been boycotting ever since - first as a vegetarian and now as a vegan.
  • Pet overpopulation. I don't have to get into a lot of details here, but let's just say that I've been cleaning up after this problem for over 15 years now. On a larger level, I have anger towards human irresponsibility in general when it comes to domesticated and companion animals.  
  • Our prison system. It's so broken that it's almost beyond comprehension. First off, I don't think a prison should ever be run for profit. If a city/town is dependent upon the population of a prison for revenue, that just seems wrong to me. No one should have an incentive to keep people behind bars. Then of course we have to look at who we're locking away. It's no secret that those in jail are disproportionately poor and dark-skinned. This is a very complex issue, of course, and not something that I can attempt to summarize in one paragraph. I am aware that much of the issue stems from a cycle of poverty and crime that is hard to break. I just know that the prison system isn't good.
  • Police brutality. There, I said it, Maurice! I'm mad about it, too! I don't know what it's like to worry that I may lose my life during a routine traffic stop. That much is true. But, that doesn't mean that I don't see that there is a very, very big problem here. I am still haunted by the killing of Walter Scott, in particular (though every occurrence is heartbreaking, of course). The video is still very vivid in my memory. He was running away. He was unarmed. His death was horrifying and completely unnecessary. Every time a person of color is killed by a cop, it seems like someone says, "Well, this guy was no choir boy." (Eric Garner and Michael Brown both had their names dragged through the mud, if I recall correctly.) That sentiment makes my blood boil because I think it also feeds into the brokenness of our judicial system. Look at all of the people who have been freed on DNA evidence. There are innocent people behind bars. I think the unspoken sentiment is, "Well, maybe he didn't commit this exact crime, but I'm sure he did something." I think the #blacklivesmatter movement should carry a lot of weight because it's been a long time coming. So yes, I am angry about the deaths of so many at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve. I am angry about racism, which is still so pervasive even though I keep hoping to see a major shift in my lifetime. I don't expect to live a super long life so we'd better get on the stick, people! Finally, it goes without saying that there are many good cops out there. I know a few of them myself. I think there are some bad apples that need to be weeded out. And, we need to make sure those bad apples are removed long before very bad things happen. That doesn't seem to be happening, though; hence, the outrage.
  • Inequality for the LGBTQ community. I recently said to a friend, "It's a good thing I'm not gay because I feel like I would walk around feeling furious all the time." She basically said that it's the people at both extremes (think Westboro Baptist on one end and the guy who wears nothing but leather chaps at a Pride parade on the other) that make it harder for everyone else. She has a point but still, it upsets me that my friends who identify as gay have to fight harder for shit than I do, all just because I'm heterosexual. I don't have a lot of transgender friends/acquaintances. I know one who is in high school and met another in a GSA (gay straight alliance) meeting that I attend from time to time. I just finished watching a PBS documentary called "Growing Up Trans." It was really interesting. I was glad that they showed supportive parents as well as non-supportive parents, because I have a feeling that transgender folks deal with the latter a lot more than the former. They interviewed one father who was willing to lose his (transgender) child and his wife rather than to accept his son as he is. It was heartbreaking. I felt like hugging all of those kids and then knocking out a few bullies.
  • Dishonest politicians.
  • People who don't care about the environment. I still see people throwing cigarette butts out of their car windows. I didn't pay that much attention in science class but doesn't a cigarette butt take something like a gazillion years to decay? 
  • People who do bad things in the name of religion. 
The rest of my list would be comprised of minor annoyances, such as the apparent confusion over how contractions work (you are = you're). But seriously, there are a lot of bad things in the world and a lot of good things in the world, and not everyone sees them the same way. I do my best to speak for the animals because they cannot speak for themselves. It does not mean that I think Cecil the lion is more important than Walter Scott.  I think the lion's death has caused such an uproar because . . . well, because we know the name of the douchebag who did it. We can shake our fist at him directly. We shake our fists at the justice system, too, but our target feels too big, too out of reach.

Today I read about the death of Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in Cincinnati. It's overwhelming and frustrating and maddening. Why are people being killed during traffic stops? It's impossible to wrap one's head around it. And yes, I care about Samuel DuBose. I care about a lot of things, including children living in poverty while so many others have far more than they need. I care about the plight of farmers. I'm a stereotypical Type A personality so I worry about a lot of issues. I have an almost unlimited capacity for worrying. When I was a teenager, my baby sister bought me a book called "The Big Book of Worries." So you see, I've been at this for a while. I've learned that I must do what I can do. I take in one dog at a time and focus on that one dog. I try not to think about the millions I can't help. I try to be a good recycler. I buy used stuff when it makes sense to do that. I support local agriculture. I could go on about my meager attempts to make the world a little better, but it doesn't really matter. Just don't tell me that I don't care about black lives. If I'm not shaking my fist vigorously enough, it's certainly not a matter of apathy. Maybe I'm just not sure what I can do to make it better. After all, I save part of my anger so that I can direct it back at myself for not being a better human being.

Remember a few years ago when the Deepwater Horizon exploded and the ocean filled with oil? Remember how they couldn't stop the flow and the oil just kept coming? Not only was it horrifying that people died in that incident, but the damage caused was almost incalculable. 8,000 barrels of oil were flowing into the water per day. Then, when they finally capped it, the story virtually disappeared from the news. To this day, you don't hear much about it. So, I get why some are wondering why we are outraged over a lion's death. I was outraged when we, collectively, decided to push the oil spill out of our minds.  But, I kept worrying. Why did we stop talking about this? How much wildlife died? What were the lasting effects to the environment? It's like that with the other big news stories, too. Outrage, and then silence. (#occupywallstreet, anyone?) What do we say to all who are victims of our general sucky-ness as a people? To Walter? To Eric? And yes, even to Cecil the lion?

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Tween is Back

We got our kid back (from the beach) on Saturday. We dropped our dogs off for boarding and then hit the road Saturday morning.  The airport is about two hours from our house and her flight was due at 11:55 a.m.. My geeky husband found out that there was a comic book convention at a hotel right near the airport and wanted to stop there before the flight was scheduled to arrive. He generally attends these events without me but in this case he really had no choice. We arrived at the hotel at about 10:20 a.m., 20 minutes after the shindig had started. There were a bunch of cars in the lot already. "Your people are already here!" I told him. I think he was actually perturbed that we weren't there right at 10:00.

I had promised that I would sit in the lobby and read a book on my Kindle. However, I could not resist taking a peek in the room where the convention was being held. It wasn't a big ballroom or anything - just a conference room. There were about 20 tables with long white comic boxes on top (the same kind of boxes that are stacked in my basement). People were rapidly flipping through the comics. I noticed that the geeks all had different tracking systems. My husband uses a spreadsheet and prints a hard copy periodically. Others had similar documents with them. Some used their phones for tracking.

Here's what I know about comics:
  • They are boring. (Sorry, that was just an editorial comment).
  • When storing a comic, you are supposed to put it in a baggie and put a thin piece of cardboard in there, too. One refers to a comic in this state as being "bagged and boarded."
  • They are rated on a quality scale: Mint, Near Mint, and so forth. 
  • There are way too many of them in my home.
My husband actually reads all of the comics he buys. Not long ago, he had a stack of bagged and boarded comics sitting on the dining room table. I sat down at the table, in my usual spot, to eat my lunch. The comics were on the placemat at the chair next to mine. I could tell that he was getting nervous about the comics being so close to my food (even though they were fully protected). He walked over and move the pile over a few inches. While he was still standing there, I took the one off the top, licked it, and put it back on the pile. "CLAUDIA!"  He was seriously mad.

Anyway, back to the comic convention . . . I took a photo and then went out to the lobby as instructed.  There was a lady sitting there, reading a book. I sat down to read, too. She laughed so I looked over at her. "I just couldn't take any more comics," she said.

I nodded, thinking, "Oh, she's in the same boat I am."

But then she said this: "Normally I dress up for these but I wasn't sure what to wear to this one."

What. The. Fuck. She told me two things in that one sentence:
  1. She's one of them.
  2. She has so many costumes that she wasn't sure which one would work best for this particular convention. 
I smiled and went back to reading my book. A few minutes later, I checked my daughter's flight and saw that it was scheduled to land a few minutes early. As much as I hated to pull my husband away from his tribe, I walked back into the comic room and told him that I thought we should think about heading out. He informed me that he would get some sort of deal if he got 50 comics, so he just needed a few more. I walked aback to the lobby to kill some more time.

When we got in the car, he tried to tell me how much money he had saved, how much some of these comics would have cost if he had paid the price listed on the cover. Blah blah blah. It's kind of like me saying I got a pair of shoes on sale at Kohl's and that I managed to use Kohl's cash and a coupon. Sure, I saved money, but I did actually spend some. It's not like Kohl's paid me to show up and take a pair of their shoes.

We got to the airport in time. I obtained a gate pass so that I could meet our daughter's flight. I made P sit with my purse so that I didn't have to worry about getting a bottle of hand lotion through security. I did kind of laugh to myself when I was "chosen" for the full-body scan.  As I stood in the machine with my arms in the air (like I just don't care), I thought to myself, "Joke's on you, people! I'm not flying anywhere!"  I then sat at the terminal and waited for the flight. After it finally landed, it seemed like an eternity passed while I watched the airport people connect the jetway to the plane. Finally, a flight attendant brought my kid through the door.

"Hey, baby!" I yelled and then squeezed the bejeebers out of my kid, who looked even more tan than I remembered. We then hurried back to the main part of the terminal so that she could be reunited with her dad.

After that, we grabbed some lunch at Qdoba and then drove to Six Flags, where we planned to spend the rest of the day. It was hot and we had to park in Nairobi, but we were determined to have some family fun. And it was a fun day! The lines were long but it was a Saturday so we expected that. We rode several roller coasters and a couple of water rides. The kid insisted on buying a cape. My grandmother had given her $20 so she had some cash to spend.

Speaking of money . . . needless to say, everything is very expensive at an amusement park. When we stopped for dinner at a Johnny Rockets, the prices really came as no surprise. The kid asked for a vanilla milkshake. We had just been reunited with her so I think she felt like she could take advantage of us - at least until we got our parenting legs back under us. I think the milkshake was something like $6.74. That is not an exaggeration. We also noticed that they charged 10% sales tax at the park. Anyway, we got some fries and the milkshake and sat down. Not two seconds later, the kid accidentally smacked the milkshake and it fell over. Her dad was not too happy, and chided her to be more careful. Our daughter scowled and exclaimed (very dramatically), "I'M BACK FOR ONE DAY AND THIS IS HOW YOU TREAT ME?!"

She's back alright.

On Saturday evening, we stayed at a hotel because we didn't want to drive all the way back home. We knew we would be tired. I got a room on Priceline and guess which one it was?  The very same one where we had the pre-Disney head lice situation. That Qdoba where we had lunch? It was in that parking lot that we combed out the lice, three years before. It was just surreal. We could still remember which parking space we had used. Great, now I'm itching again.

Now that we're back home, I've begun the process of reprogramming the kid. She hasn't heard the word "no" a whole lot while hanging out with her grandparents. In fact, last night she actually thought I'd let her eat sour cream and onion Pringles for dinner. Good try, kid. Good try.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oh, the Things You'll See!

(Sub-Title: The secret life of the tween)

My daughter is coming back from the beach in a couple days, which means I need to hurry and finish cleaning her room. I have to be done before garbage day so that she won't be able to pick through the stuff I'm tossing.  I know the little pack rat pretty nervous about it. She wants a full accounting of what I'm ditching. But guess what? I do this every summer when she's visiting our family in other states, and she has never noticed one single thing that was missing from her room when she got back. Not one.

This year, I mostly focused on her desk. She has approximately a hundred thousand tiny notebooks, each with one or two pages used. She mostly seems to use them to write:
  • Song lyrics 
  • Complaints about her mother (wait, that's me!)
  • Notes about boys that she likes
  • Diaryish entries, sometimes with dates
  • Short stories
  • Business plans for the upcycling store she plans to own someday. 
  • Sketches of ballgowns
For the record, I did save stuff that looked like it should be saved. I keep a bin in the basement where I store schoolwork (not every math worksheet she's ever done, but more like short stories and such) and art projects. So, I transferred some of the piles to that bin. For some reason, she is forever trying to make something or other out of cardboard boxes of various sizes There's been a five-foot-long cardboard tube under her bed for a year. Well, there was, I mean. It's on its way to the recycling facility downtown.

I also got rid of a lot of super balls (just how many does one kid need????), crap from Chuck E. Cheese, random Barbie shoes with no mates, petrified gummy vitamins, lidless markers, and a bunch of other stuff.

I am tempted to repaint the wall that she painted with random girlie stuff. I didn't really want her to paint it to begin with, but I figured it was harmless. A girl needs to express herself, right? Here's the thing, though. She put a boy's name on her wall. In paint. I questioned the wisdom of it at the time. I likened it to a tattoo. "You don't see Daddy's name on me anywhere and I've been with him for 23 years," I told her. A fourth grade romance seemed, at least in my mind, like it probably would not go the distance. It did wither and die after a couple of months, of course. So, she crossed out his name with a Sharpie and taped a paper plate over it. At this point it's probably easier just to build a new wall.

Anyway, things are in pretty good shape at this point. If you need a half-finished craft project, I know where you can find about 78 of them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Hard Lesson to Learn

At 45 years of age, you'd think I'd have a grasp on a few things by now. You'd think I'd know how to make (and keep) friends, for example, but there is mounting evidence that I am clueless in this department. It's hard to be lighthearted and jokey about it, though, because it hurts. Badly.

In April of 2014, I was the speaker at one of my church's Sunday services that month. I am not a particularly good speaker and I do not have some great wealth of spiritual/religious knowledge to impart, but you'll find me at the pulpit from time to time. I've spoken on topics ranging from non-conformity to animal rescue, typically with a spiritual tie-in of some sort. It's kind of a win-win. My church (which does not have a regular pastor at this time) doesn't have to pay me (I don't cut into the budget, in other words) and I get a little practice speaking in front of an audience. Last April, my topic was friendship. I actually did a fair amount of digging and research. I found lots of readings and poems that fit well with my topic. It all seemed to come together pretty well.

My presentation was well-received, but that particular service was sparsely attended. Several of our members had to attend a meeting at another UU fellowship at the same time. I think there were some other things going on, too. Recently, a couple members of the board have asked me if I would consider repeating that service. They said they liked my presentation and wanted a wider audience to hear it. I mostly pretended I didn't hear the request, though.  Why? Well, during that service I spoke about a good friend and um, she doesn't want to be my friend anymore. So, it's a little embarrassing. At the time, if you had asked me about this friendship, I would have taken a blood oath that she would always be my friend. I feel foolish.

Confession: I never read the Anne of Green Gables books but I did love the movies that were on TV in the 80s. Remember how Anne yearned for a "bosom friend" and found it in Diana Barry? I could identify with that sentiment, always wanting a friend I could call any time (and no, texting doesn't really count!). I still wish for that. I feel like I never learned to forge that kind of bond, though - particularly when it comes to female friends. I've been friends with some of the same guys since the dawn of time. For example, I've known my friend Khau since I was 14. I haven't seen him in a year but if I called him right now, I know he would be happy to talk to me. I don't have to worry that I will phrase something the wrong way and piss him off. Same goes for my friend Dave (I actually have two guy friends named Dave). I'm not saying that I can walk all over my male friends or mistreat them, but they are steady and I appreciate that.

My theory is that relationships between women have the potential to be stronger and deeper (than perhaps male/female friendships), but oh-so-much harder to maintain. I think I am just not good at it. I am always worried that if I send an email and expect a response, I'll be deemed "too demanding." (Other friends have told me in the past that I am too demanding, so I'm not just pulling this concept out of thin air.) During my church presentation, I talked about the importance of "putting yourself out there" and taking chances when it comes to widening one's circle of friends. And yet, I cannot take my own advice. I am petrified that if I ask a friend to join me for a movie, I will have put her on the spot and will have made things awkward and weird. And so, I don't ask anyone.

I also keep making the mistake of thinking that practically everyone I know is my friend. I'm like a seventh grader who wants everyone to like her or something. Over and over, I keep learning the same dumb lesson. When I had my foot surgery last year, I was worried (prior to the surgery) that I would need help. I don't have family in the area or anything like that. A bunch of people came forward and told me that they would help me, and I was elated! How many people actually helped? One. The others aren't jerks or anything - maybe I just wasn't clear on what I needed. Maybe I'm just a demanding twat? I don't know. I have also met a lot of people through the rescue for which I volunteer. This has been another grey area for me - trying to understand which ones are my friends and which ones wish I'd just go-away-for-the-love-of-God.

Another theory I have is that Facebook and Instagram and such have made us all connected in a way that is almost too much at times. Did I forget to click "like" on so-and-so's photo? Are they mad at me now? How many birthdays have I missed? So. Much. Anxiety.

Instead of casting a wide net and being confused about who is and is not my friend (and then finding myself feeling hurt by poor treatment), I think my bet is to focus on the ones for which I am sure. I need to step back. I am a deeply flawed person, but I am not a bad person. If someone doesn't like me, I need to acknowledge that and walk away.

One aspect of my life that keeps me from thinking I am the world's worst friend is Rachel. We have been friends since the sixth grade and I adore her. She is endlessly kind to me and never makes me feel like I've let her down. If she has been putting up with me for 34 years, I figure I can't be THAT bad. So, here's to you, old friend. And I do mean old. Ha ha! just kidding. You know I heart you, girrrrl.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

When does it stop mattering?

Like most people, a fair number of my Facebook connections are friends and acquaintances from high school. When I get a friend request from someone I knew in high school, I generally accept it. Of course, I haven't seen most of my classmates in many years - particularly since I did not attend the 20-year reunion held in 2008. I regret that I didn't try a little harder to get there. After the reunion, I spent some time looking at the photos that were posted on the Class of 88's Facebook group. We attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. Go Lancers! One thing that struck me about the reunion photos was that there seemed to be less of a divide between . . . popular and not, band and not-in-band, athletes and theater kids, and so forth.  But does anyone really forget who was who?

Recently, a guy from my class posted a photo of the Freshman football team. I guess it would have been taken in 1984 or 1985. There were dozens of guys in the photo. I recognized a lot of them, some by name and some not. A few of them I couldn't remember at all. You know what I could easily remember, though?  Even after 30 years?  I could easily recall which of my classmates were . . . mean. Or at least, mean-spirited. The guy who posted the photo was always nice. I didn't know him very well in high school, but I do remember him as a nice guy.

I immediately spotted a blond guy in the front row of the photo. He used to follow me home from the bus stop and yelled "Casper!" at me.  He and a friend of his would shout all sorts of things in my direction as I hurried to get home, walking as fast as I could without giving too many outward signs that his taunts were affecting me. Fortunately, my family moved to the other side of town after my sophomore year. I still went to the same school but no longer needed to take a bus. There is no worse fate for the bullied than to have to ride a bleeping yellow school bus with the bullies.

As I studied the photo, I spotted another guy who would mock me in math class. He desperately wanted to be popular and I guess he was looking for weak links. And I guess maybe I fell into that category.

I told my husband about the photo and what I remembered.  He said, "That's what guys do."

I responded, "Really? They make fun of a girl who has a medical condition? That's what they do?" He shrugged.

I was a target because I was different. I had fair skin (caused by vitiligo). I didn't come from a wealthy family, so I also didn't have an enviable wardrobe or anything like that. I remember wanting shaker knit sweaters from The Limited and Mia flats, but they were a bit out my reach. I was also somewhat introverted, which didn't help matters much.

Most of my friends in high school were either theater kids or GT/AP kids (or both). I had a few other friends that I'd known since elementary school and with whom I remained friends even if we ended up in different tiers in high school. I guess I wouldn't say that I was wildly UNpopular, but certainly wasn't popular. The teasing in high school wasn't as bad as it had been in junior high. Junior high was just unbearable. I tried to stay home every chance I could get. In Home Ec (it was called something like "Teen Living" but basically it was just good ol' Home Ec), I remember one girl taking a poll of how many people at our table hated me. Just one student didn't raise her hand. I don't know whatever happened to Karena Hubbs, but I will always remember that she was the nice one. At about the same time, my mom and I embarked on a little painting project in my bedroom. We painted the windowsill a bright shiny red. One day I found a razor blade in my room. My mom had been using it to scrape errant paint drops off the glass window pane. I carefully closed my bedroom door, sat on my bed, and then ran the blade over my wrist again and again, breaking the skin just a tiny bit. I was testing to see just how much it would hurt to cut it all the way through. I dabbed the tiny droplets of blood with a Kleenex. I then hid the razor blade so I could give it some more thought later on. I didn't want to die, necessarily, I just didn't want to go to school anymore.

I have watched with some mixture of pride and relief as my wonderful, friendly, bubbly daughter has befriended so many kids - including the quiet ones and the chubby ones and the ones whose winter coats have seen better days. I have talked to her about how some kids will need and appreciate her friendship more than others. If her classmates are making fun of some other kid, I want her to be the Karena. Twenty-five years from now, I hope that her classmates will think of her and remember her as the nice one. Then I will know that I did my job.

Me in sixth grade (with Mrs. Crawford, the best teacher of all time).

Beachity Beach Beach

Now, that I've been home a week, I need to share the second part of our vacation. We arrived in Ocean City on Monday, July 6th. We used the Glympse app once again so that my dad and stepmom could keep an eye on our travel and arrival. It always gives me a bit of a thrill to pull into a beach town. I love how you can look down each street and each one abruptly ends because, well, the ocean is right there. I love hearing the waves. I love the ocean breeze. I even love the sand. Mostly, I love being on vacation and not going to work.

Shortly after we arrived and got unpacked, my dad invited us to walk on the boardwalk with him. The boardwalk starts at 27th Street. My stepmom has some physical issues, so she can't walk with him. She drops him off and then waits for him at Marty's Playland at the end of the boardwalk. They both like to play this Wizard of Oz game (with the goal to collect colored poker-type chips and character cards and exchange them for prizes at some point). They have experienced great frustration over the shortage of Toto game cards.

Anyway, the four of us walked down the boardwalk and had a great time. My dad does it for health and exercise, which is enhanced by the fact that he stops every few blocks to smoke a cigarette. Then he sometimes has an ice cream cone or some Thrasher's fries at the end of the boardwalk, but he still got his walking in, dammit!

We walked to Marty's Playland (I think it takes close to an hour to walk the full length of the boardwalk in one direction) and played a few games. My daughter is obsessed with those claw machines and gets so mad when she doesn't win. I have tried to explain to her that almost no one wins - that's how these companies make money. She finally played a claw machine that dispensed candy, where she won a Tootsie Roll . . . which she cannot eat because she has braces and her orthodontist would kill her.

The next day, I got up and walked on the beach for a couple miles. I love being on the beach in the morning before the crowds come. Later in the day, the three of us returned to the beach and hung out for a while. Thirty seconds after our arrival, the kid befriended a stranger and the next thing we knew, she and this other girl were running into the waves hand in hand. I love that about her. Can you imagine me turning to some random mom sitting under the next umbrella, grabbing her hand, and saying, "Let's do this!"

Here's a little side story for you. As you may recall, our daughter killed her iPad. We decided she could just live without having one and then at Christmastime, we would decide if she deserved a new one or not. I also thought maybe she should do some chores and try to help earn one. Anyway, my dad and stepmom went shopping on Tuesday afternoon while the three of us hung out in air-conditioned comfort. When they came home, they handed my daughter a white box containing, of course, a brand new iPad. They got her a case, too. Grandparents, I tell ya. May I just add that the man who bought my daughter an iPad is the same guy who, when I was little, would only buy me the smallest size Slurpee at 7-11 because the next size up was TOO EXTRAVAGANT and TOO EXPENSIVE. 

On Wednesday, we couldn't decide what to do but we knew it was going to be hot. I flipped through a tourist guide and did some digging online. We decided to hit a water park and beat the heat.  I am not one to be seen in public in a swimsuit but since I was several states from home, I figured the odds of me running into someone I knew were pretty slim.  The water park turned out to be a lot of fun.  It was huge!  It was actually pretty confusing because you could spot a fun-looking slide in the distance and have no idea a) what the slide was called and b) where to find the entrance.  We managed to ride them all eventually, though.  Or at least I think we rode them all.  I broke out of my comfort zone a little by riding something called The Aqua Loop. The super fun part? They weigh you at the bottom of the tower because you have to be at least 100 pounds. Even though it's pretty darned clear that I easily meet that requirement, they weigh every soul no matter what.  Then, after you climb the tower (many, many stairs) they weigh you again at the top. So, yes, it was every girl's dream come true: to wear a swimsuit in public and to be weighed - twice. The ride was pretty crazy, although I guess I can't give you a lot of details because my eyes were squeezed shut. They even made me take off my diamond wedding ring, which was a challenge because it's slightly possible that I have gained a couple of pounds since my wedding day.  P rode the Aqua Loop later in the day. The kid only weighs 60-something pounds so she was definitely out of the running. I suspect that she'll need to be married with at least two kids before she hits 100 pounds.

Later that day, my sister and her family arrived in Ocean City. The rented a condo about a mile or so away from where we were staying (with my dad and stepmom). So, we headed over to visit them and then the kids went swimming in the pool.

On Thursday, we were scheduled to meet my friend Rachel and her family in Chincoteague. I invited my dad and stepmom to join us but when I told them we were leaving at 8:30 a.m., they acted like that was just crazy talk. Retired people don't go places at 8:30 a.m., I guess.  Anyway, I was excited to see my friend so we hit the road as scheduled. Rachel lives in New Jersey and we have been friends since the sixth grade. She, her husband, and two of their three boys were spending a few days in Chincoteague. You may have heard of Chincoteague (Virginia side) and Assateague (Maryland side) because of the wild horses that live there. We were hoping to see some horses but we didn't have any luck. Also, it was about a thousand degrees with one million percent humidity that day, so we mostly stayed indoors at various visitor centers and such. Then we all went out to eat. At lunch, my husband started complaining of a headache. Rachel, who is always more prepared for such things than I am, gave him some Advil. I thought maybe he was feeling crappy because of the heat but also because he had not consumed any coffee that day. He didn't drink coffee when I met him but now he is apparently heavily addicted.  After lunch, we went out for ice cream and I was surprised to see that my husband and daughter only ate a few bites before throwing theirs away. My fourteen-year-old Godson, on the other hand, ate enough ice cream to knock out one of those wild horses. Gotta love a teenage boy's metabolism.

From there, the three of us headed back towards Ocean City, which is about an hour away. My husband slumped over in the passenger seat and would not lift his head. It started to become obvious that he was pretty sick, but didn't know why. The kid was in the back seat and seemed okay. P said that his head hurt and he felt like he might vomit. When we got back to the condo, the retirees were not there (they were out with one of my sister's kids). P went straight to the bedroom where we were staying, turned out the light, and stayed there for the next 14 hours. At about the same time, the kid asked me to pull out the sofa bed because she was sick, too. Oh no!  I put her in her pajamas and tried to figure out what to do with myself. By then, my dad and stepmom had returned. I decided to head down to the boardwalk by myself. I desperately wanted to go to my sister's place and visit, but I was afraid that I was carrying some sort of virus and that I was likely to pass it along. She is pregnant and has three kids so it seemed like passing along the mystery germs would be a jerky thing to do.

I parked my car and then walked down the boardwalk. I was looking for a particular shop that I thought I remembered from last year, but I think it has been replaced by a "vape" shop.  So, I just took my time and walked all the way to the end, stopping to watch some of the street performers as I walked. I kept thinking, "Am I sick? I don't think I'm sick?"  Every little twinge in my abdomen would make me think, "Here it comes!"  But, I never got sick. I think we have mostly concluded that A and P picked up some sort of virus at the water park the day before. I don't know how I dodged the bullet.

On Friday, P was feeling better but the kid was not. She stayed behind while her dad and I went to the beach with my sister and her family.  They were already set up on the beach. "Look for a blue canopy and a whiny pre-schooler," said the text from my sister.  We spent a fun morning/afternoon on the beach before heading back to see how our kid was. I even got my husband to swim with me - I thought he might be a little weird about it because of all the recent shark sightings up and down the eastern seaboard.

The kid still wasn't feeling great but had perked up some by early evening. We decided to go to Rehoboth Beach to have dinner at Dog Fish Head Brewery. P and I had eaten there years before (and, in case you think getting older is fun, let me just confess right now that neither of us can remember what year we were in Rehoboth or even WHY we were in Rehoboth - we just know that we were there) and had liked it. The kid didn't really eat dinner but at least she was sitting upright and wasn't still wearing her pajamas. After dinner, we all went to my sister's place for one last hurrah - a chocolate fountain party.

On Saturday morning, P and I packed up and started the long journey back home, leaving our sassy kid behind with her grandparents.  When we first asked how her how long she wanted to stay at the beach after her dad and I were gone, she said "two weeks."  So, we purchased a return plane ticket accordingly. She's been a little homesick here and there, but daily Facetime sessions seem to help. Plus, she's too busy go-kart-riding and rock-climbing and sandcastle-making to be too homesick.  She will return this coming Saturday. She's pretty nervous. Not because of the flight but because she knows I've been cleaning her room while she's gone. I could tell you about some of the stuff I've found, but that would be a whole other blog entry.

(Side note: I barely have any beach photos of my three-year-old nephew because every time I tried, he raised his hand and screamed "no" at me. So, enjoy the one of the back of his head.) 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The story gets more vacation-y

After narrowly escaping the Super 8 with our lives, my husband and I finished the drive to Northern Virginia. We hit some traffic in Maryland and Virginia. Ah, good ol' DC. It brings back fond memories of my one-hour commute when I lived in Alexandria. And did I mention that my office was only eight miles from my apartment?

My friend Carrie told me about an app called Glympse. When you're traveling, you can send someone a Glympse, which basically connects their phone to your phone and location for a set period of time. You can leave the connection open for 15 minutes or up to four hours. The other person can see where you are traveling (and at what speed). They don't get to know if you are listening to bad 80s music and eating chips while you drive, but they know just about everything else. Anyway, I sent a Glympse to my sister so she'd know where we were. As we rounded a curve about a block before her house, I spotted my daughter and nephew on the sidewalk, jumping and waving (since they knew exactly when they'd be able to see our car). My sister and niece were waiting for us, too.  See, isn't technology great?

Instead of hugging us after we got out of the car, our daughter proceeded to throw pop-its at the ground, which was apparently the welcome she had planned for us. Keep in mind that it was July 3rd, so fireworks were on the brain, I guess. There were also welcome messages in chalk in the driveway and in neon window paint on the front door. It all felt very festive! P and I were very happy to be with our baby once again. She had a big scab on her chin from an incident at the pool, but I have decided not to pursue litigation against my sister.

We spent the next 2 1/2 days with my sister and her family. We did a lot of fun stuff - we went to the pool (and had a picnic there), we watched the kids have dance parties, and we watched my brother-in-law blow stuff up in the driveway on Independence Day. On Saturday, we visited my grandma in Arlington. We brought along our kid plus one of my sister's kids.  Fortunately, my grandma doesn't mind some shenanigans. A and L ate all of her potato chips, all of her tortilla chips, and were eyeing up her pretzels when P and I decided we should probably head out.

On Sunday, my sister and I took three of the kids (plus my husband) downtown for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We took the Metro. The National Mall (which, if you've never been to DC, is basically the area between Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, lined by various Smithsonian museums and government buildings) is under construction - big time. So, the festival had to be scaled back this year since there was less room for it. Every year, they feature different countries (and sometimes different U.S. states, too, if my memory is correct). This year, they limited it to Peru. So, it was smaller but it was still a lot of fun. We saw lots of costumed dancers, ate some new and different foods, and trudged through a lot of mud.

It was great to spend time with my middle sister and her family. The only thing that would have made it better was if my wee baby sister was there, too. Almost nothing makes me happier than having both of my sisters in one room. With me, I mean. I need to be there, too. One other highlight of the visit to NOVA: I got to meet my niece's boyfriend and ask him lots of questions while my niece nervously listened. Don't worry - I saved a few goodies (politics and religion) for our next visit. 

On Monday morning, P and I got up and headed to the beach, taking our daughter with us. It was a three hour drive and many complaints were dispatched from the back seat. Don't worry, there is at least one more post about our vacation - and this one involves a stomach virus!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Super 8 is really pushing it with the "super" part

I'll bet you were getting worried that I wasn't going to bore you with details about my vacation. Fret not, mon ami! Our vacation started out a bit rocky, got dicey again in the middle, and then ended up just fine. My other half and I left on July 2nd, embarking on a long car ride that made us really glad that our daughter was already in Virginia. Nothing makes a long road trip even longer like an unruly tween complaining about how hot/cold/hungry/bored she is.

Our departure was a bit delayed because we couldn't drop our dogs off until a certain time, but we got on the road as soon as we could . . . and then hit massive traffic that delayed our progress by at least two hours. Grrrr. The drive was mostly uneventful once we broke free of the congestion. We usually take turns driving, each of us staying behind the wheel for two to three hours at a time. The full drive to my middle sister's house is about 16 hours. I wanted to do the lion's share of the drive on Thursday so that we could coast into town at a reasonable hour on Friday. Sometime after midnight, I started looking for a hotel. Normally, I would make a reservation in advance but we weren't sure how far we'd actually want to drive in one day. So, I set the GPS to search for hotels and kept driving.

My main goal was not to drive too far off the tollway we were on (in the great state of Ohio). When you're driving 1,000 miles, you don't want to add even one mile to the trip if you can help it. The GPS was showing me lots of "mom and pop" type places and since it was already very late, I was worried about waking up some poor soul who'd have to amble out of bed to check us in. Then I saw "Boy Scouts of America" listed. They must have a campground nearby or something like that. "I think they'd take us," I told my husband, "Seeing as how we're not gay and all." Mr. M was in no mood for jokes at 2 a.m, though.

"There's a Super 8 coming up - how about that one?"  He nodded.  So, I pulled off at the exit and found the Super 8. By then it was around 2:30 a.m. I parked and headed to the lobby while my other half snoozed in the car. A nice woman named Janet was working the front desk. She was on the phone and I heard her say, "I have a guest who wants to check in."

She set the phone on the counter so that she could pick it back up when she was done checking me in. I was dying to ask her who on earth wanted to talk to her at that time of night. I only know one person who stays up that late, which is my mother. I was dying to ask her, "Are you talking to my mom? How are the cats doing?"

Janet said she had a room available and issued me two keys. I noticed she had a tattered bible on the desk. I wondered if I should start praying for stuff like a clean bed and towels. I am not a fancy-schmancy person when it comes to hotels. Amenities are great, but mainly I just want a clean bed and towels . . . particularly when I'm only going to be there for a few hours before getting back on the road. My fingers were crossed.

I went back to the car and we drove across the parking lot to our room, which was on the second floor. We hauled our luggage up the steps and then entered our room. We were greeted by a huge stain on the carpet, directly in front of the front door. There were two queen-sized beds, which featured bedspreads that were at least as old as I am, if not a little older. The secondary lock on the door was broken. I tried to turn on a floor lamp only to find that it . . . had no bulb in it. The hits just kept coming. Here was my favorite feature, though. I'm sorry I didn't take a photo. The toilet was situated under the bathroom counter in such a way that you could not fully lift the lid. In order to pee, I had to sit on the potty and then pitch forward, like a sprinter on the start line.

We were just glad to be on vacation so we took showers and then went straight to bed. We were trying to take it all in stride. I had found out a bit earlier in the evening that there was an issue with the boarding situation with my dogs, so my anxiety level was through the roof (obviously I knew I couldn't do anything about it until the next morning). Also, I started thinking about bed bugs and that didn't help matters much. Eventually I settled into a Tylenol PM-induced sleep with my head on a flat pillow.

The next morning, we got up and prepared to get back on the road. I asked my husband to run down to the lobby and get some ice for our cooler. A few minutes later he was back. " Guess what? The ice machine is broken." Shocking, I know.

I'll bore you with some more details about the rest of my trip in the coming days. For your amusement, though, here are some reviews of the Super 8. You can click/tap it for a larger version, I believe. Either way, you're sure to notice phrases like "worst motel ever."